George Leonidas Leslie started his life in a privileged class. Nevertheless, he wound up a criminal known by the New York City Police as the “King of the Bank Robbers”.
Leslie was born in 1840 in Cincinnati. His father was a brewery owner and Leslie started out as an academic, graduating from the University of Cincinnati with honors and a degree in architecture. After the death of both his parents, Leslie sold his father’s brewery, gave up his architectural career, and moved to New York City. There he fell in with a bad crowd and decided he could make a good career robbing banks. It is estimated that over a ten-year period spanning 1874–1884, Leslie was responsible for 80% of all bank robberies that occurred in the United States, estimated to contain between $7–12 million in cash.
In New York City, Leslie moved about the city as a man of considerable means. He belonged to the most exclusive clubs and was a regular theater goer and patron of the arts. He used his disguise to gain access to various information that made his bank-robbing life most profitable. Leslie would often spend up to three years planning a job in a bank. When he found a bank he liked, Leslie would try to get a blueprint of the bank’s interior. If this was not possible, he would visit the bank as a depositor, and with his experience in architecture, he would himself draw up rough plans inside the bank. Sometimes Leslie would get one of his gang members a job at the bank as a night watchman or porter, so that Leslie could get the exact specifications and build and model the bank vault.
After receiving this valuable information, Leslie will buy a duplicate of the bank’s vault. They spent days, and sometimes weeks, mastering the art of vault opening. He shied away from using dynamite to break open the safe, deciding that would make too much noise and be detected. Leslie’s method of opening safes involved drilling holes in the bottom of the dial, then using a thin piece of steel to twist the tumblers into place. To cover almost any contingencies in robbing a bank, Leslie had a set of burglar’s tools made especially for him, which cost $3000, more than most people earn over the years .
To carry out the work he was planning, Leslie sometimes set up a room in a loft he rented downtown to resemble the inside of a bank he planned to rob. Had been. There Leslie, and the people he selected for that particular bank job, would spend a lot of time practicing how to develop a bank robbery. Leslie would dim the lights and watch his men maneuver in the dark, then criticize their work. His teammates included many known criminals such as Jimmy Hope, Jimmy Brady, Abe Coakley, Shang Draper, Red Leary, Johnny Dobbs, Worcester Sam Paris, Bill Kelly and Banjo Pete Emerson.
In May 1875, Leslie decided to rob the Manhattan Savings Institute at 644 Broadway. Leslie, through her “inside man” at the bank, Patrick Shelvin, finds out the make and model of the locks on the bank’s vault. He bought an exact model from the makers, Valentine and Boulter, and spent six months unlocking it. On October 27, 1875, Shelvin let Leslie and his crew into the bank at night. When they were done, they had stolen $3.5 million in cash and securities, about $50 million in today’s money. No one was arrested until May, 1879, and Jimmy Hope and Bill Kelly were convicted and jailed as a result. Abe Coakley and banjo Pete Emerson were also arrested, but acquitted at trial. Leslie was never arrested and his involvement in the robbery was not known until after his death.
Leslie’s reputation grew to such enormous proportions, he was often called upon as a “consultant” by other bank-robbing gangs. He was believed to have received over $20,000 for traveling to San Francisco to look over plans for a local bank robbery.
Still, if Leslie had one weakness, it was for the affections of women. He started an affair with the girlfriend of one of his colleagues, Shang Draper. On June 4, 1884, Leslie’s decomposed body was found at the base of Tramps Rock, near the border line between Westchester and the Bronx. He had been shot twice in the head. Police speculated that Leslie was murdered by a jealous Draper in a house at 101 Lynch Street in Brooklyn, then her body was taken by three of his associates to Tramps Rock, which was near Yonkers at the time the body was discovered. were seen. But there was little evidence of crime and no one was ever arrested.