Bag of Bones: The Sensational Grave Robbery of the Merchant Prince of Manhattan (Paperback)

The Sensational Grave Robbery of the Merchant Prince of Manhattan

By J. North Conway

Lyons Press, 9780762787821, 289pp.

Publication Date: June 4, 2013



Completing J. North Conway's widely acclaimed trilogy of Gilded Age New York City Crime following King of Heists and The Big Policeman Bag of Bones combines the era's affluence, decadence, and corruption with a gruesome deed fit for the tabloids of today. In 1878, the body of multi-millionaire A. T. Stewart was stolen from St. Mark's Churchyard. The ghoulish crime, the chase for the culprits, the years-long ransom negotiations, and the demise of the Stewart retail empire fed a media frenzy. When the widow Stewart eventually exchanged $20,000 for a burlap bag of bones on a country road, not everyone was convinced that the remains were truly those of "The Merchant Prince of Manhattan," the department store pioneer who had risen from the flood of Irish immigration to a place alongside names like Astor, Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller. As Bag of Bones details the futile tactics used by police to identify the grave robbers, it also unveils the villainy of Judge Henry Hilton, the Stewart family advisor who not only interfered in the case repeatedly but also dismantled a once-great business empire . . . all the while profiting quite nicely. By the end of this fascinating slice of history, one is left to wonder who displayed the greater evil: the grave robbers or Judge Hilton.

About the Author

J. NORTH CONWAY is the author of nine non-fiction books, including, THE BIG POLICEMAN (2010) and KING OF HEISTS (2009) both published by the Lyons Press. He is also the author of THE CAPE COD CANAL: Breaking Through The Bared and Bended Arm, published by History Press in 2008 and AMERICAN LITERACY: Fifty Books That Define Our Culture and Ourselves, published by William Morrow in 1994. He is an accomplished poet, having appeared in a variety of notable journals and anthologies, including Poetry, The Antioch Review, The Columbia Review, The Hiram Poetry Review, and the Norton Anthology of Light Verse. He has been a daily newspaper reporter and editor for over 20 years. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth and Bristol Community College in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Praise For Bag of Bones: The Sensational Grave Robbery of the Merchant Prince of Manhattan

Praise for J. North Conway’s

 The Big Policeman: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Byrnes, America’s First, Most Ruthless,

and Greatest Detective


“Creating period atmosphere by quoting extensively from newspaper accounts of the sensational crimes Byrnes solved, Conway portrays his subject’s cleverness and excesses with a flawed-hero flavor that should draw in true-crime fans.”



“An essential read for those interested in police work, detective stories, and New York City history.”

             —Library Journal


“A fascinating, fast-moving account of one of the most polarizing and influential figures of 19th-century New York.  Conway brings ‘the big policeman’ to life.”

 —Daniel Stashower, author of The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar

Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder


“A treasure trove of information not only on larger-than-life pioneering detective Thomas Byrnes but also on law-and-order in wide-open nineteenth-century Manhattan.”

—David Pietrusza, author of Rothstein: The Life, Times, and Murder of the

Criminal Genius Who Fixed the 1919 World Series


Praise for J. North Conway’s

King of Heists: The Sensational Bank Robbery of 1878 That Shocked America


“Engrossing . . . Conway skillfully paints a backdrop of fierce and flamboyant personalities who paraded across the Gilded Age, from Brooklyn Bridge engineer John Roebling to Marm Mandelbaum, ‘queen of the criminals.’ . . . [H]e capably recounts his story against a background of glitter and greed.”

             —Publishers Weekly


“A page-turning account of one of the most brazen crimes of our time.”

             —Reader’s Digest


“Conway, a college prof and ex-newspaper man, covers this ancient tale in a way that makes it feel like a hot news story.” 

             —New York Post