By Lou Bernard
February 21, 2013
It’s a staple of the old superhero cartoons – The bad guy with the strange, quirky costume and the inexplicable plan. You see it in Batman, Dick Tracy, Sailor Moon.
For a while in the early 1880s, you saw it in Clinton County, too.
The story broke in the Renovo Record on January 20, 1881. The headline was the bad guy’s name: “Alley Bird.”
The Alley Bird, as the press named him, had begun showing up at random times in Renovo and frightening people. The article read, “He is becoming a terror to nervous women and children. Various times he has made his appearance in a white dress, sun bonnet on his head and heavy shoes on his feet.”
The Alley Bird was described as a middle-aged man, but nobody ever got much of a good look at him. They did notice the dress and bonnet, however. He would lurk in dark hiding places and dash into the street, scaring the women and children of Renovo. A few men spotted him, too, but he ran away too fast for them to catch.
But at least he was dressed nicely.
“At times he suddenly dashes forth from dark hiding places and impudently stares females in the face, as if it were his business to know who they were,” the article read. “It is suggested that Constables Glass and Shelley are the proper persons to investigate the matter.”
Constable Shelley was Patrick Shelley, who came to Renovo as a railroad employee and rose to a position of police officer. He did investigate the Alley Bird—And it may have gotten him killed.
Constable Patrick Shelley was found murdered by the river on December 15, 1882—Around a year after the Alley Bird first appeared. He had been drinking at a nearby hotel, and never made it home. He’d been bludgeoned with some heavy object and left near the river to freeze.
If Shelley had seen the Alley Bird on his way home, he would have tried to make an arrest. The footprints of a man in the snow were found running from the scene. Shelley’s overcoat was found forty-seven feet away from his body—The sort of overcoat that would cover up, say, a dress if needed.
The Alley Bird was never caught. As he was around in the 1880s, it’s unlikely he’s still out there. But in this age of bland, boring criminals, it’s interesting to think back on the Alley Bird. The Joker’s got nothing on him.
Lou Bernard is the Adult Services Coordinator for Ross Library and can be contacted at email@example.com