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1890s: 'Pluck' Maloney known as 'the terror of Hannibal'

A building abandoned by the Presbyterians in favor of a more spacious house of worship became home to Hannibal’s Court of Common Pleas during the mid 1850s. It was in this building that a jury heard testimony in Michael (Pluck) Maloney’s trial in 1893. He was sentenced to life in prison, but the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the Court of Common Plea’s decision. The building was in the east side of the 300 block of North Fourth Street. A duplex now occupies the lot. STEVE CHOU COLLECTION

D.H. Eby, a Hannibal attorney, represented Michael (Pluck) Maloney in his appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1893. Maloney had been sentenced to life in prison, but the higher court reversed the decision. (Photo, The Mirror of Hannibal, revised and reprinted in 1990 by J. Hurley and Roberta Hagood. Copyright the Hannibal Free Public Library.


Michael (Pluck) Maloney - 22-years-old yet still boyish in demeanor – nervously stood before Judge Reuben Roy inside the old frame courthouse on North Fourth Street in Hannibal in mid February 1893, waiting to hear his fate.

A panel of jurors heard testimony regarding Maloney’s most recent crime, the “highway robbery” of Levi Leffel, a Civil War veteran living near South River in Marion County, Mo. The robbery reportedly netted Maloney the sum of $51.

At least one of the jurors – Abram Bird – knew well of Maloney’s past escapades, having sat on a jury panel two years prior, when Maloney was convicted of a similar crime.

Maloney had served his time for the first crime in the Missouri penitentiary, and gained release. Now, his fate was in jeopardy again.

Maloney – represented by D.H. Eby – possibly wasn’t surprised that the jury brought back a verdict of guilty of robbery in the first degree, but few could have predicted the sentence:

Life in prison.

The Hannibal Courier reported: “After (Maloney) heard the verdict of the jury he broke down like a child.”

Maloney told a Courier reporter: “My former sentence in the penitentiary is what convicted me this time and it seems hard that I am now to remain the rest of my life within prison walls. I hope, however, to so demean myself that in the course of fifteen or twenty years I may be reprieved and yet become a good citizen. But even fifteen years is a long time to remain in confinement and my future is dark and gloomy.”

But he didn’t have to wait that long for his prospects to turn around.

The case was overturned on appeal.

In the decision, the file made note that Abram Bird served on the jury panel of Maloney’s first and second convictions. In addition, the court determined that the judge erred in his instructions to the jury regarding the sentencing.

Set free, Maloney left Hannibal and its troubles behind, and it was believed at the time that he assumed a new name and relocated to Topeka, Kan.

Early days

Michael Maloney was born circa 1870, the son of Mathew and Mary Dunn Maloney. Both of Michael’s parents were of Irish descent, and Mathew Maloney was a long-time railroad worker.

Many children were born into this family, which moved from Illinois to Hannibal, Mo., pre-Civil War.

Michael was born in Hannibal, and except for a time when the family moved to Brookfield, Mo., circa 1880, he was raised in this small river community.

While most of his many siblings walked the straight and narrow, growing to become responsible adults, Michael forged his own path.

The 1888 Hannibal city directory locates the extended family at 612 Clay Street, the home near the intersection with Riverside Street. (Clay was later renamed Fulton Avenue.)

Living together were Mathew Maloney and his wife, Mary; and a number of their children, including Michael, who would have been around 18 years old at the time.

The following year, two events occurred which contributed to the family’s notoriety.

First, on Jan. 14, 1889, the Quincy Daily Journal reported that Michael “Pluck” Maloney got into a “shooting affray” with Johannes (John)

Nagle at Nagle’s saloon, located on the northeast corner of Third and Broadway in Hannibal. Maloney was arrested for carrying concealed weapons.

Next, just a few days later, on Jan. 21, 1889, Michael’s father, Mathew, was killed in a ghastly accident in the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad yards in South Hannibal. The Palmyra Spectator of Jan. 24, 1889 reported: “While examining a train, he was in some manner dragged beneath the wheels and forty cars passed over him, killing him almost instantly, and mangling his body in a horrible manner.”

Mathew Maloney was laid to rest in Hannibal’s Catholic cemetery, as was his wife some five months later.

Cut with a razor

Two months after his mother died, Michael (Pluck) Maloney was seriously wounded by the wielding of a razor during an affray on Hannibal’s west side. The gruesome details of his injuries were reported by the Quincy Whig on Aug. 29, 1889, reprinted from the Hannibal Journal. Maloney’s clothes were saturated with blood when he was placed upon the MK&T passenger train No. 4, and taken to Union Depot on South Main Street.

The newspaper reported: “He informed a Journal reporter that he knew who cut him, but positively refused to tell who it was. He also refused to state where the affray occurred. His condition is serious.”


About this time, the Quincy newspapers noted that Michael (Pluck) Maloney had begun to use various aliases in order to conceal his true identity. In October of 1889, it was suggested that he was known as “Billy the Kid,”* the tough from Hannibal, or It was also suggested that Maloney was using the name James Feeney. A November 1892 article in the St. Louis Globe Democrat said he was identified as Paul Dunn – Dunn being his mother’s maiden name.

Quincy disturbance

After an altercation in the White House saloon on the west side of the square in Quincy, Ill., in early October, 1889, a man believed to be Michael (Pluck) Mahoney threatened to disembowel the bartender, and was subsequently arrested by Quincy Police.

He was sentenced to time in the city workhouse as follows:

Carrying concealed weapons, 26 ½ days; being an inmate of a bawdy house, 26 ½ days; being drunk, 6 ½ days; disturbing the peace at the White House, 101 ½ days; disturbing the peace at No. 200 Broadway, 51 ½ days. Total, 212 ½ days.

Family leaves town

By all accounts, it appears that the members Maloney family began leaving Hannibal within a few years of their parents’ deaths. Some moved to Kansas City, Mo., at least one sibling moved to Peoria, Ill., and others settled in Colorado. Yet another moved to Wyoming.

Jail break

Back in October 1892, while Pluck Maloney was awaiting trial, he was housed temporarily in the Hannibal jail. He caused quite a commotion when he somehow got ahold of a drill, and drilled a hole through a door, which gave him access to the lock mechanism. He was able to get into the hallway, and when the jailer brought breakfast, he made his escape, locking the jailer inside the jail.

He was soon recaptured.

Kansas infringement

In mid February, 1895, the Quincy Daily Herald reprinted information from the Hannibal Journal, stating that Pluck Maloney had been arrested, charged and convicted of some crime in Topeka Kan., under an assumed name, and had been sentenced to 15 years in the Kansas penitentiary.

(The validity of this information could not be independently verified by this writer.)

Final chapter

A sister of Michael (Pluck) Maloney, Gertrude Jorgensen, died in 1921, without a will. During the probate process, it was necessary to locate all potential heirs. Nine of her siblings were listed and signed waivers so that Gertrude’s husband could inherit the estate. Michael Maloney was not listed among her siblings, which leads to the conclusion that he was not living at the time.

* Wikepedia: Henry McCarty (September 17 or November 23, 1859 – July 14, 1881), better known as "Billy the Kid" and also by the pseudonym William H. Bonney, was an outlaw and gunfighter of the American Old West who killed eight men before he was shot and killed at age 21.

Note: The Hannibal Courier story about Michael Maloney’s conviction was reprinted in the Shelby County Herald on Feb. 15, 1893, under the heading: “Will die in prison”

Appeals information: The Southwestern Reporter, Volumes 23-24

Mary Lou Montgomery retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Her collective works can be found at

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