May 2, 1957
Police officers had a kindly affection for old "Toothpick Charlie." At 93, the
dapper, neatly dressed man known as James J. Fitzpatrick, James Hennesy and
James Flannery had been working his cons since before they were born. Of
course, in typically modest fashion, he denied everything, even his nickname.
"Never heard that term Toothpick Charlie till I read it in a newspaper story,"
Charlie, whose record at Folsom and San Quentin prisons dated to 1904 (he denied
ever being arrested, even when police showed him his voluminous file), was nice
to the police. "Always been a courteous man," he said. "A policeman who picks
you up when you’re breaking the law, he means no imposition. You got to
appreciate that. He’s just doing his job. Always a good idea to be courteous."
Early in his career, Charlie specialized in burglaries and police said he was
one of the best second-story men in the business. But by 84, he had switched to
stealing money from pay phones by jamming them with paper napkins.
In 1954, when he got 10 days for stealing coins from pay phones, he said he was
born in San Diego and had been in the service, fighting in Cuba and the
Philippines during the Spanish-American War. He said most of his family
was dead. "Might be a relative or two around but I wouldn’t care
about looking ’em up. Wouldn’t want to impose," he said.
Before that, he’d been arrested in 1948 for hitting pay phones in a drugstore at
W. 4th St. and in 1949 for the same thing at the bus station, 6th and Los
His latest arrest was at
S. Spring St. Police found he was carrying a few custom picks and $2.28.
Judge Mark Bandler gave him a suspended sentence of 180 days and warned Charlie
that if he was picked up again, he’d be sentenced for that crime plus the 180
"It would be kind of nice if you mended your ways," Bandler said, "but I suppose
it’s too late."
According to The Times, Charlie planned to move to San Diego. "It’s high time I
retire," he said. And perhaps he did, for he never appears in The Times again,
nor is he listed in the California death index, raising the question of exactly
what became of the old con.
Wasn’t Toothpick Charlie the name of a gangster in Some Like It Hot? I believe George Raft (Spats) kicks the toothpick out of his mouth after Charlie’s gunned down. I guess Billy Wilder read the Mirror.
You are so right. That makes two references to “Some Like It Hot” so far. Completely by accident.