Billy Porter was a long time member of the Dutch Mob along with Johnny Irving, Little Freddie and Sheeny Mike Kurtz who were the founding members of the Dutch Mob. Billy Porter was born in Boston in 1850 under his real name William O’Brien, he had trained to become a printer but turned his attention to criminal activities at a young age and by the time he was a young adult he had been arrested in every major city in the US.
By the 1870s, he and partner Johnny Irving became members of the Dutch Mob, a major Manhattan pickpocketing gang, which operated east of The Bowery between Houston and Fifth Streets. At their height the Dutch Mob numbered 300 members, this gang of pickpockets were eventually broken up when Anthony J. Allaire became precinct captain in 1877, using heavy handed tactics police were sent to clear the district attacking anyone who was suspected or resembled a pickpocket or other criminal, by the end of the year few members of the gang remained.
A tactic the gang perfected was to stage a street fight and pickpocket the gathering crowd. They also had a variation of this technique, to have several gang members pick a fight with a victim where he would be “rescued” by other gang members posing as innocent bystanders and have his pockets picked while being rushed through the crowd.
Like many of the Dutch Mob members, Billy Porter was also associated with the infamous safe cracker and bank robber George Leonidas Leslie and his gang. It was during this period that he took part of a number of major robberies, on October 11, 1877, he was arrested with Johnny Irving, Joe Dollard and George Leonidas Leslie for stealing $2,000 worth of silk from E. Tilges’ warehouse on Broome Street but he was later released. Both Porter and Irving were arrested for burglaries in 1878 & 1879. Billy Porter was charged with the burglary of Martin Ibert’s Sons’ flour and grain store on Graham Avenue which had occurred the previous day. He was tried twice for the burglary, both trials ending in a hung jury, and he finally escaped with Irving from Raymond Street jail on June 1, 1879.
Both Billy Porter and Johnny Irving fled to Boston, and then traveled to Providence, Rhode Island where, with Joe Dollard, they burglarized C.R. Linke, a major jeweler in the city, breaking into its safe and stealing watches and silverware valued at $15,000. Three days later, the three successfully eluded private detectives sent from New York to capture them. Billy Porter was eventually caught in New York on September 28, and delivered to Sheriff Reilly in Brooklyn. He was tried and convicted on October 23, 1879, and sentenced to five years in Kings County Penitentiary.
On October 16, 1883, Billy Porter went with Johnny Irving to “Shang” Draper’s saloon on Sixth Avenue. While they were there, they became involved in an argument with “Johnny the Mick” Walsh, a rival and leader of the Walshers gang, which “Johnny The Mick” drew his pistol and shot and killed Irving.Billy Porter then drew his own weapon and shot “Johnny The Mick” Walsh, killing him, Billy Porter was then immediately shot by Shang Draper, he was seriously wounded but recovered. Porter was arrested for the shooting and charged with murder but he was acquitted by a jury on November 20, 1883.
Following his release from prison where he was held during the trial he soon left for Europe with “Sheeney” Mike Kurtz in February 1884. They had considerable success committing burglaries in England, France and Germany, netting $25,000 each, before returning to the United States in January 1885. In the late-1880s, his criminal career was profiled in Professional Criminals of America (1886) and Defenders and Offenders (1888). The latter publication referred to O’Brien as “one of the most celebrated crackmen and bank burglars in America”.