My Three-Times Great-Grandfather Hart Cohen, Witness for the Prosecution

Imagine being able to read the testimony your ancestor gave in a case back in 1831. Thanks to Teresa of the Writing My Past blog, I found a case where my three-times great-grandfather Hart Levy Cohen was a critical eyewitness to a crime.

Teresa wrote on her blog about the Proceedings of Old Bailey Online Project. As described on the project website, “The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, 1674-1913 [is a] fully searchable edition of the largest body of texts detailing the lives of non-elite people ever published, containing 197,745 criminal trials held at London’s central criminal court.”1 Teresa had found a number of interesting cases involving her English ancestors, and on a lark, I decided to search to see if I could find any references to my Cohen relatives who lived in London from about 1800 until 1851.

Old Bailey, photograph by Ben Sutherland from Crystal Palace, London, UK / CC BY (

Lo and behold, I found one case—an 1831 case in which Hart Cohen was a witness, not the defendant or the victim, fortunately.2  The case involved an alleged theft of money from a man named Michael Hart by a man named Isaac Isaacs. As described in the testimony recorded in the transcript of the trial, Michael Hart was a recent immigrant to England from Amsterdam and was courting Isaac Isaacs’ sister. According to Michael Hart, Isaacs grabbed Dutch notes worth 500 guilders from his hand and ran off with the money.

My three-times great-grandparents were present in the room when Isaacs took Michael Hart’s money, and Hart Cohen testified to the fact that he saw Isaacs snatch the notes. One witness, Mary Isaac (not a relative of the accused) testified that Michael Hart willingly gave the money to Isaacs. But the court found Isaacs guilty and sentenced him to “transportation for life,” meaning he was permanently exiled from England. I don’t know where Isaacs ended up, nor do I know where Michael Hart ended up.

UPDATE: Thank you to Teresa for pointing me to this site, which reveals that Isaac Isaacs was shipped of to what was then Van Diemen’s Island, now known as Tasmania.

In the testimony, Isaac Isaacs is referred to as “the prisoner” and Michael Hart is referred to either as “the prosecutor” or by his surname Hart. In the brief excerpt from the transcript below, I have added “the prosecutor” to any references to Michael Hart to prevent any confusion with my 3x-great-grandfather Hart Cohen. I also have highlighted a few relevant portions that I comment on below.

MICHAEL HART (through an interpreter.) I am a native of Amsterdam; I came to England nine or ten weeks ago, …. – I became acquainted with the prisoner, slightly, about a fortnight after I came to this country; I was courting his sister, and do so now. On a Monday morning, about eight o’clock, I met the prisoner in the neighbourhood, and went with him up the street to Whitechapel; we went into a public-house, and there had two quarterns of gin together- we then went back to the prisoner’s lodging: before we got there he asked me if I had my notes about me, and asked why I did not change them, as I could get English money for them; I said that at present I was not in need of money, and thought of saving them a little longer – I had them in my pocket at the time; they were two Amsterdam notes, for three hundred and two hundred guilders- he asked me to come home, and I went to his lodgings in Goulston-street, Whitechapel – when we got up stairs he asked me to let him look at the notes; I took them out of my pocket, intending to show them to him – I held them in my own hand; the prisoner took them out of my hand with one hand, and gave me a blow with his other hand – he went down stairs; I did not follow him immediately –[Hart] Cohen, his wife, and the prisoner’s wife and sister were in the room…. I went that evening to the Police-station, and told the inspector, who sent a Policeman with me, and he took the prisoner; I had a man with me, who interpreted for me – I have not seen or heard of my notes since – a guilder is worth 20d.

[Goulston Street was the street where my Cohen relatives were living on the 1841 English census. I tried to find a familial connection between Isaac Isaacs and my relatives but was unable to do so. I believe he was just a neighbor.]

New Goulston Street today

HART COHEN . I was in the prisoner’s room when he and the prosecutor came in, between eight and half-past eight o’clock in the morning – they spoke in Hebrew, which I understood, but did not notice what they were talking about; I saw [the prosecutor] Hart open his pocket-book, and take out some papers – the prisoner snatched them out of his hand, gave him a push, and ran down stairs; I could not see what the papers were, but [the prosecutor] Hart called out in Hebrew, “I have lost five hundred guilders;” I had seen him in possession of a three hundred and two hundred guilders Amsterdam notes; I have not seen them since.

[I found it interesting that Hart understood Hebrew—an indication that he was connected to Judaism and Jewish traditions.]

[Cross-examination of Hart Cohen]:  Who was in the room? A. My wife, the prisoner’s wife, his sister, and children: he being an intended brother-in-law, I did not like to interfere – I did not call Stop thief! my wife was alarmed – the prosecutor was standing up; he could have followed him down stairs if he chose – I had merely called there because the children were ill with the measles; I saw two men carrying the prisoner home, drunk, about two o’clock; the prosecutor went to Brighton, and my son went with him as an interpreter, and I wrote to him, directing my letters “Lewis Cohen,” which was my son’s name – the prisoner was to inquire at the post-office for a letter in that name; my wife is too ill to be here.

[When Hart testified “he being an intended brother-in-law,” I at first thought he meant that Isaacs was to be married to either his sister or his wife Rachel’s sister, but Isaacs was already married. On rereading, it was clear to me that Hart Cohen was referring to the fact that Michael Hart was courting Isaacs’ sister and thus was his intended brother-in-law.” It’s clear from this comment and the one that follows that Hart had not wanted to get involved in this dispute.]

[It was the mention of his son Lewis that helped to convince me that this was my Hart Cohen. Lewis would have been eleven years old at that time.]

[Witness for Isaacs] MARY ISAAC . I was at the prisoner’s house, between eight and nine o’clock, when this gentleman came up stairs, and he gave Mr. Isaacs the notes – I live there as servant to the prisoner; I am not related to him; Mr. and Mrs. Cohen. Mr. and Mrs. Isaacs, and I were in the room, nobody else – I cannot speak Hebrew; I saw the prosecutor give the prisoner the notes; he put them into his pocket, had his breakfast, shaved himself, and went down – before he went down the prosecutor took out his pocket-book, and wrote down on a piece of paper, how many guilders there were, and how much they would come to – I did not read the paper; he wrote it in numbers – I understand numbers; the prisoner then went down – Mr. Cohen went down directly after.


HART COHEN . I did not notice [Mary] Isaac there, and do not suppose that she was – it is a middling sized room, and has a bed in it.3

[This testimony effectively undercut Mary Isaac’s testimony. Hart made it clear that there was no way that he would not have seen her if she were in the room, given the size of the room.]

There were other witnesses and testimony, but I was primarily interested in the role my relative played in this dispute. And what did I learn? That my three-times great-grandfather was a man who did not initially want to get involved, but did his civic duty and testified to the facts he observed, that he knew Hebrew, and that my great-grandparents were neighbors who would come check on sick children. Given that I’d known nothing about his personality beforehand, these are wonderful insights.

Take a look at the Old Bailey project website if you ever had relatives living in London. It could provide interesting insights into their lives.

  1. Tim Hitchcock, Robert Shoemaker, Clive Emsley, Sharon Howard, and Jamie McLaughlin, et al., “Home page.” The Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 1674-1913 (, version 7.0, 24 March 2012).
  2. Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 8.0, 04 October 2020), October 1831, trial of ISAAC ISAACS (t18311020-149. 
  3. Ibid. Emphasis and annotations added. 

My Uncle, The Criminal? If The Shoe Fits….

Before I turn to my three-times great-uncle Meyer and his family, I want to write about another uncle—my four-times great-uncle Simon Goldchmidt, brother of my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt.

Back in January, I wrote about Simon Goldschmidt, including the fact that he had been in legal trouble in Germany before immigrating to the US. David Baron had located a record that indicated that in 1826 Simon was charged with burglary and attempted robbery. (HStAM Fonds 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No G 40.) I then wrote in that post:

I requested a copy of the file from the Marburg archives and learned that the file covers Simon’s appeal of a ten year sentence for his criminal activity. The listing online indicates that the date of appellate decision was December 24, 1830.

The contact person at the Marburg archives did not reveal the outcome of the appeal, so I am now hoping to find someone who might be able to go to Marburg and provide me with a summary (in English) of the judgment. (I could order a copy, but it would be costly and in German. My German has improved, but 130 pages of a legal decision would be too great a challenge!)

Well, with the help of three wonderful women in Germany, I’ve been able to obtain a copy of the report, have it transcribed, and then have it translated.  First, Floriane Pfeiffer-Ditschler from the German Genealogy group on Facebook volunteered to go to the archives in Marburg and scan the entire 130 pages of the documents in the file.1 She sent it to me as a PDF, and it’s too long to post on the blog, but I will post just a few pages in this post so that you can see how difficult it is to read. If you’re interested in seeing the entire document, let me know.

Cover page of file, HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

Neither Floriane nor I could decipher the text, so I turned to my friend Julia Drinnenberg, who had been one of my wonderful guides during my visit to Germany last year. Julia also found the handwriting difficult to read, so she recruited her friend Gabriele Hafermaas to help. Gabriele transcribed the text, which Julia then translated it into English. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to these three women for their help.  It took many, many hours of work for them to produce a document that I can read.

The file contained three documents: the original trial court opinion finding Simon guilty, Simon’s application for appellate review, and the appellate court’s opinion. Because the documents are quite lengthy and at times repetitive, I thought it best to write up a summary.

The alleged crime took place on the night of May 16, 1826. The trial, however, did not take place until four years later.  At this time we do not have any information to explain the long delay between the crime and the trial, but Julia is consulting with a judge and legal historian in Germany, so perhaps he will have some answers.

The trial court reached its decision on May 14, 1830.

Simon Goldschmidt, first page of trial court opinion
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

According to the trial court’s opinion, on the evening of May 16, 1826, someone broke into the home of eighty-year-old Georg Wolf, a resident of Oberlistingen.  There was a hole in the wall of his home and a ladder lying on the ground in front of his sitting room. The court found that someone used violent force to break into the sitting room, using the ladder to push the door open and even breaking an iron bar that served as a lock on that door. There was a struggle between Wolf and the burglar, during which Wolf claimed he had bitten the hands of the assailant and scratched and pinched his face and neck.

When neighbors heard Wolf’s cries for help, the assailant ran away.  According to Wolf and several witnesses, a pair of shoes was left behind, which Wolf claimed had belonged to the assailant. Wolf described the assailant as a small and flexible man with frizzy hair, wearing a long black cape and speaking with a Yiddish accent.

Based on this description, Simon Goldschmidt, a 32-year-old tailor, was thought to be the assailant, and local authorities went the next morning to his home to investigate. Witnesses testified that Simon had injuries on his face and hands that were consistent with Wolf’s testimony and that he fit the physical description provided by Wolf. Simon denied the charges and claimed that he had injured himself when he fell on a stack of logs in the corridor while going to the toilet in the middle of the night.

The trial court did not find Simon’s assertion that his injuries came from such a fall credible for several reasons.  The court did not find it believable that Simon had used the toilet in the corridor because he had a “night stool” in his room for bathroom use. Simon claimed he could not use the night stool because Jewish law prohibited sharing of the night stool while his wife was menstruating, but the court cited the testimony of a rabbi stating that there was no such prohibition under Jewish law. There also was no evidence that Simon’s wife was in fact menstruating at the time of the crime. Furthermore, the court found that Simon’s injuries were not consistent with falling on logs, citing the testimony of a doctor that Simon appeared to have bite marks on his hands and bruising on his face.

In addition, in a page torn from Cinderella or the OJ Simpson trial, the trial court found that the shoes left behind by the assailant fit Simon as well as his wife. A shoemaker testified that he had made the shoes for Simon’s wife and repaired them. He was able to identify them by the way the heels were worn down on one side. Simon denied that the shoes were his or his wife’s, saying that her shoes had been stolen. The trial court did not find this assertion credible because the theft of the shoes had never been reported to the police.

By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

The fact that Simon was wearing dirty socks covered with thick straw and half-dry black mud when the authorities came to investigate was also relied on by the trial court in its analysis. Simon claimed his socks were dirty from walking inside his house and from walking outside to his well. The trial court was not persuaded, finding evidence that Simon was ordinarily a tidy man, that his floors did not have dirt like that found on his socks, and that the walkway to the well had a stone path. Witnesses also testified that the dirty socks were like those of someone who walked through the village without shoes.

There was also some discussion in the trial court opinion about the fact that Simon had plans to go to the estate of the aristocratic von Malsburg family the morning of the investigation.  Julia and I were not sure what this all meant, but as best I can tell, Simon was wearing boots when the authorities arrived and claimed it was because he was planning to go to the Malsburg estate. The court seems to have concluded that this was not the case, but that Simon had put on boots to hide his dirty socks, which were only revealed when the investigator asked him to remove his boots.

Based on its evaluation of the evidence, the trial court concluded that Simon was guilty of attempted theft with burglary and attempted robbery with murder and sentenced him to ten years in prison with his legs shackled. The court considered as an aggravating factor in determining its sentence that Simon had not voluntarily called off his attempted crime, but only left because he was afraid of being caught when Wolf called for help.

End of trial court opinoin
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

Although the court observed that the usual penalty for a crime of this nature would be twelve to fifteen years in prison, it noted that the case had been delayed for two years due to an overload of pending cases and therefore reduced the usual penalty and sentenced Simon to ten years in prison. The court’s mention of a two-year delay is confusing since the crime was in 1826 and the trial decision in 1830. Simon had been incarcerated for four years while awaiting trial.

On July 22, 1830, Simon appealed the trial court’s verdict, making many of the same arguments that he made at trial, but with some additional details. For one thing, he claimed that he had not reported the theft of his wife’s shoes because of their low value. As to the fact that he was wearing boots the morning after the crime, he asserted that it was insulting to claim that a tailor would not ordinarily be wearing shoes.

Simon Goldschmidt’s application for appearl, first page
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

With respect to his dirty socks, Simon asserted that the stones on the walkway to the well were quite distant from each other and that the humid weather had made the ground very muddy. And as for his claim that he injured himself from a fall when he went to the toilet in the corridor, he asserted that he left the bedroom because he did not want to make a stench inside and that he believed, even if incorrectly, that under Jewish law he and his wife could not share a night stool while she was menstruating.

Simon also pointed out that Wolf had not specifically identified him, but had only given a general description of the person who attacked him. In addition, Simon asserted his overall good reputation as a factor mitigating against his guilt.

The appellate court issued its decision on December 24, 1830. Its opinion is far more detailed and thorough than the trial court opinion and raises some additional issues. For example, the appellate court pointed out that Simon had been having financial problems and thus had a motive for stealing from Wolf. The court also mentioned that Simon knew that Wolf had money because he and his brothers had at one time borrowed money from Wolf.

Appellate decision, first page
HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

Simon’s response was that his financial problems were only temporary and that everyone in the village knew that Wolf had money and might have stolen from him. Simon also argued that since Wolf had loaned money to him and his brothers, it would not make sense for him to steal from him. The court concluded that the evidence of Simon’s financial problems supported the trial court’s guilty verdict, although only circumstantially.

(If I were representing Simon, I might also have argued that since Wolf knew Simon, he should have been able to identify him as the assailant rather than merely providing a general description.)

The appellate court also considered Wolf’s description of his assailant and whether it clearly identified Simon. Despite some inconsistencies in the evidence regarding the description of the assailant’s “singing voice” and hair, the court found that this evidence nevertheless pointed towards Simon’s guilt.

With respect to the fact that Simon was wearing boots when the authorities came to investigate early on the morning after the crime, the court found that it was not Simon’s usual practice to wear boots and that his story that he was planning to walk to the Malsburg estate was not supported by any witnesses. But the court considered this only relevant to the claim that Simon was trying to hide the dirt on his socks.

The evidence that the appellate court seemed to consider most persuasive of Simon’s guilt was the evidence relating to the shoes left at Wolf’s house and the dirt on Simon’s socks. In the court’s weighing of the evidence, it concluded that the shoes belonged to Simon and his wife and that he got his socks dirty when he ran home through the town without his shoes.

The appellate court also considered very persuasive the evidence of Simon’s injuries and concluded that Simon’s story about falling on logs was not credible. In response to the assertion that Simon did not use the night stool because his wife was menstruating, the prosecution argued that Simon’s wife could not have been menstruating because she was breastfeeding [presumably Jakob, their first child born in 1825]. I was impressed by the court’s response to this assertion—that women can menstruate even while breastfeeding—because that is a fact that I would not have thought was commonly known in 1830.

But the court nevertheless found that it was not likely that Simon’s injuries were sustained in a fall, given the doctor’s testimony that there were bite marks and the fact that the injuries were in multiple locations on Simon’s body, not on one side as one would expect from a fall. Also, Simon couldn’t give a convincing description of the fall and refused to show his injuries. Thus, the court dismissed Simon’s assertion that he was injured in a fall.

After weighing all the evidence, the appellate court thus upheld the verdict. However, it reduced the sentence from ten years to four years because Wolf’s injuries were not dangerous or life-threatening and because Simon had not used any lethal weapons.  It thus reduced the original charges against Simon to attempted robbery. The court also observed that the delay in trial was not Simon’s fault and took that into consideration in reducing his sentence. Simon was released from prison after the appellate court’s decision.

Last page of appellate decision, HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40

As noted in my earlier post, Simon’s first wife Eveline died in 1840, and in 1844 my four-times great-uncle Simon Goldschmidt married Fradchen Schoenthal, the sister of my great-great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal and thus my three-times great-aunt. Fradchen and Simon left for the United States not long after. Simon was the second member of the Goldschmidt family to immigrate to the US, following his oldest son Jakob, and Fradchen was the first Schoenthal to immigrate.

Passenger manifest for Simon Goldschmidt, Fradchen Schoenthal and Eva Baltimore, Passenger Lists, 1820-1964. Original data: Selected Passenger and Crew Lists and Manifests. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

I can’t help but wonder whether their decision to leave Germany was in some part motivated by a desire to leave behind Simon’s criminal past and start over in a new country. If so, well, then I have to say that I am awfully glad that Simon was convicted of this crime because in many ways it was that event that led ultimately to the emigration of my great-great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein (Simon’s niece) and my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal (Fradchen’s nephew), who later married Eva Goldschmidt’s daughter, Hilda Katzenstein.

Thus, in some ways Simon’s crime may have led to the merging of three of my paternal family lines—Goldschmidt, Schoenthal, and Katzenstein—in America.  How very strange.






  1.  HStAM 261 Kriminalakten 1822-1836 No. G 40.