Included below is a list of the Alienist supporting characters that appear in The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness. You can find further information about selected characters by clicking on the “Want to know more?” link underneath their name. For the main or the minor character pages of the Alienist character list, please use the side menu.
Byrnes, Former Police Superintendent Thomas
Appears in The Alienist
Although Thomas Byrnes (1842-1910), former Police Superintendent and Chief Inspector of the Detective Bureau, only appears in The Alienist on one occasion, he plays a prominent role in the novel behind the scenes and is mentioned a number of times throughout the text. An Irish immigrant who arrived in New York City as a 10 year old when his family fled the Potato Famine, Thomas joined the Police Department as a patrolman at the age of 21 after serving two years in the Union Army. Making a name for himself through acts of valor and the solving of major cases such as the Manhattan Savings Institution heist, Byrnes rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming a Sergeant in 1869, Captain in 1870, Inspector and Chief of Detectives in 1880, and finally Superintendent in 1892. While his methods of investigation may appear out-dated today (for more information, see 17th Street’s history blog about Thomas), they were considered successful at the time and his reputation as New York’s premier detective was undisputed.
Unfortunately for Byrnes, the Reverend Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst’s allegations of police corruption and the Lexow Committee investigation that followed, spelled the end of his career. He finally tendered his resignation in 1895 when the crusading Theodore Roosevelt, who was determined to stamp out corruption on the force, was placed on the board of police commissioners by the new reform-minded Mayor William L. Strong. The Alienist, which is set in 1896, takes place approximately one year after the events that had led to Byrnes’ resignation.
Sources and further reading: J. North Conway, “The Big Policeman: The Rise and Fall of America’s First, Most Ruthless, and Greatest Detective” (2010), Richard Zacks, “Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York” (2012), and Wilbur R. Miller (Ed.), “The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia” (2012).
Comstock, Mr. Anthony
Appears in The Alienist
The fanatical moral reformer Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) only appears in The Alienist on one occasion, but he plays an important role in the novel behind the scenes. Born in Connecticut and raised in a devout Congregationalist home, Comstock served two years in the Union Army before moving to New York City where he married and found work in a dry-goods establishment. Appalled by the city’s rampant vice, Comstock helped to form the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1872. The following year, he came to prominence for convincing legislators that abortion and birth control was as much of a threat to public morality as the “obscene” material (i.e., pornography and indecent literature) targeted by existing legislation. He argued that the consumption of such material resulted from increasing promiscuity among younger generations that was concealed through contraceptive use and abortifacients. Until this point, there had been no federal restrictions on abortion or birth control.
As a result of Comstock’s lobbying, Congress passed An Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, better known as the Comstock Law, in 1873. The act strengthened existing legislation as well as banning the importation, sale, or distribution of any materials relating to abortion or contraception. Penalties for breaking the law included fines of up to $5,000, or jail and hard labor for a maximum of 10 years. Following the passage of the act, Comstock was appointed as a “special agent” of the United States Postal Service, a role he maintained from 1873 to 1915. During his time as Postal Censor, Comstock’s zealous enforcement of the law resulted in more than 3,600 arrests, and drove at least sixteen people to suicide, including the well-known abortionist Ann Lohman.
Although originally concerned with birth control and abortion, Comstock’s moral crusade had expanded to such a point by the time The Alienist was set in 1896 that he was even attempting to suppress nudity in artwork and medical anatomy textbooks, resulting in indiscriminate raids on art galleries and art schools. By this time, he had also written several books to educate the public about moral dangers in the urban environment.
Sources and further reading: Kenneth T. Jackson (Ed.), “The Encyclopaedia of New York City” (1995), Wilbur R. Miller (Ed.), “The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia” (2012), and Luc Sante, “Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York” (1991).
Connor, Detective Sergeant Patrick
Appears in The Alienist
John Moore, journalist and narrator of The Alienist, first meets Detective Sergeant Patrick Connor when he views the body of Giorgio Santorelli atop the Manhattan-side anchor of the Williamsburg Bridge in the opening chapters of the novel. Described only as slit-eyed and bearded, Connor is an adherent of the policing practices and attitudes that prevailed under Thomas Byrnes, the former police superintendent who had been forced into retirement the preceding year as a result of the wave of reform that followed the Lexow Committee’s investigation into police corruption. After initially causing Dr. Laszlo Kreizler consternation for spreading false information about the identity of Giorgio’s murderer to members of the press, it does not take long before Connor is expelled from the force after it is discovered that he had also beaten Giorgio Santorelli’s father unconscious for refusing a bribe from a mysterious group attempting to hush the murder up.
Archbishop Corrigan is of the Catholic Church and worked with Bishop Potter of the Episcopal Church to try to put a stop to the investigation into the Beecham case within The Alienist.
Clarence Darrow is a famous attorney who the team come up against in The Angel of Darkness when he defends Libby Hatch during the murder trial at Ballston Spa.
Devlin, Katharine (“Kat”)
Kat is a close friend and love interest of Stevie Taggert. She was originally a country girl who came into the city with her father. In order to make ends meet, she began working in New York as a prostitute in Frankie’s dive where she subsequently became addicted to cocaine (“burny”). Within The Angel of Darkness she is working for Ding Dong, who is with a gang known as the Hudson Dusters. She helps out the team but tragically is murdered by Libby Hatch toward the end of the investigation.
Dury, Mr. Japheth (also known as John Beecham)
Appears in The Alienist
Midway through The Alienist, the investigative team send enquiries to a number of hospitals looking for former patients who may fit the profile they have developed for the killer they have been hunting. A promising response from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C. about a discharged soldier with a facial tick prompts Dr. Kreizler and John Moore to visit the city in search of further information. While there, John also visits the Bureau of Indian Affairs to search for cases of disputes between natives and white settlers that may relate to the investigation.
While John is searching the records at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, he comes across an interesting case relating to the violent killing of a minister named Victor Dury and his wife at their New Paltz, New York home sixteen years earlier; a murder that had been attributed to embittered Indians at the time. The only survivor of the attack was their youngest son, Japheth Dury, who was said to have been kidnapped by his parents’ killers.
A Filipino aborigine pygmy who, prior to the investigation within The Angel of Darkness, worked for the Linares family as a servant for many years. However, when he finds out Ana has been abducted and Señora Linares has gone behind her husband’s back to find her daughter, he joins the team in the hunt for Libby Hatch.
Ellison, James T. “Biff”
Biff runs Paresis Hall and is a member of the Five Pointers gang. Like the other members of the Five Pointers, he plays a moderate sized role within The Alienist.
Clara is the only living child of Libby Hatch. She survived her mother’s attempt at murder and after this traumatic experience, in which she got shot through the chest, Clara was fostered by the Weston family who have given her a loving home. Despite this, she has never completely recovered and by the events of The Angel of Darkness, she is no longer able to speak. Dr. Kreizler works extensively with her and amazingly she begins to speak again, finally able to tell her story.
Hatch, Libby (Elspeth Fraser/Franklin/Hunter)
Libby Hatch is the child abductor and murderer that the investigative team are chasing in The Angel of Darkness. She was born Elspeth Franklin but through different marriages has also had the surnames Fraser, Hunter, and Hatch.
Kelly is a famous gangster whose gang, the Five Pointers, has the territory “between Broadway and the Bowrey and from Fourteenth Street to City Hall”. He also runs the New Brighton Dance Hall on Great Jones Street. He is quite influential during the investigation within The Alienist.
McManus, “Eat-‘Em-Up” Jack
Member of the Five Pointers gang who looks after Paul Kelly’s New Brighton Dance Hall. Plays a moderate sized role within The Alienist and comes to Dr. Kreizler’s aid when he and John confront John Beecham.
Morgan, John Pierpont
J.P. Morgan is one of the greatest financial powers of the late 1800s. Within The Alienist he backs Bishop Potter, Archbishop Corrigan, ex-Inspector Byrnes, and Anthony Comstock’s group opposition to the investigation into John Beecham. After a private meeting with Dr. Kreizler and John Moore, however, he decides allow the investigation to continue provided that a quick conclusion is able to be reached.
Palmer, Miss Mary
Appears in The Alienist
Mary Palmer, an attractive young woman afflicted with classic motor aphasia (characterised by the extreme difficulty speaking even though comprehension abilities are preserved) and agraphia (an inability to express thoughts in writing), is employed as Dr. Laszlo Kreizler’s housekeeper for the duration of The Alienist. We learn early in the novel that Dr. Kreizler had first discovered Mary at the Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island where she had been involuntarily committed following the murder of her father in which she had chained him to his bed and set the house alight. Although Mary had been considered idiotic from early childhood due to her communication deficits, she appeared to have been cared for adequately by her family and had been taught to perform menial household duties as she was growing up. The murder of her father, a respectable schoolteacher, when she was only seventeen years old had therefore been considered an act of insanity, and she had been committed to the asylum as a result.
During his early consultations with Mary, Dr. Kreizler was struck by the lack of the symptoms she displayed for the only psychological disorder he felt constituted true insanity (dementia praecox, now known as schizophrenia), and he quickly determined her true diagnosis of motor aphasia and agraphia. After spending a number of weeks gaining Mary’s trust and developing a means of rudimentary communication with her, he went on to discover the shocking truth that her father had been sexually assaulting her for years prior to his murder. When the subsequent legal review of her case resulted in Mary walking free from the asylum, she managed to communicate to Dr. Kreizler that she would make a good employee for his household staff, and as her communication deficits would make it difficult for her to find employment elsewhere, the doctor agreed to take her on.
Mr. Picton is an old friend of John Moore and a lawyer in the town of Ballston Spa. He suffers from a condition known as pressured speech but despite this, he is still able to perform well as the investigative team’s lawyer in the court case against Libby Hatch. Tragically, he is murdered by Libby at the conclusion of the trial.
Bishop Potter is of the Episcopal Church. He is works with Archbishop Corrigan of the Catholic Church to try and put a stop to the investigation into the Beecham case within The Alienist.
One of Biff Ellison’s men who uses a knife to do his killing (hence the nickname “Razor”). He plays a small role within The Alienist.
Theodore is a major character in The Alienist as the New York City Police Commissioner. He also plays a minor role in The Angel of Darkness as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He is a friend of both Dr. Kreizler and John Moore.
Strong, William L.
Colonel Strong is the mayor of New York City during the events of The Alienist and is against the involvement of Dr. Kreizler in any investigation into the Beecham murders.