The Alienist Wiki
The Alienist Wiki

Let me tell you how this city is run, ya stupid mick. We serve the rich and in return, they raise us above the primordial filth. And God helps us if we don't keep our end of the bargain.
— Byrnes to Connor [src]

Thomas Byrnes is the former NYPD Commissioner involved in the corruption of political figures in the city.

Thomas Byrnes is a recurring character in `The Alienistʼ and “Angel of Darkness”. He is portrayed by Ted Levine.

Official Description[]

Thomas Byrnes is the politically-connected former Police Commissioner now working as a ‘fix’ for New York’s wealthy and powerful elite, but is beginning to chafe against this role.[1]

Character Overview[]

Former Chief Police Thomas Byrnes is a conservative man with a view of the world based on strict preconceptions. During his tenure as Chief of the New York City Police Department, Byrnes formed recruits with discipline and severity. He taught them respect for the uniform, as well as teaching them that as law enforcement, they themselves are the law and can and should use violence against criminals. Byrnes is reluctant to change and innovative ideas but, unlike his former right-hand Connor, he knows when it is useful to put aside prejudices to achieve a goal.

Thomas Byrnes has repeatedly given way to understand that he is willing to play dirty. However, always within the limits imposed by the "Powers That Be", or the elitist group known as "The Four Hundreds." This is particularly evident from a conversation with Connor, during which Byrnes expressed his understanding of the social hierarchy, recognizing his place within it.

Thomas Byrnes is a Caucasian middle-aged man with a sturdy build, medium height, and a stiff posture. He has grey hair, stern blue eyes, and a handlebar moustache. His clothes are elegant and consist of a double-breasted suit, shiny black shoes, a bowler hat and accessories like cufflinks and pocket watch. As a former Chief Police Officer, his appearance is more elegant and clean than other policemen in civilian clothes.


Early Life

Born in Dublin, Ireland to James and Rose Byrnes, he immigrated with his family to New York City as a child. In adulthood, Byrnes became a policeman and rose in the ranks to the point of becoming Commissioner of the New York City Police Department. He won national distinction, and during his tenure, he made changes to the still-developing structure of law enforcement. Thomas Byrnes, moreover, became known for his inclination to resort to violence, instructing recruits as ruthless soldiers. During this time, he was faithfully served by his subordinates, such as Captain Connor and Sergeant Doyle.

In 1895, Byrnes was replaced by Theodore Roosevelt as Commissioner of the New York City Police. That was due to a series of reformations within the Police Department to regain credibility in the community.

Hindering Police Investigations

New York City Police Department, 1896. Former commissioner Byrnes paid a visit to Captain Connor and the rest of the police officers at the Police Station to congratulate them on the capture of Henry Wolff, the man who had butchered the “Boy on the Bridge” and stabbed to death another man some night before. When questioned about it by some journalists outside the police station, he gave all the merits to Captain Connor and his men, putting a pipe in his mouth and showing off his former subordinates, such as Sergeant Doyle.

Journalist Lincoln Steffens asked him what he thought about Commissioner Roosevelt and his new policies, to which Byrnes replied to give Roosevelt all the rope he wanted to see if he doesn't soon hang himself with it, causing a burst of laughter among the bystanders. Another journalist asked him what he was doing in his spare time now that he retired from his role as Chief of the Police Department; Byrnes replied that he speculated on Wall Street and that Mr. Morgan and some of his associates had been very generous with advice about it.

The conversation was soon interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, attracting all the attention of the journalists inquiring about his involvement with the investigation, and leaving Byrnes with a bitter taste. Byrnes watched on the sidelines as Kreizler crossed the entrance of the Police station together with John Moore, giving the alienist and his associate a glance full of resentment and scornfulness. [2]

Following the discovery of “the Boy on the Bridge,” Byrnes visited the Van Bergen mansion. The former commissioner informed the Van Bergen of the recent murder, alluding to a sexual relationship between the deceased prostitute and their son, Willem. Both aristocrats showed no interest in the dead boy, but they were somewhat disturbed by Byrnes' assumptions.

At the O'Rourke Pub, Byrnes met with Paul Kelly and Captain Connor. The men were concerned by the recent murder and its implication with wealthy families. Kelly explained to Byrnes that Willem had already been warned about not engaging in "rough stuff" with Biff's girls.

Later in the evening, Byrnes met with Connor on his caleche after another murder was committed. The former commissioner complained about how the killer did not kill at more convenient times, and bitterly commented on Roosevelt's impeding a murder investigation; particularly a salacious one as that of the boy prostitutes. Byrnes complained that Roosevelt was appointed as a favor and was acting as if he's a 30-year veteran of the force — something Byrnes himself was — but Connor replied that this time Roosevelt would be "caught with his willy in the ringer." Having already tipped the boys, Connor was convinced they had perfectly planned Roosevelt's downfall. Satisfied and heavily smoking from his pipe, Byrnes commented that the papers will eat Roosevelt up with a spoon, denigrating him from stalwart reformer to a torchbearer of corruption.

At the crime scene at Castle Garden, Byrnes caught the attention of Lincoln Steffens among other journalists. The man commented that they were seeing a lot of him despite the retirement, to which Byrnes replied: "once a servant of the people, always a servant of the people." [3]

Byrnes met with Captain Connor at O'Rourke Pub during the lunch break. After jokingly warning Connor about being caught by Roosevelt drinking beer on duty, the two talked about their plan. Byrnes instructed Connor to keep an eye on the young Van Bergen, adding that he did not trust Mrs. Van Bergen and that if she wasn't able to find a place to stash him where he can't cut up kids, someone had to do it for her.

In the afternoon, Byrnes paid a visit to Van Bergen mansion. Standing at the bottom of a staircase, he informed Mrs. Van Bergen that another boy was murdered and that there was concern among certain circles. He suggested for necessary arrangements be made, adding it was all in the best interest of her son. The woman pretended not to understand what he was referring to, and Byrnes explained that, given her son's history and his inclinations, it would be wise if the police were unable to question him thoroughly in the matter. Before being dismissed, Byrnes added that he wasn't asking for her permission. [4]

Serving the Four Hundreds

A few weeks later, Byrnes asked for a report to Connor — who, in the meantime, had been fired — at their usual table at the O'Rourke Pub. In particular, Byrnes commented that another kid was gutted right under their noses. Connor revealed that there had been an accident and that Willem Van Bergen was dead. Byrnes lost his temper, saying that he had ordered to keep an eye on the man, not to kill him. Connor tried to justify himself by saying that he took care of it. Byrnes, however, was of a different opinion. Byrnes then explained to Connor how the social hierarchy worked, and how they were merely tools at the service of the rich. Before leaving, Byrnes concluded by saying that the Van Bergen would not think twice about hiring someone to sink Connor to the bottom of the river, as he no doubts done to their son.

A few days later, Byrnes and Bishop Potter had a closed-door meeting at J.P. Morgan's home where Dr. Kreizler and his friend Moore, were also invited. Byrnes suggested the alienist to drop his investigations and leave the case in the hands of the police. However, the doctor refused the proposal and accused both Byrnes and the bishop of being hypocrites. Morgan intervened, dispensing both Byrnes and Bishop Potter and suggesting that they visit the Van Bergens to comfort them during their mourning.

On his way out, Byrnes plotted with Connor on what to do. Since Morgan seemed willing to help the alienist, they had to stop them on their own. Byrnes, therefore, instructed Connor to get The Swede back and tell him to bring more than chloroform this time. [5]

Byrnes visited Connor in Brooklyn to be updated on their plan to get rid of the alienist once and for all. After offering some sweets to Connor's son, Thomas, Byrnes wanted to make sure that The Swede carried out his work. [6]

A few weeks later, Byrnes was getting drunk with several policemen at the O'Rourke Pub when Commissioner Roosevelt made his appearance. Roosevelt said he was at a funeral caused by some policemen, and Byrnes replied it was bald of Roosevelt to accuse him when he got rioting in the Points and a “multi-murderer” on the loose. Instead, Byrnes claimed Roosevelt brought on those crimes due to his own lack of leadership. Roosevelt was deeply annoyed by such accusations since his department was corrupt. Byrnes, then, said that the policemen do not follow those they do not respect and that he had taught them respect for the badge and uniform, implying resorting to illicit acts if necessary. He suggested Roosevelt leave, accusing him of being weak, but Roosevelt retorted, saying that weakness hides in the past. [7]

A few days later, Byrnes had hired spies to keep an eye on Kreizler. When Roosevelt set up roadblocks and patrols for a potential murder, Byrnes personally watched Kreizer during a play at the Metropolitan Opera House. Thanks to a clever escamotage, Kreizler and Moore managed to escape Byrnes when pyrotechnic tricks were put in place on the stage.

The following day, Byrnes and other illustrious citizens were present when Roosevelt gave a Distinguished Service Medal to Connor's family since he had died during the capture of the killer. Byrnes and Roosevelt exchanged a defiant look, while Byrnes and other policemen greeted their fallen former captain. [8]

Opposing Sara Howard

Byrnes attended the execution of Martha Napp at the warden's request. They were in the process of demonstrating one of the new wonders of the age, that being the electric chair. Considerably more humane than a public hanging. Martha Napp entered the execution chamber, and despite Sara Howard's outburst, the execution commenced.

Byrne visited William Randolph Hearst at the New York Journal. He brought Hearst a lock of Martha Napp’s hair. He figured Hearst could publish it in the Journal given people’s fascination with gruesome memorabilia. However, Hearst wasn’t interested.[9]

After Dr. Markoe's public lecture, Byrne informed Markoe of John Moore and Sara Howard, and how they often consorted with Kreizler. Markeo feared that he would be ruined by them, to which Byrne replied that he’d handle them.

Byrne paid Lucius a visit in his lab. He inquired about the nature of his relationship with Sara Howard and the Napp case. And he threatened to go after Marcus if Lucius didn’t give him what he wanted. After putting pressure on Marcus, Byrne alerted Hearst that the child of the Spanish consular general had gone missing, though they were keeping it quiet. Public suspicion could flame up if word of this got out to the authorities, which was precisely what they both wanted.

Byrne and Captain Doyle are called down to the docks after two male torsos are recovered from the Hudson river. Doyle noted that the smell was horrendous, which is why Byrnes smoked a cigar. Doyle surmised that the killings were the work of Dusters. However, Byrne suggested placing the blame on the Cubans. He added that there was some nefarious goings-on at the Spanish Consulate, revealing that the child of Senor Linares vanished without so much of a word spoken to the local authorities.[10]

Byrnes and Markoe discussed Sara Howard just outside his office. Markoe was certain that Sara was working for Kreizler. He was worried what their donors would think should they find out the hospital’s secrets. It would ruin him. Byrnes wondered if there was anything that could perhaps connect Markoe from the Napp case to the missing Spanish baby. Markoe assured him there wasn’t.[11]

Byrnes arrived at John and Violet's engagement party with a gift for Violet. Hearst accepted the gift and asked Monckton to escort Byrnes out. Before leaving, Byrnes warned Monckton to start showing him some respect.[12]

Markoe was worried about the privacy of their benefactors at the Lying-In given that Sara Howard had presented such an interest in his establishment. Captain Doyle assured him that Sara was only concerned with the Linares baby. Byrne made it perfectly clear to Markoe that if he had been harming the children that he’d been taking away from their mothers in any way then he would be coming after Markoe himself. As for the names of the hospital’s benefactors, Matron was the only other person who knew.

Byrnes, Captain Doyle, and Marcus brought Colleen in to identify Libby from a mugshot book. Colleen spotted Libby among the known criminal associates.

Byrnes and Hearst discussed Sara Howard and her relationship with John. Byrnes advised Hearst to run a story about how Sara was a scandalous lady detective bent on undermining the sacred bonds of family with untraditional friendships with working women and unavailable men.[13]

An Unusual Alliance

Byrnes and Hearst were called over by Cornelius Vanderbilt after his grandson was abducted. He asked them about Sara Howard, who they described as a renegade, but Cornelius was willing to accept all the help he could get. Sara arrived and agreed to take on the case under two conditions: Kreizler had to be reinstated and she wanted to be made lead detective on the case. Cornelius agreed to her terms.

Byrne refused to serve under Sara. Hearst agreed that she was a pox upon them all. However, they need to be in Vanderbilt’s good favor. Hearst saw this as an opportunity to show the citizens of New York where they should put their stock.[14]

Byrnes and Captain Doyle met with Ding Dong at Cyrus’ saloon. They inquired about the whereabouts of Goo Goo Knox. When Ding Dong tried to escape, Byrnes slammed his face into the countertop. Doyle explained that he simply wanted the baby returned unharmed and he was willing to pay handsomely.

Byrnes learned from Mallory Hunter, Libby Hatch's mother, that she had a daughter named [[Clara, who was taken from her. However, Laszlo realized that Mallory wasn’t being truthful. Libby never attacked her. Mallory was a woman of means, so the Children’s Aid Society would’ve never taken the child from her care unless they could prove Libby was dangerous. Otherwise, both Libby and Clara would’ve been her responsibility. So Mallory fabricated a story about Libby trying to kill her, which led to Libby being institutionalized.

After Goo Goo failed to meet with Byrnes outside of Delaney’s Bar, he ordered two of his men to assault Ding Dong. All the while, Goo Goo watched from inside the bar. Byrnes decided to take a different course after learning from Mallory that Libby had a child. He proposed to Hearst that they use Libby’s biological daughter to lure her out. Vanderbilt would hate them for it, but he would have his child back in the end. With Hearst on his side, Byrnes returned to Brooklyn and made Mallory a proposition. Byrnes plotted with Mallory and agreed to set up a photoshoot for Mallory and her granddaughter, Clara, which they would then post in the Journal in hopes of luring Libby out.

Byrnes was confronted by Sara and Laszlo for exploiting Clara and putting her in danger. They soon got word that Libby was near — spotted three blocks away in a striped jacket. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. It was a redhead girl in a striped jacket, but it wasn’t Libby. The woman claimed that Libby said she could keep the jacket if she delivered them a message. In hand, the woman held a bullet and told them that Libby said there was one for each of them.[15]

Byrnes discovered that Captain Doyle was killed while tracking Libby Hatch. He arrived at the scene of the crime to find Doyle's throat slit. He believed that Doyle died because he was acting on the behalf of the rich and wealthy like Vanderbilt. Had it been anyone else’s child missing, there wouldn’t have even been an army of men on the street. Marcus proceeded to take photos of the scene, explaining that it would help the prosecution.

Byrnes conducted Libby’s interview, during which time he tortured her. He filled a metal pan with water and ordered two officers to hold her head under. He demanded she reveal where the child was. She claimed that she would tell them, coaxing one of the officers to come closer so that she could bite his ear off. Libby then began to laugh and cry hysterically.

After failing to break her, Sara managed to her the location of the Vanderbilt baby from Libby. They entered the butchery to find the Vanderbilt baby all alone and crying. John picked the child up and took him to a hospital.

Byrnes attended Marcus' funeral and offered Lucius his condolences after his brother was killed by Libby and Goo Goo. Marcus was one of their own, he explained.

Byrnes and his men tracked Libby down to her childhood home. He confirmed that Libby and Goo Goo were inside with the child. Byrnes agreed to stand outside with his men in preparation for another Duster attack while Sara, John, and Laszlo proceeded inside. After Lucius killed Goo Goo and John recovered the child, Byrnes led his men inside to arrest Libby.[16]

Memorable Quotes[]

Byrnes: “I say we give Mr. Roosevelt all the rope he wants. We'll see if he doesn't soon hang himself with it.
The Boy on the Bridge

Byrnes: “You see, to them, you and me are nothing but dumb animals, no better than the lowlifes and the tenement scum we protect 'em from.
Byrnes: “It doesn't matter that they got soft hands and that they dress in silk bloomers. So long as they have money, we do their biddin'. And if you don't, they'll pay someone twice your size to sink you to the bottom of the river, like you no doubt done to their son! So don't tell me that you bloody took care of it!
Many Sainted Men

Byrnes: “You got a multi-murderer on the loose, and you come walking in here, accusing me of crimes brought on by your own lack of leadership?
Byrnes: “Men, good or bad, do not follow what they don't respect.
Byrnes: “I taught them to respect a badge and the uniform and all they stand for. What they do not respect is weakness.

Byrnes: “Scandalous lady detective bent on undermining the sacred bonds of family with untraditional friendships with working women and unavailable men. That's a story that maybe you'll wanna run in the Journal, Mr. Hearst.
Belly of the Beast

Byrnes: “Man walks a beat half his life for what? For this?
Byrnes: “Serving the propertied poltroons with greenbacks in their pockets. It's what we do, Marcus. You think'd an army of men out there hunting for your baby? Or his?
Better Angels


The Alienist

Angel of Darkness


  • He is based on Thomas F. Byrnes, an Irish-born American police officer, who served as head of the New York City Police Department detective department from 1880 until 1895, who popularized the term rogues gallery.



  1. Character Bio Thomas Byrnes - Warner Media Group
  2. Hossein Amini (writer) & Jakob Verbruggen (director); (January 22, 2018); "The Boy on the Bridge". Episode 1. The Alienist. TNT
  3. Gina Gionfriddo (writer) & Jakob Verbruggen (director); (February 5, 2018); "Silver Smile". Episode 3.The Alienist. TNT
  4. Gina Gionfriddo & Cary Fukunaga (writers) & James Hawes (director); (February 12, 2018); "These Bloody Thoughts". Episode 4.The Alienist. TNT
  5. John Sayles (writer) & Paco Cabezas (director); (March 5, 2018); "Many Sainted Men". Episode 7.The Alienist. TNT
  6. John Sayles (writer) & David Petrarca (director); (March 12, 2018); "Psychopathia Sexualis". Episode 8.The Alienist. TNT
  7. Hossein Amini (writer) & Jamie Payne (director); (March 19, 2018); "Requiem". Episode 9.The Alienist. TNT
  8. Cary Fukunaga, John Sayles & Chase Palmer (writer) & Jamie Payne (director); (March 26, 2018); "Castle in the Sky". Episode 10.The Alienist. TNT
  9. Stuart Carolan (writer); David Caffrey (director); (July 19, 2020); "Ex Ore Infantium". Episode 1. Angel of Darkness. TNT.
  10. Stuart Carolan (writer); David Caffrey (director); (July 19, 2020); "Something Wicked". Episode 2. Angel of Darkness. TNT.
  11. Gina Gionfriddo (writer); Clare Kilner (director); (July 26, 2020); "Labyrinth". Episode 3. Angel of Darkness. TNT.
  12. Alyson Feltes (writer); Clare Kilner (director); (July 26, 2020); "Gilded Cage". Episode 4. Angel of Darkness. TNT.
  13. Gina Gionfriddo & Karina Wolf (writer); Clare Kilner (director); (August 2, 2020); "Belly of the Beast". Episode 5. Angel of Darkness. TNT.
  14. Alyson Feltes (writer); David Caffrey (director); (August 2, 2020); "Memento Mori". Episode 6. Angel of Darkness. TNT.
  15. Tom Smuts & Amy Berg (writers); David Caffrey (director); (August 9, 2020); "Last Exit to Brooklyn". Episode 7. Angel of Darkness. TNT.
  16. Stuart Carolan & Karina Wolf (writers); David Caffrey (director); (August 9, 2020); "Better Angels". Episode 8. Angel of Darkness. TNT.