Lena’s Scarlet Letter

Lena’s Scarlet Letter

A young woman going by the name of Lena Duarte was sent to prison on Halloween day in 1901. Her crime? Sending an “obscene letter” via the US mail to her friend Mabel Smith when she was in Fresno. This was a felony and Lena’s conviction earned her a sentence of six months in San Quentin.

According to The Los Angeles Times, Mabel and some friends went to visit Lena one evening, but Lena was not in the mood for visitors. When Lena wouldn’t let them in, Mabel kicked down the door and a fight ensued between the women.

Lena, described by the newspaper as a “Mexican señorita of no reputation at all,” reported the incident to the police. Mabel retaliated by handing over Lena’s letter, which allegedly was full of “the vilest parlance of the tenderloin.”

Naturally the press didn’t publish the contents of the letter, other than to state that it opened “My Dear, loving Mabel.” However The Times implied the argument was a lover’s spat, stating that the letter was “all affection, but the language was something awful. It was written a month ago, and the green monster, jealousy, must have cut their love in two since them.”

Evidently sex workers weren’t allowed to express love for others, particularly for each other.

Lena lived and worked at a brothel located at 219½ Ferguson Alley in Los Angeles’s Chinatown. Two months before the argument with Mabel, she and two friends, Belle Landers and Nestor Levy, had been charged with disorderly conduct after being arrested while engaging in “conduct declared to be indecent, and in language that was boisterous and disturbing.” For this each woman was fined $14 by the court (approximately $435 in today’s dollars). The choice was pay up or sit in jail. Lena paid up.

Alameda_and_Ferguson_Alley_Chinatown

Alameda and Ferguson Alley in Los Angeles Chinatown, circa 1920. Los Angeles Public Library

When the federal census was taken in June 1900, Lena did not live at 219½ Ferguson Alley. But two young women engaged in the sex trade did: Josie Cove, who was born in Japan, and Alice Gros, a native of France. Lena’s friend, Mrs. Nestor Levy, who was also a sex worker, lived around the corner on North Alameda. It’s likely that all of these women’s names, including Lena’s, were aliases.

Mabel joined her pal Lena at the prison a week later, after she too was convicted of sending obscene letters through the mail. Mabel’s mug shot and prison record have not survived. Nor has Ferguson Alley. It was demolished in the 1930s to make way for Highway 101.

If you have an interest in knowing more about the lives of sex workers during the early 20th century, I highly recommend Alice: Memoirs of a Barbary Coast Prostitute.

Featured photo: San Quentin State Prison, Inmate Photographs and Mug Books. California State Archives.

The Divine Miss Devine

The Divine Miss Devine

She gazes off in the distance with a look of calm confidence on her face. With her hair pulled tightly back from her forehead, a small curl nestling near her ear and delicate lace gloves on her hands, she appears to be the epitome of a beautiful and alluring antebellum woman.

It was in the late summer of 1859, when she sat weeping at the Philadelphia train depot. Her distress attracted the attention of a gentleman. He went over and asked if he could be of assistance. She told him her name was Carrie Bradford and she was the daughter of Captain Bradford of Washington. Her distress, she claimed, was due to the fact that she had no place to spend the night.

Her youth and attractive features did not go unnoticed by the gentleman. He was sympathetic to her situation — a woman of her class could not be left on her own in a big city like Philadelphia. Unscrupulous people might take advantage of her.

He took her to a nearby hotel and explained the situation to the proprietor, convincing him to let her stay. The next day she wrote a letter to her father in Washington and asked the proprietor to mail the letter for her. Then she went to see a dressmaker, Mary Ann Kent, at her shop on Lombard Street, a few blocks from the Delaware River.

At the shop she told Miss Kent that her brother had recently died in Montevideo, Uruguay. She explained that his funeral would be held in Philadelphia and she needed a beautiful black mourning dress. Miss Kent was also young — about the same age as her client. Although she did not know where Uruguay was, she was convinced by the story of the refined young woman. She took her measurements and began to work on the dress.

When the dress was ready the young woman returned to the shop and tried it on. It was stunning. She was very pleased with it — so pleased, in fact, that she decided to wear it out of the shop. She told Miss Kent to donate her old dress to “some poor person.”

This was odd, but Miss Kent didn’t question the decision of such a gracious woman. She also hoped the young lady would come back to the shop and order more expensive dresses.

The new dress cost the astonishing sum of $21.71 (about $625 nowadays). Of course she did not carry this amount of money in her purse. She asked for the bill to be sent to an address in West Philadelphia, where, she said, her father was staying temporarily.

Miss Kent let her walk out of the shop wearing the dress. She lived to regret it.

The young woman went next to the shop of an undertaker and told him the story of her dead brother in South America. She asked him to make a coffin for her brother’s funeral. The undertaker heard lots of sad stories in his line of work. He took the order, but checked the address she gave him before he started the work on the coffin. He discovered that no one knew “Miss Bradford” there. Naturally he did not make the coffin. Instead he reported her to the police.

“Carrie Bradford” was an alias, one of several that she used while staying without paying at various hotels around the City of Brotherly Love. As it turned out, Miss Kent was not the only business owner she had swindled.

The Philadelphia press covered the story of the sly woman con artist. The story was also carried in the papers in Baltimore and Brooklyn to serve as a warning to those in other cities.

In early September 1859 she appeared in court before Alderman Ogle, charged with obtaining goods under false pretenses.

2005.100.551.1Her real name was Mary Ann Devine, but it’s hard to say more precisely who she was. It’s likely she was a poor immigrant from Ireland who came to the Philadelphia when she was about ten years old, fleeing the terrible famines in her native land. She probably worked as a servant from dawn to dusk, six days and half days a week, for which she was paid a pittance. One day she realized that by making use of her good looks, imagination and acting abilities, she was a few easy lies away from eating meals in a nice hotel, sleeping in a soft bed and wearing a beautiful gown — unthinkable luxuries for someone like her!

Whether she ended her crime spree in 1859 is impossible to say.

Her photo is a police mugshot, one of the earliest taken in America. To explore more of the faces of people arrested between 1857 and 1861, check out “Rogues, a Study of Characters.” The collection is online at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Jailbreakers’ Will

The Jailbreakers’ Will

It happened in the early hours of the morning on December 4, 1891. Two police officers were standing outside the Broadway Jail in San Francisco when they noticed two men walk into Hinckley alley, a narrow pathway that ran next to the jail building. Wondering what the men were doing there so late at night, the officers followed them. But by the time they got to the alley, the men had disappeared. As the policemen turned back towards the street, a sound caught their attention. It was an odd scraping noise that seemed to be coming from the wall above their heads.

BroadwayJail

The Broadway Jail in April 1906. Courtesy of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department

“I think someone is cutting through the jail wall,” Officer Reynolds said to his companion. Reynolds ran inside the jail and sent up an escape alarm while the other officer stood guard in the alley.

The cellThe jail was immediately searched. All the cells on the first floor — the ones that held the male prisoners — were in order. On the second floor, where the women prisoners were housed, the jailers discovered two cellmates who were awake and playing cards at a table next to the wall. Their beds had not been slept in. They told the jailers that they were restless and couldn’t sleep.

An officer searched the cell and found that the box one of the women had been sitting on was quite heavy. He turned it over and discovered it was full of bricks and mortar. Next to where the women had been sitting, a cloth had been pasted on the wall with a piece of soap. Behind the cloth there was a large hole in the wall.

Using the handle of a spoon and a kitchen knife, Jennie Hastings and Hazel Corbett had come within one layer of bricks of escaping from the jail. The fourteen-foot drop to the street did not deter them in the least. It would have been “like stepping off a streetcar,” commented Jennie.

Hazel and Jennie

Drawings from The San Francisco Examiner newspaper.

It was an obvious question, but why had they done it? Jennie and Hazel said they had $1.30 between them and wanted to “spend it on a good old drunk.” They knew the walls were weak and it hadn’t been hard to cut through the inner layer of bricks.

When told about the men who’d been seen outside the jail, they insisted they’d planned the escape alone. Bad luck, though, that the men had gone into the alley at just the wrong time, leading to their plan being exposed.

According to The San Francisco Examiner, Hazel had been photographed “more than once for the San Francisco Rogues’ Gallery.” In October she’d been sentenced to 125 days to jail for petty larceny. Jennie, who worked as a prostitute, stood accused of robbing a client. She had been held in the Broadway Jail under $2000 bond since September on a charge of grand larceny.

One of the items that turned up when their cell was searched was a will. It read:

Last will and testament of Hazel Corbett and Jennie Hastings. This, 2nd day of December, 1891, A. D., in the city and county of San Francisco. We, the undersigned, give and bequeath all our personal effects as follows: The checkerboard and deck of cards to Major Barnett in cell 34; nightcap to Sofia Jackson, 60; all of our groceries to Annie Williams, in cell 63; can of molasses to Jennie Seymour, alias ‘Brick,’ also the salt, cell 64; twelve napkins and novels to cell 34; sateen dress and black mother hubbard cloak to Annie Kelly, cell unknown; lamp to Jessie Covens, and to the matron our best wishes and good will. Signed

“JENNIE HASTINGS”

“HAZEL CORBETT”

Thanks to Jennie and Hazel’s attempted jailbreak, the authorities decreed that women would no longer held in the Broadway Jail. A separate facility was established for them on the outskirts of the city at the Ingleside Jail. In January 1892, Jennie was convicted of grand larceny and sentenced to spend a year at the new women’s jail.

In 1895 a client tried to slash Jennie’s throat during a drunken argument. She survived the attack. She made her last appearance in the news in 1897, when a gold pin was stolen from her “crib.” Anxious to get it back, she reported the theft to the police. As for Hazel, she finished her sentence for petty larceny and was not heard from again in San Francisco.

Featured photo: Jennie Hastings–Photo Number 13278–“An old time San Francisco pickpocket; also a grand and petty larceny thief of the old school.” Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks Documenting San Francisco History and Law Enforcement, ca 1895-1936; UC Berkeley Bancroft Library

Portrait of a Drug Dealer

Portrait of a Drug Dealer

The first hint of trouble came when Elmer Tuttle deserted from the army. He’d enlisted in his home state of New York for a three-year stretch on September 14, 1901. He made it through just over a year and a half, deserting on April 2, 1902. Captured six months later, he was dishonorably discharged.

Four years later, while working as a bartender at the Lehigh Valley Hotel, he stole $65 from his employer, William Edwards. William had grown to trust “Bob” as Elmer was then known, and left him in charge for a few days while he went to the races in Ithaca. When he returned, both “Bob” and the cash from the previous three days’ sales had disappeared.

At his trial it came out that “Bob” had worked with a female accomplice who had posed as Edwards’ wife and she was the person who’d actually made off with the money. This made it problematic to prove the charge of grand larceny against him. Along with the fact that Elmer had a wife and baby at home, the court decided to let him to plead guilty to petty larceny. He served just a few months in jail.

jamesville pen

By April 1910 he’d been convicted of burglary and was housed in the Onondaga County Penitentiary in Jamesville, courtesy of the taxpayers of the State of New York. Now 30 years old, Elmer was listed on the federal census as being on his second marriage. Perhaps as a joke he told the census taker that his father, William, was born in France. In reality William Tuttle was a native New Yorker who was born in the tiny village of Walton and traced his ancestry back to the American Revolution.

Soon Elmer was on the loose again. He left his calling card (literally) in a ball of discarded clothing after robbing some much nicer clothes than those he’d been wearing from the lakeside cottage of H.C. Raymond in Penn Yan, New York. He was never arrested for this crime.

A few years later Elmer moved to Binghampton with his wife, Gertrude Bertha Rowley. What happened to his previous wife and his child is anyone’s guess. Gertrude’s father, Daniel, was a Civil War veteran who’d served honorably as a private in the 86th NY Infantry — the storied “Steuben Rangers.” Dan had seen action at many of the prominent battles of the war. What he thought of his daughter marrying an ex-con who’d been dishonorably discharged is not hard to fathom.

Elmer was arrested for selling morphine and heroin and was given a one-year stint, again in the prison at Onondaga, in 1914. While he was in prison (and possibly earlier) Gertrude was turning tricks for a living. She was arrested on November 6, 1914 for robbing a customer of a large roll of cash. The police believed the man might have been drugged before he was robbed. Gertrude was allowed to plead guilty to public intoxication and sentenced to 59 days in jail.

Elmer Tuttle_back

When he got out of prison, Elmer went back to selling drugs. According to the information on the back of his photo, by March 1915 he’d been convicted again and was serving time in Auburn Prison. His photo doesn’t look like a mugshot, so evidently the police confiscated a studio portrait he’d had taken, made some notes on the back and kept it for reference.

Around the time Elmer was incarcerated at Auburn, Gertrude was arrested for stealing a watch and chain from a “Mr. Moore” — likely a client — at a boarding house. The following year she got a six-month sentence at the Onondaga Penitentiary for vagrancy after she was arrested while working as a prostitute at a disorderly house in Binghamton. Later that same year she was jailed for six months for robbing one of her clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The fact that Gertrude often robbed her clients is an indication that she may have been addicted to drugs and needed more money than she could earn by sex work alone.

Given his life style and incarcerations, it will come as no surprise that Elmer didn’t live to be an old man. He died on September 11, 1919 of tuberculosis in Scranton. His death certificate lists his profession as “drug clerk,” which begs the question of whether or not he was selling drugs legally by then. (My guess is he was not). His family made sure he got a nice funeral and a decent burial.

Gertrude continued to work in prostitution for a number of years after her husband’s death. She was charged with running a disorderly house in Scranton in May 1927 and she was arrested for soliciting and sentenced to jail in September 1930. By 1940, when she was 58 years old, she had no profession and was living in the tiny town of Osceola, Pennsylvania, with her widowed mother. This is where she died, aged 85, on April 15, 1973.

Featured photo: A studio photographic portrait of Elmer Tuttle that was used by police as a mugshot. Collection of the author

 

How Mabel Got Away With Murder

How Mabel Got Away With Murder

Shots rang out at the Milwaukee Hotel in Seattle’s Chinatown around noon on Thursday, April 22, 1915. The police arrived and found George Grasty lying on the floor in a third floor washroom. He was severely injured, with a bullet wound to his abdomen and another in his right hip. The police located the shooter — a young woman — in a guest room on the fourth floor. Her gun was sitting on a nearby dresser. When she was told that Grasty was seriously injured and might die, she cried, “I am sorry.”

The woman was taken to jail. Grasty was taken to the hospital, where he died of his injuries the following day.

Three months earlier, Grasty had been released from McNeil Island Penitentiary, a federal prison off the coast of Washington State, after serving a 9 month sentence. He’d been convicted of violating the Mann Act, also known as the White Slave Traffic Act. The law was passed in 1910 out of concerns that men, particularly immigrants and African-Americans, were luring young white women and girls into prostitution. But it was also often used in cases in which an unmarried man and woman crossed state lines together.

george grasty record

Unfortunately the press didn’t cover Grasty’s case.

George Grasty was born in 1886 in Culpeper County, Virginia. His father, Enoch Homer Grasty, was a mixed race man who was born into slavery in 1846. Enoch may have been the son of his slaveholder, William Clark Grasty. An early graduate of Howard University, Enoch Grasty raised a large family in Culpeper, where he worked as a farmer, teacher and pastor. George was the fourth of seven children born to Enoch and his first wife, Fannie Bickers.

In 1913 Grasty worked as a barber in Billings, Montana. His penitentiary record indicates that in 1914, before he was imprisoned on McNeil Island, he worked as a waiter and a barber in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He also had a wife in Minneapolis.

When he got out of prison in January 1915, Grasty made his way to Seattle.

Martha Kawata to plead insanity - Newspapers.com

According to the story the shooter later told the court, her husband, Sueki Kawata, was armed with a gun and out looking for her when she happened to meet George Grasty, an old acquaintance from Montana. He offered to hide her overnight and she accepted. She and Grasty spent the next eight days drinking and smoking opium together. She claimed that due to his light complexion and pale eyes, she thought Grasty was white.

The party came to an abrupt end when she found out that Grasty had stolen a diamond necklace from her. An argument ensued and she shot him. However she also claimed Grasty had forced her to take the drugs and gloated over her while she was helpless from their effects. She claimed he told her that she had no choice but to go with him and live in a house “below the line” where she would have to work as a prostitute.

The big question on everyone’s mind was not why she shot and killed a man, but why had she married a Japanese man? The shooting of Grasty evidently seemed like a minor faux pas by comparison. Literally no one in Seattle spent any time crying over “the white slaver’s” fate.

“I married Kawata because he was good to me. He has been kind. He has cared a great deal for me and has stuck with me through this trouble, too,” she explained. But it is strange that someone so kind and caring had gone looking for her armed with a gun. Perhaps he heard she was with Grasty and took the gun in case things got ugly.

She came off as well spoken and educated when reporters visited her in jail. She was described as wearing conservative clothing that she kept neat and clean and never wearing makeup. Her husband visited her daily in jail, where he sat outside her cell.

At her trial for murder, the public was thrilled by the details of the time she and Grasty spent in opium dens prior to the murder. Because of all the opium she’d smoked, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was sent to the Medical Lake Insane Asylum in eastern Washington for an evaluation of her mental state.

Six months later she was found to be sane and released from custody. There’s no doubt about it — she played her cards right and got away with murder.

She probably did have a rough childhood. She claimed that before she met Sueki, all men had been cruel to her. “If I cared for them they cared nothing for me. Once I loved a man who beat me,” she said. But she also lied about her name and her past. After she was arrested, she told the police her name was Martha Kawata. She claimed that she was born in Tennessee, but various genealogical records also list her as having been born in South Dakota and Missouri.

There’s no record of her existence prior to her marriage in October 1913 to Sueki Kawata under the name “Mabel Worthington.” It could be that she was orphaned when she was a child or that she ran away from home. It’s also possible that she had a criminal record and the name she used on the marriage record was an alias.

Sueki Kawata sued Mabel for divorce on the grounds of cruelty and desertion in 1919. Both remarried, but by 1940, both were again divorced. Sueki and his son from his second marriage, Harry, were interned at the Minidoka Concentration Camp in Idaho during World War II. Sueki died in Seattle in 1952. Mabel’s death date is unknown.

As for George Grasty, did his family back east mourn his death? Did they ever even find out what happened to him?

Featured Images: George Grasty’s mugshots from McNeil Island Penitentiary (National Archives) and a photo of Mabel Kawata published in the The Seattle Star on May 3, 1915.

The Counterfeiting Couple

The Counterfeiting Couple

Counterfeiting is a serious crime in America, but it’s nowhere near the problem it was in the nineteenth century. According to the National Archives, in the years after the Civil War, between one-third and one-half of all currency that changed hands in the United States was counterfeit. That’s an astonishing statistic! Imagine how you’d feel if there were a 50% chance you’d be given fake money in your change when you went shopping.

The United States Secret Service was born out of the need for a federal law enforcement agency to combat this rampant counterfeiting. Andrew L. Drummond was an early Secret Service detective who later became an author. One of the stories in his 1909 book, “True Detective Stories,” was about his arrest of a counterfeiter named Cooper Wiltsey:

A big powerful man, he had about as wicked eyes as I ever saw in any human being. Men generally hated him. Such women as he met invariably liked him. He was about fifty years old, but the sprinkling of gray in his hair did not handicap him. Always there was some woman to be found who would swear that Cooper Wiltsey was all right.

Drummond sounds a little envious of Wiltsey’s success with the ladies, doesn’t he?

At any rate, in 1878 Drummond got word that Wiltsey was running a counterfeiting operation out of a house in Philadelphia. He worked with the local police to investigate and they located the house where they believed Wiltsey was making counterfeit coins in a room on the second floor. He gave a dramatic description in his book of the scene that unfolded the night the couple was arrested:

As I burst into the room my eye quickly caught two figures—that of a woman standing as if she were cast in bronze and that of Wiltsey leaping at me with a fifteen inch stiletto-like carving knife clasped in his hand. I leveled my revolver at his head and told him to stop or I would kill him. He stopped. As I called, Wiltsey’s eyes shifted from me to the head of the stairs.

Wiltsey book

Thinking he had the situation under control, Drummond foolishly put his gun in his pocket and grabbed Wiltsey’s wrist. But Wiltsey refused to give up the knife and tried to cut Drummond’s fingers with it. Fortunately for the detective, his police back up appeared at that moment with their guns drawn. Wiltsey dropped the knife.

Wiltsey and his partner, Sarah Page, were in the process of melting a mixture of tin and antimony and pouring it into molds when they were arrrested. After the metal cooled and was removed from the molds, they planned to use an electric battery to add a thin layer of silver-plating to the fake coins. One silver dollar had enough silver in it to plate five hundred of the coins. Each “dollar” would be sold for between 25 and 35 cents.

Wiltsey was convicted of counterfeiting. Page was acquitted.

The Times of Philadelphia claimed that Sarah Page was Wiltsey’s mistress. But based on genealogical records, it seems more likely that she was his wife.

Cooper Wiltsey was born in New Jersey in 1833. In 1853 he and his wife Sarah had their first child, Benjamin. By 1864 they’d added another five children to their family. Wiltsey served in the 24th New Jersey Infantry during Civil War, achieving the rank of 2nd lieutenant.

The big surprise is that Wiltsey, the future counterfeiter, was employed as a constable in Gloucester City in 1870.

In 1882 Sarah listed herself as “widow of Cooper” in the Camden City Directory, but this was a little face-saving fib. Her husband was still alive and serving his sentence at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton. By 1885 Wiltsey was back at home with Sarah and the kids, according to the New Jersey State Census. By 1891 he had his own restaurant in Gloucester City.

Sarah Wiltsey died in 1902. Cooper passed away “after a lingering illness” in May 1904. Both are buried in Gloucester City’s Cedar Grove Cemetery.

The perplexing question is why the Wiltseys, who appeared to be upstanding citizens, decided to become counterfeiters. Possibly enforcing the law somehow enticed Wiltsey into breaking it. As to his great success with the ladies, it seems that Drummond took some artistic license with his story, because Wiltsey seems to have been more of a family man than a Casanova.

Featured photos: Sarah Page, CDV mugshot from the National Archives Collection and Cooper Wiltsey, photo from the Vancouver Daily World, December 26, 1908

Taking Her Oath

Taking Her Oath

I was very fortunate to purchase this news photo on eBay a few years ago. It shows newly minted SFPD policewoman, Blanche Payson, being sworn in by Police Chief D.A. White. I suspect the photographer was careful to make sure the photo on the wall of famed police detective, Isaiah Lees, was also visible in the picture. Lees, who died in 1902, has been credited as being the policeman who came up with the idea of the Rogues’ Gallery (mugshot photography). While that claim can be debated, there’s no doubt he was an early user of photography to help identify criminal suspects.

Blanche Payson_marked

Here’s the full photograph. It was printed in reverse and a note on the back specifies that it needs to be flipped “so hands will be right.”

But back to Blanche: She was also a first. The photo was likely taken to announce the fact that San Francisco had hired its first “special” policewoman. Blanche would be charged with directing traffic and keeping things safe and orderly for women and children at the Toyland exhibit at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. “Mashers” (men who sexually harassed women) were to be her special quarry. She also guarded the Liberty Bell while it was on display at the expo.

She was born Mary Elizabeth Bush in Santa Barbara in 1881 to Thomas and Sarah Bush. By the time she married Eugene Payson, a commercial traveler, in 1908, she had changed her first name to Blanche. In 1910 Payson placed an announcement in the local papers that he wouldn’t be responsible for his wife’s debts. The couple divorced but she kept his surname. In 1923 she married Allen Thurman Love, but that marriage also ended in divorce.

Blanche was hired in part because she had family connections to policing: her uncle, Dan Martin, served as the first police chief of Santa Barbara. She also came recommended for the job by William Pinkerton, the renowned private detective of the Pinkerton Agency (“We Never Sleep”).

Blanche Payson advice (better photo) - Newspapers.com

Blanche directing traffic at the Panama Exposition.

Another useful attribute was that Blanche was an imposing physical presence. Depending on which press report you believe, she was somewhere between six foot four and six foot six inches tall. Not to mention that when she was hired, she weighed in at 235 pounds.

After the exposition ended Blanche moved to Hollywood and took up a new career: film actress. It’s possible the acting bug bit her when she was essentially “on stage” while working at the expo.

She made her first film, “Wife and Auto Trouble,” at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios in 1916. She successfully transitioned to “talkies” and made many more films, mostly slapstick comedies, over the next three decades. With her towering height, she often played the “heavy” for comedians, including The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy. She continued to appear in films until 1943.

Blanche Payson in reunion photo - Newspapers.com

Blanche (upper left) at a reunion of the Mack Sennett “Bathing Beauties” in 1950.

In 1925 a reporter interviewed Blanche about her police career. She informed him that, in her opinion, women made excellent police officers and were particularly well suited to being traffic cops. “Women do not lose their heads so easily as men. They do not burst into profanity on such slight provocation. They are not so dictatorial as men,” said Blanche.

Blanche died in Los Angeles on the 4th of July in 1964.

Stealing Horses

Stealing Horses

Can you imagine a time when stealing a horse (or two) could earn you hard time in San Quentin?

Meet the men who accomplished that feat: Frank Adamson and James Carey. In October of 1912, Frank stole a horse and buggy in Turlock that belonged to Emil Johnson. He drove it to Fresno and on the way he picked up his buddy, Carey. When the pair got to Fresno they sold Johnson’s horse and buggy and stole another one that belonged to Albert Bowen. Then they drove Bowen’s “rig” to Coalinga, where the city marshal, Eddie Burns, apprehended them.

The law did not take stealing horses lightly: Johnson and Bowen were likely to have been put out of business when their transportation suddenly vanished.

It seems quaint now, but back in the day lawmen out west communicated about wanted men by sending out flyers or “circulars” to their fellow lawmen in other communities. Marshal Burns had gotten one of these communiqués from the sheriff of Ventura, E.G. Martin. Thinking he might have rounded up the crooks Martin was after, he wrote to him to check on whether the men he had in custody were the ones wanted in Martin’s jurisdiction.

Marshal Burns must have been a very thorough man because he even commissioned photos of the culprits. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words. He fastened the photos together and sent them, along with a letter, to provide Martin with a visual of the suspects.

horse thief letter

Neither man was wanted in Ventura, but 24-year-old Adamson owned up to Burns about his lengthy prison record. He said he had been a prison trusty (an inmate deemed trustworthy who got special privileges) in Stockton, where he was serving a six month sentence for stealing a bicycle, when he abused that trust by escaping. He’d also done two years in a penitentiary in his native New Zealand. Not to mention that he’d served time in British Columbia and in Ashland, Oregon.

They were convicted of grand larceny. Carey, a 36-year-old native of The Emerald Isle, apparently had no priors, but he was dumb enough to go along for the ride with Adamson. It earned him four years in San Quentin. Adamson, the “Kiwi,” got six years.

Adamson and Carey SQ

San Quentin prisoner inmate photos of Adamson and Carey. California State Archives

Adamson was deported back to New Zealand after he was released in 1917.

Featured: suspect photos of Frank Adamson and Jim Carey taken October 26, 1912 in Coalinga, California.

Family Secrets

Family Secrets

Note: I’m breaking with my usual blog routine. This is a story about a possible crime that happened in my own family.

Family secrets tend to lurk, like rotten apples, in family trees. But eventually they have to fall on the ground. One of the best-kept secrets in my family was the fate of my grandfather’s sister, May Plowman Moody.

May died on November 4, 1913 at the People’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She was 27 years old when she died. According to her death certificate she moved to Chicago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa in April 1913, about seven months before her death. Her husband, Frank Moody died of natural causes in Cedar Rapids in May 1912. The couple had two small sons at the time of Frank’s death.

On the night of November 3, 1913, May, suffering from intense abdominal pain, was taken to People’s Hospital in Chinatown, several miles south of where she lived. She suffered intense pain throughout the night and died the next morning.

According to Hugh Cameron, the informant on her death record, May lived at the Valencia Hotel in Chicago and worked as a cashier before she died. Located at 1311 Michigan Avenue, the hotel is listed in the 1910 Chicago city directory, but it’s not listed in any later directories. It was probably more of a boarding house with aspirations than an actual hotel. The building was torn down decades ago.

May Moody death

Cameron, a life-long Chicago resident, was old enough to be May’s father. Though he spelled her first name incorrectly, he knew her well enough to correctly provide her father’s name and country of birth, along with her precise date of birth for her death certificate. I never figured out how they met, but it’s possible it was on a visit Cameron made to Cedar Rapids in March 1913. The details of their relationship remain a mystery.

Evidently Cameron knew how to get in touch with May’s father, because her body was sent back to Cedar Rapids. My grandfather and his brother paid for her burial. End of story? Not quite.

An unexplained death necessitates an inquest. The inquest into May’s death was held at People’s Hospital the morning she died. I. Clark Gary, the founder and physician in charge of the hospital, testified that May’s doctor brought her to People’s Hospital the night before her death. She was admitted, but for some unexplained reason she was given no treatment at the hospital.

Cameron’s inquest testimony tells a different tale than the one he told for her death certificate. He claimed May lived with him in a flat at 61 E. 12th Street, a block and a half from the Valencia Hotel. The area, close to the railroad tracks, was then full of industrial buildings and warehouses. The building where they lived would have been just west of two famous Chicago landmarks, the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, though neither was there in 1913. 12th Street was renamed Roosevelt Road in 1919 and 61 E. 12th Street succumbed to the wrecking ball years ago.

Cameron also stated that at the time of her death, May worked as his “house keeper.” He gave his occupation is “restaurant keeper.” However he’s listed in Chicago city directories from that time working as a bartender.

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1910 Rand McNally map (detail) of Chicago with locations flagged

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Albert McEvers in 1916.

The doctor treating May before she died was Albert McEvers. His office was located at 1201 Wabash, just a few steps away from 61 E. 12th Street.

McEvers was listed as a veterinary surgeon in the 1912 Chicago city directory, but by 1913 he was listed as a physician in the city directory. The Official Register of Legally Qualified Physicians,  lists McEvers as having graduated from the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery in 1912.

With the goal of serving working class patients, Peoples’ Hospital was a block and a half west of the notorious vice neighborhood—the south side Levee District. According to Chicago as a Medical Center the hospital was “well supplied with operating rooms.” After undergoing several name changes it closed in 1991 and the building was torn down.

Shortly after she died Dr. Joseph Springer performed a postmortem on May’s body at the hospital. Springer found that she bled to death after her “tubular” pregnancy ruptured. When a tubal (ectopic) pregnancy occurs, the embryo implants in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. When the embryo grows too large the tube ruptures.

Springer

Dr. Joseph Springer in 1914

Timely surgical intervention might have saved May’s life. By the early twentieth century, surgical treatment of ectopic pregnancy was well accepted and available in a large cities, provided the patient was taken to a good hospital with experienced diagnosticians, surgeons and operating rooms. If the intention had been to try to save her life, May could have been taken to St. Luke’s Hospital at 1439 S. Michigan Avenue. It was a large hospital with operating rooms that was very close to where she lived.

The inquest was carried out by the Cook County Coroner’s Office, which was then headed by Peter M. Hoffman. Hoffman, who would later be elected sheriff of Cook County, was indicted on corruption charges and served a month in jail in 1925. However Hoffman was not present at the inquest. It was handled by one of his deputy coroners, William Ostrum. Ostrum falsified the statements of Hugh Cameron and two other witnesses, Arthur Goldstein and John McCambridge, by writing their statements and signing the men’s names himself.

According to Cameron’s statement May was “operated upon” by Dr. McEvers about a month before her death. Cameron claimed that May had not had her period (“her visitors”) for six weeks before her death, making her about eight weeks pregnant. Nonetheless he stated he was satisfied that May was “not aborted.” He was not a medical expert, so presumably this comment was included to shield him from suspicion that he tried to obtain an abortion for her. Abortion, of course, was illegal at the time. Cameron was the only witness whose statement included a mention of abortion.

Arthur Goldstein (who I was unable to find in any Chicago city directory) was listed in the inquest as a “waiter.” He attested to the truth of Cameron’s statement, though his relationship to Cameron and May, if any, was not explained. McCambridge, a police officer, gave his opinion that May died a “natural death and no foul play to the case.” The officer also claimed there were no other witnesses to the case.

Since Ostrum wrote out and signed the statements of the three men, it’s impossible to know how accurate their testimony was.

The three doctors—McEvers, Gary and Springer—wrote and signed their own statements. The statements were brief and amounted to affirming that May had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured, resulting in her death.

The inquest jurors, some of who could barely sign their names, appear to have been men who were patients at the hospital.

The inquest leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Why did Ostrum fill out some of witness statements and sign them himself, including the signature of his boss, Hoffman? Why did May have no belongings, not even clothing (other than a “shield” or menstrual pad), according to the “effects and estate” evidence sheet? She must have been wearing something when she arrived at the hospital.

Dr. McEvers didn’t mention in his statement any treatment he provided to May. What was the operation a month he performed before her death? Was it an abortion? A doctor who performed an abortion and got caught would lose his license and might even go to prison. (Search on the word “abortion” for case examples.)

Being an inexperienced physician, possibly McEvers didn’t realize May had a tubal pregnancy—a condition that would have made an abortion unsuccessful. Maybe when she had abdominal pain a month after he aborted her, he tried a second abortion. Or possibly he realized then that the pregnancy was tubal and, fearing that the earlier abortion would be found out, he took her to People’s Hospital.

History of medicine and surgery and physicians and surgeons of C

Why did May receive no treatment at People’s Hospital? It seems unlikely to have been because she had no money, since the hospital was created to treat people from the working class. Was it a place where women who had undergone an abortion and were dying could be taken, for a fee, with no questions asked? If so, the decision to take her there was a death sentence.

May had two small children to support and her family was not in a position to help her financially. Where did she meet Hugh Cameron? Did she relocate to Chicago because Cameron told her there was a good job waiting for her there? Did she work as a cashier and live at the Valencia Hotel or was she Cameron’s live-in housekeeper/girlfriend? Was Cameron the father of her unborn child? Did she hope to marry him? If so she was in for a disappointment. According to the 1913 Chicago city directory, Cameron had another home on Commercial Avenue, 11 miles south of 12th Street. He also already had a wife and a child. According to the 1920 census, his oldest child, Hugh Cameron, was born in 1911.

May’s children, Robert Sanford Moody and Wesley Walter (Moody) Ward were raised by their paternal aunt Jessie Moody Ward. Wesley was officially adopted by Jessie and her husband, Charles Ward, and changed his surname to Ward. Robert, the older son, was not adopted and kept his original surname.

My grandfather never talked about his only full sister (he had two half sisters). We have no photographs of May or her children. My family had no contact with her two sons, even though Robert and Wesley lived in Chicago about a mile from mom’s family during the 1930s. My mother didn’t even know she had an aunt or cousins. You know how genealogists are: they love a mystery and a challenge, which makes it hard to keep things hidden. I found out my grandfather had a sister and I assumed she’d gotten married, but I didn’t know her married name. I discovered it through a careful search of the 1910 census, using her first name and the fact of her father’s birth in England and her mother’s birth in Missouri to narrow my search results. I got four hits and figured she was the one who lived closest to Cedar Rapids. Bingo—there she was, living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with her husband and two young sons.

Then I found her death certificate and, hoping to understand what happened, I wrote to the Illinois State Archives for a copy of the inquest record. It took months but eventually I was sent the file. I was very lucky, because since then inquest files dated later than 1911 seem to have vanished.

I know more now than I did before I started digging, but more knowledge has brought more questions. Now I may never find out exactly what happened to my great aunt, because everyone who knew her has passed away.

Rotten apples leave a sour smell, you know?

To read the 11-page inquest, here’s a link to download the PDF: May Moody Inquest

Featured photo: 12th Street and Michigan Avenue in 1915. Photos of Springer and McEvers from the Chicago Daily News.