Escape from a Bordello

Fay Bucke was arrested for stealing clothing and furs valued at the princely sum of $540 (worth about $16,000 today) from her landlady in 1904. Despite the dire circumstances she found herself in, Fay took the time to style her hair—the updo she sported in her mugshot is nothing short of magnificent. If you’re wondering … Continue reading Escape from a Bordello

Women on Opposite Sides of the Law

Please join me and fellow author, Denise Testa, for our discussion of three women who stood on opposite sides of the law: Jessie Levy and Bess Robbins, who defended six members of the infamous John Dillinger gang in the early 1930s, and Sophie Lyons, who was one of the most notorious female criminals of the … Continue reading Women on Opposite Sides of the Law

Twin Tragedy

Arthur and Luther Foster were born on Halloween night in 1859. Their birth and survival was something of a miracle, because their mother, Dorcas, was 41 and had not had a baby for 14 years when they were born. But the Foster family was plagued by tragedy. The twins' oldest brother and sister passed away … Continue reading Twin Tragedy

The Lady Swindler

Gazing up, in her little veiled hat with its ridiculous feather, Marion L. Dow looks tiny, cute and entirely harmless. But a con artist should look harmless—isn’t that the point? She was born Marion Gratz in New Brunswick, Canada in 1846. The 19th century was an era when crime was the domain of men. In … Continue reading The Lady Swindler

Photographing the Rogues: The Police and 19th Century Photography

Before there were mugshots there were rogues' gallery photos. If you're interested in the history of police and prison photography during the 19th century, you're in luck! I'm giving a Zoom talk on the subject this coming Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 1:30 PM EST. The talk will be recorded, so if you have plans … Continue reading Photographing the Rogues: The Police and 19th Century Photography

Scotch Mag

Imagine: It’s a chilly Thursday evening in early November 1859. You’re a middle-aged man, a joiner by trade. You live in Brooklyn and don’t come to the city often because it means a nail-biting ferry ride, but tonight, with cash in your pocket ($8 to be exact), you feel optimistic. As you stroll up Broadway … Continue reading Scotch Mag

Murder by Moonlight

It was the tail end of the summer in 1937 when these men were arrested in St. Louis, Missouri. They were suspects in a murder that had taken place a few days earlier in Chicago. The photo was taken with a flash, which adds to the film noir flavor of the image. Note that the … Continue reading Murder by Moonlight

The Allotment

Pink Bruner was serving a life sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary for a murder he didn’t commit. It happened on a Saturday night in early May 1900. The city marshal, Hugh Myers, had ridden on horseback to the western edge of Davis, a small town in Indian Territory, to investigate gunshots. There he found three Black … Continue reading The Allotment

The San Quentin Follies

The follies were a high point in the dreary lives of the prisoners at San Quentin. An annual tradition held near the end of December, the prisoners wrote, directed and starred in each and every act. During the early years, when there were few female prisoners, the men produced and acted in the show, dressing … Continue reading The San Quentin Follies