She was down on her luck when she was arrested and photographed, in April 1913, on a charge of grand larceny. Despite the listing on her identification card, her name wasn’t Hazel Raymond and she wasn’t born in Washington. She looks world-weary in her mugshots. And it was no wonder, given all she’d been through.
The previous year she’d tried to commit suicide after she was arrested in her Seattle hotel room for indecent conduct. Claiming to prefer death to disgrace, she picked up a bottle of toothache medicine and swallowed all of it. Fortunately the arresting officers got her to the hospital in time and she was revived.
Her father, Otto, was born in Sweden and her mother, Charlotte, hailed from France. She was born and grew up in Utah, where her family joined the Mormon Church and her father became a missionary. She and her twin sister were the youngest of their large family and her dad, who sometimes traveled for work, was away from home for periods of time. Her mother found it a challenge to handle her youngest daughters on her own.
She worked as a waitress and her twin sister was employed as a clerk in Salt Lake City. Their parents moved to Washington State in 1910 and their older siblings had already gotten married and moved away.
She hoped to earn better money by trying her hand at prostitution. She worked, along with several other white women, at a place in Plum Alley, Salt Lake City’s Chinatown. It didn’t last long. After several police officers were dismissed for taking bribes to look the other way, police raided the house on March 5, 1910, and arrested the inhabitants.
On March 17, 1911, she and her sister, using the names Hazel and Pearl Raymond, along with another woman, were taken into custody after a raid on a “negro club” in Salt Lake City. Federal authorities believed the women had been brought from Wyoming and forced to work as prostitutes at the establishment. This was a violation of the 1910 Mann Act, sometimes called the White-Slave Traffic Act.
The Mann Act made it a felony to take females across state lines for immoral purposes. Though the law was supposed to combat human-trafficking and forced prostitution, primarily of white women, the act was ambiguous and led to arrests of people engaging in consensual sexual activity. By 1916 it was known as the “The Blackmail Act.”
The owner of the club was an African-American attorney and newspaper editor named Lawrence Marsh. Marsh — Utah’s first minority attorney — was not popular with the white community in Salt Lake City. He’d been lobbying for and finally succeeded in getting an equal rights bill for minorities into the state senate. The bill would have made it illegal for businesses to refuse to serve people based on their race.
Federal authorities declared that a white man in cahoots with Marsh lured the women, who claimed they’d been working as a vaudeville team, away from their theatrical troupe, and took them to Marsh’s rooms, or maybe it was his club — reports varied. Newspaper reports claimed that Marsh pulled a gun on the women, plied them with strong drink, made them smoke opium, and invited his friends to join him in subjecting the women to unspecified “abuses” while holding them against their will.
Supposedly the women escaped out a window, with the aid of a messenger boy, after a three-day ordeal.
Initially the women played along with the story of abduction and abuse. But when it came to testifying against Marsh in court, “Hazel” refused, claiming she feared she would incriminate herself. The other women followed suit. Apparently they worked willingly as prostitutes. It may be that Marsh had no connection with the brothel. The case fell apart, however the taint of it caused Marsh to be disbarred. On April 8, 1911, the women were released from jail where they’d been held during the trial.
The day after their release The Salt Lake City Tribune published a “pathetic letter” from Mr. and Mrs. O. J. Swenson of Aberdeen, Washington. According to the letter, Hazel and Pearl Raymond were actually the Swenson’s twin daughters, Grace and Zola Swenson. They had not been brought from out of state to Salt Lake City but were native daughters. The letter begged the “wayward girls” to return to their parents in Washington. They said they would comply.
Evidently Grace did head north to Seattle. There, again using her alias, Hazel Raymond, she tried to end her life after she was arrested for indecent conduct. Next came her 1913 arrest for grand larceny.
The story has a good ending. Grace ended up in El Paso, Texas, living with a man ten years her junior named Oliver Rice. Oliver was the breadwinner — he worked as an auto mechanic. He and Grace got married in 1926. For many years Zola, who never officially married, lived with her sister and Oliver in El Paso.
When Zola died of a stroke on January 10, 1943, her name was listed on her death certificate as “Zola Rice.” Apparently after the wayward Swenson girls settled down, they took their Mormon faith to heart and shared a husband.