She was down on her luck when she was arrested and photographed in San Francisco, in April 1913, on a charge of grand larceny. She looks world-weary in her mugshots. And it was no wonder, given all she’d been through. Despite the listing on her identification card, her name wasn’t Hazel Raymond. She was either Grace or Zola Swenson. The Swenson girls were twin sisters from Salt Lake City.
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 Salt Lake City, 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.
Their parents moved to Washington State and their older siblings got married and moved away from Utah. The twins stayed on in Salt Lake City, where one worked as a waitress and the other was employed as a clerk.
The twins decided they could earn better money as prostitutes. They 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, the twins, using the names Hazel and Pearl Raymond, along with another woman, identified as Irene Raymond, 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 lobbied for and 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 worked 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, saying she feared she would incriminate herself. The other women followed suit.
The case fell apart, however the taint of it caused Marsh to be disbarred and his senate bill went nowhere. 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 go to their parents in Washington. The girls promised to comply.
At least one of the twins headed north to Washington State. In Seattle, again using the 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, the name listed on her death certificate was not “Zola Swenson, but “Zola Rice.” Of course it might have been an error, but it’s just as possible that after the wayward Swenson girls settled down, they took their Mormon faith to heart and shared a husband.
Featured photo: Police identification card mugshots of “Hazel Raymond,” whose real name was either Grace or Zola Swenson. Collection of the author.