Starts and Ends in Jail

Annabelle Johnson was in the pokey in Denver, Colorado, charged with larceny. The year was 1901 and her jailer was the deputy sheriff, a fellow named Charles Brown Blackwords.

Charles, or C.B. as he was known, fell in love with the attractive young woman. He talked her father into mortgaging his home to furnish the bond to get his daughter out of jail. The lovebirds eloped together, despite the fact that C.B. already had a wife and children in Denver. Annabelle’s dad lost his house when she didn’t show up for court.

The couple headed to San Francisco. C.B.’s wife divorced him in 1903, and he and Annabelle got married. They decided to find work as servants for the wealthy, however they didn’t intend to do much cooking or cleaning. The plan was to get hired (using fake names) and become trusted employees. Then they would abscond with as much jewelry, furs and other valuables as they could lay their larcenous hands on.

The scam worked well for awhile. They pulled off robberies in San Francisco, Sacramento, Reno and Denver. But when they robbed W. E. Gerber, a Sacramento banker, of $6000 worth of diamonds and other valuables in December 1910, plans went awry. Gerber didn’t take the robbery sitting down—he told law enforcement about their racket.

Annabelle, traveling under the alias “Jessie Croffer,” was arrested at the train depot in Ogden, Utah, and taken to the city jail. She’d been alone and was heading east on the Southern Pacific train. She had in her possession a large trunk that was presumed by the cops to hold the stolen loot.

 

Mrs. Blackword (sic) stated immediately after having been placed in jail that she wished her trunk contained dynamite, and that when the officers opened it, it would explode and blow the box into smithereens.

The Ogden Standard (Ogden, Utah), Dec. 28, 1910

 

C.B. was arrested in Sparks, Nevada. He confessed to authorities that the crime was entirely his wife’s fault and that she was responsible for the robberies. He was just an innocent victim of her criminal enterprises, despite the fact that they’d purchased a car together with some of her ill-gotten gains.

C.B. Blackwords’ Folsom inmate photo, California State Archives

The stolen loot was recovered, including three diamonds sent by the couple to a friend for safekeeping, and other jewels they’d pawned in Reno. Stolen linen, clothing and cut glass were located in the trunk Annabelle wanted to blow up.

Annabelle’s photo and description in the prison register, California State Archives

Annabelle pleaded guilty to grand larceny. C.B. pleaded not guilty but he was convicted of conspiracy to commit robbery. The couple was sentenced on March 6, 1911. She cried and made an impassioned plea that her husband was innocent and that he should not go to prison, but he got a six-year term in Folsom. She got a seven-year stretch in San Quentin.

After serving four years and eight months at San Quentin, Annabelle was released in December 1915. C.B. had been released the previous May. Love, apparently, does not conquer all, because they divorced in 1918.

Featured photo: Mrs. C.B. Blackwords (aka Annabelle Blackwords), San Quentin Inmate Photographs, California State Archives

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