Female Fraud

Female Fraud

Fairhaven, Mass., Feb. 19 (Special) — An attractive “girl” of 17, who had been a perfect lady’s maid for a New York family and a hootchy-kootchy dancer with a carnival, was unmasked today as a young man who had fooled associates with his female impersonation for more than a year.

 

The young man, Albert H. Cook, son of a Fairhaven laborer, also was identified as a thief. Exposure of his hoax came with his arrest for the theft of $25,800 worth of jewelry from the home where he worked as a girl domestic.

Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1947

Albert Cook went to a party dressed as a young lady on Halloween in 1945, and the disguise was so good that no one, not even his closest friends, recognized him. It gave the 15-year-old resident of Fairhaven, Massachusetts an idea — why not dress as a girl and see if he could get a job in a big city? There wasn’t much keeping him in Fairhaven — his mother died when he was small. Life in a small New England town wasn’t exciting and it didn’t hold much interest for young Albert. An only child, Albert and his father lived with his grandparents. His father had been a fisherman, but by 1940 Charles Cook worked in a dull, backbreaking job, on a road construction crew for the W.P.A.

Blessed with a creamy complexion, black hair and dark blue eyes, Albert put on his blonde wig, padded himself with “falsies” and dressed in his Halloween costume in March 1946. He headed to Manhattan, where, using his friend, Ruth Hathaway’s name as an alias, he went to an employment agency and was quickly hired as a servant for a Khedouri Zilkha, a wealthy Iraqi-Jewish banker. Dainty in a lacy French uniform, “Ruth” was acknowledged by the Zilkha family to be the “perfect maid.”

A few complications cropped up. Every so often his voice cracked unexpectedly. He had to shave his beard daily, but he had a private bathroom in the Zilkha home. With the help of his wig and padding, along with an electric razor, powder and rouge, he was able to keep up the ruse for six weeks.

Then in May 1946 Mr. Zilkha accused “Ruth” of stealing two silver platters. Albert claimed he was innocent of the crime, but it got him to thinking. If he was going to be labeled a thief and lose his job, he might as well be one! He absconded with $25,800 worth of the Zilkha’s jewelry, including a $6000 diamond studded platinum clasp, and headed to Boston. There he pawned some of the loot to finance a six-month long tour of the country.

Albert_Cook_arrested__PhotoHe moved on to Chicago where he donned his female disguise and paid a private detective $30 to guard him and the jewelry for an evening on the town. After pawning more of the jewelry he left for Tennessee. Still in disguise, he joined a carnival as a “hoochie coochie (i.e. belly) dancer” and traveled with the show to Lake City, Florida. Eventually he ran out of money and, putting his “boy’s clothes” back on, he returned home to Fairhaven, where he was arrested for grand larceny and extradited to New York. Albert admitted to the theft and signed a confession. None of the Zilkha’s jewelry was recovered.

In a photo taken of the manacled Albert after his arrest, he appears to be considering what kind of bracelet the handcuff he’s wearing might make.

“Oh that Albert,” the real Ruth Hathaway giggled to police, “he was always a great one for dressing up in my clothes.”

Featured photo: news photo of Albert Cook, Feb. 26, 1947. Collection of the author.

Crooks’ Books

Crooks’ Books

The engagement of an internationally known woman criminal to marry the internationally noted criminologist, whose inspiration she was in the preparation of a book on the famous women criminals of all time, was announced today.

 

May Vivienne Churchill, known to the police of three continents as “Chicago May” Churchill, assisted and inspired Netley Lucas, English Criminologist, in the preparation of his book, “Ladies of the Underworld.”

The Baltimore Sun, January 4, 1928

During the early 20th century it was all the rage for reformed crooks (or those who claimed to be “ex”) to publish books about their felonious exploits. The notorious “Chicago May” was supposedly the inspiration for Netley Lucas’ 1927 book “Ladies of the Underworld: The Beautiful, the Damned and Those Who Get Away with It.” May’s own memoir, written with professional help, titled “Chicago May: Her Story by the Queen of Crooks” rolled out in 1928.

It’s not surprising that Netley and Chicago May cooked up a scheme to shock polite society while simultaneously promoting their books. As champagne corks popped in celebration of the New Year, 25-year-old Netley, and May, the queen blackmailer old enough to be his mother, announced their intention to wed. They hoped a photograph showing the two of them cozying up on a loveseat would convince readers that their wedding plans were legit. In reality it was a publicity stunt.

Netley Lucas mugNetley was not, in fact, a “noted criminologist.” He was an English con man who began his life of crime at the tender age of 14 when he adopted the persona of a wounded serviceman, claiming to have fought in a World War I battle. Gaining the sympathy of London society, he was able to open credit accounts with various businesses until the deception was uncovered and he was sent to reform school. He quickly escaped and was on the make again, posing as a gentleman. Arrested for false pretenses and check fraud, back to the borstal went young Netley. There “he had associated with every form of crook and confidence trickster imaginable.” It was perfect schooling for a boy with his predilections and talents.

In 1924, at the tender age of 21, Netley, who claimed to have turned over a new leaf, found his “true calling” as a writer. His memoir, “The Autobiography of a Crook,” was published in 1925. It became a bestseller and over the next few years he wrote biographies of members of various European royal family members and well-known public figures.

Netley’s biographies were fabricated. Even his own memoir turned out to have been ghost written. The book about the exploits of lady criminals was likely also a pack of lies.

Chicago May mugChicago May was born Mary Anne Duignan in 1871 in Ireland. She stole her family’s life savings, in 1890, and used it to immigrate to England, then America. May worked as a prostitute in New York City. Next she moved to Chicago during the World’s Fair in 1893. She teamed up with another prostitute to rob clients — one did the robbing while the gent was “distracted” by the other. She also became adept at the “badger game,” a con in which married men were lured into sexually compromising situations, then blackmailed.

May and CharlieMay became romantically involved with the noted criminal Eddie Guerin and they traveled to Europe. (Not one to be outshone, Eddie published his autobiography in 1928). She and Eddie planned the robbery of an American Express office in Paris, but plans went awry and they ended up in prison. The pair reunited in London (May was released, Eddie escaped) where their relationship turned ugly and May took up with another crook named Robert Considine, alias Charlie Smith. An argument between the three, involving Eddie’s threats to slash May’s face, led to Eddie being shot in the foot. May and Charlie were convicted of attempted murder and sent to English prisons in 1907.

Her criminal heyday in the past, May returned to the United States after her 1917 prison release. She landed in Detroit, where, desperate for money, she worked as a common prostitute. May hoped her memoir would help her get back on her feet financially.

Though the engagement to Netley was bogus, May did plan to get married — to her old love and fellow crook, Robert. However she was taken ill before the nuptials could occur and she died in a Philadelphia hospital on May 30, 1929. At least 15 of her 57 years on earth had been spent in a prison cell.

Netley fared even worse than May. In 1931 he was convicted of trying to sell a fake biography of Queen Alexandra and sentenced to 18 months hard labor. The notoriety brought an end to his writing career and he spiraled into alcoholism. He was found dead in 1940, aged 37, in the partly burnt out living room of a house in Surrey, England. No one mourned his passing.

They say what goes around comes around, so it seems fitting that crook books are back in style. Biographies of both Netley Lucas and Chicago May have been published in recent years.

Featured photo: news photo of Netley Lucas and Chicago May, announcing their engagement to be married on January 4, 1928. Collection of the author.

Other photos: Netley’s mugshot, Police Gazette, July 18, 1924; May’s mugshot, date and location unknown; May and Robert, The Evening Journal, Wilmington, Delaware, May 30, 1929.