Portrait of a Drug Dealer

The first hint of trouble came when Elmer Tuttle deserted from the army. He’d enlisted in his home state of New York for a three-year stretch on September 14, 1901. He made it through just over a year and a half, deserting on April 2, 1902. Captured six months later, he was dishonorably discharged.

Four years later, while working as a bartender at the Lehigh Valley Hotel, he stole $65 from his employer, William Edwards. William had grown to trust “Bob” as Elmer was then known, and left him in charge for a few days while he went to the races in Ithaca. When he returned, both “Bob” and the cash from the previous three days’ sales had disappeared.

At his trial it came out that “Bob” had worked with a female accomplice who had posed as Edwards’ wife and she was the person who’d actually made off with the money. This made it problematic to prove the charge of grand larceny against him. Along with the fact that Elmer had a wife and baby at home, the court decided to let him to plead guilty to petty larceny. He served just a few months in jail.

jamesville pen

By April 1910 he’d been convicted of burglary and was housed in the Onondaga County Penitentiary in Jamesville, courtesy of the taxpayers of the State of New York. Now 30 years old, Elmer was listed on the federal census as being on his second marriage. Perhaps as a joke he told the census taker that his father, William, was born in France. In reality William Tuttle was a native New Yorker who was born in the tiny village of Walton and traced his ancestry back to the American Revolution.

Soon Elmer was on the loose again. He left his calling card (literally) in a ball of discarded clothing after robbing some much nicer clothes than those he’d been wearing from the lakeside cottage of H.C. Raymond in Penn Yan, New York. He was never arrested for this crime.

A few years later Elmer moved to Binghampton with his wife, Gertrude Bertha Rowley. What happened to his previous wife and his child is anyone’s guess. Gertrude’s father, Daniel, was a Civil War veteran who’d served honorably as a private in the 86th NY Infantry — the storied “Steuben Rangers.” Dan had seen action at many of the prominent battles of the war. What he thought of his daughter marrying an ex-con who’d been dishonorably discharged is not hard to fathom.

Elmer was arrested for selling morphine and heroin and was given a one-year stint, again in the prison at Onondaga, in 1914. While he was in prison (and possibly earlier) Gertrude was turning tricks for a living. She was arrested on November 6, 1914 for robbing a customer of a large roll of cash. The police believed the man might have been drugged before he was robbed. Gertrude was allowed to plead guilty to public intoxication and sentenced to 59 days in jail.

Elmer Tuttle_back

When he got out of prison, Elmer went back to selling drugs. According to the information on the back of his photo, by March 1915 he’d been convicted again and was serving time in Auburn Prison. His photo doesn’t look like a mugshot, so evidently the police confiscated a studio portrait he’d had taken, made some notes on the back and kept it for reference.

Around the time Elmer was incarcerated at Auburn, Gertrude was arrested for stealing a watch and chain from a “Mr. Moore” — likely a client — at a boarding house. The following year she got a six-month sentence at the Onondaga Penitentiary for vagrancy after she was arrested while working as a prostitute at a disorderly house in Binghamton. Later that same year she was jailed for six months for robbing one of her clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The fact that Gertrude often robbed her clients is an indication that she may have been addicted to drugs and needed more money than she could earn by sex work alone.

Given his life style and incarcerations, it will come as no surprise that Elmer didn’t live to be an old man. He died on September 11, 1919 of tuberculosis in Scranton. His death certificate lists his profession as “drug clerk,” which begs the question of whether or not he was selling drugs legally by then. (My guess is he was not). His family made sure he got a nice funeral and a decent burial.

Gertrude continued to work in prostitution for a number of years after her husband’s death. She was charged with running a disorderly house in Scranton in May 1927 and she was arrested for soliciting and sentenced to jail in September 1930. By 1940, when she was 58 years old, she had no profession and was living in the tiny town of Osceola, Pennsylvania, with her widowed mother. This is where she died, aged 85, on April 15, 1973.

Featured photo: A studio photographic portrait of Elmer Tuttle that was used by police as a mugshot. Collection of the author

 

13 thoughts on “Portrait of a Drug Dealer

  1. It makes one wonder why some people turn out that way. How helpful to have all that information on the back of the photo, especially Gertrude’s father. Glad to hear about the book. I look forward to reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

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