One Knife and Two Diamond Rings

Grace Rogers and Marie Allison didn’t know each other before their arrests in San Francisco. But they were well acquainted by the time they escaped from the Ingleside Jail together.

Twenty-year-old Grace and her husband had come to the city by steamer from Los Angeles in late June 1920. Soon after their arrival in San Francisco, they got into an argument and Grace’s husband abandoned her.

Grace was arrested on July 15th. She was charged with shoplifting several thousand dollars’ worth of jewelry and watches from multiple downtown stores.

Jail mug book photos of Grace Rogers, collection of the author.

Grace fainted in the courtroom during her arraignment. After being revived, she commented to the press: “I was lonesome and didn’t care what I did,” to explain why she stole two diamond rings, a wedding ring, two watches and a necklace. Her MO was to chat up the male jewelry store clerks, and while talking, coolly palm the valuables. Then she’d make a hasty exit, disappearing into the crowds in Union Square.

Her beauty—her weapon of distraction—worked better than knife or gun would have.

Following her confession, Grace said she wasn’t going to worry anymore. She insisted that she “felt like a million dollars.” But she did have one concern. She wanted to clear the name of Donald Birdsall—a young man she met on the steamer from L.A.—of being implicated in her crimes. “He is as innocent as a baby,” she said. “I was lonesome and this boy was nice so I invited him to come and see me.” Donald had been stopping by Grace’s lodgings regularly in order to escort her around town.

She was sent back to jail. He was charged with vagrancy.

Nineteen-year-old Marie Allison was a different kettle of criminal fish than Grace. She was charged with assault to commit murder after she chased a taxi driver named Percy Keneally through the streets of San Francisco with a butcher knife.

Marie and Percy had been romantically involved until a day in late July when she discovered he already had a wife and child. Overcome with fury, Marie went looking for Percy. She located him at Sutter and Mason streets and confronted him with the facts. He refused to talk to her. With murder in her heart, she ran to a nearby fruit stand and grabbed a large knife. She chased him with it for three blocks before she was arrested.

 “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” as the old saying goes. And Marie was furious, no doubt about that.

Jail mug book photos of Marie Allison, collection of the author.

“If you let me go I will kill him the first chance I get,” she told the judge. “I thought he was a real man, but I made a mistake.”

The judge raised her bail to $10,000 and sent her off to the Ingleside jail. There, she met Grace. Soon the escape plot was hatched.

The cool-talking shoplifter and the hotheaded, would-be murderer put their daring plan into action on the evening of August 4th. Marie and Grace hid behind some boxes in the jail laundry, and while the other inmates were marched into their cells, they threw open a window and leaped to the ground. Then they scaled the high board fence around the jail to freedom.

They got lucky and their escape went unnoticed for a few hours, but eventually they were missed and a search posse was formed to go after them.

Ingleside Jail, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department “History Online.”

The ladies were picked up the next morning as they stepped from a taxicab near Union Square. Although they were still dressed in their prison garb, the officer who arrested them insisted the jail stripes weren’t what tipped him off. He claimed the reason he looked twice at them was because neither was wearing a hat! With bonnets on board, they wouldn’t have drawn his attention, and he said he believed they would have gotten away. But in 1920, a hat-less woman (or two) stood out.

Grace and Marie completed their jail time without further incident. Grace apparently learned her lesson about shoplifting. Marie didn’t again try to kill an ex-lover.

5 thoughts on “One Knife and Two Diamond Rings

    1. Neither of them was adept at burglary (as far as I know) so they needed to wait until the shops opened. My guess is that shops in Union Square was where they were headed when they were arrested! Thanks Brad!

      Liked by 2 people

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