A Brooklyn resident named Rosa Rivera had her fortune told on Thursday, January 16, 1947. During the session Rosa mentioned that she had $800 socked away in her bank account. The fortuneteller’s ears perked up when she heard about the nest egg. She told Rosa to go to the bank, remove the cash, bring it home, place salt on it, wrap it in a handkerchief and put the bundle under her pillow. The fortuneteller claimed that in three days’ time the total amount of cash would be miraculously increased!
Fortunetelling was then and is still illegal in New York if a fee is charged for the reading (tips are allowed). It’s legal only if it’s performed as part of an act in a show or exhibition. This is because the city is home to numerous con artists who hang out a fortuneteller shingle to lure vulnerable people into their lair. The fortune reading is cheap, say five bucks, but the real goal is to convince the victim to buy gift cards or to purchase objects supposedly imbued with magical powers, such as candles or crystals, at highly inflated prices. Victims have handed over hundreds of thousands of dollars to these unscrupulous scammers.
The fortuneteller stopped by Rosa’s place three days later to check on how things the cash growth was progressing. Meanwhile Rosa had become suspicious about the woman’s advice and called the police. Detectives were waiting for the woman when she arrived. The police suspected that she intended to steal Rosa’s $800, so they arrested her for attempted grand larceny.
The “gypsy,” as she was described in the news, was named Bessie Globllo or Golobillo. According to an article about her arrest, she had a police record dating back to 1929, when she was only seven years old. She was charged and the magistrate ordered her held without bail.
Globllo or Golobillo aren’t real surnames, so unless the police totally botched the spelling of her last name, the name Bessie gave them an alias. Who was she?
News reports about the case stated that Bessie lived at 361 South 3rd Street in Brooklyn. To figure out her real name I searched the 1940 federal census for a woman named “Bessie,” who was born around 1920 and lived in Brooklyn at house number “361.” And, like magic, there she was on the census!
Bessie was not Romani, Apparently though she looked exotic enough to pass for one. Her real name was Bessie Topchevsky and she was born in New York in 1922. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from either Poland or Russia who arrived in 1917. In 1940 she was a single 18-year-old living with her mom and dad, along with an older brother and a younger sister. She’d completed eighth grade and had a full-time job working with “radio parts” in the wholesale radio industry.
The NYPD began taking “stand-up” mugshots in 1918. These mugshot photos show the person’s full body, not just the head and shoulders. According to the New York Department of Records, they were used for “recidivist criminals or those accused of a major crime.” Bessie fit the first category, but not the second one.
In her mugshot she’s well dressed, wearing what looks like a real fur coat and pearls. Evidently the fortune telling business was booming.
It would be interesting to know more about Bessie, and I wonder if the charge against her stuck. Since she didn’t manage to steal Rosa’s money, it seems likely the police wanted to scare her away from fortune telling rather than punish her with jail time. Because there was no follow up on Bessie or her case in the press, they were likely successful.