The Struggle

In my previous post I discussed an 1890s era mugshot in which two photographs were taken of the same man and combined to create a composite photo. I couldn’t find out much about the man in the photos, however one thing is certain: he cooperated with having his photo taken. That was not always the case.

Sometimes arrested individuals did not want to be photographed by the police. They put up a fight and things could get pretty heated.

On Valentine’s Day in 1889, a woman who’d been arrested in Washington D.C. decided she was not going to let the cops get a clear photo of her face. Instead they got this photo:

The name she gave the police was “Jennie Brown.” This was almost certainly an alias. She was described in the press as “quite a handsome blonde…with blue-grey eyes which she can use with effect.” Evidently distracted by the crooks’ good looks, the reporter went on to describe her male partner, identified as John Doe or Rowe or W.H. Morrison, as a “fine-looking young fellow.”

The couple arrived in the nation’s capital about three weeks earlier, probably having come from New York City, where they’d been working a version of the badger game. The woman would walk the streets in the vicinity of “uptown hotels” in search of a mark. When she found him, she’d invite him back to her room for sex. After he left the room, her partner, who’d been lurking nearby on the street, would follow the man to his home or office. He’d introduce himself and threaten to inform the man’s wife or family about his activities if money (or jewelry) was not forthcoming.

Below is the verso of Jennie’s mugshot.

Three men went to the police to complain about being blackmailed by the couple. As a result the police conducted a sting operation, which led to the couple’s arrest. If a mugshot was taken of Jennie’s partner, it has not survived. If a better photo was taken of Jennie, it has not survived.

The victims, who were not referenced by name in the news articles, were collectively “fleeced” out of $96 (about $2600 in 2023 currency), according to the Evening Star. In the man’s silk hat band, the police found a pawn ticket issued in Chicago for a valuable emerald and diamond ring, so the couple had evidently been operating in other big cities around the country.

The newspapers reported that Jennie and her partner “positively refuse to give anything that would shed light on their past history.” That was a smart move, since the police admitted that none of their victims was likely to show up in court to testify. The judge decided that they would be required to post bail and, if they didn’t leave town within 24 hours, they would forfeit the money. The most important thing for the crooks was to get away with their anonymity intact.

I wonder how many of their victims were politicians.

Jennie’s mugshot is now in the collection of the National Archives. You can see more of these fascinating photos here.

9 thoughts on “The Struggle

  1. What a fascinating story! I guess you can’t force someone’s face out of a particular expression. I got a kick out of the “suspicious character” notation on the back of Jennie’s mugshot card. I would guess that there were politicians among their marks. (Easy money!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Colorful story, Shayne!

    I always get the feeling the cops are describing livestock, not people. Might just be the legal lingo at the time…but I am not so sure.

    Dave Senay

    Sent from my mobile device.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wikipedia says: The badger game is an extortion scheme or confidence trick in which the victims are tricked into compromising positions in order to make them vulnerable to blackmail. Its name is derived from the practice of badger baiting.

      The trick was particularly effective in the 19th and earlier 20th century when social attitudes toward adultery were much harsher. A famous person known to have fallen victim of the scheme was the first United States Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, whose adulterous affair with Maria Reynolds was used by her husband to extort money and information from him.

      Liked by 1 person

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