Silent Phil

Silent Phil

With a crisp straw boater sitting squarely on his head, the young man doesn’t look like a hardened criminal. His clothes are clean and neat. The American flag pin on his label showed off his support for the American troops fighting in the Spanish-American War when his mug shot photos were taken.

His unflinching gaze is perhaps not entirely honest but would you have guessed he’d end up devoting his entire life to crime?

He was baptized Pierre Phillipe Lambellé in 1878 in Quebec, Canada, the son of Philippe Lambellé and Philomène Bidegaré. His father, a stonecutter, was born in Belgium and his mother hailed from Canada. Philippe senior moved his family to Chicago around 1880. In America the family’s surname was Anglicized to Lambele. It’s not clear if Phillipe senior died or if he abandoned his family (no death record exists). Either way, by 1900 Philomène was living in the 18th ward of Chicago and taking in boarders to support herself and her five children.

Phil Lambele_back_low

The information (reverse) side of Philip Lambele’s rogues’ gallery card.

Philip’s mugshots were taken on July 28, 1898, after he was arrested as a shoplifter and sneak thief (a thief who shunned violence) in New York City when he was 21 years old. He told the police his surname was Ganset and said he made his living as an actor. In a way this was true, because occasions arose in the course of his work when he’d be caught in the act. A convincing story, combined with clean-cut looks and nice clothes (not to mention the pin), went a long way towards convincing bank officials that he’d made an honest mistake when he pocketed the cash lying on the counter as he walked by.

753px-Grand_Central_Station,_New_York_c._1902

Grand Central Station, c. 1902

Charges were not pressed against him in 1898, but his photo remained in the New York City Rogues’ Gallery. It came back to haunt him after he stole two large rolls of cash totaling $10,000 (over $300,000 current value) from a bank in Boston the following year. He got away, but witnesses had seen him. The Boston police phoned his description to police in other large cities.

In New York City an officer, Alphonse Rheaume, was dispatched to Grand Central to wait for the Boston train. When it arrived no one was allowed to get off until Rheaume had a chance to walk through each car and take a careful look at the passengers.

Rheaume thought he recognized one passenger, partly from the description, but also because he had a great memory for faces and was pretty sure he’d seen the young man in a recent line up at Police Headquarters. He later told a reporter for the New York Times that he wasn’t sure he had the Boston robber, but “when he tried to get away, I knew he’d been up to something, and I thought I would just take him in for luck.” Philip flashed the cash and offered it all to Rheaume if he’d let him go. Rheaume declined the offer, arrested him and took him to the Tombs.

The story of Philip’s arrest was published widely in the press. People were divided as to what was more amazing: that Rheaume located Philip based on a vague description or that he didn’t take the bribe. But Rheaume was an honest cop (something of a rarity in New York of that era). He commented that if Philip had played it smarter and gone someplace other than New York, he likely would never have been caught.

Drawing of Lambele - Newspapers.com

Drawing based on Philip’s mug shot that was published in the Boston Globe after his 1899 arrest in New York.

Philip’s record stretched back to 1894, when he was arrested in Chicago, his home base, for larceny. He was arrested there again for larceny in 1895. Neither of the early charges stuck, but his luck ran out when Rheaume spotted him on the train. He pleaded guilty to the Boston bank robbery under an alias, George Shea, and spent the next two years in the Massachusetts State Prison.

Free again in 1902, Philip stole a tray of diamond jewelry valued at $3,300 from a store in Brooklyn. Believing he was a paying customer, the store’s owner had offered him assistance and got a good look at him. Five weeks later the owner identified him from his rogues’ gallery photos. By then Philip was in Chicago, where, under name Philip Bailey, he was under arrest for a theft of $8000 of unset diamonds from a firm in Jeweler’s Row. Neither of the charges held up in court and he was soon on the loose again.

In March 1903 Philip was one of several men involved in a brawl in a Chicago saloon that led to the death of a man named William Tracey. The police showed up at his apartment, but he managed to escape by jumping out of a third floor window. The police gave chase and caught him. There wasn’t much evidence in the case, and in the end no one was charged with Tracey’s death.

In May he tried to rob a jewelry store in Newark, New Jersey but was caught after a sharp-eyed office boy saw him surreptitiously entering the store’s vault and alerted his boss. Since nothing was stolen, no charges were filed against him.

A serious setback came in September 1903, when he tried to rake up a pile of bills, using a bent wire from an umbrella, at the Germania National Bank in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was discovered in flagrante delicto and captured after a hot chase. Even though the robbery was unsuccessful, the Milwaukee authorities were not as inclined to be lenient as their brethren in bigger cities. Under the alias George P. Johnson, he was sentenced to 15-years in the state pen. In 1908, while he was serving his sentence, his mother died.

Barnum & Bailey circus ad. Lambele was strong man - Newspapers.c

Newspaper ad for the circus in which Philip performed as a “strongman.”

He was released in 1912. Now 34 years old, Philip had spent more than half of his adult life in prison. He joined the Barnum & Bailey circus as a strongman. The circus went to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he met a beautiful 18-year-old named Mary May Van Wormer.

Mary grew up in a law-abiding family with two parents, two sisters and a brother. Her father, Arba, was a machinist and pattern maker. He was also an inventor who had filed patents for several devices, including a shutter for movie projectors.

In July 1912, after a very brief courtship, the couple tied the knot. On the marriage license Philip claimed his name was Stavors B. Erieg. He immediately tried to skip out on his hotel bill.

The following year he unsuccessfully attempted his umbrella wire trick at a bank in Toledo, Ohio. He was arrested under the name James Donovan Evans, but he avoided a conviction. A couple of years later he did a short stint in the Detroit House of Correction for Grand Larceny.

In 1916 he and Mary were both arrested in St. Louis, Missouri after he tried to shoplift a silk coat from a department store. They told the police their names were Thomas and Mary Stewart. Mary later changed her story, claiming her name was Ruth Strong. Mary’s family found out about their arrests and her mother, Jessie, went to St. Louis to plead with authorities to release her daughter. She also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Mary to divorce Philip.

The couple returned to Indiana and bought a 20-acre farm northwest of Goshen, but they had no intention of farming. They chose the residence for its remote location, one that allowed them to come and go as they pleased. Ironically Philip began using his real name locally because he’d never been convicted of a crime under that name.

Tommy O'Connor - Newspapers.com

“Terrible” Tommy O’Connor’s mugshots, c. 1921

In December 1921 Tommy O’Connor, an old pal from Chicago, escaped from the Cook County jail while awaiting execution by hanging for the murder of police officer Patrick O’Neill. O’Connor headed to Philip’s farm, where his friend took him in and let him to hide out. Under an assumed name Philip introduced O’Connor to the locals as a business associate. When the Lambeles were away from the farm for a few weeks, O’Connor hunkered down in the cellar with only Philip’s pet crow for company. Meanwhile police continued the manhunt for him all over America.

Philip was arrested and charged with the theft of cancelled postage stamps from a Cincinnati, Ohio business in May 1922. He told police his name was Dr. Philip Kolb. He claimed to be a graduate of the University of Chicago and an inventor, taking credit for his father-in-law’s motion picture shutter. Hoping for a light sentence, he insisted he’d never been in trouble with the law before. The police didn’t believe him. They dubbed him “Silent Phil” and showed him some of his old mugshots, but he still he denied it. When they announced their intention to fingerprint him, he broke down. He admitted he’d been arrested 15 times, served jail and penitentiary sentences around the country, used countless aliases and had a criminal record that stretched back almost 30 years.

At her husband’s arraignment Mary sobbed and refused to talk about her family, but the press figured out their names and reported that they lived in Fort Wayne. It was also reported that the couple had one child, however no record of this child’s existence could be found.

Philip put up the farm as bail. He and Mary fled the state as soon as he was released.

In February he was arrested at his hotel in Louisville, Kentucky for forging and cashing stolen express money orders worth $350. With his hair now prematurely white and sporting a Vandyke-style beard, he didn’t resemble the mugshots from his youth. The Louisville police checked his fingerprints and discovered there was a warrant out for his arrest (under the name William Bailey) for robbing a Chicago bank of $12,000 worth of traveler’s checks the previous June. Mary was also taken into custody and charged with disorderly conduct. The Lambeles were carrying hypodermic needles when they were arrested and morphine was later discovered in their hotel room. Apparently they were morphine addicts and had been using the drug for some time.

As an officer escorted him to the cells, Philip grabbed the policeman’s gun and shot himself in the head. He died early the next morning at the Louisville City Hospital.

Mary’s family arrived in Louisville. They paid her fine and she was released from jail. They took her and Philip’s body back to Fort Wayne. Her brother Albert told the press that Philip was a salesman of “unimpeachable character.” However after his death, the police announced that he was wanted for forgery in cities as far away as Boston and Atlanta.

A few months after Philip’s death, Mary opened a letter mailed to him from Buenos Aires. The anonymous writer stated that Tommy O’Connor was alive and well and operating a roadhouse in that city. O’Connor’s gallows sentence stayed on the books until the 1950s, but he was never recaptured.

The Van Wormer family experienced an enormous amount of tragedy in the years after Philip’s suicide. Mary’s younger sister Eula died of kidney disease in November 1923, leaving three young daughters behind. Albert was shot and killed by his wife in 1933 when he attacked her in a drunken rage. Her sister Ruthie died of complications stemming from morphine addiction in 1936, shortly after divorcing her drug addicted, petty-criminal husband.

Finally life became too much for Mary. In 1944 she committed suicide by consuming bichloride of mercury.

Short, not Twain

Short, not Twain

No one would blame you for taking a glance at the photos above and wondering: “When did Mark Twain get arrested?” The answer is never. The man in the photos was not Twain, but a gentleman who went by the name “H.J. Short.” The photos were taken when Short was booked into Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in 1900 to serve a term of three years at hard labor for larceny. Only his initials identify him in his prison records, but a little research disclosed the fact that his first name was Hulette, which explains why he preferred to go by his initials.

Samuel Langhorne ClemensSeptember 1-2, 1867, Pera, Constantinople

Twain in an 1867 photograph by Turkish photographer, Abdullah Frères

Of course big mustaches were all the rage in those days, but whether or not Short cultivated his resemblance to the famous author, who was a generation older, is an intriguing but unanswerable question.

The prison records describe H.J. Short as a physician by trade with a nervous disposition. At 5’ 7” tall and 123 lbs., he was emaciated. He suffered from anemia and a chronic cough. The prison doctor decided that the cough was caused by tuberculosis. The diagnosis meant that the 30-year-old was “physically incapacitated from the performance of manual labor” in prison. There’s no way to know if he was really sick or if he starved himself to appear to be ill. Luckily for him, his poor health status got him freed from prison in the form of a pardon issued by President William McKinley. He was released on October 12, 1900.

Short’s Leavenworth records make for interesting reading and indicate there was a pattern in how he avoided serving much time in prison. On May 30, 1898, he was sentenced in the Eastern District of Texas to two years in prison for assault with intent to kill. Less than two months later he was pardoned from the Texas prison because he was “fatally ill with consumption” (aka tuberculosis). Obviously he didn’t die, because on May 31, 1900 he was received at Leavenworth. Details of both crimes are scant, but one news report indicated the federal sentence stemmed from the theft of cattle.

Dr. Short ad - Newspapers.com

Short’s 1896 ad in The Marietta Monitor

Short may also have been involved in insurance fraud. In 1896, not long after moving to Marietta in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), his house went up in flames. He, his wife Lizzie, and son Maury, were not in residence at the time of the fire. Neighbors quickly put out the blaze. The damage to the building and furniture amounted only to $100, but the local newspaper reported that, providentially, the good doctor had $1,600 insurance on his medical library, which he claimed was destroyed in the fire.

He did not stay out of legal trouble for long after he was released from Leavenworth. A few years earlier in his native Mississippi, he’d forged the names of several prominent men to a promissory note valued at $3,500. He stopped paying interest on the note, which brought it to the attention of law enforcement, and the forgery was discovered. In February 1901 he was arrested in Marietta and returned to Mississippi to face charges.

Evidently he found a way to mollify the law (possibly tuberculosis came up again) without much, if any, jail time, because by December 1902, Short and his family moved to Pryor, I.T., from De Leon, Texas. The Pryor Creek Clipper noted his arrival, writing: “He [Short] appears like a pleasant gentleman and one who is skilled at his chosen calling and we are glad to number him among our citizens.”

I didn’t unearth any later criminal activity of Short’s, so one can only hope the newspaper’s optimism proved to be correct.

By 1910 Short had given up the practice of medicine and had returned to Marietta with his wife and son. He worked as a “stockman,” earning his living raising cattle (hopefully the animals were purchased legally), and he owned his home, free and clear. He died in 1912, 12 years to the day after he was received at Leavenworth — not bad for a man believed to be at death’s door in 1900.

Featured photo: H.J. Short, Leavenworth inmate photo, 1900. Collection of the National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri.

Dodging the Law

Dodging the Law

It’s not often that you come across a photograph of a policeman looking amused while escorting a prisoner, so the expression on the face of the burly cop caught my eye. The prisoner — the guy in the center with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth — has a curiously cheery look on his face too. According to the pencil scrawl on the reverse of the photo, the prisoner’s name was John D. Dodge. The date was March 17, 1922, and Dodge was “leaving House of Correction for court.” The distinctive arched windows of the Detroit House of Correction are clearly visible in the background of the photo.

DeHoCo

The Detroit House of Correction, Library of Congress

John Duval Dodge, born in 1898, was the oldest son of John Francis Dodge. When young John was three years old, his mother, Ivy, died. His father went on to co-found the Dodge Brothers Motor Company with his uncle, Horace Dodge.

In 1903 the Dodge brothers became the exclusive supplier of engines for the Ford Motor Company. Described as irascible and inseparable, the brothers broke with Henry Ford in 1913 to start their own auto manufacturing company. The Dodge company was an enormous success.

John F. Dodge contracted the flu during the 1918 influenza pandemic and died of pneumonia in January 1920. Horace also caught the flu and followed his brother to the grave before the year was out. In addition to his son and John’s two sisters, John F. Dodge left a third wife, Matilda Rausch Dodge, and their three children.

Dodge acquitted on drunk charge; will be charged for having liqu

The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan

Back to the photo: Why was the son of a deceased Detroit industrialist leaving the DeHoCo under police escort? To understand the story requires some background on John Duval Dodge and his family.

In 1918, when he was 21 years old, John married an 18-year-old named Marie O’Connor. The marriage angered his father, who cut him off with an allowance of only $150 a month. (This is about $2500 in today’s dollars, which was a slap in the face of the son of a super-wealthy man). When he died a year later, John F. Dodge left an estate valued at between $50 and $80 million, but he made no provision in his will for his oldest son. John fought the will. The legal battle ended in March 1921, when John agreed drop the lawsuit for a single payment of $1,600,000 (worth about $23 million in current dollars).

Eventually the Dodge brothers’ two widows sold the Dodge Company to an investment bank for the enormous sum of $146 million.

Dodge acquitted on drunk charge; will be charged for having liqu

The News-Palladium, Benton Harbor, Michigan

On the evening of Saturday, March 11, 1922, John and a pal, Rex Earl, were out for a drive in Kalamazoo, 140 miles directly west of Detroit. They saw three young women walking near the road. The ladies were college students from Western State Normal School (now Western Michigan University), who were headed back to their rooming house after attending a dance. Gentlemanly John stopped and offered the women a ride home. They accepted and hopped into the back seat.

Rather than drive straight to the rooming house, John turned off the main road onto a “cut-out,” or side road. John loved fast cars and he began to drive at a very high speed. Witnesses would later estimate that the car was traveling between 60 and 90 miles per hour when Emeline Kwakernaack became so alarmed that her reptile brain took over — she jumped from the car. A passing motorist found her crumpled by the side of the road and rushed her to the hospital. She was seriously injured, but she survived.

John and Earl were arrested. The police found alcohol in the vehicle. Prohibition, aka the Volstead Act, was the law of the land in 1922, so the manufacture, importation, sale, and transport of alcohol were illegal. Both men were charged with transporting and furnishing liquor (to the girls) and John was charged with speeding and driving while intoxicated.

He was found guilty of speeding. His driver’s license was revoked; he was fined $100 and sentenced to five days in the Detroit House of Correction.

John had just changed into stripes and was about to be assigned a prison job when his attorney showed up. He removed his jail togs and donned street clothes to head to court, where the attorney filed a writ of habeas corpus to get him released. Cigarettes were not allowed at the DeHoCo and he’d just gotten his cigs back when the photographer snapped the shot.

It’s unclear if John Duval Dodge ever served his five-day jail sentence.

After a several months of court hearings and legal wrangling, John was convicted of transporting and possessing liquor. The judge placed him on a year’s probation, ordered him to work at some “useful occupation” and fined him $1000.

Prohibition was repealed in 1933. That same year John and Marie divorced and she got a large chunk of his inheritance in the divorce settlement. A week after his divorce was final he married Dora MacDonald Cline.

On the night of August 13, 1942, John and Dora had a violent argument. Dora ran off and John went out looking for her. He headed to a friend’s house, thinking he’d find her there, but Dora had been and gone. A neighbor saw him on lurking on the back porch of the house and called the police. Two patrolmen rang the front doorbell and John, who by then had broken in to the house, opened the door. He tried to take a swing at one of the officers and missed. They took him into custody. He was so drunk that the officer in charge at the station was about to take the precaution of moving him from a chair to sitting on the floor, but too late. John fell off the chair and hit his head on the floor, fracturing his skull.

He was rushed to the hospital but never recovered consciousness. He died that same night of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Featured photo: News photo of John Duval Dodge, taken March 17, 1922. Collection of the author.

 

Black Hand in Baltimore

Black Hand in Baltimore

Antonio Lanasa received a threatening letter in August 1906. A black cross with the inscription “Everlasting Death” was crudely drawn in ink at the top of the page. Below the cross was written:

“We of the Black Hand advise you once more and no more, because we have waited too long and don’t intend to wait any longer. If you don’t wish any disaster in your family we want $5,000. You must give it to the man you saw last week. This is the last time. Don’t do like many others do or you will regret it. We want it at 12 o’clock August 14. We know you. We sign ourselves, “The Head of the Black Hand and Company.”

Antonio was the owner of a fruit importing business in Baltimore, Maryland. He and his elderly parents, Michael and Giuseppa, had received a similar letter a few weeks earlier. They turned the letter over to the Baltimore police.

Antonio Lanasa

Antonio Lanasa

After the arrival of the second threatening letter, the Lanasa family became very alarmed. Giuseppa Lanasa sent a message back that she would pay as much as she could. A few days later a man showed up at the Lanasa’s home. He confronted Mrs. Lanasa and demanded the money. When she told him she didn’t have it, he thrust another letter into her hands and quickly left. She immediately located a policeman, who caught up with the man and arrested him.

The man, Ignazio Castellano, claimed to be a recent immigrant to America from Italy. After he was arrested he was searched and officers found more threatening letters on him. He couldn’t speak English, though several officers said they heard him speaking English shortly after he was arrested. Another man, Romeo Rosario, who was barely out of his teens, was also arrested and charged with delivering extortion letters to the Lanasa family.

Through an interpreter Castellano told the police that he’d been working in a factory in New York when four Italian men suggested that he could make a lot more money in Baltimore. After he arrived the men began giving him letters to deliver to the Lanasa family. He claimed he didn’t know what the letters contained or the whereabouts of the men. But he was convinced that they were watching him all the time. He said that if he didn’t follow their orders, they would kill him.

Castalano and Rosario photos - Newspapers.com

The Baltimore Sun, August 21, 1906

Castellano and Rosario were tried for extortion. Rosario was found not guilty but Castellano was found guilty of sending threatening letters and conspiring to kill Antonio Lanasa. The conviction earned him a six-year sentence in the federal penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois.

According to Wikipedia, the Black Hand (Mano Nera) was a method of extortion rather than a criminal organization like the Mafia. Italians, who began immigrating to America in the late 1800s, brought the practice to the US. It occurred mostly in communities with large Italian populations, and both the perpetrator and the victim were usually Italian. The situation with the Lanasa family was typical of how the scheme played out: Letters were sent that threatened death if money wasn’t paid to the extortionist. The letters often had ominous symbols drawn on them, such as a noose, a smoking gun or a knife dripping with blood. Frequently they were signed with a hand drawn in black ink, which was meant as a symbol of warning; hence the name the “Black Hand.”

The tables turned the following year when another Baltimore fruit dealer, Joseph DiGiorgio, was sent threatening letters. He didn’t pay up and his home was bombed in December 1907. Fortunately no one was injured in the blast. Antonio Lanasa, who was DiGiorgio’s business rival, was arrested and charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to extort money. He was convicted of the crime, but he appealed and the charges were dropped.

DiGiorgio

Joseph DiGiorgio

As it happens, Joseph DiGiorgio was Castellano’s interpreter at the police station after he was arrested. It may have been a coincidence, but it raises the question of whether Castellano was already acquainted with DiGiorgio. Could it be that DiGiorgio wrote the threatening letters to Antonio Lanasa and his family? Was Castellano telling the truth about only being a messenger? Could Lanasa have uncovered the plot and decided to pay DiGiorgio back in kind? The Italian word vendetta springs to mind, but who knows? Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Peaky Blinders!

The story does have a happy ending. After he was released from prison, Ignazio Castellano moved to Rochester, New York, where he opened a grocery store, got married, raised a family and became a pillar of his community. He died in Rochester in 1957.

Featured photo: front and back of Ignazio Castellano’s CDV mugshot. Collection of the author.

Little Black Books

Little Black Books

Eighteen-year-old Sherrie Lee Smith had made some bad life decisions and was in a bind. The guy she’d come to Oregon with had been convicted of robbery and sentenced to prison. Back in California, her husband had custody of their three kids and he’d filed for divorce.

She found work in Portland as a call girl, but bad luck dogged her. She got caught in a vice raid. She was charged with prostitution and released on bail.

The Portland vice squad had been investigating what the press described as “a large call girl ring” operating in the city. Girls as young as 15 had been arrested in the raids. Oscar Howlett, the deputy district attorney, needed evidence to arrest the ringleaders, but he was finding it hard to get any.

Sherrie called Howlett on the last day of December 1958. She told him she had important information that could help him and she wanted to trade it in exchange for dropping the prostitution charge. They arranged to meet the following day.

Sherrie Smith back_marked_flipped

Sherrie failed to show for the meeting. A couple weeks later her mugshots were copied and given to the press. Evidently a newspaper printed her front photo (that’s why the side view is crossed out) after she went missing — a dangerous outing of an important potential witness. Attorney Howlett announced to the press that he was concerned because he’d heard through the grapevine that the thugs who operated the call-girl ring had beaten her up to scare her into silence.

Several months later, during a vice crackdown in which 200 women were arrested, the police located several little black address books that were “penned in feminine script.” The books contained names of hundreds of clients and many of them were prominent men in Portland. The amounts paid for call girl services —between $10 and $3,000 — were noted in the books. Information about each client’s income had been carefully recorded, along with comments such as “has paid as high as $3,00 for a two-girl party” and “always get money first.”

An unnamed young woman gave testimony to a secret Multnomah County grand jury in May 1959. In her testimony she stated that another woman made the arrangements with the customers and they split the proceeds. She said that even at fees ranging from between $20 to $300, she was earning no more than if she worked at a legitimate job and intended to quit hooking. According to a press report, she claimed she “had been a call girl here in the six weeks since she’d come from California.”

Possibly this witness was Sherrie Lee Smith, but the facts don’t quite fit, because Smith had been in Portland since October 1958 and she was arrested in December 1958.

As a result of the grand jury hearing, two Portland women in their 30s and a 26-year-old woman from Vancouver, Washington, were indicted on three charges: soliciting for a prostitute, bringing together two persons for immoral purposes and being an immoral woman. Attorney Howlettt said he didn’t think he’d need to subpoena any of the clients, who “would suffer from the publicity,” to get a conviction. This proved to be accurate; there was no trial because the three women pleaded guilty.

Prostitution is often controlled by organized crime. But in Portland in 1959, only the three women ended up serving time. Howlett admitted during the hearings that the call girl business “is operating full blast” in Portland.

Sherrie, despite her youth, looks like a woman who was able to handle herself. I hope she survived her time in Portland.

 

 

 

The Baby in the Suitcase

The Baby in the Suitcase

It started with the discovery of the bruised and battered corpse of a baby boy in an old dress suitcase. The suitcase turned up on October 1, 1907 in the backyard of a home in Prospect Hill, a well-to-do neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island.

A police investigation led to a tenement rooming house on Benefit Street, more than half a mile from where the suitcase and its grisly contents were found. It was the home of Mabel Brown, age 36. Mabel told the police that her sister, Sarah McDonald, had lived in the house until recently, but had left for Worcester, Massachusetts. Mabel said Sarah hoped to find work there in a carpet factory.

Mabel identified the baby as Eddie McDonald, the eleven-month-old child of Sarah. She told police the baby was a “heavy and strong child, with pretty, light, curly hair and good form.”

The police searched Sarah’s room. According to The Boston Globe, the room “presented a shocking scene and the stench in the place was all but unbearable.” Evidence in the room led the police to the theory that after Eddie was killed, his body was hidden inside a feather bed cut for that purpose. Later it was moved to a closet, and then to a trunk, before it was finally put in the suitcase.

Mabel admitted to police that the suitcase had previously belonged to her mother. She denied any knowledge of the boy’s death and said she’d been out at the theater on the night of September 30, 1907, when the body, hidden in the suitcase was removed from the house. She also insisted she hadn’t noticed the foul smell coming from the room. Mabel admitted to the police that in the past she’d been a prisoner at the state prison in Cranston, Rhode Island, for “keeping a nuisance.” (What kind of nuisance wasn’t spelled out, but it was likely either a saloon or a brothel.

The police went to the home of another sister, Maggie Brown, in Worcester, Massachusetts. They found a woman there who claimed to be named Irene Clark. She denied ever having been to Providence and said she’d lived in Worcester for two years, during which time she worked for the Massachusetts Corset Company. But when police questioned her further she was unable to tell them the names of any businesses in Worcester and she didn’t know the name of the landlady at the boarding house where she claimed to live. Convinced she was Sarah McDonald, they arrested her and took her to Providence.

At the Providence jail she admitted the baby boy was hers, but she denied he’d been murdered. She said he died of natural causes and she’d kept the body for a week, unsure of what to do with it. Ultimately she decided to put it in her mother’s old suitcase, carry it more than half a mile north in a rainstorm, where she left it in a yard behind a house.

Sarah Heagney_back_marked

The back of Sarah Heagney’s criminal identification card.

According to the medical examiner, Eddie’s injuries showed that someone had beaten him to death “in a rage.” Sarah was charged with the baby’s murder.

Sarah pointed the finger at Patrick Edward McDonald; the man she claimed was her husband. He gave himself up to authorities. The police found no evidence that he was involved in the boy’s death and they let him go. Further investigation revealed that the couple was not actually married. Sarah’s surname was her maiden name — Heagney. Born in 1885 in Rhode Island, she was the 22-year-old daughter of Irish immigrants, Frank Heagney and his wife, Sarah Kane Heagney.

Oaklawn

The Oaklawn School for Girl in an undated photo.

In 1900, when she was 15, Sarah was a resident of the Oaklawn School For Girls, a juvenile reformatory in Cranston, Rhode Island. Oaklawn was located in a walled complex with other state institutions including the state prison, an insane asylum and a workhouse for the homeless.

The Providence police wondered why Sarah hadn’t simply disposed of Eddie’s body in the Providence River, less than a quarter mile west of her boarding house. Why did she carry the suitcase, which likely weighed close to 20 pounds, more than twice as far and leave it the backyard of Charles H. Jefferds?

By 1907 Jefferds, age 52, had been a widower for almost ten years. He was a well to do “provisions dealer” — a wholesaler merchant selling to grocery stores and markets. He had an adult daughter, Geneva, who lived with him, and three sons: Lawrence, Charles Jr. and Chester. The family was wealthy enough that during the early twentieth century they always had one or two female servants living with them.

There was no mention in the news of Sarah having worked for the Jefferds family, but according to the back of her arrest card she had worked as a maid. If she worked for the family and become pregnant by Charles Jefferds or one of his sons, it might explain why she went to the trouble of taking her baby’s body to their property and leaving it there. Girls and women who worked as servants were sometimes viewed by the men who employed them as fair game for sex, consensual or not.

RI State Prison

The Rhode Island State Prison in an undated photo.

After she was arrested the press lost interest in Sarah and didn’t report on the outcome of the case. By 1910, according to the US Census, she was one of 16 female inmates at the state prison in Cranston. It may be that she was sent to prison as a punishment for the murder of her child.

The census enumerators in 1910 were tasked with asking how many children a woman had given birth to. That column in Sarah’s listing on the census form was left blank. There is no record of her after the 1910 census.

Before Pretty Boy

Before Pretty Boy

This photograph from the collection of the Missouri Historical Society caught my eye quite awhile ago. I followed up by investigating the men in the photo, one of whom turned out to be a well known character in the history of American crime. The picture was taken very early in his “career.”

Here’s the story: https://mohistory.org/blog/pretty-boy-floyd/

Enjoy!