The High Cost of Murder

The High Cost of Murder

ARRAIGNED ON MURDER CHARGE

Worcester, Dec. 23. — Henry Gauthier, 28, and Felix Vadenais Jr., 19 years old, were arraigned in the district court today on a charge of murdering Joseph S. Goldberg in Manchaug, Monday night. They pleaded not guilty and the case was continued to Jan. 6 at the request of the government. They were remanded to jail without bail.

Fitchberg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts), December 23, 1914

The dead body of Joseph S. Goldberg, wrapped in a horse blanket, was discovered in his wagon by the sheriff on a cold evening in late December 1914. Joseph’s murderer had draped his body over the seat of the horse-drawn wagon and started the rig on the road towards the town of Millbury, Massachusetts.

Joseph, a second-hand clothes peddler, stopped by a drug store in the village of Manchaug around 9:15 pm on the night he was murdered. About fifteen minutes later he was seen heading to a barn where he planned to leave his horse and cart overnight.

His murderer or murderers found him at the barn. He was hit on the head with a blunt object. Then the 35-year-old Jewish Russian immigrant was shot in the chest. The wound was instantly fatal.

Manchaug map

Police believed the motive for the murder was robbery. The day before he was killed, a witness claimed Joseph pulled a large roll of bills out of his pocket while he was making change for a customer. After his death, only six cents was found in his pockets.

Joseph lived with his wife, Dora, and young son, Milton, in the city of Worcester, about 13 miles from where he was killed. Dora was five months pregnant when her husband was murdered.

Two young men, Felix Vadenais and Henry Gauthier were arrested the following day for Joseph’s murder. The men were kept in jail until after the 1915 New Year. Officials then determined that they didn’t have enough evidence to charge Henry, so he was released.

Felix Vandenais_back_marked

Criminal identification card of Felix Vadenais made by the Worcester Police Department.

Felix was charged with murder in the first degree on January 22, 1915.

On April 16, 1915, after a trial lasting 11 days with three hours of deliberation, the jury found Felix not guilty of the murder. Joseph’s daughter, Judith, was born four days later.

Ten days after the jury acquitted Felix of murder, The Boston Globe printed an article about the cost of the trial — $6500 by that date — to the taxpayers of Worcester County. The defendant’s attorneys’ fees, along with a payment for “establishing the case” for Felix were listed at $775. It was expected that the expert witnesses, two professors from Harvard and Tufts, who testified about the blood evidence but had not yet sent in their bills, would cost the county another $7500.

No one was ever brought to justice for the murder of Joseph Goldberg.

Featured photos: mugshots of Felix Vadenais taken by the Worcester Police on December 21, 1914. Collection of the author.

 

 

Irresistible Appeal

Irresistible Appeal

Boise, Idaho.—Lyda Southard, Idaho’s notorious husband poisoner who is charged with having caused the death of seven persons, has not lost her irresistible appeal for men after nearly 10 years spent behind the gray stone wall of the Idaho State Penitentiary. Her recent escape proves that.

 

Love for the “Woman Blue Beard” nearly two years ago led a prison guard, Jack Watkins, to carry a gas pipe ladder into the yard of the women’s prison, across a driveway from the main prison which houses the male prisoners, and bury it in the flower bed.

 

Love for the modern Lucretia Borgia led an ex-convict, David Minton, who was pardoned scarcely three weeks before, to risk his newly regained freedom by assisting her to escape.

Sedalia Weekly Democrat (Sedalia, Missouri), May 22, 1931

It was only a slight exaggeration to claim that Lyda Southard caused the deaths of seven people. The body count was actually six, including four of Lyda’s husbands, her only child, a tiny daughter, and one brother-in-law.

She was born Lyda May Trueblood on October 16, 1892, in the small town of Keytesville, Missouri. In 1912 she married Robert Dooley in Twin Falls, Idaho. Their baby, Lorraine, was born the following year.

Edward Dooley, Robert’s brother, lived with the couple. Edward fell ill and died in 1915. Robert and Lorraine soon followed Edward to the grave. The deaths were said to be due to food poisoning or some common contagious illness — no one looked too closely in those days. Robert and Lyda received the cash from Edward’s life insurance policy, and Lyda got that, along with the money from Robert’s policy after his death. The amount wasn’t large — a couple thousand dollars total.

The baby wasn’t insured, but she was a burden and wouldn’t help Lyda snag another husband, so apparently she had to go too.

A slight, perky woman with dark, curly hair, blue eyes, and a ready smile, Lyda was no a great beauty but she had a pleasant face and a talent for attracting men. After her brother-in-law, first husband and baby died, she acquired three more husbands in rapid succession. Each one died of supposed “natural causes,” and each left Lyda a tidy life insurance settlement. Red flags didn’t go up until Edward Meyer, a previously healthy 35-year-old Twin Falls ranch foreman, died three weeks after his marriage to Lyda in 1920.

Lyda news editorial

Tongues began to wag when Lyda collected the insurance money, sold her property and left town shortly after putting Edward into the ground. Twin Falls Sheriff, E.R. Sherman, assigned his deputy, Virgil “Val” Ormsby, to investigate Edward’s death. Ormsby’s search led to one of Lyda’s homes and a basement full of flypaper coated with arsenic. The bodies of Lyda’s husbands and her brother-in-law and child were exhumed and autopsied. All the adults’ bodies were all found to contain arsenic.

The police hunt was on for the one person connected to all the men, now presumed to be murder victims — Lyda Trueblood Dooley McHaffie Lewis Meyer. By the time she was located she had added another husband to her list.

She was found in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the side of husband number five, Paul Southard. She had tried and failed to get Paul, a Naval Officer, to take out life insurance on himself with his blushing new bride as the beneficiary.

Lyda_Southard mugshotProfessing her innocence, she agreed to return to Idaho, where she was tried and found guilty of murder in the second degree for the death her fourth husband, Edward Meyer. Prosecutors also submitted evidence that Lyda killed the other men using tea and lemonade laced with arsenic. Sentenced to 14 years to life, off to the Idaho State Penitentiary Lyda went. Paul Southard filed for divorce.

For the next ten years, Lyda sat in prison, planning her next adventure. On a moonlit night in May 1931, she cut the bars on her cell window using a saw provided by Jack Watkins, a prison guard who’d become smitten with her. (Jack died before her escape, presumably of natural causes). A ladder, buried earlier near the prison wall by Jack, allowed Lyda to scale the 16-foot wall, and a rope, made of torn blankets tied to heavy flower boxes, helped her reach the ground on the other side. There she leaped into the waiting arms of David Minton, an ex-con who’d recently been released from the same penitentiary. David had fallen in love with “Mrs. Bluebeard” and risked his newly gained freedom to break her out of prison. He had a car waiting nearby and the pair sped away.

 

The romance with David didn’t last long (though he survived it and was eventually arrested for his part in Lyda’s escape). She remained free for the next 15 months, during which time she married her sixth husband, Harry Whitlock, in Denver. But by July 1932, Harry had gotten wise to Lyda’s identity and, perhaps worried for his own safety, he turned her in. He arranged to have her go to a post office in Topeka, Kansas, where police were waiting — they sent her back to the penitentiary. Harry applied for the $500 reward offered for his wife’s arrest.

Before she returned to prison, a reporter asked Lyda how she’d been so successful at getting men to marry her. A smile played at her lips as she replied, “I don’t care to answer that.” The reporter persisted. He wanted to know if she confessed to murdering any of her husbands at her trial. “No,” was her answer. “Did you ever feel as if you wanted to?” wondered the reporter. “No, I never felt I was guilty,” was Lyda’s cleverly worded response.

She was given a six-month probationary release from the penitentiary on October 2, 1941, and moved to Oregon to live with a sister. Her full pardon came a year and a half later. It was rumored that Lyda married for a seventh time in the 1940s. If true, her husband was a brave man.

In 1958 Lyda, aged 65, collapsed on a city street in Salt Lake City, Utah. Ten minutes later she was dead of a heart attack.

Featured photos: Left: News photo of Lyda Trueblood, taken before her trial in Twin Falls, Idaho, October 6, 1921. Right: News photo of Lyda with her captors, Deputy Sheriff Val Ormsby, rear left, and Sheriff E.R. Sherman, rear right, same date and location.

 

Murder for Gold

Murder for Gold

GRANT’S PASS, Or., Sept. 28.—The body of William Dunlap, an old pioneer and miner, was found near his cabin yesterday. The old man had been shot and evidently murdered, as his cabin had been looted.

 

Dunlap lived alone on Louse Creek, where he has resided for 30 years past, making his living by working his Placer claim. It has been the supposition that he had considerable gold buried in or near his cabin and it was probably to find this that the old man was murdered. He had been dead four or five days when found and the murderer had ample time to escape. Officers are working on the case, but have not the slightest clew.

Morning Register (Eugene, Oregon), September 30, 1903

William Dunlap was murdered in September 1903, but it took much longer for police to arrest his killers. The body of the gold miner and Civil War veteran was found in the doorway of his remote cabin near Grants Pass in southern Oregon shortly after he was shot and killed.

It took a year and a half for a teenager named Lloyd Ingram to go to police and admit what he knew about the murder. Andy Ingram, Lloyd’s father had put the fear of god into the young man to keep his mouth shut.

Forty-year-old Andy was the “author of the plot” to kill William. As police had surmised, money was the motive for the crime — Andy believed that William had a stash of gold hidden under the cabin floorboards. To help him carry out the murder he enlisted his 26-year-old cousin, Andrew Dodson.

Grants Pass

Grants Pass, Oregon, circa 1915

Andrew had the better people skills of the two men, so he befriended the aged gold miner. After a couple of visits to his cabin by the younger man, William was lulled into believing Andrew was really his friend. On the third visit, Andrew brought his rifle and shot the old man in the chest in cold blood. He joined Andy in the nearby town of Grants Pass to establish an alibi, then they returned to the cabin that night. The pair looted the place, but all they found was $12.

It turned out that William was no fool. He kept the proceeds from his mining labors in the First National Bank of Grants Pass.

Lloyd had overheard his father and Andrew planning the murder. He admitted to Andy that he followed Andrew on the day of the crime and saw him enter William’s cabin with the loaded rifle.

After hearing what his son had to say, Andy forced Lloyd to go to the cabin and search William’s body. Andy thought the shock of seeing the dead body would shut the boy up, and it did. He also convinced him that he’d be implicated in the murder if anyone found out what happened. So Lloyd kept quiet, at least for a while.

By 1905, Lloyd was unable to keep his terrible secret any longer. He went to the police and told them what he knew. Andy and Andrew were arrested.

Andrew admitted he fired the shot that killed William, saying his conscience was bothering him so much that he hoped for the shortest route to the gallows. He got it — he was sentenced to hang on August 11, 1905. But he insisted that it was not he but Andy who had planned the murder.

When one man is the brains behind a murder plot but another man pulls the trigger, who’s the “real criminal” wondered a reporter for a newspaper covering the case.

Andy pleaded not guilty and went to trial. His son’s testimony helped convict him of second-degree murder. He got a life sentence in prison.

Andrew didn’t die on the gallows. There was a public outcry over the decision to hang the shooter while the plotter was allowed to live, so the governor commuted Andrew’s death sentence to life in prison. Due to failing eyesight, he was pardoned in 1915 after serving ten years.

Lloyd developed problems as an adult and became addicted to alcohol, opium and morphine. He went to jail for petty larceny. In 1919 he was committed to the California State Psychiatric Hospital in Stockton.

Andy escaped from the Oregon State Penitentiary in 1918.  He was recaptured in 1922 while attempting to burglarize a store in Portland and returned to the penitentiary with time added to his sentence. In 1934, 71-year-old Andy was given a conditional pardon. At some point he was again sent back to the penitentiary (apparently his pardon was revoked) where he died of heart disease in March 1948. No one from his family claimed his cremains and they were buried at the Oregon State Hospital Cemetery.

Featured photo: news photo of undated mugshot of Andy (A.M.) Ingram, alias John Watson. Collection of the author.

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Continued from Pink’s Story (Part 1)

Pink Bruner was serving a life sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary for the murder of Marshal Hugh Myers in May 1900, though everyone agreed he was not the man who pulled the trigger.

As part of the Curtis Act, a federal law that resulted in the break up of tribal governments, Pink, his mother, Rose, and his siblings were enrolled as members of the Chickasaw Nation in 1898. Rose, born in 1842, had been the slave of Holmes Colbert, according to her Dawes card. As Chickasaw Freedmen, Rose and her children each received an allotment of 40 acres of land in Indian Territory in 1906. The following year Indian Territory merged with Oklahoma Territory to become the state of Oklahoma.

Pink’s 40 acres, in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, was in the center of an oil belt and had value far beyond ordinary farmland. It was worth about $1000 — a fortune for a man in his circumstances.

The Leavenworth warden received many letters from people on the outside who wanted Pink’s allotment. Some claimed, incorrectly, that it was about to be sold for back taxes.

Moman Pruiett

Moman Pruiett, find-a-grave

Pink’s attorney at his murder trial was an ex-criminal with a violent streak named Moman Pruiett. Moman was a talented but controversial criminal lawyer who bragged that of the 343 murder cases in which he’d defended the accused, 303 of his clients were acquitted. Unfortunately for Pink, he was one of Moman’s 40 clients who’d been convicted.

Moman probably had saved Pink from the hangman’s noose, but he claimed Pink owed him his allotment in payment for both his legal representation during the trial and as payment for work on a pardon or commutation of his sentence — prior to actually achieving a result. Pink tried desperately from prison to hold onto the only thing he had of value, and he refused to turn his allotment over to Moman Pruiett or anyone else.

The third suspect in the Myers murder, Ben Cage, using the alias Floyd or Walter Alexander, was jailed for drunkenness in Wewoka, Oklahoma, in July 1915. While in jail Ben boasted that he was the triggerman for the Myers murder. It was reported that Ben was tried in August 1915, but there was no record of his conviction and imprisonment. More than 15 years elapsed since the crime occurred, and in order to try him the court had to rely mostly on transcripts from Pink’s trial.

Pink’s sentence was commuted in March 1917 and he was released from Leavenworth. Lawyer Pruiett and E.G. Hall, an Oklahoma City businessman appointed his “first friend” out of prison, fought over the title to Pink’s land. It’s unclear which man finally managed to get his hands on Pink’s allotment, but without a doubt one of them did.

He dropped his nickname and returned to using his given name — Legus — after he was released from prison. Over the years he worked as a porter in a Muskogee grocery store, a laborer for a soft drink company in Oklahoma City and finally ended up living with a cousin and farming in Econtuchka, Oklahoma.

100 years has passed since Pink’s release from prison and Econtuchka is now a ghost town. Legus “Pink” Bruner’s burial place is unknown.

Featured photo: Pink Bruner’s second Leavenworth Penitentiary mugshot, taken prior to his release in 1917, National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.

Quick Quack Cure for Crime

Quick Quack Cure for Crime

BERKELEY. March 27. — The surgeon’s knife will be used in an attempt to reform Mrs. Jean Thurnherr, the notorious girl burglar. Specialists have declared that the girl, who was injured while disguised as a cowpuncher in Arizona, has never recovered from a blow on her head received while breaking a horse, and that this injury causes her to steal.

The San Francisco Call, Mar 28, 1911

It all began in 1903, when 14-year-old Bessie Barclay, later known as Jean Thurnherr, ran away from her Los Angeles home. She went to San Pedro, a community south of Los Angeles, where, disguised as a male, she found work in a bowling alley and then got hired as a cabin boy on a lumber schooner headed for the Puget Sound.

Her family, distressed at her absence, hired a female private detective to search for her. The detective located her in San Pedro before the boat left. She was returned to her father, Henry A. Barclay, an attorney and judge, and her mother, Lily Ward Barclay, an artist.

Jean_Thurnherr_as_Bessie_Barclay_adventures_and_picsIn 1904 Bessie ran away a second time. Again she dressed as a boy and found work as an elevator operator, a newsboy and a cowboy in Arizona. (The Arizona part of her adventures would, in later news reports, be expanded to include tales of tangling with Mexican outlaws and a head injury due to a fall from a horse.) She was located by authorities and returned to her parents but she didn’t stay home long. The next time she ran she went farther — all the way to San Francisco.

Disguised as a boy she worked as a bellhop at a hotel on Kearny Street. There met a miner from Alaska and robbed him of a purse containing $340 worth of cash and gold nuggets. This time she was arrested and convicted of grand larceny. However with her family’s legal connections, she got off with probation. During her court hearing she claimed that she was adopted and left home because she didn’t get along with her adoptive parents. While she was in jail in San Francisco, her mother, Lily, died in Los Angeles.

If only the law would let me fulfill those duties instead of trying to curb my venturesome spirit in a reform school. There’s no use pretending otherwise — it’s a boy’s life and a boy’s opportunities and above all the wide free life of the mountain ranger that appeals to me most.

— Jean Thurnherr, quoted in the San Francisco Call, June 15, 1909

Bessie’s father was fed up with her exploits and broke off contact with her. During her arrest in 1909, it was rumored that she was the biological child of her mother, Lily Barclay, but that Judge Barclay was not her father.

Instead of returning home after her release from jail, she remained in the San Francisco Bay Area, under the supervision of a probation officer and of women who worked for various charitable aid societies.

There is no doubt that Mrs. Thurnher (sic) is a natural and more than usually clever criminal. Possessed of a charming personality she makes friends readily and exercises an almost uncanny influence over men with whom she comes in contact. She never seemed to care for their attentions. She was always interested in stories of bold crimes and frequently expressed her admiration of clever thieves whom she read about.

— Mrs. F. Smith of Associated Charities, quoted in The Oakland Tribune, June 18, 1909

On October 1, 1908, Bessie, using the alias Jean M. Gordon, married Albert B. Thurnherr, a young dry goods store clerk, in Alameda. The couple moved to Berkeley and settled into an apartment near the University of California. On Christmas Day, 1908, Bessie pulled her first burglary at an apartment house close to her new home.

The Thurnherrs moved around Berkeley during their first year of marriage and everywhere they went, burglaries followed. At one point a homeowner returned while Bessie was in the process of robbing the woman’s bedroom. She leaped out the window to the ground, a drop of about 20 feet, and escaped unharmed. The homeowner got a glimpse of her fleeing form (surprisingly she dressed in women’s clothing) and reported to the police that it was a woman they should seek for the burglaries. The newspapers dubbed the burglar “the female Raffles,” inspired by the E. W. Hornung’s fictional gentleman thief, Arthur J. Raffles.

Jean_Thurnherr_under_arrest_for_may_crimes__picsShe was arrested several times during the winter of 1909, but the police lacked evidence and she wasn’t charged. By May they were convinced of her guilt and had her followed by detectives. She was arrested on June 11, 1909, at her Berkeley home. The police found numerous items in her home that she had stolen over the previous eight months. She pleaded guilty to 1st degree burglary and was sentenced to one year at San Quentin Prison. Her husband, Albert, stood by her and was reported to be heartbroken by her prison sentence.

Jean/Bessie spent 10 months at San Quentin before being released early for good behavior. She returned to life with Albert in Berkeley, but she didn’t stay out of trouble for long. She was caught shoplifting at a jewelry store in March 1911 — it was the third time she had robbed the same store.

At this point a clever doctor named H. N. Rowell came up with the idea that Jean/Bessie might be cured of her burglary habit by having surgery on her skull. She claimed that she hit her head during a fall while breaking horses in Arizona in 1904. Dr. Rowel believed that her head injury was what caused her seemingly endless lust for crime.

With difficulty Albert found two bondsmen who agreed to pay his wife’s bond so she could be released from jail for the operation. She went to the Fabiola Hospital in Oakland, where a trio of doctors removed a three square inch chunk of her skull. They said it was thickened so much that it pressed on her brain and this was, no doubt, the cause of her problems. Just for good measure Dr. Rowell also put her under hypnosis — he was supposedly an expert — to aid her recovery.

The operation was proclaimed a success. The patient lost little blood and her brain was described as “not injured at all.” The docs sewed up “the tissues” over the wound and then sewed up her scalp and sent Bessie on her way — cured of crime by surgery! “Hers was a case of disease rather than crime,” proclaimed her doctors.

Except that she wasn’t cured. Despite insisting that her urge to steal was gone, in September 1911, she was caught stealing from an office building in Oakland. Given probation, she was arrested again in 1913. Rather than jail she was sent to the Patton State Hospital, an asylum for the criminally insane, in San Bernardino, California. The judge in her case believed she might be suffering from a “dual identity.”

Doctors at Patton decided she was not insane and returned her to her husband, Albert, who had moved to San Francisco. In October 1913 she reoffended but the judge decided to release her from jail because she was ill and he hoped going home would save her life.

Albert was married to someone else by 1918. It’s possible Bessie died of whatever she was suffering from in 1913, though no death record was located for her. (Having a piece of your skull removed and living without it would be no picnic, especially in the days before antibiotics). She may have moved on to commit more crimes under an alias or possibly she assumed a male identity. Whatever she did, she left her mark on the history quick quack cures for crime.

Featured image: Bessie Barclay (Jean Thurnherr) mugshots, California State Archives; Sacramento, California; Duplicate Photograph Album Dept of Corrections San Quentin Prison Inmate Photographs 23374-23778

 

Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation

“Yes, I killed ‘em. They beat me. I was their slave.”

 

And so Dan Tso-Se, 16-year-old Navajo is to go to Fort Leavenworth with the brand of Cain upon him, because, goaded to desperation by the ill-treatment he had received from five members of his tribe, he fired bullets into them as they slept in their tepee. Dan Tso-Se will be taken to the federal penitentiary to serve a ten-year sentence some time Friday.

The Salt Lake City Tribune, June 18, 1909

At 5 feet ¼ inch tall and 91 pounds, Dan Tso-Se, brand of Cain or not, would require protection when he entered USP Leavenworth on June 21, 1909, to serve a ten-year sentence for manslaughter. A Navajo boy of uncertain age — perhaps as young as 13 — Dan would be housed with hardened adult criminals, many of whom were twice his size. To make matters even worse, Dan was unable to communicate with his captors because he didn’t speak English.

A news report stated that Dan lived with his uncle on the Navajo reservation near Aneth, Utah, and it was this uncle, along with an aunt and an unidentified woman, who were the people Dan shot and killed with a 22-caliber rifle, along with wounding a third woman. After the murders Dan fled on horseback with his younger brother Tony. The pair weren’t located for a month.

According to prison documents, one of the people Dan shot and killed was his sister. Other documents state that he killed four men who had systematically mistreated him. Dan spoke no English; he spoke only the Navajo language, so there were undoubtedly facts that were lost in translation, resulting in confusion about what led up to the murders and who was killed.

Dan trusty

With long, disheveled hair and clad in ragged overalls and a dirty shirt, Dan appeared in the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, Utah, in April 1909.

It was the first time that the Indian boy had ever been off the reservation. Streetcars, automobiles and other things of the paleface civilization filled him with terror. It was with difficulty that he was persuaded to walk along the street to the courtroom to enter his plea of guilty.

The Salt Lake City Tribune, June 18, 1909

Informed of Dan’s maltreatment at the hands of the people he shot (whoever they were), the judge reduced the charges against him from murder to manslaughter, giving him four concurrent ten-year sentences. Absurdly, he was also fined $400. The sheriff then handcuffed him and escorted him to the federal prison in Kansas. There his hair was cut and he was given clean clothing before his mugshots were taken.

Dan sent a letter, written in Navajo, to his brother Tony while he was incarcerated. All letters to and from prisoners were read and officials were suspicious of the contents of the letter. “I guess we will have to take his word for it as I have no one who can talk to him,” wrote the deputy warden to the prison warden. There were other Native American prisoners at Leavenworth, but none of them spoke Navajo.

Credited with good conduct time, Dan was paroled on March 7, 1916. Prison officials had been informed that he was not welcome at his home reservation, so he was sent to the Wind River Indian Reservation near Fort Washakie, Wyoming. In an effort to find out how the young man had fared years after his release, the Leavenworth warden tried to locate Dan in 1928, but found no trace of him.

Featured photo: Dan Tsose, Leavenworth Penitentiary inmate photograph, 1909. Collection of NARA-Kansas City, Missouri.

 

Crooks’ Books

Crooks’ Books

The engagement of an internationally known woman criminal to marry the internationally noted criminologist, whose inspiration she was in the preparation of a book on the famous women criminals of all time, was announced today.

 

May Vivienne Churchill, known to the police of three continents as “Chicago May” Churchill, assisted and inspired Netley Lucas, English Criminologist, in the preparation of his book, “Ladies of the Underworld.”

The Baltimore Sun, January 4, 1928

During the early 20th century it was all the rage for reformed crooks (or those who claimed to be “ex”) to publish books about their felonious exploits. The notorious “Chicago May” was supposedly the inspiration for Netley Lucas’ 1927 book “Ladies of the Underworld: The Beautiful, the Damned and Those Who Get Away with It.” May’s own memoir, written with professional help, titled “Chicago May: Her Story by the Queen of Crooks” rolled out in 1928.

It’s not surprising that Netley and Chicago May cooked up a scheme to shock polite society while simultaneously promoting their books. As champagne corks popped in celebration of the New Year, 25-year-old Netley, and May, the queen blackmailer old enough to be his mother, announced their intention to wed. They hoped a photograph showing the two of them cozying up on a loveseat would convince readers that their wedding plans were legit. In reality it was a publicity stunt.

Netley Lucas mugNetley was not, in fact, a “noted criminologist.” He was an English con man who began his life of crime at the tender age of 14 when he adopted the persona of a wounded serviceman, claiming to have fought in a World War I battle. Gaining the sympathy of London society, he was able to open credit accounts with various businesses until the deception was uncovered and he was sent to reform school. He quickly escaped and was on the make again, posing as a gentleman. Arrested for false pretenses and check fraud, back to the Borstal went young Netley. There “he had associated with every form of crook and confidence trickster imaginable.” It was perfect schooling for a boy with his predilections and talents.

In 1924, at the tender age of 21, Netley, who claimed to have turned over a new leaf, found his “true calling” as a writer. His memoir, “The Autobiography of a Crook,” was published in 1925. It became a bestseller and over the next few years he wrote biographies of members of various European royal family members and well-known public figures.

Netley’s biographies were fabricated. Even his own memoir turned out to have been ghost written. The book about the exploits of lady criminals was likely also a pack of lies.

Chicago May mugChicago May was born Mary Anne Duignan in 1871 in Ireland. She stole her family’s life savings, in 1890, and used it to immigrate to England, then America. May worked as a prostitute in New York City. Next she moved to Chicago during the World’s Fair, in 1893, where she teamed up with another prostitute to rob clients — one did the robbing while the gent was “distracted” by the other. She also became adept at the “badger game,” a con in which married men were lured into sexually compromising situations, then blackmailed.

May and CharlieMay became romantically involved with the noted criminal Eddie Guerin and they traveled to Europe. (Not one to be outshone, Eddie published his autobiography in 1928). She and Eddie planned the robbery of an American Express office in Paris, but plans went awry and they ended up in prison. The pair reunited in London (May was released, Eddie escaped) where their relationship turned ugly and May took up with another crook named Robert Considine, alias Charlie Smith. An argument between the three, involving Eddie’s threats to slash May’s face, led to Eddie being shot in the foot. May and Charlie were convicted of attempted murder and sent to English prisons in 1907.

Her criminal heyday in the past, May returned to the United States after her 1917 prison release. She landed in Detroit, where, desperate for money, she worked as a common prostitute. May hoped her memoir would help her get back on her feet financially.

Though the engagement to Netley was bogus, May did plan to get married — to her old love and fellow crook, Robert. However she was taken ill before the nuptials could occur and she died in a Philadelphia hospital on May 30, 1929. At least 15 of her 57 years on earth had been spent in a prison cell.

Netley fared even worse than May. In 1931 he was convicted of trying to sell a fake biography of Queen Alexandra and sentenced to 18 months hard labor. The notoriety brought an end to his writing career and he spiraled into alcoholism. He was found dead in 1940, aged 37, in the partly burnt out living room of a house in Surry, England. No one mourned his passing.

They say what goes around comes around, so it seems fitting that crook books are back in style. Biographies of both Netley Lucas and Chicago May have been published in recent years.

Featured photo: news photo of Netley Lucas and Chicago May, announcing their engagement to be married on January 4, 1928. Collection of the author.

Other photos: Netley’s mugshot, Police Gazette, July 18, 1924; May’s mugshot, date and location unknown; May and Robert, The Evening Journal, Wilmington, Delaware, May 30, 1929.