The Strange Case of Marie Chin Wore

A young girl was found wandering in the vicinity of New York City’s Bowery neighborhood on a cold day in February 1920. She was taken to a Christian missionary society, where she told authorities a disturbing story about having been forced to become the “child wife” of a much older man. Mary Banta, the missionary … Continue reading The Strange Case of Marie Chin Wore

The Cowboy

Born in Texas on July 14, 1876, 100 years and ten days after the United States, Nathan Bridgeforth became prisoner #2007 at Leavenworth on February 26, 1900. Seven weeks earlier, he pleaded guilty to forgery in the Northern District Court of Muskogee, Indian Territory. The details of the crime that sent him to Leavenworth have … Continue reading The Cowboy

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 … Continue reading One Knife and Two Diamond Rings

Mother’s Murder

It began as just one more in the long string of quarrels between Dorothy Ellingson and her mother Anna. But this time the argument—their final one, as it turned out—culminated in tragedy: Dorothy shot her mother dead. Later, after the 16-year-old was arrested, some members of the press dubbed Dorothy “The Jazz Slayer.” Others called … Continue reading Mother’s Murder

Her Mona Lisa Smile

The smell must have been horrendous when the police finally entered the apartment, given how long the old man’s body had been lying there. It was murder — there was no question about that. He’d been shot with a single bullet to the back of the head. Robbery was thought to be the motive because … Continue reading Her Mona Lisa Smile

Sophie Lyons on Criminal Broads

Recently I spoke to Tori Telfer, the host of the podcast Criminal Broads, about my biography of Sophie Lyons. I shared some stories with Tori about Sophie's crazy life and her long career in crime. Here's the link to the podcast, or listen wherever you get your podcasts. Women have often been seen as victims … Continue reading Sophie Lyons on Criminal Broads

The Postmistress

The strongest weapon Ella McClendon had in her bag of tricks was her spotless reputation. As a storekeeper and assistant postmistress to her father, who was the postmaster in the town of Sturdivant, Missouri, no one suspected her of wrongdoing. In fact, it took years to uncover her criminal misdeeds. It started innocently enough. The … Continue reading The Postmistress

The San Quentin Follies

The follies were a high point in the dreary lives of the prisoners at San Quentin. An annual tradition held near the end of December, the prisoners wrote, directed and starred in each and every act. During the early years, when there were few female prisoners, the men produced and acted in the show, dressing … Continue reading The San Quentin Follies

Taking Her Oath

I was very fortunate to purchase this news photo on eBay a few years ago. It shows newly minted SFPD policewoman, Blanche Payson, being sworn in by Police Chief D.A. White. I suspect the photographer was careful to make sure the photo on the wall of famed police detective, Isaiah Lees, was also visible in … Continue reading Taking Her Oath

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 … Continue reading Silent Phil

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 … Continue reading Dodging the Law

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: … Continue reading Before Pretty Boy