Taking Her Oath

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 the picture. Lees, who died in 1902, has been credited as being the policeman who came up with the idea of the Rogues’ Gallery (mugshot photography). While that claim can be debated, there’s no doubt he was an early user of photography to help identify criminal suspects.

Blanche Payson_marked

Here’s the full photograph. It was printed in reverse and a note on the back specifies that it needs to be flipped “so hands will be right.”

But back to Blanche: She was also a first. The photo was likely taken to announce the fact that San Francisco had hired its first “special” policewoman. Blanche would be charged with directing traffic and keeping things safe and orderly for women and children at the Toyland exhibit at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915. “Mashers” (men who sexually harassed women) were to be her special quarry. She also guarded the Liberty Bell while it was on display at the expo.

She was born Mary Elizabeth Bush in Santa Barbara in 1881 to Thomas and Sarah Bush. By the time she married Eugene Payson, a commercial traveler, in 1908, she had changed her first name to Blanche. In 1910 Payson placed an announcement in the local papers that he wouldn’t be responsible for his wife’s debts. The couple divorced but she kept his surname. In 1923 she married Allen Thurman Love, but that marriage also ended in divorce.

Blanche was hired in part because she had family connections to policing: her uncle, Dan Martin, served as the first police chief of Santa Barbara. She also came recommended for the job by William Pinkerton, the renowned private detective of the Pinkerton Agency (“We Never Sleep”).

Blanche Payson advice (better photo) - Newspapers.com

Blanche directing traffic at the Panama Exposition.

Another useful attribute was that Blanche was an imposing physical presence. Depending on which press report you believe, she was somewhere between six foot four and six foot six inches tall. Not to mention that when she was hired, she weighed in at 235 pounds.

After the exposition ended Blanche moved to Hollywood and took up a new career: film actress. It’s possible the acting bug bit her when she was essentially “on stage” while working at the expo.

She made her first film, “Wife and Auto Trouble,” at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios in 1916. She successfully transitioned to “talkies” and made many more films, mostly slapstick comedies, over the next three decades. With her towering height, she often played the “heavy” for comedians, including The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy. She continued to appear in films until 1943.

Blanche Payson in reunion photo - Newspapers.com

Blanche (upper left) at a reunion of the Mack Sennett “Bathing Beauties” in 1950.

In 1925 a reporter interviewed Blanche about her police career. She informed him that, in her opinion, women made excellent police officers and were particularly well suited to being traffic cops. “Women do not lose their heads so easily as men. They do not burst into profanity on such slight provocation. They are not so dictatorial as men,” said Blanche.

Blanche died in Los Angeles on the 4th of July in 1964.

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.

 

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!

 

The Shorts Burglar

The Shorts Burglar

The burglaries started in November 1931. Witnesses described the culprit as a well-built man with thick blond hair. He was in his early twenties and about 5 feet 10 inches tall. The homes he robbed were all in St. Louis, Missouri.

The bizarre thing was that he removed his clothing before breaking in. Stripped down to his underwear and athletic shoes, he stole cash and whatever valuable items he could carry. On the occasion when he was interrupted, the agile burglar was able to get away by leaping through a window, down a staircase or over a fence.

But there was more to the story than just his nearly nude burglaries. In several cases a woman had awakened during the night and discovered him in her bedroom. And in one case the woman found him sitting on her bed. It was creepy. She screamed and he ran.

The newspapers in St. Louis dubbed him the “Shorts Burglar.”

The St. Louis Star and Times reported that a homeowner had discovered the Shorts Burglar in his daughter’s room, lying on a rug on the floor next to the girl’s bed while she slept. “You must be in the wrong house,” the homeowner said to him. “Yes, I must be,” he replied as he bounded to his feet, leapt across the room, raced down the hall and stairway. He ran into the street and disappeared into the night.

By the spring of 1932 he was a suspect in almost 100 burglaries. Efforts to catch him intensified after he broke into the apartment building where the chief of police lived but he managed to escape. The whole situation had become an embarrassment for law enforcement.

Two women spotted a man who matched his description lurking around their neighborhood and immediately phoned the police. The message went out to radio cars and more than 50 officers arrived in the vicinity of where the man had been spotted. Clad only in his underwear, he was arrested inside the garage of a former city detective on April 22, 1932.

 

John Eaves more photos - Newspapers.com

St. Louis Star and Times, April 22, 1932

The Shorts Burglar’s name was John Raymond Eaves. Born in St. Louis in 1911, his father left the family when he was two years old. His mother, Anna, soon remarried and had another child; a daughter named Madeline.

“I went around in my underwear because I thought that if I were surprised in a house the people would think I was a member of the household,” was Eaves’ explanation for why he’d removed his clothes before committing the burglaries. “I really entered the places to rob them. I did not molest anyone,” he told police. He also admitted that when he noticed an attractive woman on the street he sometimes followed her home and returned later to break in and rob the woman. He said he’d also robbed some of the homes where he’d worked as an odd job man. He was also accused of committing several armed robberies during which he’d been fully clothed.

His criminal record extended back to 1926. He and three teenage companions had forced a young couple that had been driving through a city park to stop and get out of their car. Then the boys held them up at gunpoint. Fortunately for the victims, two police detectives saw the robbery in process and arrested the four teens. They were booked for attempted highway robbery.

More than a hundred witnesses showed up to police headquarters to try to identify Eaves after his arrest in 1932. He confessed to 24 burglaries and several armed robberies. Some of the jewelry he’d stolen, including a Veiled Prophet Maid’s tiara, had been pawned as far away as Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Shortly after Eaves was arrested it was reported that a copycat burglar, dressed only in underwear, had been surprised in the process of ransacking a woman’s trunk while she slept nearby. The woman awoke, saw the robber and screamed, scaring him off. The copycat got away.

Eaves pleaded guilty to two charges of armed robbery and five charges of first-degree burglary, in June 1932. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In July 1938 he was released on parole and he returned to St. Louis. He was convicted of burglary again on January 6, 1939, but he was granted a new trial. At the second trial he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to the State Hospital for the Insane in Fulton, Missouri. After a year in the mental hospital he was sent back to the penitentiary to complete more of his first sentence.

He was paroled on December 14, 1940. He stayed out of the clutches of the police until August 1942, when he was arrested, fully clothed, and charged with burglary. Eaves wasn’t convicted of that charge. He got married and had twin sons in 1944.

In 1947 his wife, Mildred, was charged with witness tampering. Eaves had been arrested for burglary again that year and Mildred tried to get the state’s star witness, a woman named Billy Jean Davis, to write a letter renouncing her identification of Eaves as the culprit. Davis wrote the letter and accepted a $500 bribe from Mildred Eaves to leave the state.

John Eaves and wife try to buy witnesses off. photos. - Newspape

St. Louis Star and Times, February 11, 1949

While he was free on bail the following year — 1948 — Eaves broke in to a St. Louis residence during a party. He forced nine people into the kitchen at gunpoint and stole all the money he could find in the home. He was arrested and charged with armed robbery. He’d made no effort to hide his face and one of the victims identified him at his trial. Mildred testified that her husband suffered from crying spells, depression and periods of being socially withdrawn. She said she believed he was mentally ill.

He was found guilty of robbery with a deadly weapon and of being a habitual criminal, which earned him a mandatory life sentence in prison. However his lawyer claimed that Eaves was insane due to an untreated venereal disease he’d had when he was younger. The lawyer argued that his client deserved a new trial. After some discussion between the defense and prosecution attorneys regarding Eaves’ mental state, the judge granted him a new trial.

Eaves was sent to the Malcolm Bliss Psychopathic Institute in St. Louis so that psychiatrists could study him and try to determine whether he was sane or suffering from some kind of mental illness. After four months the doctors decided he was sane and released him.

While he was out on bail awaiting his second trial (his bail was supposedly paid by a wealthy, unidentified female admirer) he tried to commit another burglary. He broke into the basement apartment of a sleeping husband and wife. The couple woke up while the burglary was in process. The man, a well-muscled laborer, slugged Eaves while his wife, who was described in the newspaper as a former circus elephant rider, grabbed Eaves’ flashlight and pounded him on the head with it. Eaves, who was dressed in pants and shoes but no shirt, was able to get out of the apartment, but he ran into a police officer in the alley outside the building. No longer young and fleet of foot, the officer chased, captured and arrested him. Eaves was taken to the hospital with a head injury, from which he recovered.

John Eaves arrested after altercation with couple he tried to ro

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 29, 1949

The bribery charge against Mildred Eaves was dropped in 1950 on a technicality.

At his court hearing in 1952, the doctors from Malcolm Bliss announced their decision that Eaves was sane. They said he’d “simulated mental illness” at his earlier trial. Eaves pleaded guilty to the 1948 burglary and to six other burglaries he’d committed while he was out on bail. The “habitual criminal” charge was dropped and the life sentence was set aside. His new sentence was ten years in the penitentiary.

While he was in prison his wife divorced him and both his mother and stepfather died. He was released from prison in April 1958. A week later he was arrested after neighbors called the police and reported him for behaving suspiciously outside the St. Louis home of his ex-wife and children. He told the officers who arrested him that he was only hanging around because he wanted to see his kids.

Two months later he was arrested for suspected child molestation after he talked to three little girls playing in a vacant lot. The children told the police that Eaves stopped his car, got out and he said, “I like blondes.” They claimed he picked one of the girls up and held her. The other girls screamed and he put the child down, got back in his car and drove off.

In September he was arrested again for child molestation. This time it was alleged that he invited two eight-year-old girls into his house. They claimed he abused them after they went inside.

John Eaves arrested for possible child molestation - Newspapers.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 5, 1958

He was tried for the “strongest” of the five cases of child molestation against him in October 1958. His time card was submitted as proof that he was at work when the incident was supposed to have occurred. The trial resulted in a hung jury. A plea bargain was struck with Eaves’ attorney for the other four charges against him to be dropped if he agreed to plead guilty to one charge of child molestation. According to comments the judge made to the press, the agreement saved his court-appointed lawyer, who’d already spent several days on the case, from being “tied up by it” any longer. The plea deal resulted in a four-year sentence in the penitentiary for Eaves.

There were no reports that he committed any more crimes after he was released from prison in the early 1960s. John Raymond Eaves died in St. Louis in 1987.

It’s unlikely that the original glass plate negative of Eaves’ mugshot photo still exists. Luckily it was later rephotographed as a glass lantern slide (a precursor to 35mm slides, which have now given way to digital images), possibly for lecture use by the St. Louis police. It was almost certainly selected because the Shorts Burglar had such a long, strange and sad history in St. Louis.

Featured Photo: John Eaves standing for photographs in his underwear for his police record, taken on April 22, 1932. Police lantern slide from the collection of the Missouri History Society.  

The Japanese Butler

The Japanese Butler

On April 25, 1900, Sanichi Kanda waited with about 50 other young Japanese men to board a British steamship, the Sikh, which sat in the port of Yokohama, Japan. The ship had arrived a day earlier from Kobe with about 150 people, mostly young men, on board. Its final destination, the United States of America, was halfway around the world. Born in Tokyo in 1880, Sanichi had $31 in his pocket and would turn 20 on May 10, three days before they landed in Tacoma, Washington. He knew he wouldn’t see his parents, Junnosuke and Somi, or his homeland again.

Yokahama port

The Port of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, in an undated photo.

A lean, handsome man, Sanichi had only attended school for six years, but he was able to speak, read and write English. After he arrived in the United States he worked for a couple of years in Seattle as a tailor, but he was restless. He boarded a train heading east.

He arrived in Maryland and was hired to work for Mrs. Louise Brinkmann at “Oakwood,” her enormous Queen Anne-style home in Catonsville, just west of Baltimore. Mrs. Brinkmann, who was born in New Jersey, came from a German family that had made a fortune in the sugar business. She married August Helmuth Brinkmann, a successful German-born businessman, in 1879 and they had three sons. They separated in 1900, with Mr. Brinkmann returning to Germany. Before they parted company Mrs. Brinkmann obtained a tidy financial settlement from her husband.

Oakwood

“Oakwood,” Mrs. Brinkmann’s home in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1904.

Mrs. Brinkmann employed several servants at her estate, including a housekeeper and a coachman. She was a busy woman with an active social life who did a lot of charity work. She also made frequent trips out of town to visit family and friends. Unfortunately, paying the wages of her servants was not at the top of her to-do list.

Sanichi became impatient when his wages weren’t paid. He realized it was wrong to steal, but he also knew that if he complained, the authorities were unlikely to take the word of a Japanese immigrant over the word of a wealthy American lady. He took a valuable diamond ring from her home and headed to Washington, D.C., where he pawned the ring for $60. She reported the theft to the police.

Mrs. Brinkman

Mrs. Brinkmann behind the wheel of one of her automobiles.

Sanichi soon found job a working as a servant for Mrs. Howard Kingscote, an English woman staying temporarily in Staunton, Virginia. Like Mrs. Brinkmann, Mrs. Kingscote hailed from a good family and was separated from her husband. She was also an accomplished novelist, writing under the pen name “Lucas Cleeve,” in the bodice-ripper genre, a subject area with which she had extensive personal familiarity. Though no one in Staunton knew it at the time, she’d had to make a quick exit from her homeland after it was discovered that she’d seduced and bilked several men, causing their financial ruin. Her financial troubles continued in America, where eventually she’d be kicked out of several hotels for non-payment of her bills.

S. Kanda advertisement for employment - Newspapers.com

It didn’t take long for Sanichi to figure out that Mrs. Kingscote was even less likely to pay him on time than Mrs. Brinkmann, so he left the job. Undaunted by his previous bad luck with employers, he placed an ad in various newspapers seeking work as a butler and valet. He might not have been caught for the theft of the ring except that he used his real name in the ads. The Baltimore police traced him through the ad and sent two detectives to his rooming house.

At first he denied taking the ring, but after some conversation with the detectives he admitted the theft. He explained he’d only done it because he hadn’t been paid. Nonetheless they arrested him and took him to Baltimore to face charges. He pleaded guilty to a charge of petty larceny and was sentenced to six months in the Maryland House of Correction (aka “The Cut”) on October 25, 1905.

After he was released from prison Sanichi decided he’d had enough of working as a servant to white ladies. He returned to Washington State and found work as a laborer in an oyster camp in Vaughn, a village on the Key Peninsula. There he met Daisy Lillian Tuthill, a young woman from Connecticut. Daisy and her only sibling, her younger brother, Frank, had been orphaned as children. They moved to Vaughn to live with their grandparents. Frank died in 1908 when he was just 20 years old.

Sanichi asked Daisy to marry him and she accepted. They applied for a marriage license near the end of September 1910. There was only one problem — officials in Seattle refused to grant the license because he was Asian and she was white. Next they applied for the license in Tacoma because they heard that two other mixed-race couples had received marriage licenses there. The state auditor was not happy about it, but he admitted there was no law against granting them the license. “We can take our time investigating the applications and they may get tired of waiting,” the auditor commented. In fact Washington was the only state in the western U.S. and one of only eight in the nation where inter-racial marriage was legal at the time. The couple waited patiently and the license was eventually granted. A justice of the peace married Sanichi and Daisy on November 5, 1910 in Mason County, Washington.

By 1915 the Kandas had three children: Eugene, George and Lillian. Sanichi continued to work as an oysterman and oyster culler in South Bay, north of Olympia. Another son, Richard, joined the family in 1929.

After running the gauntlet to get married, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Sanichi and Daisy’s story were one of happy-ever-after? Sadly that’s not the case. On November 25, 1934, their beautiful daughter, Lillian, was shot and killed on a lonely road in Thurston County, Washington, by Merritt Hunter, Jr., a jealous high school sweetheart, after she tried to break off her relationship with him. Hunter’s father told a news reporter that his son had been behaving irrationally for about a year before the murder. He said that he and his wife were unhappy about the relationship because Lillian was partly of Japanese ancestry.

Hunter in jail - Newspapers.com

News photo of Merritt Hunter in jail after he was arrested for the murder of Lillian Kanda.

Hunter was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He was paroled in 1951. Four years after he was released he shot and killed his wife, Elayne, with a .22 caliber rifle. Then he turned the gun on himself, committing suicide.

Sanichi, Daisy and their three sons were sent to Tule Lake War Relocation Center, an internment camp in northern California, on June 4, 1942, after the outbreak of World War II. The camp was constructed for incarceration of Japanese people living in America and Americans of Japanese ancestry, due to irrational fears that they might collaborate with the Japanese. Daisy was not in either category but she was sent to Tule Lake anyway. The Kanda’s sons left the camp shortly after they arrived. Sanichi and Daisy remained at the camp until October 4, 1943.

tule-16

Cabins at the Tule Lake Camp, circa 1944.

After the war ended Sanichi got a job with the railroad. He outlived Daisy, who died in 1962, by one year. They are buried with three of their children and their tiny granddaughter, Karen, in Tumwater, Washington.

Featured photo: Sanichi Kanda, 1905 carte-de-visite mugshot (front and back). Collection of the author.

Thanks to antiques dealer, Nathan Roberts, for selling me a large collection of CDV mugshot cards from Baltimore, including the card of Sanichi Kanda.

 

 

 

The Milkman

The Milkman

What do rattlesnakes have to do with crime? In this case the answer is nothing. Why are the two young men in the news photo holding a large, venomous snake? The explanation is on the back of the photo:

Leonarde Keeler back_crop

Leonarde “Nard” Keeler, the young man on the left, was one of the fathers of the lie detector or “polygraph,” as he called the machine he helped invent. The machine was developed as a scientific alternative to “the third degree,” in which a cop basically beat a confession out of a suspect. John Larson, a police officer in Berkeley, California, with an interest in psychology, thought there had to be a better way to sort the guilty from the innocent, so he created an early version of the lie detector in 1921. As a teenager Keeler got to know Larson and August Volllmer, the pioneering Berkeley chief of police known as the “father of modern law enforcement.” While he was still in high school Keeler became Larson’s assistant.

Keeler and the lie detector - Newspapers.comThe idea was to hook someone up to the machine and measure their vital signs while asking them a series of questions. If a particular question caused the vital signs of to go haywire it indicated they were lying. That, at least, was the theory.

Born in Berkeley on Halloween 1903, Keeler’s father was the poet and naturalist, Charles Keeler. Keeler attended several colleges, including UCLA and Stanford, but he was never an enthusiastic student. He was far more interested in the lie detector than in his studies. However in order to pay his expenses while he was in college, Keeler kept two-dozen rattlers in a “lonely” water tower near the university and ran his unusual “dairy” out of the tower.

During the gangster era of the 1930s, Chicago was the perfect place to research crime and to work on developing the lie detector. Keeler, Larson and Vollmer all moved to Chicago. Eventually Keeler and Larson became enemies because Larson, the more science-oriented of the two, considered Keeler to be nothing more than an egotistical showman who wasn’t interested in science and only wanted to generate headlines and promote his “Keeler polygraph.” The two continued to back bite and snipe at each other for years. The older and wiser Vollmer tried to stay out of the fight.

bk0013m5n5r-FID4

Polygraph chart signed by Keeler, October 18, 1940. Collection of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA.

Keeler married Katherine “Kay” Applegate, one of America’s first female forensic scientists, in 1930. For a time it seemed the couple was a real life version of Nick and Nora Charles, Dashiell Hammett’s fictional sleuths, but after Keeler discovered Kay was having affairs with other men, they divorced. Always popular with the ladies, the handsome Keeler philandered, smoked and drank his way into an early grave. He died of a heart attack in 1949.

Nard Keeler sold snake venom, but was he a snake oil salesman? The bottom line is that the reliability of the polygraph continues to be controversial and, generally, the results of the test are not admitted as evidence in court.

Featured photo: from the collection of the author.

“With Long Criminal Records”

“With Long Criminal Records”

Warrants charging larceny were issued yesterday by the Circuit Attorney’s office against three women arrested last week in their room in Hotel Statler for shop-lifting. Police reported finding the wallet of a victim in the room. The women, all of whom said they are from Milwaukee, Wis., are: Ruth Stehling, 34 years old; Louise R. Smith, 32, and Jean Miller, 34. In the room police found a wallet containing $14, some checks and personal papers belonging to Mrs. Katherine Rueckert, 3435 Halliday avenue. Mrs. Rueckert had reported that the wallet was snatched from her in a downtown department store.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri), March 27, 1934

The Kusch family crime poster has the look of a kid’s school project, with the awkward placement of text, some of which was hand-drawn, and the amateurish attempt at a symmetrical layout. It was made by a St. Louis police officer in 1934 and photographed as a magic lantern slide, possibly for use as a lecture aid.

I suspect the point of the poster was to demonstrate how suspects might avoid being identified as repeat offenders by using aliases. The real names of the three ladies in stand-up mugshot were (left to right) Helen, Anna and Julia Kusch.

Another aim of the poster was to demonstrate that crime was a career choice that occasionally ran in families.

The mother of two of the three women in the photo was Mary Meka Kusch. Mary was a German immigrant to the United States who tutored her young daughters in how to steal ladies’ purses and forced them to become pickpockets. Mary’s husband, Michael, who was also born in Germany, was not involved in the “family business.”

In 1909 Anna Kusch was the youngest child ever arrested by the detective bureau in Buffalo, New York, after she was caught stealing shoppers’ purses in department stores. At the ripe old age of eight Anna was a suspect in many purse thefts.

Anna and her older sister, Helen, were serial pickpockets while they were still in grade school. The girls strolled the streets, stealing ladies’ purses as the opportunity arose, and hiding their loot in a baby carriage. Imagine the surprise of the beat officer who leaned over to give the “baby” a tickle on the chin!

In 1910 the Kusch sisters were taken into police custody for pickpocketing. Mama Kusch got three months probation for teaching her children to be thieves.

The following year Helen was arrested again for stealing cash from the purses of women shopping on the main drag of Buffalo. She told the police that her mother sent her out every day after school to steal money and if she didn’t do it she got a whipping. Mary was charged with receiving stolen property. Helen was sent to a detention home for juveniles.

Meanwhile the sisters’ older brothers, John and Albert Kusch, were engaged in robbing the poor box at a local Catholic church. They drank enough whiskey to put Albert and a friend in the hospital in critical condition with alcohol poisoning. Albert subsequently recovered. John went on to be convicted of burglary and sent to New York’s Elmira Reformatory at the age of 19.

As Helen and Anna blossomed into their teen years they continued to shoplift and pickpocket. Both were caught and earned themselves another stay in a Buffalo detention home.

The Kusch family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by 1920. The change of state may have been motivated by their notoriety in Buffalo because their crime careers continued in “America’s Dairyland.” When Helen was 28, in 1926, she was arrested for pickpocketing in Milwaukee. She jumped bail and forfeited her $1000 bond.

John was arrested for passing bad checks in 1931 when he was 38 years old. Over the previous 20 years he’d accumulated 16 arrests, including one for contributing to the delinquency of a minor after he’d picked up an underage girl and had sex with her. He was sentenced to five to seven years in a Wisconsin state prison on the bad check charge. John joined Albert, who was already in state prison, serving a three-year sentence for the attempted robbery of a pharmacy.

When the Kusch ladies were arrested for pickpocketing in St. Louis, Helen and Anna had 25 years of experience under their belts. They knew it would be a smart move to give the police false names to fool them into believing it was their first offense. Julia Kusch was not their sister but she may have been their sister-in-law because Albert was married for a while to a woman named Julia.

Helen was picked up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for shoplifting an item worth $1.50 in 1935. Police there claimed she’d been arrested many times in the past. She was given a six month suspended sentence and a $100 fine. Anna was also arrested and later released without charge.

The 1935 arrests of Helen and Anna were last time any Kusch family members appeared in the police news. It’s impossible to know if the poster put an end to their criminal activities, however there’s an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” That little proverb may have run through the mind of the police officer when he got out his glue and pen to make the Kusch Family crime poster.

Featured photo: St. Louis Police Lantern Slides, collection of the Missouri History Museum.

The Argument

The Argument

A quarrel over a woman ended last night in the slaying of an escaped convict by one of his three pals and the wounding and capture of the other three men by the police following a pistol battle.

The St. Louis Star and Times (St. Louis, Missouri), July 7, 1931

It started out as a congenial evening of drinking among friends on a hot summer night in St. Louis. Winfield (known as “Windy”) Seeman and his pal, Morris Rosen, met up with John Harrington and Harry Casey near the Mississippi riverfront. July in St. Louis is notoriously hot and humid. In order to try to cool off one of the men suggested they head to a speakeasy called “Mack’s Place” for some beers.

The speakeasy was in a house in the southeast part of the city, near the workhouse, in an area called “No Man’s Land,” where mounds of rocks from an old quarry were still scattered around. During the 19th century, workhouse inmates were forced to break rocks from the quarry into gravel as part of their penance for being imprisoned. Streetlights were few in No Man’s Land, so it was dark at night and vehicles traversed the landscape with difficulty. The police disliked the area and avoided it, which meant it was a good place to run an illegal beer tavern.

Harry Casey was a 40-year-old St. Louis man with an extensive criminal history. As a joke he was nicknamed “The Velvet Tongue Kid” thanks to his free use of some of the vilest curse words in the English language. He’d been sent to the workhouse for car theft in his late teens. By the age of 25 he’d been hardened by two prison terms in the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) — one of which came after he’d stolen some guns and attempted to kill a police officer who tried to arrest him in Illinois. He’d lived in California for a time but he’d recently returned to his hometown.

Winfield Seeman mugshot

Morris Rosen 2-1

Windy Seeman (top) and Morris Rosen (bottom) in MSP mugshots. Collection of the Missouri State Archives.

Windy Seeman and Morris Rosen had become buddies at the MSP when Windy was serving a ten-year sentence for robbery. Russian-born Morris, the younger of the two, had served a year at the MSP for assault to kill and was in for the second time for burglary and grand larceny. They were both skilled tradesmen and had been put to work on the outside in a supervised prison gang that was at work on a new prison. Windy and Morris walked away from the gang the previous October and had been on the lam ever since.

John was a salesman in his thirties with no criminal record.

The men sat in front of Mack’s Place drinking and as the alcohol flowed, tongues loosened. John casually mentioned that he thought Windy’s wife, Irene, was a very attractive woman. Perhaps it was an innocent comment or he may have been testing the waters to see how married the Seemans really were. Either way, he wasn’t prepared for for the escaped con’s reaction.

Windy accused John of trying to steal his wife. John replied that it was meant as a compliment, nothing more, but Windy became even more incensed and refused to let the matter drop.

John retreated inside the speakeasy but Windy grabbed his pistol and followed him. Harry, never one to avoid a fight, followed them both inside and Morris trailed in last. Gunfire erupted and Windy fell to the floor with a bullet wound to his chest.

Morris insisted that they needed to get his friend to a doctor. The three men laid Windy in the backseat of John’s car and headed to the city hospital. Before they got far the police, who’d been called by someone at the speakeasy, arrived on the scene. They ordered the men out of the car. Instead Harry fired at the policemen, who dropped to their knees, sought cover and returned fire.

By the time the bullets stopped flying, John had been shot in the left arm and Harry had taken a bullet to his right hand and had a deep scalp wound. Morris was seriously injured — he’d been shot in the head. Windy was dead, with bullet wounds to his stomach and heart. None of the officers was injured.

The police weren’t sure whose bullet had killed Windy. However he’d been lying in the backseat of the car during the gun battle, which made it unlikely that the officers, firing from a low angle, had shot him. John told police that Harry fired the fatal shot after the argument moved inside the speakeasy. Morris, once he’d recovered, said the same thing. But velvet-tongued Harry claimed John had fired the fatal shot.

Harry with charged with Windy’s murder. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and assault to kill and was sent to prison for ten years. He died in 1944 of stomach and liver cancer and was buried in a pauper’s grave in East St. Louis, Illinois.

John, whose father, Patrick Harrington, was a St. Louis policeman, returned to life as a salesman. He was killed in July 1952 when he failed to stop at an intersection near Route 66 in St. Louis County while driving his car at a high rate of speed. John’s car struck another vehicle and he was thrown 30 feet from his wreck. He died at the scene of fractures, shock and blunt force head trauma. Passengers in the other two cars involved in the crash suffered only minor injuries.

Morris survived but his lost his eye. He was returned to the MSP to finish his sentence once he’d recovered. He was released in 1934 and he moved back to his hometown of Kansas City. Eventually he became a part owner of Toffler’s Loan Shop in Leavenworth, Kansas. The store, part pawn shop and part general store, sold rifles, shotguns and pistols, among other things.

In December 1952, while demonstrating a revolver he believed to be unloaded, Morris snapped the trigger and the gun exploded. It wounded him in the hand and wounded a bystander in the arm. He recovered from his second gunshot wound and lived another 33 years, dying in 1995 at the age of 90.

Featured photo: Morris Rosen’s mugshot, taken on November 19, 1931. The Missouri State Penitentiary Database, collection of the Missouri State Archives.

Gambling with Gangsters

Gambling with Gangsters

Large amounts of money have been found cleverly concealed about the persons of J. J. Kellogg and J. MacDonald, held here for questioning. The men were arrested Wednesday as suspicious characters.

— The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), October 12, 1931

Nothing says “crook” quite like cash concealed in your clothing. One man had $1400* ($23,172) in hundred dollar bills sewn in the lining of his coat sleeve. His pal had $560 ($9,269) in hidden compartments in the instep and heel of his shoe.

They were spotted hanging around the downtown streets of Washington, Iowa, on the evening of October 8, 1931. Earlier in the day they’d checked into the Colenso Hotel on the town’s main drag. The coat cash man said his name was J. J. Kellogg and James McDonald was who the shoe cash man claimed to be. After the pair booked into the hotel, they’d inquired about what time the local banks opened their doors.

Naturally the cops wanted to know who they were and what they were up to.

J. J. Kellogg, who looked like he walked out of central casting for the role of a two-bit gangster in an Edward G. Robinson film, stuck out like a sore thumb in Washington where most of the townsfolk were farmers. With the fedora, cigar, lean, hungry face and suspicious eyes — he might as well have had “gangster” tattoed on his forehead.

He was taken into custody for having false license plates on his car. The police then discovered that one of the many names he used was Riley Gaffigan. They suspected that Riley and his buddy James had been part of a gambling con pulled the previous January in Springfield, Illinois.

Abe Lincoln Hotel Springfield

Hotel Abraham Lincoln

The victim of that con was Myrtle Tanner Blacklidge, the tax collector for the second wealthiest district in the United States — the northern part of Illinois, which included Chicago. Myrtle went to the Hotel Abraham Lincoln in Springfield on January 22, 1931. There she played the card game faro with three men in a hotel room. The men told Myrtle she’d won $207,000 ($3,426,258) but they claimed her win was “on paper.” They wanted Myrtle to fork over $50,000 ($827,598) cash to replace a check she’d provided to get into the game. Only then, they said, could they give her the winnings.

Though she had a well-paying job, Myrtle had expensive tastes and was desperate for cash. She’d lost both her adult son and her husband to illness within weeks of each other the previous year. She borrowed the $50,000 in $1000 bills from a friend — defeated Chicago mayoral candidate, Edward Litsinger. Of course Litsinger, like any Chicago pol worth his salt, expected something in return for the loan. Myrtle promised him $10,000 ($165,519) of her winnings.

She rejoined the card players and handed over the $50,000 cash, but she was unable to resist a little more gambling. She lost the whole $50,000 but figured she still had $157,000  ($2,598,659) coming to her. The men told her to wait in the room while they went to get the remainder of her winnings. They never reappeared. “I realized I had been duped,” she later commented.

Litsinger said Myrtle lied to him about why she needed the money, telling him it was to complete a “business deal,” not to gamble. He promised to sue her. Then it was revealed that it was actually Litsinger’s nephew, Fred Litsinger, the tax reviewer for northern Illinois, who’d handed over his uncle’s cash. Fred had done a bit of gambling himself at the time. Hoping to avoid bad publicity for his family, Edward dropped the lawsuit.

Myrtle resigned from her tax revenue job due to the scandal.

George Perry, known in Chicago as “Big George” Parker, was shot to death in his home in South Bend, Indiana, a few months later. Myrtle identified him as one of the three men who’d taken her in the faro game.

The authorities thought they’d found the remaining two men when the Iowa police arrested Riley and James. In addition to the cash hidden in their clothes and shoes the men carried a substantial number of used cashier’s checks with the details erased out. Police believed their current racket was to start poker games with local farmers, paying out their losses with the bogus checks.

Not wanting to personally confront the gangsters, Myrtle and Fred were unwilling to go to Iowa to identify the men. Myrtle looked at photos of Riley and James and said she thought they weren’t the ones. The men each paid hefty $500 ($8,275) fines for driving with illegal license plates on their car and were released. They melted into the criminal underworld and weren’t heard from again under the names they’d used in Washington, Iowa.

No one was ever arrested for the faro game con.

Myrtle and pals

Myrtle’s troubles continued when the wife of a policeman sued her for $100,000 ($1,837,537) in 1934, claiming Myrtle had stolen the affections of her husband. Torrid love letters from Myrtle to “Denny, Darling” were produced in court as evidence. The jury awarded $7,500 ($140,815) to the wife, and Myrtle, unable to pay, was sent to jail. Ironically the policeman’s wife was required to pay Myrtle’s jail boarding fees — 50 cents ($9) per day!

In her last years Myrtle lived in a Chicago nursing home, where she wrote for the monthly newspaper, “The Optimist.” She died at the home in 1958, aged 79.

*Note: U.S. dollars were converted to 2018 values using an inflation calculator and are listed in parentheses.

Featured photos: mugshots (?) identified on the reverse as “James J. Kellog, alias Billie Gafney, Laferty.” Collection of the author.