The Lady Swindler

Gazing up, in her little veiled hat with its ridiculous feather, Marion L. Dow looks tiny, cute and entirely harmless. But a con artist should look harmless—isn’t that the point? She was born Marion Gratz in New Brunswick, Canada in 1846. The 19th century was an era when crime was the domain of men. In … Continue reading The Lady Swindler

Murder by Moonlight

It was the tail end of the summer in 1937 when these men were arrested in St. Louis, Missouri. They were suspects in a murder that had taken place a few days earlier in Chicago. The photo was taken with a flash, which adds to the film noir flavor of the image. Note that the … Continue reading Murder by Moonlight

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

The Chauffeur in the Bedroom with the Lead Pipe

Bess was the wife of Harry A. Nelson, the Deputy Assessor of Alameda County, California. It was the Great Depression, and many people were suffering financial hardship, but the Nelsons were not among them. They lived in a comfortable home at 5314 Boyd Avenue in Oakland with their daughter Jessie and Bess’s mother, Mae Hulett. … Continue reading The Chauffeur in the Bedroom with the Lead Pipe

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

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

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 … Continue reading The Shorts Burglar

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, … Continue reading The Japanese Butler