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 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.

The Subway Sting

The Subway Sting

New York, Oct 11 — A trim young policewoman proved to be more than a match yesterday for a husky mugger, making up in know-how and spirit what she lacked in size and strength.

 

Repeated reports of women being molested at a subway station in the financial district, which is lonely and nearly deserted at night, brought transit Policewoman Dorothy Uhnak, 25, to the scene.

 

With another policewoman and a transit cop hiding nearby and ready to aid her, Mrs. Uhnak climbed up and down the subway stairs hoping to lure a mugger. For six days nothing happened.

 

Finally last night a man grabbed her from behind with a strangle hold and shoved a gun in her face. She acted with lightening speed. Breaking his hold and knocking the gun from his hand, she turned on him and knocked him down. She had him sprawled at the bottom of the stairs by the time her two colleagues arrived.

The Miami News (Miami, Florida), October 11, 1955

Brooklyn resident John Thomas Bishop was booked on charges of felonious assault, attempted robbery and weapons law violations after his arrest by New York City Transit Authority cop Dorothy Uhnak. The event was widely reported in the news, with 6’1” John described as being “twice the size” of 5’5” Dorothy. The fact that John was black and Dorothy was white got special attention by the media.

Dorothy, a Bronx native, who was “half Irish and half Jewish” had been a policewoman for about three years when the 1955 subway capture catapulted her briefly into the spotlight and spurred her promotion to detective.

Three years earlier a photo of 22-year-old Dorothy, vaulting over a barrier in an agility course, appeared in the New York Times in an article titled “73 Girls in Shorts Take Police Tests.” She was one of a group of 138 women (out of 1240 applicants) who passed written and medical exams, making it to the final round of competitive physical tests to qualify for a job as a policewoman. Dorothy nabbed one of the 23 positions open for “aspiring women bluecoats” in 1952. Her starting salary was $3,700 per year.

Presumably John served jail time for the subway assault, though details could not be found. According to her 2006 obituary, Dorothy gave $125 she had won in a television quiz show to John’s pregnant wife after his arrest. “I wondered what it feels like, how a criminal tells his family what he’s done,” she said to Newsday. “I felt so sorry for him when I saw his family.”

lg_717444-Uhnak_Policewoman_coverDorothy was in the news again when her first book, a memoir titled “Policewoman” was published in 1964. In 1966, after 14 years on the force, she quit, fed up with the sexism she continually encountered. She told Newsday that she was “always chased out when something interesting happened.” She completed her college education and became a full-time writer.

Her first novel, “The Bait” won the Edgar Award for best first mystery novel in 1968 and was adapted into a TV film. The book introduced the character of Christie Opara, a female NYPD detective — quite a novelty at the time. The third Opara novel became the inspiration for the blaxploitation TV series “Get Christie Love!” starring Teresa Graves, with the race of the female protagonist changed from white to black.

In total four of Dorothy’s novels were adapted into television films, including her most successful book, “Law and Order,” published in 1973.

A pioneering policewoman and writer, Dorothy committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills at her New York home. She was 76.

Featured photo: Dorothy Uhnak and John Thomas Bishop after his arrest in the New York subway on October 11, 1955. Collection of the author.

Arrested in Fort Wayne

Arrested in Fort Wayne

The crimes were minor. Each was found guilty. They got small fines and brief or suspended sentences. Alcohol was a factor in four of the five cases and the other involved a petty theft. One may have gotten into a scuffle before she arrived at the police station.

They ranged from young (19) to middle-aged (43). All were all born in the mid west — three Hoosiers, one Buckeye and a Hawkeye. They varied in build from slender to stout. Four were brown-eyed and one had blue eyes.

The five ladies were arrested in Fort Wayne, Indiana, between 1945 and 1946. Three of them worked as “domestics.” One worked as a dishwasher and another was a beauty operator.

Each lady had an unpleasant moment when she was arrested and photographed. Then she moved on with her life.

Alice_low_marked

“Alice”

Gertrude_low_marked

“Gertrude”

Hazel_low_marked

“Hazel”

Rosella_low_marked

“Rosella”

Featured photo: “Marge.” All photos collection of the author.

Stray Bullets

Stray Bullets

At 11:15 a.m. the prisoner, William Collon of 406 East 142d Street, the Bronx, was being led up a staircase from the detention pen by Patrolman Michael Murphy. The staircase leads into the courtroom, about fifteen feet from the bench. The landing is flanked on all sides by iron-grated doors. As the prisoner reached the landing he pushed open a door, climbed a three-foot-high ledge, opened a window that was eighteen inches wide and leaped, landing on 161st Street, near Third Avenue.

The New York Times, July 2, 1952

After 23-year-old Collon jumped 20 feet to the street below, all hell broke loose at the Bronx Borough Courthouse in New York City. Detective Jeremiah O’Connor heroically jumped on the window ledge in an attempt to grab Collon, but was unable to catch him. He fired his revolver three times, including a warning shot in the air. Detective David Wahl arrived at the window and fired six times. Patrolman Robert E. Lee (no kidding) leaned between the two detectives and fired twice. An unidentified detective in the street fired four shots.

749px-Bronx_Boro_Court_SW_jeh

Bronx Borough Court House in 2008. Courtesy of Jim Henderson via Wikimedia.

Passersby on the street below scattered in fear when the shots rang out and shopkeepers took cover under their store counters. Patrolman Irving Resnick was standing in the street below the window. He seized a man running by him that he thought was the prisoner, but another nearby patrolman, James Coyle, shouted that he had the wrong man—Coyle had spotted Collon crouched behind a parked car a block away.

Fifteen shots were fired in less than a minute on the morning of Tuesday, July 1, 1952. The escaping prisoner was hit three times: in the spine, the elbow and the back. He was carried back to the courthouse and taken to the hospital where he was listed in critical condition. When asked why he jumped, he said he didn’t know.

Pauline_Weidt_injured_by_stray_bullet__Photo

Lancaster Eagle Gazette (Lancaster, Ohio), July 12, 1952.

Collon was awaiting arraignment at police court when he escaped. The previous Sunday night, while still on probation for an earlier burglary, he had been caught attempting to burglarize an apartment at 202 St. Ann’s Avenue.

Two bystanders were shot during Collon’s escape attempt. Anna Marie Alers, a pregnant 19-year-old from Puerto Rico, was visiting friends who lived near the courthouse. After hearing the shots she leaned out a window and was hit in the thigh by a bullet. She was taken to Lincoln Hospital, where she was listed in fair condition.

Pauline Weidt, a 28-year-old bookkeeper for a dental laboratory on 161st Street, was working near an open window that morning, trying to catch the breeze on a hot summer day. One of the wayward bullets lodged her in breastbone. Pauline was also taken to Lincoln Hospital, where the bullet was removed and she was released.

The following day Magistrate Joseph Martinis ordered “each prisoner will be accompanied by a police officer from the pen to the bench.” Two weeks later Collon, whose condition had improved, was indicted on charges of third degree burglary and unlawful escape.

The police court operated at the courthouse until 1977 when the building was closed by the city. Currently on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, the building is under redevelopment by a private developer.

Featured photo: news photo of Pauline Weidt escorted by officers after she was shot. Collection of the author.