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

Diamond Harry

Harry Ward and Fred Williams were arrested in Albany, New York, on suspicion of robbing a jewelry store on February 23, 1887, according to an article in the Boston Globe. The newspaper claimed the men were well-known thieves in Boston, and that they had also been “working the carnivals in Montreal,” presumably as pickpockets. Montreal, located in Quebec, is about 220 miles due north of Albany.

San Diego’s Joan of Arc

The year was 1912 and revolution was in the air. The California Free Speech League, a newly formed coalition of socialists, single-taxers, church organizations and left-leaning labor groups, including the International Workers of the World (aka the “Wobblies”) was ready for action. The CFSL planned a large parade in San Diego to protest a city … Continue reading San Diego’s Joan of Arc

Women on Opposite Sides of the Law

Last month I presented a talk about Sophie Lyons with fellow author, Denise Testa, at the Oak Park (Illinois) Library. It's now available online. Please check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qottTc_Lx-0

Sophie Lyons’ Adventures in Stockholm

Sneak thief, con man and husband of Sophie Lyons, Billy Burke pulled a bank heist in Sweden during the summer of 1911. He got caught while attempting to grab a stack of kronor off a bank counter, employing his favorite technique of pincers on the bottom of his walking stick. This led to his conviction … Continue reading Sophie Lyons’ Adventures in Stockholm

Escape from a Bordello

Fay Bucke was arrested for stealing clothing and furs valued at the princely sum of $540 (worth about $16,000 today) from her landlady in 1904. Despite the dire circumstances she found herself in, Fay took the time to style her hair—the updo she sported in her mugshot is nothing short of magnificent. If you’re wondering … Continue reading Escape from a Bordello

Women on Opposite Sides of the Law

Please join me and fellow author, Denise Testa, for our discussion of three women who stood on opposite sides of the law: Jessie Levy and Bess Robbins, who defended six members of the infamous John Dillinger gang in the early 1930s, and Sophie Lyons, who was one of the most notorious female criminals of the … Continue reading Women on Opposite Sides of the Law

Twin Tragedy

Arthur and Luther Foster were born on Halloween night in 1859. Their birth and survival was something of a miracle, because their mother, Dorcas, was 41 and had not had a baby for 14 years when they were born. But the Foster family was plagued by tragedy. The twins' oldest brother and sister passed away … Continue reading Twin Tragedy

The Lady Swindler

Gazing up, in her little veiled hat topped 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. … Continue reading The Lady Swindler

Photographing the Rogues: The Police and 19th Century Photography

Before there were mugshots there were rogues' gallery photos. If you're interested in the history of police and prison photography during the 19th century, you're in luck! I'm giving a Zoom talk on the subject this coming Saturday, October 10, 2020 at 1:30 PM EST. The talk will be recorded, so if you have plans … Continue reading Photographing the Rogues: The Police and 19th Century Photography

Scotch Mag

Imagine: It’s a chilly Thursday evening in early November 1859. You’re a middle-aged man, a joiner by trade. You live in Brooklyn and don’t come to the city often because it means a nail-biting ferry ride, but tonight, with cash in your pocket ($8 to be exact), you feel optimistic. As you stroll up Broadway … Continue reading Scotch Mag

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