Bigamy Boss

Bigamy Boss

Charles Boss was married to at least six women — simultaneously. Would that make him a sextagamist? Charles was described as Fitchburg’s “much-married man,” though he wasn’t really into matrimony. What he was into was larceny, and marriage got him not only into a woman’s heart, but also into her home and pocketbook.

On March 29, 1910, Charles, aged 68, was charged with larceny from the 55-year-old proprietor of a lodging house, Mrs. Anna Beaumont. Anna was also his wife, or one of them, anyway. In his carte de visite mugshot, taken in Lowell by photographer Napoleon Loupret, he appears confident and younger than his chronological age. On the back of the card, a policeman has noted that he had “done time” in the New Hampshire State Prison (NHSP) and that he was an “all round thief.”

Charles and Anna were married in Lee, Massachusetts, in 1909. Charles told Anna he was a Civil War veteran with a nice pension. A generous woman, Anna gave her new spouse a wedding gift of $200 cash along with a watch and chain. Charles shipped $700 worth of clothing and household items, including Anna’s silver, across the state to Lowell where they planned to reside. Anna paid the shipping bill.

A few days after the wedding the couple boarded a train to Lowell. Once aboard, Charles headed to the smoking car. Anna remained in the passenger car. She disembarked in Lowell, but he didn’t. Initially she thought he’d simply missed the stop. However when he didn’t arrive, she asked questions around town about her husband and began to smell a rat.

What Anna discovered was that his name wasn’t Charles Webster, as he’d told her, it was Charles Webster Boss. He was well known to the Lowell police, with a history of larceny from his employers. She told her story to the chief of police, and then proceeded to investigate on her own. She discovered that Charles was indeed a Civil War pensioner, so she watched the pension list to see if he was picking up his money. When she found that he was, she alerted the police. When police located him he was walking towards Lowell, carrying a shotgun over his shoulder. Having taken $700 worth of his wife’s belongings, he was bound over to a grand jury to determine if there was enough evidence for trial.

Charles Boss Civil War pension

Civil War pension record of Charles Boss. U.S.Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933.

The 1910 investigation and arrest opened the floodgates on the marital escapades of Charles Boss, revealing that he’d married at least six New England women, including Anna Beaumont. He promised his wives that his pension would provide a nice income after marriage. Once married, he stole whatever he could lay his hands on and quickly moved on. In addition to larceny he was charged with bigamy in several Massachusetts counties.

His mistake was marrying Anna — she trailed him, found him and wasn’t willing to let him off the hook. His previous wives didn’t try to locate him, probably due to embarrassment at being cheated, then abandoned.

Charles was born in 1842 in Troy, New York. At the age of 18 he served a prison term for larceny in the Middlesex House of Correction in Massachusetts. He was actually telling the truth about being a Civil War vet — he was a private in Company C of the 27th Massachusetts Infantry and was awarded a disability pension for his service.

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Old Soldiers Home, circa 1920. Collection of the Chelsea Library Archives.

By 1919 he lived in a county almshouse in New York. The following year he resided in the Old Soldiers’ Home in Chelsea, Massachusetts.

Charles Webster Boss was a thief and a heart breaker, but you have to give him credit — the old soldier knew how to rock the mutton-chop whiskers.

It’s pure coincidence that 21 Central Street, where Charles was photographed in Lowell, is now the office of a divorce lawyer!

Featured photo: Carte de visite mugshot of Charles Boss, circa 1910. Collection of the author.

Wayward Girls

Wayward Girls
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Reverse side of criminal I.D. card of “Hazel Raymond.”

She was down on her luck when she was arrested and photographed in San Francisco, in April 1913, on a charge of grand larceny. She looks world-weary in her mugshots. And it was no wonder, given all she’d been through. Despite the listing on her identification card, her name wasn’t Hazel Raymond. She was either Grace or Zola Swenson. The Swenson girls were twin sisters from Salt Lake City.

The previous year she’d tried to commit suicide after she was arrested in her Seattle hotel room for indecent conduct. Claiming to prefer death to disgrace, she picked up a bottle of toothache medicine and swallowed all of it. Fortunately the arresting officers got her to the hospital in time and she was revived.

Her father, Otto, was born in Sweden and her mother, Charlotte, hailed from France. She was born and grew up in Salt Lake City, where her family joined the Mormon Church and her father became a missionary. She and her twin sister were the youngest of their large family and her dad, who sometimes traveled for work, was away from home for periods of time.

Their parents moved to Washington State and their older siblings got married and moved away from Utah. The twins stayed on in Salt Lake City, where one worked as a waitress and the other was employed as a clerk.

The twins decided they could earn better money as prostitutes. They worked, along with several other white women, at a place in Plum Alley, Salt Lake City’s Chinatown. It didn’t last long. After several police officers were dismissed for taking bribes to look the other way, police raided the house on March 5, 1910, and arrested the inhabitants.

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Plum Alley in Salt Lake City, circa 1907.

On March 17, 1911, the twins, using the names Hazel and Pearl Raymond, along with another woman, identified as Irene Raymond, were taken into custody after a raid on a “negro club” in Salt Lake City. Federal authorities believed the women had been brought from Wyoming and forced to work as prostitutes at the establishment. This was a violation of the 1910 Mann Act, sometimes called the White-Slave Traffic Act.

The Mann Act made it a felony to take females across state lines for immoral purposes. Though the law was supposed to combat human-trafficking and forced prostitution, primarily of white women, the act was ambiguous and led to arrests of people engaging in consensual sexual activity. By 1916 it was known as the “The Blackmail Act.”

The owner of the club was an African-American attorney and newspaper editor named Lawrence Marsh. Marsh, Utah’s first minority attorney, was not popular with the white community in Salt Lake City. He’d lobbied for and succeeded in getting an equal rights bill for minorities into the state senate. The bill would have made it illegal for businesses to refuse to serve people based on their race.

Federal authorities declared that a white man in cahoots with Marsh lured the women, who claimed they’d worked as a vaudeville team, away from their theatrical troupe, and took them to Marsh’s rooms, or maybe it was his club — reports varied. Newspaper reports claimed that Marsh pulled a gun on the women, plied them with strong drink, made them smoke opium, and invited his friends to join him in subjecting the women to unspecified “abuses” while holding them against their will.

Supposedly the women escaped out a window, with the aid of a messenger boy, after a three-day ordeal.

Initially the women played along with the story of abduction and abuse. But when it came to testifying against Marsh in court, “Hazel” refused, saying she feared she would incriminate herself. The other women followed suit.

The case fell apart, however the taint of it caused Marsh to be disbarred and his senate bill went nowhere. On April 8, 1911, the women were released from jail where they’d been held during the trial.

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The day after their release The Salt Lake City Tribune published a “pathetic letter” from Mr. and Mrs. O. J. Swenson of Aberdeen, Washington. According to the letter, Hazel and Pearl Raymond were actually the Swenson’s twin daughters, Grace and Zola Swenson. They had not been brought from out-of-state to Salt Lake City but were native daughters. The letter begged the “wayward girls” to go to their parents in Washington. The girls promised to comply.

At least one of the twins headed north to Washington State. In Seattle, again using the alias, Hazel Raymond, she tried to end her life after she was arrested for indecent conduct. Next came her 1913 arrest for grand larceny.

The story has a good ending. Grace ended up in El Paso, Texas, living with a man ten years her junior named Oliver Rice. Oliver was the breadwinner — he worked as an auto mechanic. He and Grace got married in 1926. For many years Zola, who never officially married, lived with her sister and Oliver in El Paso.

When Zola died of a stroke on January 10, 1943, the name listed on her death certificate was not “Zola Swenson, but “Zola Rice.” Of course it might have been an error, but it’s just as possible that after the wayward Swenson girls settled down, they took their Mormon faith to heart and shared a husband.

Featured photo: Police identification card mugshots of “Hazel Raymond,” whose real name was either Grace or Zola Swenson. Collection of the author.

Other Men’s Wives

Other Men’s Wives

Joseph Evans was a matrimonially challenged man. His first wife, Mary Jane, died of blood poisoning in 1899, leaving him with three sons under the age of nine. Joseph needed to find a woman to care for him and his children.

Three years later Joseph married 35-year-old Rebecca Kane and the family moved into a house in Cambridge, Massachusetts. All seemed to be well, except for the fact that Rebecca Kane was actually Rebecca Burnham, wife of William Burnham of Reading, Massachusetts, and mother of two sons with William.

Due to disability and age — he was 73 — William had not worked for years, so the townspeople of Reading provided financial support to the family. Rebecca saved $1200 of this money and handed the cash over to Joseph Evans, who briefly boarded at the Burnham home. Joseph used the money to set himself up in the furniture moving business, buying horses, wagons and “other accoutrements.”

Using their new horses and wagons, Joseph and Rebecca moved most of the Burnham furniture and belongings, including William’s overcoat, to their Cambridge home. The large expenditures for the moving business brought Joseph, who was not a wealthy man, to the attention of the police. On February 20, 1904, the couple were arrested and charged with bigamy.

Joseph claimed he didn’t realize Rebecca was already married. Rebecca claimed William had a first wife still living, so her marriage to him wasn’t valid. Local sympathy was with William and the Burnham sons.

The bigamy charges were eventually dropped. Presumably Rebecca returned to William, along with their furniture and his overcoat. Joseph needed to find another wife.

Wouldn’t you think Joseph would carefully vet the marital status of the next woman with whom he lived? Unfortunately he didn’t, and a year and a half later he found himself in police custody again. This time the charge was murder.

On the evening of Tuesday, August 1, 1905, Joseph fatally shot a private detective named George Frazer in the hallway of his Cambridge home. A Rhode Island man, Allan J. Barber, hired Frazer to locate his wife, Gertrude. And locate her he did — in the home of Joseph Evans. The story was that she was the Evans family’s “housekeeper.” Allan and the local police wisely remained outside while Detective Frazer entered the Evans home alone.

I bought the pistol to protect myself. I had no idea who the visitors were. I had my children and property to protect, and feared that burglars were attempting to break into my home.”

— Joseph Evans, quoted in the Fitchburg Sentinel, August 3, 1905

Joseph was tried for murder and acquitted on the grounds that he was defending his home against unwanted intrusion.

Allan Barber sued his wife for divorce in November 1905, alleging adultery, though no one was named in his petition. Gertrude sued her husband for non-support and sought $5000 in alimony.

On February 9, 1907 Joseph Evans and Gertrude Hemenway Barber were married in Arlington, Massachusetts. Hopefully they lived homicide-free and happily ever after and Joseph never needed to find another wife.

Featured photo: Joseph Evans, carte de visite mugshot (front and back of card). Collection of the author.