Brooklyn Bad Fortune

Brooklyn Bad Fortune

Bessie Globllo, 28, a gypsy of 361 S. 3rd St., was held without bail for a hearing Thursday in Brooklyn Felony Court on a charge of attempted grand larceny yesterday by Magistrate Cullen.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York), January 20, 1947

Brooklyn resident Rosa Rivera had her fortune told on Thursday, January 16, 1947. During the session Rosa mentioned to the fortune teller that she had $800 socked away in her bank account. The fortune teller told Rosa to go to the bank, remove the cash, bring it home, place salt on it, wrap it in a handkerchief and put the bundle under her pillow. In three days time, the fortune teller claimed, the total amount of cash would be miraculously increased!

The fortune teller stopped by Rosa’s place three days later to check on how the cash expansion was progressing. Rosa, meanwhile, had gotten suspicious about the fortune teller’s financial advice and she’d called the police. Detectives were waiting for the fortune teller when she arrived.

Fortune telling was then and still is illegal in New York if the fortune teller charges a fee (tips are allowed) unless it’s performed as part of an act in a show or exhibition. However police suspected the fortune teller had bigger plans and intended to steal Rosa’s $800. They arrested her for attempted grand larceny.

The “gypsy,” as she was described in the news, was Bessie Globllo or Golobillo and she had a police record dating back to 1929 when she was only seven years old. The magistrate ordered her held without bail.

Globllo or Golobillo aren’t real surnames, so unless the police totally botched the spelling of her last name, Bessie gave them an alias. Who was she?

One useful item from the news reports of the case was that Bessie lived at 361 South 3rd Street in Brooklyn, New York. I searched the 1940 federal census for a woman named “Bessie,” who was born around 1920 and lived in Brooklyn at house number “361.” And, almost like magic, there she was.

Bessie GloblloShe was not, as it turned out, a Romani woman. Her real name was Bessie Topchevsky and she was born in New York in 1922. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland or Russia who arrived in the U.S. in 1917. In 1940 she was a single 18-year-old living with her parents and an older brother and younger sister. She’d completed eighth grade and had a full time job working with “radio parts” (possibly assembly) in the wholesale radio industry.

The NYPD began taking “stand-up” mugshots in 1918. These photos showed the person’s full body, not just the head and shoulders. According to the New York Department of Records, they were used for “recidivist criminals or those accused of a major crime.” Bessie fit both categories.

In her stand-up mug shot, Bessie is well dressed in what looks like a real fur coat and pearls. The fortune telling business must have been booming.

I’d love to know more about Bessie and if the charge against her stuck. Since she didn’t actually steal Rosa’s money it seems likley that the police wanted to scare her away from fortune telling more than put her in prison, but there was no further mention of her or the case in the newspapers.

Featured photo: Bessie Globllo, January 19, 1947, New York Municipal Archives.

Three Little Shells

Three Little Shells

Leon Kentish alias H. Wilson and Harry Montague alias R.F. Johnson were arrested yesterday by Chief of Police Little, Sergeant Kennedy and Officer Neagle. The men were stopping at the Causer House. They are charged with suspicion of larceny, and common gamblers. They are alleged to be shell workers, and travel under the pretense of selling an article for cleaning clothing. The fellows are the same ones who were recently arrested in Binghamton, and taken to Penn Yan, where they were wanted for skipping board bills. The police found the shells upon their persons.

Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, July 17, 1893

The shell game is a con as old as time. A pea or small ball is placed under one of three shells (walnut shells were popular) that were laid out, usually on the ground. The shell operator shuffles them around and asks the mark to guess which shell the pea is under. It looks like easy money, but unbeknownst to the mark, the operator, using sleight of hand, has removed the pea before the mark makes his — inevitably wrong — choice. Then the operator surreptitiously places the pea under another shell. He reveals the pea and voila, the mark loses the bet!

Often shills or cappers were used to help convince the mark to get involved in the game or to suggest under which shell the pea would be found. Sometimes the mark was allowed to win once or twice, with the stakes being ratcheted up with each play. Then the operator went in for the kill.

Oily-tongued, nimble-fingered shell workers were said to be “in their glory when they find a man who is out for a good time with a good-sized purse.” They were the bane of the nineteenth century cop’s existence.

“Step right up, gentlemen, and be convinced that the hand is quicker than the eye.” This is the way that the shell-worker opened his game while sitting astride one of the long timbers on the pier. One of the cappers came up and called the turn for $120, which was paid to him without a murmur. Then another one of the party won and induced his friend, a young fellow who looked like he might be a divinity student to try his luck. The shells were thrown and the capper whispered: “Bet him $25 and take the shell on this end.”

The Inter Ocean, Chicago, June 12, 1894

Needless to say, the divinity student lost his stake. The shell game workers ran off when they noticed a sketch artist sitting nearby, watching them closely and “copping off their mugs” for the newspaper.

shell game

Harry Montague_back_markedIn addition to working the shell game, Harry Montague was wanted by the Newark Police for highway robbery and burglary. When he went before a New York City judge, in June 1893, he literally talked himself into jail by using language so foul that the judge held him in contempt of court. The police planned to hand him over to the New Jersey authorities once he finished serving 29 days in Brooklyn’s Raymond Street Jail.

Instead Harry managed to elude the New Jersey authorities and make his way upstate. The shells he was carrying tipped off the Elmira police to his real profession and he and his pal, Leon Kentish, were arrested. After that Harry either earned himself a long prison stretch or he changed his alias because his name disappeared completely from police notes in the news.

Featured photo: CDV mugshot of Harry Montague, alias Johnson, July 9, 1893. Collection of the author.

Female Firebug

Female Firebug

On the night of December 10, 1907, an unoccupied apartment in a multi-family building at 114 Wyckoff Street was on fire. Wyckoff Street is in the heart of one of the most populous tenement districts in one America’s largest cities — Brooklyn, New York.

Heat from fire melted the water pipes, causing water to drip through the ceiling of the apartment below. The sound of dripping water awakened the children sleeping in the apartment and an alarm went out. The fire department put out the blaze before anyone was injured.

An examination by the new assistant fire marshal, Tom Brophy, revealed that someone had set the apartment on fire. Oil soaked newspapers, wood and furniture were strewn around the apartment, along with “seven-hour candles” that had been placed in strategic locations and lit. The windows had been covered with blankets to obscure the blaze and cracks in doors and windows were stuffed with cotton to keep smoke from escaping.

Ackerly home after fire

News photographs of damage to the Ackerly apartment. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 24, 1908.

Brophy recognized the name of the renter of the apartment that had burned — Annie Ackerly. He recalled that Annie had collected insurance money from an earlier Brooklyn apartment fire in another building. He also remembered that Mrs. Ackerly had a boarder who lived in her former apartment, an old veteran with a wooden leg. Her insurance claim included the man’s wooden leg, valued at $60, even though she had booted him (and his leg) out of her apartment before the fire occurred, so obviously the leg hadn’t burned.

The previous fire was also judged to have been arson. Annie accused a man named Thompson of “burning her out.” Thompson was arrested but never charged with anything.

With two apartment fires and a false insurance claim to her name, Brophy’s suspicions of Annie were aroused.

The young fire marshal traced Annie and her two young sons to her mother’s home in nearby Port Jefferson. Port Jefferson is in Suffolk county and he knew he needed to get her back to Kings County, where Brooklyn is located, in order to investigate and possibly arrest her.

“Has Thompson set my house on fire again?” she asked, after being informed that her apartment had burned. Brophy told her that he suspected the fire was arson and he wanted her help in locating Thompson. He asked her to accompany him back to Brooklyn, which she did.

Back in Brooklyn a $2000 insurance policy for the Ackerly residence was discovered hidden in the shirt of one of Annie’s sons, along with a damning written inventory of her losses from the Wyckoff Street fire. She was arrested and charged with arson.

Mrs. Anna Ackerley (sic) was convicted of arson yesterday in the County Court. She is the first woman to be convicted in Brooklyn of such a crime in more than a quarter of a century. Mrs. Ackerley, who is a handsome woman, had been separated from her husband for several years. She has two sons. As a penalty for the crime of which she has been convicted she may be sentenced to the state prison for fifteen years.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 24, 1908

Annie Ackerly_front_marked

Annie Ackerly, Bertillon card (front), Auburn State Prison. Collection of the author.

Known locally as the “Woman with Iron Nerve,” Annie was believed to be one of the most desperate firebugs ever captured by the Brooklyn Fire Department. She was convicted of 3rd degree arson and, due to her callous disregard for the lives of her neighbors, sentenced to a minimum of 14 years in Auburn State Prison.

Interesting note: The Wyckoff Street apartment building in Brooklyn where Annie set her fire is still standing and has a 2017 value of over $3,500,000.