Family Secrets

Family Secrets

Note: I’m breaking with my usual blog routine. This is a story about a possible crime that happened in my own family.

Family secrets tend to lurk, like rotten apples, in family trees. But eventually they have to fall on the ground. One of the best-kept secrets in my family was the fate of my grandfather’s sister, May Plowman Moody.

May died on November 4, 1913 at the People’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She was 27 years old when she died. According to her death certificate she moved to Chicago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa in April 1913, about seven months before her death. Her husband, Frank Moody died of natural causes in Cedar Rapids in May 1912. The couple had two small sons at the time of Frank’s death.

On the night of November 3, 1913, May, suffering from intense abdominal pain, was taken to People’s Hospital in Chinatown, several miles south of where she lived. She suffered intense pain throughout the night and died the next morning.

According to Hugh Cameron, the informant on her death record, May lived at the Valencia Hotel in Chicago and worked as a cashier before she died. Located at 1311 Michigan Avenue, the hotel is listed in the 1910 Chicago city directory, but it’s not listed in any later directories. It was probably more of a boarding house with aspirations than an actual hotel. The building was torn down decades ago.

May Moody death

Cameron, a life-long Chicago resident, was old enough to be May’s father. Though he spelled her first name incorrectly, he knew her well enough to correctly provide her father’s name and country of birth, along with her precise date of birth for her death certificate. I never figured out how they met, but it’s possible it was on a visit Cameron made to Cedar Rapids in March 1913. The details of their relationship remain a mystery.

Evidently Cameron knew how to get in touch with May’s father, because her body was sent back to Cedar Rapids. My grandfather and his brother paid for her burial. End of story? Not quite.

An unexplained death necessitates an inquest. The inquest into May’s death was held at People’s Hospital the morning she died. I. Clark Gary, the founder and physician in charge of the hospital, testified that May’s doctor brought her to People’s Hospital the night before her death. She was admitted, but for some unexplained reason she was given no treatment at the hospital.

Cameron’s inquest testimony tells a different tale than the one he told for her death certificate. He claimed May lived with him in a flat at 61 E. 12th Street, a block and a half from the Valencia Hotel. The area, close to the railroad tracks, was then full of industrial buildings and warehouses. The building where they lived would have been just west of two famous Chicago landmarks, the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum, though neither was there in 1913. 12th Street was renamed Roosevelt Road in 1919 and 61 E. 12th Street succumbed to the wrecking ball years ago.

Cameron also stated that at the time of her death, May worked as his “house keeper.” He gave his occupation is “restaurant keeper.” However he’s listed in Chicago city directories from that time working as a bartender.

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1910 Rand McNally map (detail) of Chicago with locations flagged

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Albert McEvers in 1916.

The doctor treating May before she died was Albert McEvers. His office was located at 1201 Wabash, just a few steps away from 61 E. 12th Street.

McEvers was listed as a veterinary surgeon in the 1912 Chicago city directory, but by 1913 he was listed as a physician in the city directory. The Official Register of Legally Qualified Physicians,  lists McEvers as having graduated from the Chicago College of Medicine and Surgery in 1912.

With the goal of serving working class patients, Peoples’ Hospital was a block and a half west of the notorious vice neighborhood—the south side Levee District. According to Chicago as a Medical Center the hospital was “well supplied with operating rooms.” After undergoing several name changes it closed in 1991 and the building was torn down.

Shortly after she died Dr. Joseph Springer performed a postmortem on May’s body at the hospital. Springer found that she bled to death after her “tubular” pregnancy ruptured. When a tubal (ectopic) pregnancy occurs, the embryo implants in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. When the embryo grows too large the tube ruptures.

Springer

Dr. Joseph Springer in 1914

Timely surgical intervention might have saved May’s life. By the early twentieth century, surgical treatment of ectopic pregnancy was well accepted and available in a large cities, provided the patient was taken to a good hospital with experienced diagnosticians, surgeons and operating rooms. If the intention had been to try to save her life, May could have been taken to St. Luke’s Hospital at 1439 S. Michigan Avenue. It was a large hospital with operating rooms that was very close to where she lived.

The inquest was carried out by the Cook County Coroner’s Office, which was then headed by Peter M. Hoffman. Hoffman, who would later be elected sheriff of Cook County, was indicted on corruption charges and served a month in jail in 1925. However Hoffman was not present at the inquest. It was handled by one of his deputy coroners, William Ostrum. Ostrum falsified the statements of Hugh Cameron and two other witnesses, Arthur Goldstein and John McCambridge, by writing their statements and signing the men’s names himself.

According to Cameron’s statement May was “operated upon” by Dr. McEvers about a month before her death. Cameron claimed that May had not had her period (“her visitors”) for six weeks before her death, making her about eight weeks pregnant. Nonetheless he stated he was satisfied that May was “not aborted.” He was not a medical expert, so presumably this comment was included to shield him from suspicion that he tried to obtain an abortion for her. Abortion, of course, was illegal at the time. Cameron was the only witness whose statement included a mention of abortion.

Arthur Goldstein (who I was unable to find in any Chicago city directory) was listed in the inquest as a “waiter.” He attested to the truth of Cameron’s statement, though his relationship to Cameron and May, if any, was not explained. McCambridge, a police officer, gave his opinion that May died a “natural death and no foul play to the case.” The officer also claimed there were no other witnesses to the case.

Since Ostrum wrote out and signed the statements of the three men, it’s impossible to know how accurate their testimony was.

The three doctors—McEvers, Gary and Springer—wrote and signed their own statements. The statements were brief and amounted to affirming that May had an ectopic pregnancy that ruptured, resulting in her death.

The inquest jurors, some of who could barely sign their names, appear to have been men who were patients at the hospital.

The inquest leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Why did Ostrum fill out some of witness statements and sign them himself, including the signature of his boss, Hoffman? Why did May have no belongings, not even clothing (other than a “shield” or menstrual pad), according to the “effects and estate” evidence sheet? She must have been wearing something when she arrived at the hospital.

Dr. McEvers didn’t mention in his statement any treatment he provided to May. What was the operation a month he performed before her death? Was it an abortion? A doctor who performed an abortion and got caught would lose his license and might even go to prison. (Search on the word “abortion” for case examples.)

Being an inexperienced physician, possibly McEvers didn’t realize May had a tubal pregnancy—a condition that would have made an abortion unsuccessful. Maybe when she had abdominal pain a month after he aborted her, he tried a second abortion. Or possibly he realized then that the pregnancy was tubal and, fearing that the earlier abortion would be found out, he took her to People’s Hospital.

History of medicine and surgery and physicians and surgeons of C

Why did May receive no treatment at People’s Hospital? It seems unlikely to have been because she had no money, since the hospital was created to treat people from the working class. Was it a place where women who had undergone an abortion and were dying could be taken, for a fee, with no questions asked? If so, the decision to take her there was a death sentence.

May had two small children to support and her family was not in a position to help her financially. Where did she meet Hugh Cameron? Did she relocate to Chicago because Cameron told her there was a good job waiting for her there? Did she work as a cashier and live at the Valencia Hotel or was she Cameron’s live-in housekeeper/girlfriend? Was Cameron the father of her unborn child? Did she hope to marry him? If so she was in for a disappointment. According to the 1913 Chicago city directory, Cameron had another home on Commercial Avenue, 11 miles south of 12th Street. He also already had a wife and a child. According to the 1920 census, his oldest child, Hugh Cameron, was born in 1911.

May’s children, Robert Sanford Moody and Wesley Walter (Moody) Ward were raised by their paternal aunt Jessie Moody Ward. Wesley was officially adopted by Jessie and her husband, Charles Ward, and changed his surname to Ward. Robert, the older son, was not adopted and kept his original surname.

My grandfather never talked about his only full sister (he had two half sisters). We have no photographs of May or her children. My family had no contact with her two sons, even though Robert and Wesley lived in Chicago about a mile from mom’s family during the 1930s. My mother didn’t even know she had an aunt or cousins. You know how genealogists are: they love a mystery and a challenge, which makes it hard to keep things hidden. I found out my grandfather had a sister and I assumed she’d gotten married, but I didn’t know her married name. I discovered it through a careful search of the 1910 census, using her first name and the fact of her father’s birth in England and her mother’s birth in Missouri to narrow my search results. I got four hits and figured she was the one who lived closest to Cedar Rapids. Bingo—there she was, living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with her husband and two young sons.

Then I found her death certificate and, hoping to understand what happened, I wrote to the Illinois State Archives for a copy of the inquest record. It took months but eventually I was sent the file. I was very lucky, because since then inquest files dated later than 1911 seem to have vanished.

I know more now than I did before I started digging, but more knowledge has brought more questions. Now I may never find out exactly what happened to my great aunt, because everyone who knew her has passed away.

Rotten apples leave a sour smell, you know?

To read the 11-page inquest, here’s a link to download the PDF: May Moody Inquest

Featured photo: 12th Street and Michigan Avenue in 1915. Photos of Springer and McEvers from the Chicago Daily News.

Silent Phil

Silent Phil

With a crisp straw boater sitting squarely on his head, the young man doesn’t look like a hardened criminal. His clothes are clean and neat. The American flag pin on his label showed off his support for the American troops fighting in the Spanish-American War when his mug shot photos were taken.

His unflinching gaze is perhaps not entirely honest but would you have guessed he’d end up devoting his entire life to crime?

He was baptized Pierre Phillipe Lambellé in 1878 in Quebec, Canada, the son of Philippe Lambellé and Philomène Bidegaré. His father, a stonecutter, was born in Belgium and his mother hailed from Canada. Philippe senior moved his family to Chicago around 1880. In America the family’s surname was Anglicized to Lambele. It’s not clear if Phillipe senior died or if he abandoned his family (no death record exists). Either way, by 1900 Philomène was living in the 18th ward of Chicago and taking in boarders to support herself and her five children.

Phil Lambele_back_low

The information (reverse) side of Philip Lambele’s rogues’ gallery card.

Philip’s mugshots were taken on July 28, 1898, after he was arrested as a shoplifter and sneak thief (a thief who shunned violence) in New York City when he was 21 years old. He told the police his surname was Ganset and said he made his living as an actor. In a way this was true, because occasions arose in the course of his work when he’d be caught in the act. A convincing story, combined with clean-cut looks and nice clothes (not to mention the pin), went a long way towards convincing bank officials that he’d made an honest mistake when he pocketed the cash lying on the counter as he walked by.

753px-Grand_Central_Station,_New_York_c._1902

Grand Central Station, c. 1902

Charges were not pressed against him in 1898, but his photo remained in the New York City Rogues’ Gallery. It came back to haunt him after he stole two large rolls of cash totaling $10,000 (over $300,000 current value) from a bank in Boston the following year. He got away, but witnesses had seen him. The Boston police phoned his description to police in other large cities.

In New York City an officer, Alphonse Rheaume, was dispatched to Grand Central to wait for the Boston train. When it arrived no one was allowed to get off until Rheaume had a chance to walk through each car and take a careful look at the passengers.

Rheaume thought he recognized one passenger, partly from the description, but also because he had a great memory for faces and was pretty sure he’d seen the young man in a recent line up at Police Headquarters. He later told a reporter for the New York Times that he wasn’t sure he had the Boston robber, but “when he tried to get away, I knew he’d been up to something, and I thought I would just take him in for luck.” Philip flashed the cash and offered it all to Rheaume if he’d let him go. Rheaume declined the offer, arrested him and took him to the Tombs.

The story of Philip’s arrest was published widely in the press. People were divided as to what was more amazing: that Rheaume located Philip based on a vague description or that he didn’t take the bribe. But Rheaume was an honest cop (something of a rarity in New York of that era). He commented that if Philip had played it smarter and gone someplace other than New York, he likely would never have been caught.

Drawing of Lambele - Newspapers.com

Drawing based on Philip’s mug shot that was published in the Boston Globe after his 1899 arrest in New York.

Philip’s record stretched back to 1894, when he was arrested in Chicago, his home base, for larceny. He was arrested there again for larceny in 1895. Neither of the early charges stuck, but his luck ran out when Rheaume spotted him on the train. He pleaded guilty to the Boston bank robbery under an alias, George Shea, and spent the next two years in the Massachusetts State Prison.

Free again in 1902, Philip stole a tray of diamond jewelry valued at $3,300 from a store in Brooklyn. Believing he was a paying customer, the store’s owner had offered him assistance and got a good look at him. Five weeks later the owner identified him from his rogues’ gallery photos. By then Philip was in Chicago, where, under name Philip Bailey, he was under arrest for a theft of $8000 of unset diamonds from a firm in Jeweler’s Row. Neither of the charges held up in court and he was soon on the loose again.

In March 1903 Philip was one of several men involved in a brawl in a Chicago saloon that led to the death of a man named William Tracey. The police showed up at his apartment, but he managed to escape by jumping out of a third floor window. The police gave chase and caught him. There wasn’t much evidence in the case, and in the end no one was charged with Tracey’s death.

In May he tried to rob a jewelry store in Newark, New Jersey but was caught after a sharp-eyed office boy saw him surreptitiously entering the store’s vault and alerted his boss. Since nothing was stolen, no charges were filed against him.

A serious setback came in September 1903, when he tried to rake up a pile of bills, using a bent wire from an umbrella, at the Germania National Bank in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was discovered in flagrante delicto and captured after a hot chase. Even though the robbery was unsuccessful, the Milwaukee authorities were not as inclined to be lenient as their brethren in bigger cities. Under the alias George P. Johnson, he was sentenced to 15-years in the state pen. In 1908, while he was serving his sentence, his mother died.

Barnum & Bailey circus ad. Lambele was strong man - Newspapers.c

Newspaper ad for the circus in which Philip performed as a “strongman.”

He was released in 1912. Now 34 years old, Philip had spent more than half of his adult life in prison. He joined the Barnum & Bailey circus as a strongman. The circus went to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he met a beautiful 18-year-old named Mary May Van Wormer.

Mary grew up in a law-abiding family with two parents, two sisters and a brother. Her father, Arba, was a machinist and pattern maker. He was also an inventor who had filed patents for several devices, including a shutter for movie projectors.

In July 1912, after a very brief courtship, the couple tied the knot. On the marriage license Philip claimed his name was Stavors B. Erieg. He immediately tried to skip out on his hotel bill.

The following year he unsuccessfully attempted his umbrella wire trick at a bank in Toledo, Ohio. He was arrested under the name James Donovan Evans, but he avoided a conviction. A couple of years later he did a short stint in the Detroit House of Correction for Grand Larceny.

In 1916 he and Mary were both arrested in St. Louis, Missouri after he tried to shoplift a silk coat from a department store. They told the police their names were Thomas and Mary Stewart. Mary later changed her story, claiming her name was Ruth Strong. Mary’s family found out about their arrests and her mother, Jessie, went to St. Louis to plead with authorities to release her daughter. She also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Mary to divorce Philip.

The couple returned to Indiana and bought a 20-acre farm northwest of Goshen, but they had no intention of farming. They chose the residence for its remote location, one that allowed them to come and go as they pleased. Ironically Philip began using his real name locally because he’d never been convicted of a crime under that name.

Tommy O'Connor - Newspapers.com

“Terrible” Tommy O’Connor’s mugshots, c. 1921

In December 1921 Tommy O’Connor, an old pal from Chicago, escaped from the Cook County jail while awaiting execution by hanging for the murder of police officer Patrick O’Neill. O’Connor headed to Philip’s farm, where his friend took him in and let him to hide out. Under an assumed name Philip introduced O’Connor to the locals as a business associate. When the Lambeles were away from the farm for a few weeks, O’Connor hunkered down in the cellar with only Philip’s pet crow for company. Meanwhile police continued the manhunt for him all over America.

Philip was arrested and charged with the theft of cancelled postage stamps from a Cincinnati, Ohio business in May 1922. He told police his name was Dr. Philip Kolb. He claimed to be a graduate of the University of Chicago and an inventor, taking credit for his father-in-law’s motion picture shutter. Hoping for a light sentence, he insisted he’d never been in trouble with the law before. The police didn’t believe him. They dubbed him “Silent Phil” and showed him some of his old mugshots, but he still he denied it. When they announced their intention to fingerprint him, he broke down. He admitted he’d been arrested 15 times, served jail and penitentiary sentences around the country, used countless aliases and had a criminal record that stretched back almost 30 years.

At her husband’s arraignment Mary sobbed and refused to talk about her family, but the press figured out their names and reported that they lived in Fort Wayne. It was also reported that the couple had one child, however no record of this child’s existence could be found.

Philip put up the farm as bail. He and Mary fled the state as soon as he was released.

In February he was arrested at his hotel in Louisville, Kentucky for forging and cashing stolen express money orders worth $350. With his hair now prematurely white and sporting a Vandyke-style beard, he didn’t resemble the mugshots from his youth. The Louisville police checked his fingerprints and discovered there was a warrant out for his arrest (under the name William Bailey) for robbing a Chicago bank of $12,000 worth of traveler’s checks the previous June. Mary was also taken into custody and charged with disorderly conduct. The Lambeles were carrying hypodermic needles when they were arrested and morphine was later discovered in their hotel room. Apparently they were morphine addicts and had been using the drug for some time.

As an officer escorted him to the cells, Philip grabbed the policeman’s gun and shot himself in the head. He died early the next morning at the Louisville City Hospital.

Mary’s family arrived in Louisville. They paid her fine and she was released from jail. They took her and Philip’s body back to Fort Wayne. Her brother Albert told the press that Philip was a salesman of “unimpeachable character.” However after his death, the police announced that he was wanted for forgery in cities as far away as Boston and Atlanta.

A few months after Philip’s death, Mary opened a letter mailed to him from Buenos Aires. The anonymous writer stated that Tommy O’Connor was alive and well and operating a roadhouse in that city. O’Connor’s gallows sentence stayed on the books until the 1950s, but he was never recaptured.

The Van Wormer family experienced an enormous amount of tragedy in the years after Philip’s suicide. Mary’s younger sister Eula died of kidney disease in November 1923, leaving three young daughters behind. Albert was shot and killed by his wife in 1933 when he attacked her in a drunken rage. Her sister Ruthie died of complications stemming from morphine addiction in 1936, shortly after divorcing her drug addicted, petty-criminal husband.

Finally life became too much for Mary. In 1944 she committed suicide by consuming bichloride of mercury.

The Milkman

The Milkman

What do rattlesnakes have to do with crime? In this case the answer is nothing. Why are the two young men in the news photo holding a large, venomous snake? The explanation is on the back of the photo:

Leonarde Keeler back_crop

Leonarde “Nard” Keeler, the young man on the left, was one of the fathers of the lie detector or “polygraph,” as he called the machine he helped invent. The machine was developed as a scientific alternative to “the third degree,” in which a cop basically beat a confession out of a suspect. John Larson, a police officer in Berkeley, California, with an interest in psychology, thought there had to be a better way to sort the guilty from the innocent, so he created an early version of the lie detector in 1921. As a teenager Keeler got to know Larson and August Volllmer, the pioneering Berkeley chief of police known as the “father of modern law enforcement.” While he was still in high school Keeler became Larson’s assistant.

Keeler and the lie detector - Newspapers.comThe idea was to hook someone up to the machine and measure their vital signs while asking them a series of questions. If a particular question caused the vital signs of to go haywire it indicated they were lying. That, at least, was the theory.

Born in Berkeley on Halloween 1903, Keeler’s father was the poet and naturalist, Charles Keeler. Keeler attended several colleges, including UCLA and Stanford, but he was never an enthusiastic student. He was far more interested in the lie detector than in his studies. However in order to pay his expenses while he was in college, Keeler kept two-dozen rattlers in a “lonely” water tower near the university and ran his unusual “dairy” out of the tower.

During the gangster era of the 1930s, Chicago was the perfect place to research crime and to work on developing the lie detector. Keeler, Larson and Vollmer all moved to Chicago. Eventually Keeler and Larson became enemies because Larson, the more science-oriented of the two, considered Keeler to be nothing more than an egotistical showman who wasn’t interested in science and only wanted to generate headlines and promote his “Keeler polygraph.” The two continued to back bite and snipe at each other for years. The older and wiser Vollmer tried to stay out of the fight.

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Polygraph chart signed by Keeler, October 18, 1940. Collection of the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA.

Keeler married Katherine “Kay” Applegate, one of America’s first female forensic scientists, in 1930. For a time it seemed the couple was a real life version of Nick and Nora Charles, Dashiell Hammett’s fictional sleuths, but after Keeler discovered Kay was having affairs with other men, they divorced. Always popular with the ladies, the handsome Keeler philandered, smoked and drank his way into an early grave. He died of a heart attack in 1949.

Nard Keeler sold snake venom, but was he a snake oil salesman? The bottom line is that the reliability of the polygraph continues to be controversial and, generally, the results of the test are not admitted as evidence in court.

Featured photo: from the collection of the author.

Granite Man Walks

Granite Man Walks

After a pathetic Christmas day spent along the banks of the drainage canal in the vain hope of clearing up the mystery surrounding the disappearance of her mother, Mrs. Kate Mitchell Trostell, 11 year old Eleanor Trostell was taken to the detective bureau last night to confront Arthur Foster, charged with the murder of her mother.

 

All through the night and into the early hours of the morning, the child alternately sobbed and pleaded with him to reveal her mother’s fate.

Chicago Tribune, December 26, 1922

The days when a detective could bring a kid into an interrogation room and keep her there for hours in order to wring a confession out of a murder suspect are long gone. Also gone are the days when a newspaper photographer was allowed to take posed photos of the interrogation, including the chief of detectives (in this case Michael Hughes) smack in the middle of the photo.

Evidently finding an unbiased jury was not a major concern in Chicago during the 1920s.

Kate Trostell, a widow, hadn’t been seen since December 2, 1922, when she failed to come home after her evening shift at the Chicago Western Union office. Her family — two sisters and a brother — was convinced that Arthur Foster had murdered her.

The police grilled Arthur for days on end. Twice they brought in Kate’s 13-year-old daughter, Eleanor, to confront him in jail. When her sobs and pleas didn’t crack him she ran over to him, flung herself into his lap, twined her arms around his neck and begged him to bring her mother back for Christmas. “I’d like to honey, but I don’t know anything about her,” he said.

Foster and Kate photo - Newspapers.comArthur was a truck driver who’d dated Kate and asked her to marry him. He continued to pursue her even after she cooled on him and tried to end the relationship. Kate’s family and coworkers claimed Arthur was a violent man who’d chased her, shot at her and thrown rocks at the window of her office.

The police found blood on the running board of Arthur’s car and on a blanket in his vehicle. At the time it was impossible to determine whether or not the blood was Kate’s. They also found a yellow pencil — the sort she used at the telegraph office — with her teeth marks on it in the car. Arthur said that Kate often rode in his car and the pencil proved nothing.

Arthur insisted he had no idea if Kate was alive or dead but he loved her and wouldn’t have harmed her. He said he hadn’t seen her the night she went missing but he knew she’d been depressed and talked about killing herself. He believed she might have done what she often threatened to do — throw herself into the Chicago Drainage Canal. Beyond that Arthur had nothing to say. In fact he was a man of so few words the newspapers dubbed him the “granite man.”

In late December the police dragged the canal, where they found Kate’s coat and purse. It didn’t bode well for her making it home for the New Year.

Kate's body found in drainage canal - Newspapers.com

Kate’s body surfaced at the dam where the canal ended, in Lockport, Illinois, on January 23, 1923. The deputy coroner said she was alive when she went into the water, but there was a bruise on her forehead and several more on her knees and hands. Her injuries might have resulted from a violent struggle before she went in, but they also could have occurred during the fall. The police theory of her death, which had been that Arthur killed Kate and threw the body into the canal, changed to Arthur hitting her on the head, throwing her into the water alive and watching her drown. It would have taken a granite man full of hate to commit that crime.

A witness claimed to have heard a woman scream near the canal the night Kate went missing. That, along with the blood and pencil in Arthur’s car and that he’d phoned her the evening she vanished was the sum total of evidence against him.

Arthur was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang. His attorney appealed on the basis that the evidence was circumstantial and that the state hadn’t proven that Kate had been murdered. A judge agreed and ordered a new trial.

The second trial never happened. In October 1926 the state dropped the case and Arthur walked out of jail a free man. The following year he married a widow whose name, as fate would have it, was Katherine.

Kate’s daughter, Eleanor, grew up, got married and raised a family.

“Go get ‘em Mike” Hughes became the head of the Chicago Police Department in 1927. He resigned after only a year in office but remained with the department until 1935, when he retired.

Whether Kate’s death was the result of murder or suicide remains an open question.

Featured photo: news photograph taken for the International Newsreel Corporation of the police interrogation of Arthur Foster, December 14, 1922. Collection of the author.

Gambling with Gangsters

Gambling with Gangsters

Large amounts of money have been found cleverly concealed about the persons of J. J. Kellogg and J. MacDonald, held here for questioning. The men were arrested Wednesday as suspicious characters.

— The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa), October 12, 1931

Nothing says “crook” quite like cash concealed in your clothing. One man had $1400* ($23,172) in hundred dollar bills sewn in the lining of his coat sleeve. His pal had $560 ($9,269) in hidden compartments in the instep and heel of his shoe.

They were spotted hanging around the downtown streets of Washington, Iowa, on the evening of October 8, 1931. Earlier in the day they’d checked into the Colenso Hotel on the town’s main drag. The coat cash man said his name was J. J. Kellogg and James McDonald was who the shoe cash man claimed to be. After the pair booked into the hotel, they’d inquired about what time the local banks opened their doors.

Naturally the cops wanted to know who they were and what they were up to.

J. J. Kellogg, who looked like he walked out of central casting for the role of a two-bit gangster in an Edward G. Robinson film, stuck out like a sore thumb in Washington where most of the townsfolk were farmers. With the fedora, cigar, lean, hungry face and suspicious eyes — he might as well have had “gangster” tattoed on his forehead.

He was taken into custody for having false license plates on his car. The police then discovered that one of the many names he used was Riley Gaffigan. They suspected that Riley and his buddy James had been part of a gambling con pulled the previous January in Springfield, Illinois.

Abe Lincoln Hotel Springfield

Hotel Abraham Lincoln

The victim of that con was Myrtle Tanner Blacklidge, the tax collector for the second wealthiest district in the United States — the northern part of Illinois, which included Chicago. Myrtle went to the Hotel Abraham Lincoln in Springfield on January 22, 1931. There she played the card game faro with three men in a hotel room. The men told Myrtle she’d won $207,000 ($3,426,258) but they claimed her win was “on paper.” They wanted Myrtle to fork over $50,000 ($827,598) cash to replace a check she’d provided to get into the game. Only then, they said, could they give her the winnings.

Though she had a well-paying job, Myrtle had expensive tastes and was desperate for cash. She’d lost both her adult son and her husband to illness within weeks of each other the previous year. She borrowed the $50,000 in $1000 bills from a friend — defeated Chicago mayoral candidate, Edward Litsinger. Of course Litsinger, like any Chicago pol worth his salt, expected something in return for the loan. Myrtle promised him $10,000 ($165,519) of her winnings.

She rejoined the card players and handed over the $50,000 cash, but she was unable to resist a little more gambling. She lost the whole $50,000 but figured she still had $157,000  ($2,598,659) coming to her. The men told her to wait in the room while they went to get the remainder of her winnings. They never reappeared. “I realized I had been duped,” she later commented.

Litsinger said Myrtle lied to him about why she needed the money, telling him it was to complete a “business deal,” not to gamble. He promised to sue her. Then it was revealed that it was actually Litsinger’s nephew, Fred Litsinger, the tax reviewer for northern Illinois, who’d handed over his uncle’s cash. Fred had done a bit of gambling himself at the time. Hoping to avoid bad publicity for his family, Edward dropped the lawsuit.

Myrtle resigned from her tax revenue job due to the scandal.

George Perry, known in Chicago as “Big George” Parker, was shot to death in his home in South Bend, Indiana, a few months later. Myrtle identified him as one of the three men who’d taken her in the faro game.

The authorities thought they’d found the remaining two men when the Iowa police arrested Riley and James. In addition to the cash hidden in their clothes and shoes the men carried a substantial number of used cashier’s checks with the details erased out. Police believed their current racket was to start poker games with local farmers, paying out their losses with the bogus checks.

Not wanting to personally confront the gangsters, Myrtle and Fred were unwilling to go to Iowa to identify the men. Myrtle looked at photos of Riley and James and said she thought they weren’t the ones. The men each paid hefty $500 ($8,275) fines for driving with illegal license plates on their car and were released. They melted into the criminal underworld and weren’t heard from again under the names they’d used in Washington, Iowa.

No one was ever arrested for the faro game con.

Myrtle and pals

Myrtle’s troubles continued when the wife of a policeman sued her for $100,000 ($1,837,537) in 1934, claiming Myrtle had stolen the affections of her husband. Torrid love letters from Myrtle to “Denny, Darling” were produced in court as evidence. The jury awarded $7,500 ($140,815) to the wife, and Myrtle, unable to pay, was sent to jail. Ironically the policeman’s wife was required to pay Myrtle’s jail boarding fees — 50 cents ($9) per day!

In her last years Myrtle lived in a Chicago nursing home, where she wrote for the monthly newspaper, “The Optimist.” She died at the home in 1958, aged 79.

*Note: U.S. dollars were converted to 2018 values using an inflation calculator and are listed in parentheses.

Featured photos: mugshots (?) identified on the reverse as “James J. Kellog, alias Billie Gafney, Laferty.” Collection of the author.

The Family Gems

The Family Gems

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., July 13–Paroled from the Pontiac reformatory, Arthur Groves, alias Harry Williams, a negro, has repaid former Governor Yates, his benefactor, by stealing $3,000 worth of diamonds from the former executive’s handsome new residence in Washington Park. The robbery occurred on June 7 last, at a time when the former Governor was in Kentucky attending the Powers trial as an associate attorney. News of it has only just leaked out through local police officers.

The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), July 14, 1905

Mrs. Yates

Mrs. Yates, early 1890s

After discovering that her jewelry was missing, Helen Yates, wife of former Illinois governor, Richard Yates, searched the coat of her servant, Harry Williams, and found her brooch pinned in the lining. This “confirmed her suspicions that someone about the place has committed the robbery.” Rather than calling the local police, she telephoned Superintendent Mallory, a family friend who ran the Pontiac State Reformatory where Harry had been incarcerated before he was paroled and hired to work as a coachman for the Yates family. She told Mallory she suspected Harry of stealing the family gems, consisting of “solitaires, brooches and clusters of diamonds.”

Harry disappeared from the Yates’s newly built, architect-designed mansion before Mallory arrived to investigate. Mrs. Yates stated later that when she called the superintendent from the first floor phone in her home, she suspected Harry had been on the second floor, eavesdropping on the phone extension, therefore he realized she suspected him of the theft. Or maybe she called from her bedroom and Harry listened in on the first floor phone. Reports varied about who was on which phone.

Though he was last seen working in the carriage house behind the main house, the fact that Harry went missing after the phone call confirmed his guilt as far as the newspapers were concerned. Mallory offered a reward of $100 for Harry’s capture and the Yates family upped the ante with $150 of their own cash.

A local police detective was sent to try to locate and arrest Harry. He tracked him to several cities in northern Illinois but lost him en route to Chicago.

Harry Williams_back_marked

It was reported that Mallory found Harry in Louisville two months later and “it was necessary to shoot him to capture him.” Harry survived the shooting and was sent back to the state reformatory on a stretcher. There were no reports on whether or not he recovered from his injuries.

Mallory found a couple of the stolen rings in the possession of a Chicago woman named Carrie Washington, however the rest of the loot, according to Carrie, had been pawned. Mallory recovered most of the jewelry from a State Street pawn shop and returned it to Mrs. Yates.

The Yates family lived in their Springfield mansion until 1928. A ghost, it is said, now inhabits the house, pacing the attic on nights when the moon is full, possibly in search of lost family gems.

Featured photo: Harry Williams, 1905 Bertillon card. Collection of the author.

Photo of Mrs. Yates from the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.

New Dillinger Molls

New Dillinger Molls

Brady gave me a diamond. I always considered we were married. He didn’t kill a policeman. He was sweet and kind. He was good to me. He slept like a baby at night. I love him. I’ll marry him, even if I go to jail, to the electric chair or to hell.

— Margaret Barry, quoted in The Daily Reporter (Greenfield, Indiana), June 12, 1937

Margaret Barry Larson met gangster Al Brady during “the whirl of Mardi Gras” in February 1936. The pair took a shine to each other, so 24-year-old Margaret dumped her husband and small son and headed north with Al.

brady_fbi_photo

Al Brady

Alfred James “Al” Brady got his start in crookery in 1930 at the age of 20 when he stole a car, was caught and sent to the Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton. Prisons are good places to learn how to commit crime and Al was an excellent student. After his release he recruited a group of like-minded young men, including Clarence Lee Shaffer and James Dalhover, to join his gang of thieves and killers. Al’s goal was to fill John Dillinger’s shoes. (Dillinger, a fellow Hoosier, had been killed by G-men in 1934.) Often driving stolen cars, the Brady gang pulled off more than 200 armed robberies, killed four lawmen and a civilian and wounded many others between 1935 and 1937.

Margaret Barker newsWith Margaret in tow the gang went to Ohio in March 1936. There they held up jewelry and grocery stores. In the course of robbing one grocery store, Al killed a young store clerk in cold blood. The gang escaped to Indianapolis but was traced there by police. During an attempt to arrest them, Sergeant Richard Rivers of the Indianapolis Police Department was shot and killed by one of the gang. They fled to Chicago with their loot, valued at $68,000.

Al and Margaret spent the next few days together at a Chicago hotel. Police located them and took the lovebirds into custody on April 30, 1936. James was also arrested in Chicago and Clarence was captured in Indianapolis.

Some of the loot was found in the gang’s safe deposit box in Chicago, however James revealed to police that a group of armed Chicago gangsters had stolen a portion of the takings from gang’s various holdups. About $6000 of the booty was discovered in the home of jewelry salesman Jack Becker, who rented the deposit box for the gang and acted as their fence. Becker and his wife Laura, who were considered to be part of the Brady gang, were arrested.

Margaret and Laura were described in the news as being the “new Dillinger molls.”

According to James, the gang was captured because Margaret insisted Al stay one more night with her at their Chicago hotel. When a man makes a serious error in judgement it makes sense to blame a woman, right?

Margaret, who’d been held on a vagrancy charge, was released from custody and reportedly went to work at a Chicago tavern. Despite her proclamations of eternal devotion and her professed willingness to follow Al to hell, the two never saw each other again.

Brady shootout

Bodies of Al Brady (closer to camera) and Clarence Lee Shaffer after the Bangor shoot out. Bangor Daily News.

Al, Clarence and James were sent back to Indiana to face a murder charge for the death of Officer Rivers. On October 11, 1936, all three men escaped from the jail where they were held. They spent the next 12 months committing a spree of robberies, primarily on the east coast, culminating in a shoot out with the FBI in Bangor, Maine, on October 12, 1937. Al and Clarence were killed in the gun battle — the bloodiest in Maine’s history. James was returned to prison in Indiana, where he was electrocuted the following year.

Featured photo: Margaret Barry (in hat), Laura Becker (seated) and policewoman Mary Henneberry, April 30, 1936. Collection of the author.