A Chinese Puzzle

A Chinese Puzzle

Tangled skeins of evidence which are being closely investigated by the authorities may result in the unearthing of one of the largest gangs of white slavers in the country with headquarters in New York City and also in other cities, as the result of the arrest of Mrs. Marie Chin Wore of Chenango street, who was taken shortly after midnight by Chief Detective Loren W. Rummer and Detective Larry Abel, police officials declared today.

Press and Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, New York), February 28, 1920

A young girl was found wandering in the vicinity of New York City’s Bowery in February 1920. She was taken to a Christian missionary society where she told authorities a disturbing story about having been forced to become the “child wife” of a much older man.

The missionary who took care of the girl after she was found, Mary E. Banta, claimed the child was born “Frances Michaelson” to Morris and Sadie Michaelson in New York City and that she was placed in a foundling home nine days after her birth in 1908. Mary also claimed that Marie Chin Wore became the girl’s foster mother 1916 and legally adopted her in 1919, changing her name to “Anna Chin Wore.”

Harry Chin Wore

Harry Chin Wore

In 1919 Marie arranged for Anna to marry David Lee Nong. A California-born man of Chinese ancestry, David owned a restaurant in Binghamton, New York. After the marriage, according to the 1920 census, Marie, age 32, and her Chinese husband, Harry Chin Wore, age 44, lived with Anna and David. Marie worked as a waitress in David’s restaurant and Harry ran a nearby laundry. Anna, age 16, was listed on the census as Marie and Harry’s biological daughter. Marie’s birthplace was listed as “Greece” and Anna’s as “New York.” Marie’s native language was recorded as “Greek.”

Less than two months after the marriage Anna stole enough money from David to escape to New York City.

Mary Banta took Anna back to Binghamton. Marie was arrested there and charged with abduction.

Anna Chin Wore marriage portrait_marked

Anna had on a dress that was much too large for her in her wedding photo. News photo, collection of the author.

Marie and her lawyer

Marie and her lawyer in court

Marie testified in court to being an opium addict and said she was in the clutches of a gang of Chinese criminals who dealt opium and smuggled Chinese men and drugs across the border of Canada into the United States. She claimed that David Lee Nong was part of the gang and that there was an opium den in the basement of his restaurant. Rumors of “white slavery” swirled around the case. News stories proclaimed that Marie went by multiple aliases and had been imprisoned several times in the penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island in New York City, but no proof of these claims was provided.

However Marie showed no signs of being addicted to opium or any other drug. Opium wasn’t found in the basement of David’s restaurant or anywhere on the premises, nor was the gang of criminals located. She appeared to be nervous but unrepentant and angry in court, at times shaking her head and sneering at Anna while she gave her testimony.

Anna testified that she was unsure of her age but had been told she was between 11 and 13 years old. She said that Marie “told me that my mother was a dirty Jew and had thrown me into an ash can, where a policeman had found me.” She recalled living in the foundling home in New York City and attending school in Manhattan before Marie removed her from the institution.

Nong restaurant

David Lee Nong’s restaurant

David, who was arrested as a material witness but wasn’t charged, testified that it was the custom in China for children to marry very young but he claimed he hadn’t known that Anna was only 11. He paid about $700 ($10,214 in 2018 dollars) to Marie and Harry to help them move to Binghamton and set Harry up in a laundry business. Nonetheless the cash was seen as a quid pro quo for his marriage to Anna.

Marie and David applied for and received a license for his marriage to Anna on November 20, 1919, but when they tried to get a judge to perform the ceremony, he refused due to Anna’s youth. Next they went to a local Baptist minister who agreed to perform the marriage after Marie lied to him, telling him that Anna was 16 and the marriage was out of necessity because she was pregnant.

Anna testified that a few weeks after the marriage, Marie took her to a hotel in Worcester, Massachusetts, and forced her to commit “a statutory offense” with a Chinese man who was unnamed.

There was no evidence that Harry Chin Wore was directly involved in the marriage plot but he was found to be in the country illegally under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. He was ordered deported to back China. Marie was offered a suspended sentence as long as she agreed to be deported to China with him. The couple was taken by the Binghamton sheriff, in June 1920, to San Francisco and put on a steamship bound for China.

As she waited to sail, Marie gave an intriguing interview to a reporter for the Binghamton Press and Sun-Bulletin.

I was born in China and I speak Chinese even better than English, although my parents were Americans. In fact, I came to America to be educated and was graduated from the University of Maine, later graduating as a trained nurse at the Portland, Maine general hospital. We were married in Canton, China, and I have no wish to terminate that marriage by taking advantage of the fact that my husband is debarred from the United States. I can be of great service to humanity in the Far East both by sympathy and education and even feel more at home there than in the land that was formerly mine only by parental tie.

Anna was sent to New York City, with missionary Mary E. Banta as her guardian, where she would attend school under the care of the missionary society. Mary sued in the New York Supreme Court to have Anna’s marriage annulled.

David lost his restaurant due to the unsavory publicity about the case. In February 1922 he pleaded not guilty to a charge of gambling at a Binghamton cafe. He died of liver cancer on July 10, 1922 in the Binghamton city hospital. He was 42 years old.

Before condemning David’s role in the case it’s important to realize that U.S. immigration laws in the late nineteenth century resulted in there being few females in America for Chinese men to marry and mixed marriages, while not outlawed in New York, were frowned upon. The marriage age in New York, with parental consent, was 14 at the time and it’s only recently been changed to 17.

Questions about Anna’s parentage went unanswered. If what Mary Banta said was true and Morris Michaelson was her father, he was likely white and Jewish. Therefore her mother must have been Asian. That would have been an unusual pairing for the time, though not impossible. Several young men named Morris Michaelson, all of them white, lived in New York City, according to the 1910 census, but none of them had a wife named Sadie or a wife who was Asian, though she may have died shortly after the child’s birth and that could explain why the baby was placed in an institution.

The New York Extracted Birth Index lists a Frances Michaelson who was born in March 19, 1908 (the exact birthdate Mary Banta claimed was Anna’s) and there’s an Anna Michaelson, born in 1908, who was a resident of the New York Foundling Hospital and Children’s Aid Society until 1915. But there’s no way to definitively link either of those girls with Anna Chin Wore.

Could Anna have been, as one newspaper suggested, the biological daughter of Marie and a Chinese man who wasn’t her husband? Could that be why the baby was placed in an orphanage and why Marie lied about her relationship to Anna after she got the child back — to hide that fact from Harry Chin Wore?

This case is full of perplexing clues but short on verifiable facts. We’ll never know if Marie had good intentions when she arranged a marriage for Anna or if she sold her to the highest bidder.

Featured photos: March 1920 news photos of Marie Chin Wore (left) and Anna Chin Wore. Collection of the author.

The Gold Rush

The Gold Rush

Buried treasure running into the hundreds of dollars has been found on the old Starke Hotel property, now owned by Attorney Ralph E. Swing, it became known here yesterday. For a number of days men employed on grading the property have been digging for the gold and keeping the fact a secret.

The San Bernardino County Sun, San Bernardino, California, March 3, 1921

Starke’s Hotel, located at Third Street and Arrowhead Avenue in San Bernardino, California, was a busy place during its heyday in the late 19th century. According to a 1938 news article, the hotel was a temporary home to “visitors from all parts of the states, professional gamblers, miners and many other guests” when it was owned and operated by German immigrants August Starke and his wife Catherine. By 1910 the hotel, which had changed owners several times, was a flophouse and sometime brothel called the Sunrise Hotel.

Starke HotelOn a rainy day in early March 1915, a 21-year-old Texan named Charles Hayward and his accused accomplice, Rosie Moyer, sat in the San Bernardino jail awaiting trial in Superior Court. They were charged with robbing $350 (worth about $8,700 in 2018), most of it in $10 gold coins, from a Chinese man named Wong Fong.

Charles was suspected of carrying out the actual robbery, then handing the bag of money off to Rosie. It was alleged that Rosie then hid the bag somewhere in the couple’s room at the Sunrise Hotel, but the police hadn’t located the cash.

Almost two years earlier Charles escaped from a chain gang while doing 30 days for petty larceny in Oakland, 450 miles to the north. More recently he’d survived a suicide attempt after he’d hacked at his wrist with the jagged edge of a cigarette tin while he was in jail on a drug charge in Los Angeles. Charles was familiar with the California criminal justice system — he’d also been jailed in San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco.

Charles thought Rosie wasn’t the brightest coin in the cash register, so while he sat in jail he wrote her two letters telling her exactly how to “frame” her story when she testified at her trial. But Rosie never got the letters because a jail trusty handed them to the jailer instead. She got her story mixed up and ended up incriminating herself on the stand. Her attorney did what he could to try and repair the damage, but she was convicted of the robbery.

Charles Hayward prisonThe lawyers brought an interpreter, a local Chinese-American high school boy, to translate the testimony of Wong Fong and the other Chinese witnesses who spoke no English. As it turned out he spoke a different dialect than the witnesses and the lawyers had to to send to Los Angeles for another interpreter. The letters Charles wrote to Rosie were also submitted as evidence at his trial. He too was convicted of robbing Wong Fong.

Rosie Moyer prisonWhen Rosie was sentenced she cried hysterically and begged Charles to tell the court she’d had nothing to do with the crime. He steadfastly maintained his innocence. He said he couldn’t exonerate her since he wasn’t guilty of the robbery himself and had no idea who’d done it. The authorities drugged Rosie to calm her down. Both she and Charles were sentenced to five years at San Quentin. They served three and a half years before being paroled.

By early 1921 the Starke, or Sunrise Hotel, was abandoned and slated for tear down. When the construction workers found $10 gold coins in the demolition rubble, San Bernardinians speculated about the origins of the coins. Some folks thought a miner or old-salt frontiersmen, who cached his wealth at the hotel, had forgotten where he’d left his loot. The best money, however, was on the coins belonging to Wong Fong, the victim of the 1915 robbery. The money, you’ll recall, was never recovered.

Wong couldn’t say if the loot was his or not because he was long gone, killed several years earlier when he fell off his bolting horse. The owner of the property, Ralph E. Swing, who, ironically, was one of the prosecution attorneys in the cases against Charles and Rosie, let the workers keep the money. “Finders are keepers,” commented attorney Swing. Perhaps fearing the taxman, none of the finders was willing to admit to how much gold they’d recovered.

An archeological analysis of San Bernardino Chinatown, including the privies of Starke’s Hotel, was undertaken by Foothill Resources for Caltrans in 2001. Many household objects, such as clothing and eating utensils, were located, in addition to the signs of what you’d normally expect to find in a privy. Even items related to social drugs, like alcohol, tobacco and opium, were discovered. However there was no gold found anywhere in the vicinity, on which several of the San Bernardino Superior Court buildings now stand.

Featured photos and additional photos: Charles Hayward and Rosie Moyer, inmate photos from the California State Archives; Sacramento, California; Department of Corrections San Quentin Prison Inmate Photographs.

The Veiled Man

The Veiled Man

Ernest Long, marine engineer, who was arrested last Monday night on a charge of masquerading as a woman on the street, figured as a defendant in two court actions yesterday.

 

He appeared in Police Judge D.S. O’Brien’s court to answer to the masquerading charge, where he entered a plea of guilty.

 

The costume which Long wore at the time of his arrest was produced in court. It consisted of frilly lingerie, spiderweb silk stockings, fancy pumps and other feminine attire.

 

Judge O’Brien continued the case until next Wednesday to gave (sic) Dr. O’Neill further time for observations.

 

Mrs. Lulu Long, the engineer’s wife, made him a defendant in divorce proceedings in the superior court yesterday afternoon, alleging cruelty.

San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 1922

Ernest Long was arrested on March 21, 1922, in San Francisco for dressing in “women’s garb” and for carrying a concealed weapon — a revolver — that police found on him. At the time of his arrest Ernest worked as a marine engineer on the steamship “Rose City,” which traveled between San Francisco and Portland.

Ernest Long passport photo

Ernest’s wife, Lulu, told police he awakened her in the middle of the night and forced her to help him dress in women’s clothes, then instructed her to go back to bed. Lulu also claimed that Ernest had been dressing as a woman for the past seven years, since their marriage in 1915, and that he only owned one suit of men’s clothing.

“I’m trying to hook up with a vaudeville circuit,” he explained. “But I’m not ready yet. I wouldn’t want any publicity right now.” Seems like an odd comment from a man who spent his life working in male-dominated jobs, including as a machinist, engineer, plumber and sailor.

Unfortunately he got plenty of publicity, when articles about his arrest appeared in newspapers around California and in his native town of Portland, Oregon.

Why was Ernest arrested? In 1863 a law was passed in San Francisco making it a criminal offense for a person to appear in public in “dress not belonging to his or her sex.” The law would remain in place until 1974. San Francisco was not alone — many other American cities also passed laws prohibiting cross-dressing.

 

cross dresser group

Men arrested in 1927 in Los Angeles for cross-dressing. Jesse Brown Cook scrapbook.

Ernest was born into an extremely unusual family. His father, Pon Long, was Chinese and his mother, Selina, was born in England. The couple met in 1877 when Selina worked as a teacher in a private Chinese school in San Francisco. Pon, described as a lawyer and merchant, had immigrated to America in 1869. The couple managed somehow to get a marriage license, despite the anti-miscegenation law in California prohibiting marriage between people of different races. Their marriage, described in the news as a “strange affinity,” shocked San Franciscans.

The Long family spent the next 12 years in Portland, Oregon, where they were tolerated despite the law there against interracial marriage. In 1889, when Ernest was an infant, Pon, Selina and their six children sailed to China. A seventh child, Mabel, was born in Hong Kong in 1892. The family spent years dividing their time between China and America. The children, including Ernest, identified as Caucasian on census and passport documents.

The San Francisco police photographed Ernest in full gear for use as evidence in court, even though the clothes he wore when arrested were submitted as evidence. Unusually for police suspect photos, he looks relaxed, pleased and dreamy-eyed. His legs in their “spiderweb silk stockings” appear heavy and masculine, but his feet are surprisingly petite. It’s probable that he saw bound feet on girls and women while he lived in China. He may have hoped to emulate the look, considered a mark of beauty in China and also thought to be a sexual stimulant for a woman’s male partner.

The 1922 arrest wreaked havoc on Ernest and his family. Lulu filed for divorce and later deserted him, taking their three children with her. However the couple reunited and had five more children, though ultimately, they divorced in the early 1940s.

Ernest died in San Diego, California, 55 years after his arrest for “masquerading as a woman.”

Featured photos: Ernest Long, Mar. 21/22, Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks Documenting San Francisco History and Law Enforcement, ca. 1895-1936. Collection of the UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library.

Also shown: Ernest Long, 1917 passport photo.

 

 

Murder in White Pine

Murder in White Pine

Wong Fong knew he would never see his Chinese homeland again — he was going to die in prison. When his mugshot photos were taken, in 1908, he’d been incarcerated in the Nevada State Prison for more than 13 years for murder. In his front view photo he looks stoic but in the side view he looks downcast, sad and ashamed.

The murder occurred on October 4, 1894, in White Pine County in eastern Nevada. Wong (called “George Fong” in his court case) was charged with shooting another Chinese man, Hing Lee, with a pistol and killing him “without authority of law and with malice aforethought” according to the judgment of the Nevada Supreme Court.

Wong pleaded not guilty but the jury found him guilty. Since it was decided that the crime was carried out with malice aforethought and that Wong was sane at the time of the shooting, he was convicted of 1st degree murder in December 1894. He was sentenced to death.

His attorneys appealed the conviction and a new trial was ordered for Wong on procedural grounds. But on May 28, 1895, he withdrew his plea of not guilty and entered a guilty plea. He said he was changing his plea because he was in constant fear of his countrymen, fellow prisoners who were held with him in the jail in Ely, Nevada. He claimed they were not friendly towards him, wanted to do him bodily harm and he thought it would be safer in the state prison.

Newspapers described the victim as a “highbinder tong man,” an enforcer or assassin, literally a “hatchet man,” for a “Tong”— Chinese secret societies associated with underworld activity, similar to the Italian Mafia in the twentieth century. A highbinder, it was said, preferred a sword, knife, dagger or club to a gun.

Wars between various Tongs broke out frequently on the West Coast in the late nineteenth century, primarily in San Francisco. However it seems unlikely that members of two warring Tongs would have lived in sparsely populated White Pine County. It’s possible that the murdered man was a Tong member who, while passing through White Pine, got into a disagreement that led to the shooting. However it was not reported that Wong was part of a Tong, so why would an elderly man who worked as a cook pick a fight with a gangster?

With his guilty plea at the second trial, Wong received a new sentence — life imprisonment, rather than death. He was transferred to the Nevada State Prison in Carson City. He was reported to be 75 years old at the start of his incarceration in 1895, however his prison card lists his age as 75 in 1908.

Wong Fong_full front_marked

Wong Fong, Bertillon prison card (front). Collection of the author.

He achieved a peculiar sort of fame in the state and it was reported in the Nevada newspapers when Wong became sick and was on the verge of death. It may be that people suspected he wasn’t guilty or there was sympathy for an old man who had spent the last 20 years of his life a prisoner.

Wong lived until October 26, 1915, when he died, reportedly at the age of 96. He was buried in the cemetery on the prison grounds.

Wong Fong death cert

Death certificate of Wong Fong, Nevada Department of Health, Carson City, Nevada.