“With Long Criminal Records”

“With Long Criminal Records”

Warrants charging larceny were issued yesterday by the Circuit Attorney’s office against three women arrested last week in their room in Hotel Statler for shop-lifting. Police reported finding the wallet of a victim in the room. The women, all of whom said they are from Milwaukee, Wis., are: Ruth Stehling, 34 years old; Louise R. Smith, 32, and Jean Miller, 34. In the room police found a wallet containing $14, some checks and personal papers belonging to Mrs. Katherine Rueckert, 3435 Halliday avenue. Mrs. Rueckert had reported that the wallet was snatched from her in a downtown department store.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri), March 27, 1934

The Kusch family crime poster has the look of a kid’s school project, with the awkward placement of text, some of which was hand-drawn, and the amateurish attempt at a symmetrical layout. It was made by a St. Louis police officer in 1934 and photographed as a magic lantern slide, possibly for use as a lecture aid.

I suspect the point of the poster was to demonstrate how suspects might avoid being identified as repeat offenders by using aliases. The real names of the three ladies in stand-up mugshot were (left to right) Helen, Anna and Julia Kusch.

Another aim of the poster was to demonstrate that crime was a career choice that occasionally ran in families.

The mother of two of the three women in the photo was Mary Meka Kusch. Mary was a German immigrant to the United States who tutored her young daughters in how to steal ladies’ purses and forced them to become pickpockets. Mary’s husband, Michael, who was also born in Germany, was not involved in the “family business.”

In 1909 Anna Kusch was the youngest child ever arrested by the detective bureau in Buffalo, New York, after she was caught stealing shoppers’ purses in department stores. At the ripe old age of eight Anna was a suspect in many purse thefts.

Anna and her older sister, Helen, were serial pickpockets while they were still in grade school. The girls strolled the streets, stealing ladies’ purses as the opportunity arose, and hiding their loot in a baby carriage. Imagine the surprise of the beat officer who leaned over to give the “baby” a tickle on the chin!

In 1910 the Kusch sisters were taken into police custody for pickpocketing. Mama Kusch got three months probation for teaching her children to be thieves.

The following year Helen was arrested again for stealing cash from the purses of women shopping on the main drag of Buffalo. She told the police that her mother sent her out every day after school to steal money and if she didn’t do it she got a whipping. Mary was charged with receiving stolen property. Helen was sent to a detention home for juveniles.

Meanwhile the sisters’ older brothers, John and Albert Kusch, were engaged in robbing the poor box at a local Catholic church. They drank enough whiskey to put Albert and a friend in the hospital in critical condition with alcohol poisoning. Albert subsequently recovered. John went on to be convicted of burglary and sent to New York’s Elmira Reformatory at the age of 19.

As Helen and Anna blossomed into their teen years they continued to shoplift and pickpocket. Both were caught and earned themselves another stay in a Buffalo detention home.

The Kusch family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by 1920. The change of state may have been motivated by their notoriety in Buffalo because their crime careers continued in “America’s Dairyland.” When Helen was 28, in 1926, she was arrested for pickpocketing in Milwaukee. She jumped bail and forfeited her $1000 bond.

John was arrested for passing bad checks in 1931 when he was 38 years old. Over the previous 20 years he’d accumulated 16 arrests, including one for contributing to the delinquency of a minor after he’d picked up an underage girl and had sex with her. He was sentenced to five to seven years in a Wisconsin state prison on the bad check charge. John joined Albert, who was already in state prison, serving a three-year sentence for the attempted robbery of a pharmacy.

When the Kusch ladies were arrested for pickpocketing in St. Louis, Helen and Anna had 25 years of experience under their belts. They knew it would be a smart move to give the police false names to fool them into believing it was their first offense. Julia Kusch was not their sister but she may have been their sister-in-law because Albert was married for a while to a woman named Julia.

Helen was picked up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for shoplifting an item worth $1.50 in 1935. Police there claimed she’d been arrested many times in the past. She was given a six month suspended sentence and a $100 fine. Anna was also arrested and later released without charge.

The 1935 arrests of Helen and Anna were last time any Kusch family members appeared in the police news. It’s impossible to know if the poster put an end to their criminal activities, however there’s an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” That little proverb may have run through the mind of the police officer when he got out his glue and pen to make the Kusch Family crime poster.

Featured photo: St. Louis Police Lantern Slides, collection of the Missouri History Museum.

Unforgettable Legs

Unforgettable Legs

Short skirts may or may not be a sign of modern depravity, but they registered as a sign of bad luck for Peggy Hudson and her husband, according to reports from Los Angeles. Peggy is now awaiting sentence on a charge of first degree robbery.

Hayward Semi-Weekly Review (Hayward, California), May 15, 1928

Charles Anderson arrived home after a long day at his Los Angeles restaurant, The Red Onion, on the night of March 5, 1928. He pulled his car into the garage, got out of the vehicle and was unpleasantly surprised to discover a man and woman waiting in the shadows for him.

The woman thrust a gun into his ribs and told him to turn out the lights. Once they were extinguished the man ordered Charles onto the ground and tied him up with a piece of rope. Then the couple went through his pockets and robbed him of the day’s profits from the restaurant — $382 cash ($5,640 in 2018).

Before they left the man remarked to Charles, “Guess I’ll have to take your car too. You see I’m an ex-convict and I have to make a quick getaway. Don’t be afraid, though. I don’t want your car and I’ll leave it a couple blocks from here on Reno Street.” And with that puzzling comment, the pair got into his car and drove off into the night.

Charles freed himself and called the police. His car was nowhere to be found.

Bora Hudson has unforgettable legs - Newspapers.com

“I didn’t get a good look at her face, but I saw her legs, and I could pick them out any time,” he told the police. He claimed the legs he’d seen belonged to Nora Hudson, better known as Peggy. She was a woman he’d previously employed as a cashier at his restaurant. He also said he thought he recognized Peggy by her voice but he was less sure of that than he was about her legs. He didn’t know her male companion.

Changes in women’s hemlines in the 1920s meant a lot more leg showed than ever before and naturally men took notice. This careful, possibly even lecherous, observation of his female employee’s legs paid off for Charles. It took two months but the LAPD finally located 20-year-old Peggy by tracing her to her home address on Flower Street in downtown L.A. The police took Peggy and her husband, Willard Hudson, a musician, into custody and booked them on suspicion of robbery.

Was there something unusally memorable about Peggy’s legs? If so it’s not obvious in the news photo.

Williard Hudson mug

California State Archives

Willard’s incriminating comment about having a criminal record turned out to be true. He’d been incarcerated at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas.

A pair of slick criminals the Hudsons were not. With time to cool off they likely realized they’d been foolish to rob a man who knew Peggy. Then they compounded their mistake when Willard confessed his criminal background to their victim.

They pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and each was sentenced to five years to life in prison. Willard served his sentence at Folsom Prison and Peggy was sent to San Quentin. She was paroled in August 1931 after she was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Peggy Hudson must go down in history as the only person ever captured and sent to prison after being identified by her legs.

Featured photo: Nora Hudson, alias Peggy Hudson, July 8, 1928; California State Archives; Sacramento, California; San Quentin Mug Book.

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 Hungry Wife

The Hungry Wife

Hollywood, Cal., police watching Mrs. Eleanor Hansen, 42, devour a ham and egg breakfast at the police station following her arrest Tuesday for the fatal shooting of her husband, Hans Terkel Hansen, 50, movie studio employe (sic), believe her word that she was “desperate with hunger.”

Des Moines Tribune (Des Moines, Iowa), October 3, 1934

Forty-two-year old Eleanor Hansen looks like she shared a joke with the photographer while he took her mugshot at the California Institution for Women in Tehachapi. Her body language also conveys a cocky “hey bud, let’s get this over with” attitude. Based on the crime she’d committed three months earlier, Eleanor had an impatient streak.

Eleanor went to see her ex-husband, Hans, at his Los Angeles rooming house in early October 1934 because he was behind in his $10 monthly support payment ($191 in 2018). She told him she and their 13-year-old daughter, Barbara, hadn’t eaten in several days. Hans responded with a remark that Eleanor took as an insult, so she shot him twice, killing him instantly.

Eleanor Hansen shoots husband. Photos and details. - Newspapers.

She fled the scene and headed to Barbara’s junior high school where the police arrested her an hour later. She explained that she didn’t go to her ex-husband’s lodgings intending to shoot him, but she simply needed money because she and Barbara were sick from hunger. But his insult was the final straw that tipped her over the edge.

“I killed him because he had it coming. He owed me $400 alimony. I had no money. I went to see him to get money for food, not to kill him,” she told police.

Eleanor Hansen shoots husband. Photos. - Newspapers.comWhen Hans insulted Eleanor he disregarded the old adage “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Not to mention that hunger is high on the pyramid of needs and when it takes over the brain, irrational thoughts and crazy actions can result.

Taking no chances, the police took Eleanor to a restaurant and made sure she got fed before they interrogated her.

His landlady, Ella Horton, said Hans was living on bread he got from the county and had given Eleanor his last 15 cents a few days earlier. She also claimed he’d just recently gotten a job as a film studio carpenter but he hadn’t been paid yet and owed her money too. It was all right, though. I was glad to help him,” she said.

Could jealousy have played a role in Hans’s murder?

Eleanor Hansen goes to prison. Next to article about Gloria VandThe son of Danish immigrants, Hans was born in Nebraska and worked on his family’s farm as a young man. According to news reports he’d worked as an astrologer and had several film star clients. He’d also been employed an instructor at the Hollywood School of Astrology and had several other careers along the way. He was married and divorced prior to his marriage to Eleanor and he lost custody of his son from the previous marriage to his ex-wife’s new husband, so father of the year he was not.

Eleanor must have been convinced that Hans had some money squirreled away or something worth pawning, because she took a gun with her when she confronted him at his rooming house. Of course it’s possible she planned to kill him and the late alimony payment was just a cover, however she was convicted of second-degree murder, which argues against planning.

Sentenced to five years to life,“I still think I got a rotten deal,” Eleanor commented before she went to prison. Apparently death seemed to her to be a less rotten deal than imprisonment. Looking prosperous, Eleanor cast a glance over her shoulder on her way to Tehachapi and a news photographer captured the moment.

By 1940 Eleanor was an inmate in the Stockton State Hospital for the Insane. Barbara spent her teen years in foster care, but mother and daughter were reunited at some point because she and her children were mentioned in Eleanor’s obituary. Eleanor spent her later years in Auburn, California, where she died at the age of 71 on April 6, 1964.

Featured photo: Eleanor M. Hansen, prison mugshot. Collection of the California State Archives in Sacramento.

Thanks to Kate Griffiths for suggesting this story for Captured and Exposed. If you haven’t read Kate’s blog, Photobooth Journal, check it out!

The Rogue Cop, The Skunk Farmer & The Candy Kid

The Rogue Cop, The Skunk Farmer & The Candy Kid

Yesterday the governor made requisition on the Utah authorities for the extradition of Harry Morgan and Jane Doe, alias “The Candy Kid,” whose true name is unknown. They are charged by Anton Fritz of Portland with larceny from the person. Fritz claims he was robbed about 12 o’clock on the night of Saturday, August 28th, last, of $9,400 near the white temple in Portland. His statement has since been denied but Joe Day now claims he has the guilty parties under arrest at Salt Lake City and will bring them back to Oregon for trial. He claims to have located $4,500 of the stolen money in a safe deposit vault in Chicago.

Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon), October 3, 1906

She was huddled in the shadows of the covered entryway to the First Baptist Church (The White Temple) in downtown Portland, Oregon, crying loud enough to attract his attention. Anton Fritz went up the church steps and asked her what was wrong. She told him her husband had run off with all their worldly goods, leaving her and their baby with nothing. She said she was going to kill herself. Her tale tugged at his heartstrings, so he gave her a few dollars. Overwhelmed by his generosity she gave him a hug. They parted and he continued on his way, not realizing that his pocket had been picked until he arrived at his lodgings. This was one reported version of how Anton was robbed.

White Temple Baptist Church Portland, OR

White Temple Baptist Church Portland, OR

Another, more unsavory, story was that Anton was drunk and the woman picked him up and took him to a “secluded spot” where she robbed him.

The third account was that Anton offered to get her a room for the night at the hotel where he was lodging. She gratefully accepted and the next morning he discovered his money was gone.

The woman robber was dubbed “The Candy Kid,” and along with Harry Morgan — the man described as her partner in the caper — she was said to have fled Portland with $9,400 (over $260,000 in 2018) of Anton’s money.

Anton Fritz

Born in Germany in 1848, Anton Fritz and his wife, Johanna, arrived in the United States in 1881. They settled in Smithton, Pennsylvania, where Anton made his living as a butcher. One day he discovered skunks feeding on the offal near his slaughterhouse. Skunk fur was a hot commodity at the time and he seized on this as a fresh business opportunity. He began to raise skunks and sell their pelts. Anton had 700 skunks at one point and was known locally as “The Skunk Farmer.”

Soon he had enough capital to get into a less odoriferous profession. He moved his wife and six children to Monessen, Pennsylvania, where he invested in real estate, eventually owning three hotels, including one he named “Hotel Fritz.”

Johanna had a stroke and died in 1904, the same year Anton built an opera house in Monessen. The project was a money sink. The opera house and Anton’s other real estate holdings overextended his finances. He was forced to borrow large sums of money and was unable to repay his creditors.

Anton skipped town, taking with him about $18,000 (almost half a million dollars in 2018) in cash. The creditors tried to locate him but were told that he’d returned to his homeland. Deciding it was futile to try to find him in a foreign country, they eventually gave up the chase.

Anton had not left America. He’d headed west to Portland, where he had a younger brother, Fred Fritz, who owned a large saloon on Burnside Street. Anton didn’t trust banks and carried all his cash with him in a leather wallet he kept inside his jacket. He had a bad habit of flashing his cash around at the saloon and this may be what led to the robbery.

Rather than go to the police, who might alert his creditors to the fact that he was still in the country, Anton hired a private eye named Joe Day to try to track down the thieves on the Q.T. The timing was perfect for Joe, who’d just been fired from the Portland Police Department and was in need of a new income stream.

Born in New Orleans in 1851, Joseph Day traveled to the west coast with his family while he was still a babe in arms. He became a Portland cop in 1881 and rose to the rank of detective. He loved being a detective (he named his son William Pinkerton Day) but he had an independent streak that infuriated his superiors. Things came to a head when the chief of police complained to the mayor and police board that Joe and several other detectives were undisciplined, rogue officers who cursed constantly, never informed him of their activities and tolerated criminal activity in Portland. The mayor dismissed him and five other detectives in August 1906, saying that they hadn’t earned their salaries and had to go.

Joe Day detective profile - Newspapers.com

Detective Joe Day

Anton also had a problem with Joe — the detective couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He told the newspapers that Anton’s cash had drawn the attention of two regulars at the Fritz saloon, “The Candy Kid” and her partner, Harry Morgan. He described the pair as “colored criminals” with records in other states and also claimed that Harry was also a “stool pigeon” for the Portland police.

Evenutally the press figured out that the real name of “The Candy Kid” was Leora Worlds. She was also known as Clara, Alice or Laura Adams and Clara Morgan.

Joe put out the word that “The Candy Kid” and Harry had headed east to Chicago, spending lavishly as they traveled. It was rumored that she hired a couple of men in Chicago to kill Harry, but that one of them lost his nerve and instead blabbed to Joe about the plan.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, the police wired Joe that they had arrested the couple. Joe and Fred Fritz went to the Salt Lake City jail but extradition papers mysteriously never arrived from Oregon. A few days later the pair were discharged for lack of evidence.

What happened to the money is a matter of speculation. It was reported that Joe took a bribe of $2000 to get Anton to drop the matter, with Leora and Harry receiving $4500 and whatever cash remained being returned to Anton. The police chief in Salt Lake City went on record that no bribes had been offered under his watch.

However by the time Leora and Harry were released from custody, Anton had completely changed his story. He claimed that his saloon-owner brother, Fred, robbed him with the assistance of Joe and other people he refused to name. He said the tale of Leora and Harry robbing him was a “bluff.”

It was true that Fred Fritz had need for cash. He had a gambling problem that had cost him over $1000 in fines by 1905. He was also fined repeatedly for serving liquor at the vaudeville theater he owned next door to the saloon.

Two months later Anton laid down on the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train in San Fernando, California. The train decapitated him and his head was discovered not far from the tracks. His death was thought to be suicide, though no note was found. A small sum of money, a check and some jewelry were found with his body. His attorney noted that prior to his death Anton was “mentally unbalanced.”

Joe was eventually rehired by the Portland Police Department. He was later reduced to the uniformed ranks but he stayed on and ended his career as a policeman in 1926. He died ten years later in Portland.

Leora was arrested for vagrancy in Portland in 1910. She told the arresting officers she had done no “job.” The news article about her arrest referred to her as “The Candy Kid” and erroneously described her as “one of the star female criminals of the Pacific coast.”

21688393_10214516749897843_1076701228293932937_o

The reason Leora was called “The Candy Kid” remains a mystery to this day. My guess is that Detective Joe Day gave her the nickname. Written on the back of a news copy of her mugshot photo is the notation “DAY,” but precisely why he called her that I can’t say.

Though no one was ever charged with the robbery of Anton Fritz, the rumor that Leora did it continued for at least 30 years.

Thanks to Stacy Waldman of House of Mirth Photos for allowing me to use the photograph of Leora Worlds.

Featured photo: Leora Worlds (Clara Morgan), undated news copy of mugshot; collection of Stacy Waldman

The Death of Hannah Toppin

The Death of Hannah Toppin

Yesterday afternoon, Lieut. Spear, of the Tenth Police District, received an anonymous letter stating that the body of a young lady was lying in a house in Jefferson Street, below Second, and intimating that the death was caused by vio’ence.

Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), March 8, 1859

Hannah Jane Toppin’s body lay on a bed in a third floor room in Martha Hudson’s Philadelphia home. She suffered for days before finally dying on March 7, 1859 — her nineteenth birthday.

Martha knew Hannah’s death would not stay a secret for long. She packed her bags and was out the door of her Jefferson Street row house a few hours after the young girl took her last breath.

The following day Hannah’s father, Henry Toppin, went to the Hudson home after he heard a rumor that his missing daughter had died there. He identified the body as Hannah’s and the police were called. They arrested John Hudson but could not locate his wife.

Hannah was a first generation child of Irish immigrants. Her father worked as a weaver. Hannah and her three brothers attended school as youngsters, but once they reached their teen years they worked to help with the family finances.

Hannah worked in a hat store on Second Street where she met a mechanic named Robert Dunlap. They began spending time together and soon Hannah feared the worst — that she was enceinte. She hid her fears from her parents but confessed her worries to a cousin. Unable to keep the secret, the cousin soon spilled the beans to Hannah’s parents.

Henry and Jane Toppin informed their only daughter that they knew her secret. Hannah told them she had a plan to visit Mrs. Hudson’s herb shop, where she’d heard she could get a natural remedy to end her pregnancy.

Her parents forbade her to leave the house but two weeks later she was gone. She spent the next four weeks at Martha Hudson’s house.

Dr. S. P. Brown performed a postmortem exam on Hannah’s body. He testified at the inquest that the membrane around Hannah’s bowels had been perforated by an instrument and was “highly inflamed.” Her death was the result of peritonitis due to the perforation of her bowel. Jane Fletcher, a woman who lived with the Hudsons and who nursed Hannah before she died, testified that her death was slow and agonizing.

Dr. Brown also stated that Hannah was not pregnant when she died. Whether she’d had a miscarriage earlier or whether the pregnancy had been a false alarm was unknown, however Dr. Brown stated that, in his opinion, Hannah was mistaken in thinking she was pregnant.

The inquest verdict was that Martha Hudson caused Hannah’s death while trying to induce an abortion. John Hudson and Robert Dunlap were held as accessories before the fact. Martha, however, was still missing.

In late March a New York City policeman saw a woman leave a dry-goods store “laboring under great excitement.” He thought she might be a shoplifter so he followed her to a house on West Thirty-First Street and spoke to the man who rented her a room there. The man told the officer that her name was Mrs. Brown and that she was in “great disquietude due to family difficulties.” The officer told him to keep an eye on her and left. Later he read in a newspaper about the death of Hannah Toppin and the search for Martha Hudson. He thought “Mrs. Brown” might be Martha Hudson, so he returned to the house and spoke to her. She confessed to being the wanted woman.

Martha was returned to Philadelphia where she was held on a charge of murder in the second degree, meaning intentional murder without premeditation, but with malice aforethought.

At the trial Dr. D. S. Brown (not the Dr. Brown who performed the postmortem) testified that Martha called on him two days before Hannah died and begged him to come and see Hannah. At first he refused but eventually he agreed. Hannah told the doctor that Mrs. Hudson had operated on her because a drunken woman hit her in the stomach. She said Mrs. Hudson had been very kind to her. Dr. Brown testified that her condition seemed to have improved when he saw her the next morning. The following night she died.

Martha’s attorney presented no defense. She was convicted of second-degree murder on May 3, 1859. She was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

Featured photo: “Mrs. Hudson, Abortionist” from Rogues, A Study of Characters by Samuel G. Szabó. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

All in the Family

All in the Family

In the arrest of nine residents of Sample alley during the last two days, and the recovery of about $10,000 worth of merchandise stolen from Pittsburgh stores, Commissioner of Police Peter P. Walsh of the North Side, believes that the greatest system of shoplifting ever conducted in this city has been exposed.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), May 14, 1914

Although she was only 17 years old, Gertrude Busch doesn’t look too upset about being arrested as a member of the “biggest shoplifting gang” ever to hit the city of Pittsburgh. Gertrude had a pretty good poker face.

She was born in Germany and immigrated to America with her parents and eight siblings in 1909. The Busch family settled in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Shoplifter skirt illus. - Newspapers.com

In May 1914 the owner of a Pittsburgh dry goods store, Maurice Kiwowitz, realized he was missing a large amount of his merchandise. Maurice figured about $100 worth of stuff ($2,500 in 2018 dollars) had gone rogue every week during the previous few months. He suspected a group of German women were responsible for the thefts when he noticed a pattern of things vanishing after their daily visits to his shop. He instructed one of his shop clerks to closely watch the women the next time they dropped by.

The clerk followed his instructions and caught one of the ladies in the act of secreting something in the “copious pockets of a specially designed skirt.” The clerk alerted Maurice, who promptly called the police.

The police arrested Gertrude, her mother, Annie Busch, and four of her sisters: Angeline, Theresa, Sophia and Margaret.

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Anna (left) and Angeline Busch

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Theresa (left) and Sophia Busch

More arrests followed over the next two days, including Gertrude’s father, “Christ” (Christian), her brother, William, and three of her brothers-in-law. The final count of those in custody was eight members of the Busch family and three of their sons-in-law. Only three of Christ and Annie’s nine children weren’t implicated in the crime: Mary, age 33, Henry, age 21, and Annie, age 13.

The Busch gang’s modus operandi was for mama Annie to go into a store with several of her daughters. She’d strike up a conversation with the clerk while the daughters surreptitiously slipped items into the hidden pockets in their skirts. As soon as the ladies finished filling up, Mrs. Busch purchased an inexpensive item to keep the clerk from suspecting foul play and they made a rapid exit.

The police found over $10,000 worth of merchandise ($252,000 in 2018 dollars) stolen from shops around the city and packed into 18 trunks that were stored in the cellars of the family’s three homes. Most of it was inexpensive clothing and household goods. Many of the items had been soaked in water to make them look wrinkled, old and worn out in case someone questioned the item’s provenance.

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Christ (left) and William Busch

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Fred Volscoat (left, Theresa’s husband) and Jacob Bachmann (Angeline’s husband)

Angeline, Theresa, Sophia and Margaret Busch all confessed to shoplifting and were charged with larceny. However Annie, Christ, Gertrude and William Busch and the three of brothers-in-law claimed they “knew nothing of any robberies and did not know that the stuff in their trunks was stolen.” Convinced they were lying, the police charged them with receiving stolen goods. In addition to the adults, eight children ranging in age from two weeks to 14 years were taken to jail with their parents because there was no one left to care for them.

The four confessing sisters told police that the family planned to ship the trunks back to Germany, where they would use the stolen loot to stock a dry goods store they planned to open. It sounds like a half-baked scheme but these weren’t the cleverest of crooks, given that they went back to the same store to shoplift day after day.

In June 1914 a grand jury brought back bills charging the entire family, including the brothers-in-law, with larceny and receiving stolen property. The following February they were all put on trial.

Newspapers were silent on the outcome of the trial, but given the evidence it’s hard to imagine they weren’t found guilty. However Gertrude was very young, her parents were elderly and the rest of the family members had small children, so it’s likely none of them got much, if any, prison time.

By 1919 the Busch family had moved from Sample Alley, in the heart of Pittsburgh, to other towns in Pennsylvania where they found honest, gainful employment. There’s no evidence any of them ever broke the law again, but the shopkeepers of Pittsburgh must have rejoiced to see them go.

Christ, age 61, died of pneumonia in North Braddock, Pennsylvania, in April 1919. His wife Annie died two days before Christmas in 1946 at the ripe old age of 89. And, while many of the couple’s children lived only to middle age, poker-faced Gertrude beat the odds and made it to 76.

Featured photo: mugshot of Gertrude Busch, taken May 12, 1914, by the Pittsburgh Police. Collection of the author.

Note: I purchased the nine mugshots shown here from an eBay seller. The mugshots of Margaret Busch and Sophia Busch’s husband, Melchior Gebhart, were not available from the seller.