Short, not Twain

Short, not Twain

No one would blame you for taking a glance at the photos above and wondering: “When did Mark Twain get arrested?” The answer is never. The man in the photos was not Twain, but a gentleman who went by the name “H.J. Short.” The photos were taken when Short was booked into Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in 1900 to serve a term of three years at hard labor for larceny. Only his initials identify him in his prison records, but a little research disclosed the fact that his first name was Hulette, which explains why he preferred to go by his initials.

Samuel Langhorne ClemensSeptember 1-2, 1867, Pera, Constantinople

Twain in an 1867 photograph by Turkish photographer, Abdullah Frères

Of course big mustaches were all the rage in those days, but whether or not Short cultivated his resemblance to the famous author, who was a generation older, is an intriguing but unanswerable question.

The prison records describe H.J. Short as a physician by trade with a nervous disposition. At 5’ 7” tall and 123 lbs., he was emaciated. He suffered from anemia and a chronic cough. The prison doctor decided that the cough was caused by tuberculosis. The diagnosis meant that the 30-year-old was “physically incapacitated from the performance of manual labor” in prison. There’s no way to know if he was really sick or if he starved himself to appear to be ill. Luckily for him, his poor health status got him freed from prison in the form of a pardon issued by President William McKinley. He was released on October 12, 1900.

Short’s Leavenworth records make for interesting reading and indicate there was a pattern in how he avoided serving much time in prison. On May 30, 1898, he was sentenced in the Eastern District of Texas to two years in prison for assault with intent to kill. Less than two months later he was pardoned from the Texas prison because he was “fatally ill with consumption” (aka tuberculosis). Obviously he didn’t die, because on May 31, 1900 he was received at Leavenworth. Details of both crimes are scant, but one news report indicated the federal sentence stemmed from the theft of cattle.

Dr. Short ad - Newspapers.com

Short’s 1896 ad in The Marietta Monitor

Short may also have been involved in insurance fraud. In 1896, not long after moving to Marietta in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), his house went up in flames. He, his wife Lizzie, and son Maury, were not in residence at the time of the fire. Neighbors quickly put out the blaze. The damage to the building and furniture amounted only to $100, but the local newspaper reported that, providentially, the good doctor had $1,600 insurance on his medical library, which he claimed was destroyed in the fire.

He did not stay out of legal trouble for long after he was released from Leavenworth. A few years earlier in his native Mississippi, he’d forged the names of several prominent men to a promissory note valued at $3,500. He stopped paying interest on the note, which brought it to the attention of law enforcement, and the forgery was discovered. In February 1901 he was arrested in Marietta and returned to Mississippi to face charges.

Evidently he found a way to mollify the law (possibly tuberculosis came up again) without much, if any, jail time, because by December 1902, Short and his family moved to Pryor, I.T., from De Leon, Texas. The Pryor Creek Clipper noted his arrival, writing: “He [Short] appears like a pleasant gentleman and one who is skilled at his chosen calling and we are glad to number him among our citizens.”

I didn’t unearth any later criminal activity of Short’s, so one can only hope the newspaper’s optimism proved to be correct.

By 1910 Short had given up the practice of medicine and had returned to Marietta with his wife and son. He worked as a “stockman,” earning his living raising cattle (hopefully the animals were purchased legally), and he owned his home, free and clear. He died in 1912, 12 years to the day after he was received at Leavenworth — not bad for a man believed to be at death’s door in 1900.

Featured photo: H.J. Short, Leavenworth inmate photo, 1900. Collection of the National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri.

Before Pretty Boy

Before Pretty Boy

This photograph from the collection of the Missouri Historical Society caught my eye quite awhile ago. I followed up by investigating the men in the photo, one of whom turned out to be a well known character in the history of American crime. The picture was taken very early in his “career.”

Here’s the story: https://mohistory.org/blog/pretty-boy-floyd/

Enjoy!

 

The Baby-faced Menace

The Baby-faced Menace

Joseph Gruner, 82, died yesterday in County hospital of injuries suffered June 26 in the restaurant at the front of his home at 941 Chicago av. Police listed his injuries as suffered in a fall, but his daughter said she believes he was beaten in a robbery.

Chicago Tribune, July 3, 1954

Katherine Whitney discovered her father, Joseph Gruner, lying unconscious on the floor of her restaurant. Joseph, who served as the restaurant’s night watchman, had a fractured skull and there were signs of a break-in at the restaurant. A large hole had been cut in the screen door and cigarette butts and matches littered the doorway. The thieves had stolen cigarettes, soft drinks and some money was missing from the cash register.

Joseph was rushed to the hospital but he never regained consciousness. He died six days later. The police chalked his death up to a fall and filed the case under “accidental death.” Katherine protested, saying that she thought her father had been killed by the thieves who’d broken in. But with little evidence and plenty of without-a-doubt homicides to investigate, the Chicago cops moved on.

Harvey TobelTwo months later Emily Shouse and Ruth Tobel arrived at the Chicago apartment Ruth shared with her mother and stepfather. The girls were exhausted and hoped to get a little shut-eye after a busy night of burglarizing homes. They weren’t hungry because they’d consumed an entire cherry pie at the last house they’d broken into that evening. Unfortunately Ruth’s stepfather, Harvey, woke up and wasn’t pleased to discover the stolen property that his 14-year-old stepdaughter and her pal had deposited in the apartment. Without discussion, Harvey said, “Come on. I’m going to turn you both over to the police.” Then he loaded the two young girls into his vehicle.

As the car approached the station, Ruth tried to jump out but Harvey was able to grab her and keep her in the vehicle. In an apparent effort not to commit parricide, she threw a revolver to Emily and shouted, “Let him have it!” The gun hit the floor and broke open, releasing a cartridge. Emily picked it up and, leaving the loose cartridge where it had fallen, she snapped the gun shut, took aim and fired at Harvey. Fortunately the gun clicked on the empty chamber. Ruth got out of the car and ran off while Harvey wrestled the gun away from Emily. Passersby saw the commotion and called the police, who took Emily into custody. Ruth was soon located and arrested.

Emily1Emily, who had runaway from home, had $500 of stolen cash stuffed into her bra. Ruth was carrying $100 and wearing $2000 worth of stolen jewelry. In addition to pulling 40 to 50 burglaries during the month of August, Emily also admitted to knocking down an old man and taking $10 from him in a strong-arm robbery.

A witness came forward and identified Emily as the woman from whom she’d recently purchased household items at cut rate prices. It turned out that Emily had broken into a home while the homeowner was at work, stolen $800 worth of property and then pretended to be the homeowner; selling off the items she’d stolen for bargain basement prices. Even veteran Chicago cops were shocked at the brazen nature of Emily’s crime.

DelgadoBut there was more to come. Emily admitted that she, along with two male partners, had been involved in a nighttime burglary of a restaurant on the near north side of Chicago in late June 1954. The trio was interrupted when the night watchman awoke and confronted them during the burglary. One of the men, 20-year-old Pablo Delgado, hit the man over the head with a wrench, knocking him out. The trio escaped out of the back of the restaurant.

The night watchman was Joseph Gruner. The burglars likely didn’t realize that Joseph had later died of his injuries.

Emily’s confession forced the police to reopen the Gruner case. They located her partners and she and the two men were charged with murder. They all confessed, and then recanted their confessions. On the eve of their trial the prosecutor decided to seek the death penalty. Rather than face the possibility of a death sentence, Emily and the men pleaded guilty to murder. On December 1, 1954, Pablo was sentenced to 199 years in prison. The second man, 18-year-old Victor Camacho, got a sentence of 100 years.

The prosecutor declared that, despite her pretty “baby-face,” Emily was a menace to society who deserved to be either in prison or an insane asylum. Emily, aged only 15, was sentenced to 18 years in the State Reformatory for Women in Dwight, Illinois.

Emily got a raw deal and she knew it. She appealed for a new trial, stating that public defender had forced her to take a plea, but in 1956 her appeal was denied.

cottageAt the reformatory Emily was housed in a cottage (one of eight) with 27 other prisoners that was supervised by a single matron. Her roommate was a 22-year-old St. Louis woman named Shirley Gray. Shirley was doing two to five years for a gas station hold up she’d pulled with her husband.

On the night of November 22, 1958, Emily and Shirley, clad in pink overalls and navy pea coats, sneaked to the basement of their prison cottage. The pair then crawled through a ventilation pipe that led to the prison grounds. They threw their heavy coats over the barbed wire fence surrounding the prison and were able to scale the fence and get over the barbed wire without injury. They burglarized a nearby farmhouse, stealing clothing and food.

ShirleyThe two women then began grueling a 75-mile trek through a snowstorm to Chicago. After they arrived in the city they parted company. Shirley stole a car and headed to Joliet. She was caught on Christmas Eve during a routine traffic stop in which she subsequently attempted to drive the car off the road and into a house in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Emily dyed her red hair black in an effort at disguise, but she too was caught a few days later at one of “her old haunts” — a tavern on North Clark street. “Take a good look at me because I’ve already started to plan my next escape,” she told police after she was captured. Both women were returned to the prison in Dwight and Emily got a few years added to her sentence. Despite her threats, she didn’t try another escape.

The prosecutor apparently had it in for Emily because in February 1959, shortly after she’d been returned to prison, he put her on trial for the robbery of $80 from a Chicago cleaning lady. The theft had occurred in early December while she was still on the loose. The victim identified Emily as the robber but due to a disparity in height (Emily was taller than the height the victim estimated her robber to have been) she was acquitted.

Benches found in home of Sandra Manske (Emily Shouse) - NewspapeFast-forward 17 years. Emily was married and working as a realtor when four benches — property of the local realtor’s association — vanished from the streets of Belvidere, Illinois. An investigation was launched and the benches were eventually located at Emily’s home. Everyone had forgotten that Emily and her husband had offered to repaint the benches during a town meeting six months earlier. Emily was cleared of “theft” charges and the benches, with their fresh red, white and blue paint were reinstalled. Emily (who was known by a different name) posed proudly with the refurbished benches in April 1976.

She died at the age of 39 in January, 1978.

Featured photo: Emily Shouse’s mugshot from her 1955 prison card, collection of the author.

The Felonious Housewife

The Felonious Housewife

Ford stealing and check forging sent half a dozen prisoners to the state penitentiary at Lansing yesterday. Spring and a desire to own an automobile seem to go hand in hand The desire seems to be strongest at Hutchinson, for nearly all the prisoners convicted of stealing Fords came from Reno County.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Evans will each serve one to five years for their episode. Evans will work in the penitentiary proper and his wife will be in the industrial farm for women. They were arrested at Newton, where the automobile was found. The Ford was stolen from the J. W. Bailey residence in Hutchinson.

Leavenworth Times (Leavenworth, Kansas), April 20, 1918

In the summer of 1917 she was arrested for writing three “fictitious checks.” The San Francisco Police Department prepared a Bureau of Identification card with her photo and stats. Her name was recorded as “Emma Douglas” but she had two aliases: “Mrs. E. Evans” and “Mrs. K. Howard.” Her occupation was “housewife” and her birthplace was “Illinois.” The police forgot to make a note of her age, but obviously she was young. Her crime was too small for the newspapers to pick it up.

Check forgery is a habit that’s hard to break.

May Howard_SF_marked

1917 mug shots taken by the San Francisco police

Less than a year later and almost two thousand miles to the east she was arrested with a male partner in Newton, Kansas. She and her partner had stolen a Ford Model T touring car (likely a 1917 model that retailed at $360) during the night of Saturday, April 6, 1918. The following day a motorcycle cop spotted the stolen car, and watched as the couple replaced the Kansas license tag that had been on the car with a Colorado tag. The sharp-eyed officer arrested the pair.

1917-Ford-Touring-Car

1917 Ford Model T touring car

She claimed her name was May Evans and said the man was her husband, Charles Evans. They’d come from San Francisco, where he’d registered for the World War I draft under the name Charles Douglas. To finance their cross country travels they would steal a car, drive it for a while, then sell it and pocket the cash and repeat the process.

She’d also written a series of forged checks to cover their travel expenses, including one to the owner of a rooming house where they’d stayed before they were arrested. The newspaper noted that she had “good clothes” and a “quiet, undisturbed air about her.”

They both pleaded guilty to grand larceny — she for the bad checks and he for auto theft. He was sent to the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing and she went to the new facility for women, the State Industrial Farm in Topeka. Each served a year in their respective institutions.

Chas Evans_low

Charles “Chas” Evans, Kansas State Penitentiary mug shots, courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society

On July 11, 1919, they were arrested about 700 miles east of Kansas in Columbus, Ohio, for attempted auto theft and for carrying concealed weapons. The weapons part of the charge means the pair was serious about their criminal endeavors. She told the Columbus police her name was Emma Evans. He claimed to be R. W. Pharis.

The Columbus police prepared a photo identification card for her and on it noted that, in addition to “Emma Evans” she also used the alias “Emma Douglas.” She claimed Des Moines, Iowa, as her birthplace and 22 years as her age. Her occupation, as on the San Francisco card, was “housewife.”

She claimed she didn’t have any previous criminal record, however the police figured out that she and her partner were recently paroled prisoners from Kansas, where they had been identified as May Howard and Charles “Chas” Evans. Their crime spree had taken them across the country, from the west coast to Ohio, the heart of Middle America.

May Howard 1919 back

Back side of criminal I.D. card of “May Howard”

In Columbus she got 30 days jail time, along with a fine of $150 and court costs.

In 1919 federal legislation called the Dyer Act was passed to combat vehicle theft, which was becoming a big problem, particularly in large cities. If May and Charles (or whatever their real names were) were again caught stealing, selling or transporting a vehicle across state lines, it would be federal crime under the act. If convicted they’d each get a sentence of ten years in a federal prison.

Because they used multiple aliases, the couple was untraceable after their arrests in Columbus. The question of whether they continued their life of crime or settled down into a more mundane and honest life can’t be answered.

Featured photo: police photos of “May Howard,” aka Emma Douglas, Emma Evans and May Evans, taken in Columbus, Ohio, on July 19, 1919. Collection of the author.

Growing Up among the Rogues

Growing Up among the Rogues

He’s one of the most down-and-out looking individuals in the St. Louis Rogues’ Gallery. His jacket is far too large for him, his shirt collar looks grimy, and his hair is disheveled. His misshapen hat sits on a nearby table, and the expression on his face is one of deep sadness. The arresting officer’s notes on the back of his 1867 rogues’ gallery photo describe him as “John Manly Thief. Pickpocket 17 years old.” But there’s far more to the story.

According to census records, John Manley was about 20 years old at the time this photo was taken. Because the person pictured here looks quite young, it’s more likely that he’s James Manley, John’s younger brother. James was only about 14 years old in 1867.

The two brothers and their sister, Julia, had extensive dealings with St. Louis law enforcement over many decades—a situation that may have been avoided if not for a tragic accident. On February 10, 1858, the Manleys’ father, an Irish immigrant, was killed while working on a railroad construction crew east of St. Louis.

Left without a breadwinner, the Manley family went from being working poor to a state of direst poverty. Life was so hard that their destitute mother was forced to send her three children to live in the St. Louis House of Refuge.

 

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The House of Refuge at 3300 Osage St., March 1894. Photo by A. J. O’Reilly. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Child inmates at the House of Refuge slept on straw mattresses at night and spent just three hours a day in school. The rest of their time was spent caning chairs and making shoes that were sold for a profit in town. A grim description of the institution comes from the 1878 book A Tour of St. Louis: Or, The Inside Life of a Great City:

The St. Louis House of Refuge, situated in the southern part of the city, strictly speaking, is a prison for the detention of juvenile offenders. Its discipline is that of a prison, and in all features of its operation it is distinctly a penitentiary for the detention and correction of youthful criminals.

The Manley children came home in 1860, but in April 1861, James was labeled “incorrigible” and returned to the House of Refuge. The following year he was sent to live with a tailor in Chamois, Missouri, 100 miles west of St. Louis. Authorities likely hoped he’d fare better far away from the evils of the big city, but the country air wasn’t for James. He soon found himself back in St. Louis.

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Record of James Manley’s first admittance to the House of Refuge on February 24, 1860, at just 8 years old (sixth from top). Missouri Historical Society Collections.

By 1866 young James was on his third stay at the House of Refuge, this time as punishment for a petty larceny conviction. He was supposed to live there until he turned 21, but soon after his arrival he escaped.

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Entry in the Criminal Court of Corrections record book, issue 1, regarding James Manley, November 1866. Courtesy of Shayne Davidson.

Around the time his photo was taken for the rogues’ gallery—March 13, 1867—James was in serious legal trouble: He and two companions had been charged with assault and battery. (Whether James was convicted in the case couldn’t be verified.)

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The back side of the rogues’ gallery photo. Police misidentified James as his brother John.

In December 1869, James was jailed for grand larceny in St. Louis because he was unable to pay his $1,500 bail. He was found guilty, and the judge sentenced him to the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Seventeen-year-old James entered the prison on January 29, 1870, and spent the next 18 months there. The system of leasing prisoners to businessmen, providing free labor in exchange for financial support of the prison, hadn’t yet been abolished, so he may have worked on prison building projects or even outside the prison walls until he was pardoned by the governor and released on August 3, 1871.

After a quiet couple of years, James attracted news coverage in September 1874 for trying to jump ahead of others waiting in line to cast ballots in a St. Louis election. When a police officer intervened, James tore off the man’s coat and punched him, at which point he was taken into custody. The following year, James was stabbed twice during a nighttime scuffle at Broadway and O’Fallon Streets. His wounds were serious but not life threatening.

By the 1880s, James and his brother had both found honest work as telegraph linemen. Then in 1888, James was elected constable of St. Louis’s sixth ward and tasked with serving summonses for court appearances. It seemed like his life was taking a prosperous turn, but while serving clothing-store proprietor Martin Monti with an eviction summons, James apparently couldn’t stop himself from stealing $75 and other property belonging to Monti. He was convicted of embezzlement—a decision he appealed—but the conviction was upheld. So in November 1891, James headed to the Missouri State Penitentiary again, where he remained until his release in January 1893. In May 1903, James and three other men were arrested and charged with shooting craps behind a saloon on North Broadway. This was his final record of criminal behavior.

Ten years later, James found himself at the St. Louis City Infirmary, a hospital for the indigent located on Arsenal Street. By this point he was the last surviving member of his family. His mother had died in 1885, and his brother had passed in 1903. It’s possible his sister was still alive, but she disappeared from records after the 1880 census.

James spent his final moments at the infirmary, evidently all alone, dying of a lung ailment just two months shy of his 60th birthday.

Featured photo: Quarter-plate tintype of James Manley, March 1867. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Mona Lisa Smile

Mona Lisa Smile

SEATTLE, Dec. 22. — A coast-wise search was being conducted today at the request of Seattle police for miss Clara E. Skarin, former telephone exchange operator here, in the hope that she might be able to throw light on the slaying of Ferdinand Hochbrunn, wealthy retired real estate dealer, whose body has been found in a room of his home here yesterday. He had been shot through the head and had been dead two months, in the opinion of officers.

— Vancouver Daily World (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), December 22, 1921

Clara Skarin shielding accomplice. Layout of Hochbrunn home. Pho

Illustration of Ferdinand Hochbrunn

The smell must have been awful when they finally entered the apartment, given how long the old man had been lying there. It was murder — there was no question about that. He’d been shot with a single bullet to the back of his head. Robbery was assumed to be the motive because his pockets had been slit open, though $1,960 (almost $27,370 in 2018) and some gold certificates were found in a trunk near the body.

Ferdinand Hochbrunn, 72, was a confirmed bachelor who emigrated from Berlin, Germany, to America in 1872. He settled in Seattle where he made a fortune in real estate in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was ruthless and, at times, deceitful in his business dealings. One of his clients, Olive Stearns, sued him for cheating her out of part of the proceeds of a land sale. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Washington, where Olive won a judgment against him for $14,759 ($441,125 in 2018).

Clara Skarin_Marked

News photo of Clara E. Skarin. Collection of the author.

The police were very anxious to speak with the dead man’s “ward,” a young woman named Clara Elizabeth Skarin. Clara, 27, was the daughter of Ferdinand’s housekeeper, a Swedish-born widow named Emma Ekstrand Skarin. Emma died suddenly in 1918 and Clara moved to Michigan after her mother’s death. She’d recently returned to Seattle and Ferdinand had taken her under his wing. He hired her to work as his secretary and gave her a room in his apartment at 2520 5th Avenue. But lately she’d lodged instead with her married cousin, Anna Datesman Clark.

A neighbor who lived below the apartment told the police she heard someone she thought was Clara walking around the apartment in late November. If Clara had been there it would have been impossible for her not to notice the body because it was lying on the floor of an alcove off her bedroom. Other tenants in the building said they’d seen Clara come and go during the months of October and November. She was last seen in late November, when she had Thanksgiving dinner with her aunt, Marie Datesman, and Marie’s family. Clara told them she planned to leave Seattle and meet Ferdinand in Portland, Oregon.

Clara Skarin shielding accomplice. Layout of Hochbrunn home. Pho

News illustration of the Hochbrunn apartment.

Clara Skarin leaves baggage in California after fleeing arrest -

The family snapshot of Clara.

The Seattle police asked Marie for a photo of Clara. She gave them a snapshot, but was so poor it was useless for identification purposes. She claimed it was the only one she had.

A series of letters and telegrams were sent in October and November to Ferdinand’s attorney, Edward von Tobel, signed “Ferdinand Hochbrunn.” The messages asked for rents from his Seattle properties to be collected and forwarded to him in Portland, and in Oakland and San Bernardino, California. The messages detailed news about his daily life along with the addresses of the places he was staying. Edward collected the rents and sent the money to the addresses in the messages.

The police came up with two theories of what had happened. The first was that the murderer posed as Ferdinand, telling Clara by letter or telegram that he’d gone to Portland on business. Clara didn’t know until late November, when she visited the apartment and found the body, that Ferdinand was dead. Shocked by the discovery, she’d fled and was wandering somewhere in a distraught state or possibly she’d even killed herself.

The second theory, which became the working theory, was that Clara killed her benefactor and stole his money. The police weren’t sure if she’d written the letters and telegrams that were sent to the attorney or if she’d worked with an accomplice.

The police search for Clara expanded to include the entire West Coast. In January 1922 the police missed her by a hair after she made a hasty exit from a hotel in California. The long hunt finally ended on September 3, 1922, when a Seattle acquaintance happened to see her in Oakland and informed the police, who arrested her. In Oakland she used the alias “Betty Parrish.”

She admitted to the police that she had shot and killed Ferdinand but refused to say any more. She was charged with first-degree murder.

Clara Skarin puzzles police. Three articles and photo. - Newspap

Clara puzzled the authorities. Described by the Oakland Tribune as having a “Mona Lisa Smile,” she seemed unfazed about being jailed and unconcerned about the charges she faced. She laughed and joked with officials and newspapermen at the Oakland Jail but refused to talk about the crimes she’d been accused of committing.

She claimed to be able to transport herself, using mental powers, to wherever she wanted to go.

Lying here (in jail) at night, I can close my eyes and go wherever I care to. I wander the hills at night. Everything is very real and I don’t feel that I am here at all. I have done that all my life. Sometimes when I have looked forward to a ball I have visualized my being there, and my dancing, so realistically that my feet actually ached.

Her biggest complaint about the jail was that one of the Jack London novels she was reading had had some of its pages torn out. She praised the Oakland Police Department as “wonderful” but also claimed that Oakland was one of the best places in the United States to hide in.

The police didn’t think the enigmatic Clara had worked alone. They searched for her male accomplice, “Phoenix Markham.” Clara wouldn’t say anything about Markham. The police located a telegram she’d sent two days after the murder to a telegraph operator named Raymond Herron in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It seemed to be written in code:

Mark here. Everything practically settled. No more saving a half cake of chocolate for tomorrow’s lunch. This is the first of my very own money to spend. May I send Jigadere some of Ollie’s clothes? Buy Maxine a new top and yourself a drink. Am going to order a car here for drive away in spring. Know agent here and want him to get commission. Wire me immediately. Love. BETTY.

Raymond was a 27-year-old Kalamazoo man who married a local girl three weeks after Clara’s arrest. The couple’s first child was born a month later. He wasn’t related to anyone named “Jigadere,” “Ollie,” or “Maxine.”

The police never found Phoenix Markham and the hunt for an accomplice was dropped. Clara alone stood trial for Ferdinand’s murder.

Clara was involved in another gun tragedy in August 1918 when the jealous wife of a friend visited the Seattle apartment she shared with her mother. The woman, Cleo Winborn, confronted Clara with a loaded gun and demanded to know what her relationship was with her husband, Robert Winborn. Unsatisfied with Clara’s answer, Cleo shot at Clara. The bullet hit her in the leg, wounding her slightly. Clara’s mother heard the commotion and ran into the room. Cleo turned the gun on Mrs. Skarin, killing her with a single shot. Then she turned the gun on herself and committed suicide.

It must be pointed out that the person who provided the details of what happened was the only survivor — Clara Skarin.

After she recovered from the leg wound, 24 year-old Clara moved with Cleo’s husband, 50-year-old Robert, to his native state of Michigan. Robert, an African American man who had worked as a barber, was suffering from epilepsy. He was treated at the University Hospital in Ann Arbor and then transferred to the Kalamazoo State Hospital, a mental asylum, where he died of epilepsy September 4, 1919. Clara claimed that she and Robert were married while he was on his deathbed.

Ferdinand’s will, if he had one, wasn’t located. His estate, valued at $100,000 (almost $1,500,000 in 2018) was settled on November 15, 1922. Though a business partner sued for half of it, the court awarded the entire estate to his brother, Henry Hochbrunn. Henry died the day before the matter was settled. His children inherited the estate.

Clara Skarin in her own words. photo. - Newspapers.com

Clara’s murder trial began in January 1923. She testified that Ferdinand had molested her from the age of 14, when her mother worked as his housekeeper. She claimed he’d again made “improper overtures” towards her in the weeks leading up to the shooting. She explained that this was why she’d moved out of his apartment and purchased a .32-caliber revolver for protection.

The day of the shooting Clara said she’d gone to the apartment to get some clothes she’d left there. Again he made unwelcome sexual advances so she pulled out her gun. They grappled over the weapon and it went off but no one was hit. Then he forced her against a wall and there was a struggle that ended in Clara managing to rest the muzzle of the gun on the back of Ferdinand’s head and pull the trigger with her thumb. He died about 15 minutes later.

She said she spent several minutes gazing in a mirror, then left the apartment and locked the door. She headed to the office of Ferdinand’s attorney, Edward von Tobel, and told him what had happened. Then she and Edward returned to the apartment, where they removed $30,000 ($419,000 in 2018) worth of gold from Ferdinand’s trunk. They split the gold and Clara left town six weeks later. Subsequently she sent letters and telegrams to Edward, signing Ferdinand’s name to them.

Von Tobel

Edward von Tobel

Edward disputed her story and testified that he’d had nothing to do with robbing Ferdinand and knew nothing about the murder until the body was discovered.

The jury of eight men and four women acquitted Clara of the murder of Ferdinand Hochbrunn on January 13, 1923. “I surely wish the young woman all happiness in the future,” said one of the female jurors, whose tears flowed freely during the defense counsel’s arguments. “She has surely seen enough of the seamy side of life. Now she may find peace and better things.”

Edward wasn’t charged with any crime related to the death of Ferdinand Hochbrunn. Clara stayed in Seattle for a few months after the trial ended, but in April she told a newspaper reporter that she’d left her job as a café hostess and planned to return to Oakland to live with friends. The girl with the Mona Lisa smile then vanished without a trace.

 

 

 

 

 

“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.