Stealing Horses

Stealing Horses

Can you imagine a time when stealing a horse (or two) could earn you hard time in San Quentin?

Meet the men who accomplished that feat: Frank Adamson and James Carey. In October of 1912, Frank stole a horse and buggy in Turlock that belonged to Emil Johnson. He drove it to Fresno and on the way he picked up his buddy, Carey. When the pair got to Fresno they sold Johnson’s horse and buggy and stole another one that belonged to Albert Bowen. Then they drove Bowen’s “rig” to Coalinga, where the city marshal, Eddie Burns, apprehended them.

The law did not take stealing horses lightly: Johnson and Bowen were likely to have been put out of business when their transportation suddenly vanished.

It seems quaint now, but back in the day lawmen out west communicated about wanted men by sending out flyers or “circulars” to their fellow lawmen in other communities. Marshal Burns had gotten one of these communiqués from the sheriff of Ventura, E.G. Martin. Thinking he might have rounded up the crooks Martin was after, he wrote to him to check on whether the men he had in custody were the ones wanted in Martin’s jurisdiction.

Marshal Burns must have been a very thorough man because he even commissioned photos of the culprits. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words. He fastened the photos together and sent them, along with a letter, to provide Martin with a visual of the suspects.

horse thief letter

Neither man was wanted in Ventura, but 24-year-old Adamson owned up to Burns about his lengthy prison record. He said he had been a prison trusty (an inmate deemed trustworthy who got special privileges) in Stockton, where he was serving a six month sentence for stealing a bicycle, when he abused that trust by escaping. He’d also done two years in a penitentiary in his native New Zealand. Not to mention that he’d served time in British Columbia and in Ashland, Oregon.

They were convicted of grand larceny. Carey, a 36-year-old native of The Emerald Isle, apparently had no priors, but he was dumb enough to go along for the ride with Adamson. It earned him four years in San Quentin. Adamson, the “Kiwi,” got six years.

Adamson and Carey SQ

San Quentin prisoner inmate photos of Adamson and Carey. California State Archives

Adamson was deported back to New Zealand after he was released in 1917.

Featured: suspect photos of Frank Adamson and Jim Carey taken October 26, 1912 in Coalinga, California.

Bertha’s Feint

Bertha’s Feint

Bertha Liebbeke looked for all the world like the pretty, corn-fed daughter of an Iowa farmer. Clifton Woolridge, a Chicago detective, described her as a “girlish young woman, with the baby dimples and skin of peach and cream, the innocent blue eyes, and the smiles that play so easily over her face as she talks vivaciously and with keen sense of both wit and humor.” Woolridge was clearly smitten with Bertha and he was not alone.

She was born in March 1880 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Her father, William, was an immigrant to the United States from Germany. Her mother, Mary, was born in Switzerland. Bertha’s parents met and married in 1870 in Pottawattamie County, Iowa. They had a large family — nine children in all.

When Bertha was in her mid-teens her father died. Shortly after his death she was diagnosed with Saint Vitus Dance (now called Sydenham’s chorea), an infectious disease that results in uncontrollable twitching and jerking movements of the victim’s face, hands and feet. The diagnosis got her sent to the Iowa Institution for Feeble-Minded Children in Glenwood. Due to age restrictions she was later transferred to the Iowa State Hospital for the Insane in Clarinda. She remained at the state hospital for less than a year.

Iowa State Hospital for the Insane in Clarinda

Iowa State Hospital for the Insane

After her release from the mental hospital, Bertha claimed she was seduced by a man named Gunther who schooled her in the art of “larceny from the person.” She proved to be an excellent student. Not only was she good at getting the goods, she developed a unique approach to the profession that took full advantage of her good looks. Bertha would locate a prosperous-looking gentleman in a crowd of people and smile demurely at him. Intrigued, he came closer. When he got next to her she would suddenly be overcome by a dizzy spell. The gallant gentleman would catch the lovely lady just in time to rescue her from hitting the ground. She heaved a sigh, came to and thanked him, but not before she’d picked her savior’s pockets so skillfully that he didn’t notice the theft until she was long gone. When her victims reported their losses to the police, few of them suspected Bertha as the culprit.

Even after news reports about “Fainting Bertha” made her the most notorious female pickpocket in the Midwest, men continued to walk into her trap. She could steal anything — a wallet, a diamond stickpin, a gold watch — without batting an eyelash.

Bertha traveled from Council Bluffs by boat and train to all the big Midwestern cities, robbing conductors and passengers along the way. She also used her nimble fingers to steal from department stores, including Chicago’s Marshall Field’s, where Detective Woolridge made her acquaintance. Her photo was in every rogues’ gallery in the Midwest by the early 1900s. Over the course of her career she used at least nine aliases, including Jennie Jennings, Carrie Jones and Bertha Siegal.

Three times it was reported that Bertha had plans to marry, but the engagements were all broken, apparently because she couldn’t stop thieving. Nonetheless she smiled beguilingly when she was photographed, as inmate #5693, at the Nebraska State Penitentiary after her conviction for grand larceny.

bertha-liebbeke-notorious-pickpocket-in-il-ks-ia-mo-and-ne-fainting-bertha-stumbled-into-men-fainted-and-robbed-them2

Despite her success as a thief, all was not well with Bertha’s mind. She suffered periodic bouts of insanity so intense it was impossible for prison guards, doctors or hospital attendants to control her. In the grip of one of these attacks, which often occurred at night, she had been known to break every window she could reach while screaming profanities at the top of her lungs. Her mood swings were extreme — one minute she was calm and the next she was crying hysterically.

Unfortunately for hospital and prison officials, Bertha was not only good at stealing jewelry and cash, she also had a talent for lifting keys and picking locks. In 1905, when she was a patient in an insane asylum in Kankakee, Illinois, she escaped and tried to set fire to herself. By 1907 she’d been housed in seven different penitentiaries and asylums and she’d escaped a dozen times from them. She also frequently threatened to commit suicide. Back and forth between hospital and prison Bertha went.

By July 1911, officials in Nebraska were faced with the vexing problem of what to do with Bertha. No one wanted her and the question of whether she belonged in a prison or an asylum seemed to be impossible to answer.

Finally she was sent to the Asylum for the Chronic Insane in Hastings, Nebraska. Three physicians from the Nebraska State Insanity Board examined her as part of a report to the governor, Chester Aldrich. The report stated that Bertha “has delusions or hallucinations as shown by her talking to imaginary persons and having the sensation of insects creeping under the skin. Immediately after physicians left her she became violent, which is a daily occurrence, running up and down the hall, bewailing her condition and position, running from one room to another to evade the physicians and berating them because of her belief that they would not look after her welfare.”

The doctors weren’t sure if Bertha was permanently insane, however they were unanimous in their opinion that she needed to be in a hospital, not a prison. Governor Aldrich disagreed. He sent her back to the Nebraska State Penitentiary to finish her sentence, specifying that “special quarters” had to be provided by the Warden to protect both Bertha and those around her.

Rev Savidge

Charles Savidge

After her release from the penitentiary in 1913, Reverend Charles W. Savidge, who’d been trying to reform Bertha since 1904, offered her a home at his People’s Church in Omaha. (It’s possible that, like Detective Woolridge, Reverend Savidge was infatuated with Bertha). He and his church members were convinced that with the help of religion, Bertha’s “modern devils” would be cast out. A safe room was prepared for her and someone from the congregation was designated to be with Bertha at all times.

The People’s Church congregation prayed for her and she renounced her bad ways. In November 1913 Bertha told a reporter she had “reformed for good.” She said she had plans to marry and move the West Coast, where she believed she could put her past behind her. (She didn’t realize that her escapades had been widely reported in the Western States.) But the effort to change Bertha failed miserably. Savidge and his flock gave up on her and threw her out. “I will not attempt to aid her again as I consider her case impossible,” he commented.

Like so many times in the past, Bertha’s marriage plans fell through. She ended up in custody in Milwaukee on a charge of vagrancy in 1914. Now almost 35 years old, she was sent to the Lincoln State Hospital For Insane in Yankee Hill, Nebraska, from which she soon escaped. She stole a woman’s purse and was arrested. Twice she tried to commit suicide while she was in jail. First she took strychnine tablets but the police pumped her stomach. Then she set her clothes on fire and her limbs were badly burned.

She left a note to her sister that read: “I have ended it all as I told you I would. Kiss the children goodbye and ask my precious mamma to forgive me. In my package here I have $7 and my watch, which I want you to keep; also a chain which I bought at Ryan’s jewelry store. I don’t want to be buried, so sell my body to the Creighton Medical college. Farewell, dear mamma, sisters and brothers, and forgive me, all of you.”

Bertha was sentenced to one to seven years at hard labor in the state penitentiary. There her mental state continued to deteriorate. By 1918 she was back in the asylum, but she soon escaped again. The police soon located her at a hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska. After she was taken into custody to be sent back to the mental asylum, she claimed to be “one of the Seven Wonders of the World.” In 1919 she attacked a nurse, throwing formaldehyde in the woman’s face and partially blinding her.

Bertha lived in the state asylum for the next 20 years. In an effort to control her violent outbursts she undoubtedly endured the psychiatric treatments of the era, such as mechanical restraints, surgical removal of internal organs and chemical shock therapy. In 1930, when she was listed as an asylum inmate on the federal census, Bertha was not well enough to hold even the simplest job at the hospital.

On May 5, 1939 Bertha died at the Lincoln State Hospital. She was 59 years old. Part of her obituary in the Lincoln Journal Star read: “When arrested she would readily admit what she had done, and would gloat over men being easy marks. At the hospital it was reported that she had been a very difficult patient, and had caused the authorities much trouble.”

Featured image: Bertha’s 1899 mugshot card, History of Nebraska

Other images from the History of Nebraska and Rootsweb

Silent Phil

Silent Phil

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

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

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

Phil Lambele_back_low

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

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

753px-Grand_Central_Station,_New_York_c._1902

Grand Central Station, c. 1902

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

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

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

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

Drawing of Lambele - Newspapers.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tommy O'Connor - Newspapers.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.