New Dillinger Molls

New Dillinger Molls

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

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

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

brady_fbi_photo

Al Brady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brady shootout

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

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

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

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Pink’s Story (Part 2)

Continued from Pink’s Story (Part 1)

Pink Bruner was serving a life sentence at Leavenworth Penitentiary for the murder of Marshal Hugh Myers in May 1900, though everyone agreed he was not the man who pulled the trigger.

As part of the Curtis Act, a federal law that resulted in the break up of tribal governments, Pink, his mother, Rose, and his siblings were enrolled as members of the Chickasaw Nation in 1898. Rose, born in 1842, had been the slave of Holmes Colbert, according to her Dawes card. As Chickasaw Freedmen, Rose and her children each received an allotment of 40 acres of land in Indian Territory in 1906. The following year Indian Territory merged with Oklahoma Territory to become the state of Oklahoma.

Pink’s 40 acres, in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, was in the center of an oil belt and had value far beyond ordinary farmland. It was worth about $1000 — a fortune for a man in his circumstances.

The Leavenworth warden received many letters from people on the outside who wanted Pink’s allotment. Some claimed, incorrectly, that it was about to be sold for back taxes.

Moman Pruiett

Moman Pruiett, find-a-grave

Pink’s attorney at his murder trial was an ex-criminal with a violent streak named Moman Pruiett. Moman was a talented but controversial criminal lawyer who bragged that of the 343 murder cases in which he’d defended the accused, 303 of his clients were acquitted. Unfortunately for Pink, he was one of Moman’s 40 clients who’d been convicted.

Moman probably had saved Pink from the hangman’s noose, but he claimed Pink owed him his allotment in payment for both his legal representation during the trial and as payment for work on a pardon or commutation of his sentence — prior to actually achieving a result. Pink tried desperately from prison to hold onto the only thing he had of value, and he refused to turn his allotment over to Moman Pruiett or anyone else.

The third suspect in the Myers murder, Ben Cage, using the alias Floyd or Walter Alexander, was jailed for drunkenness in Wewoka, Oklahoma, in July 1915. While in jail Ben boasted that he was the triggerman for the Myers murder. It was reported that Ben was tried in August 1915, but there was no record of his conviction and imprisonment. More than 15 years elapsed since the crime occurred, and in order to try him the court had to rely mostly on transcripts from Pink’s trial.

Pink’s sentence was commuted in March 1917 and he was released from Leavenworth. Lawyer Pruiett and E.G. Hall, an Oklahoma City businessman appointed his “first friend” out of prison, fought over the title to Pink’s land. It’s unclear which man finally managed to get his hands on Pink’s allotment, but without a doubt one of them did.

He dropped his nickname and returned to using his given name — Legus — after he was released from prison. Over the years he worked as a porter in a Muskogee grocery store, a laborer for a soft drink company in Oklahoma City and finally ended up living with a cousin and farming in Econtuchka, Oklahoma.

100 years has passed since Pink’s release from prison and Econtuchka is now a ghost town. Legus “Pink” Bruner’s burial place is unknown.

Featured photo: Pink Bruner’s second Leavenworth Penitentiary mugshot, taken prior to his release in 1917, National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.

Pink’s Story (Part 1)

Pink’s Story (Part 1)

From Friday until Tuesday night the U.S. Court has been engaged in the trial of Pink Bruner for the killing of Hugh Myers, city marshal of the town of Davis, on May 5, 1900. The evidence showed that Bruner and two other negroes went to Davis on that evening, filled up on whiskey, and rode out of town firing their pistols in the air. That Myers followed them half a mile out to a lonely spot and was shot and killed. The government claims that it was done in pursuance of a conspiracy to entice Myers out of town and kill him, and while there is no evidence Bruner did the actual shooting, he was in the plot and helped on with the game; and it must be confessed that the prosecution made a very strong case.

The Davis Weekly News (Davis, Indian Terr.), May 30, 1901

Marshal Hugh Myers road out to the west edge of Davis, a small town in Indian Territory, on a Saturday night in early May of 1900 to investigate gunshots. There he found three black men: Pink Bruner, Lyman Mahardy and Ben Cage. Myers exchanged gunfire with the men and took a bullet to his abdomen. He was able to get back to his home but the wound was fatal and he died within the hour. Before he died he told his family he believed he’d wounded one of the men.

Pink was wounded in his left leg above the knee.

The next day Pink was captured after he sought treatment for his leg wound. Lyman was also located and taken into custody. Ben Cage escaped.

Bruner family freedman role

Dawes Census Card (#431) for Rose Bruner and her children

Pink was a nickname. His given name was Legus and he was born in the tiny town of Sasakwa, Indian Territory, the oldest child of John Bruner and Rose Colbert Bruner. His father was a Seminole Freedman and his mother came from the Chickasaw Freedmen. The Chicksaw follow a system of matrilineal descent in which children are considered to be part of their mother’s clan.

Maintaining his innocence in Myers’ shooting, Pink claimed Lyman had a grudge against Myers and planned to kill him after luring him to a remote spot outside of town. Ben Cage was also indicted for the murder, however he remained at large.

The cases of the two men were separated and Pink was tried first. He was found guilty of first-degree murder on May 23, 1901 and sentenced to 99 years in the federal penitentiary.

Lyman’s trial was delayed until the following June. On June 28, 1902, he died in jail, apparently still awaiting trial. Death records were not kept until 1908, after Oklahoma became a state, so the cause of Lyman’s death is unknown.

Meanwhile 22-year-old Pink Bruner headed to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas to begin serving a life sentence.

Continued in Pink’s Story (Part 2).

Featured photo: Pink Bruner’s Leavenworth Penitentiary 1901 mugshots, National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri

Annie Got His Gun

Annie Got His Gun

Newark, N.J., May 21 — Police Capt. Thomas J. Rowe was shot and killed today in his office at First Precinct headquarters, and Chief John Haller said a tall, red-headed woman identified as Mrs. Ann Powers was being held for questioning.

 

Haller said Rowe and the woman walked into First Precinct headquarters shortly after 4 a.m. and went to the captain’s office. Ten minutes later Lieut. William Ville, on duty at the information desk, heard a single shot and saw the woman running from the office.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, the Evening News, May 21, 1948

Thomas RoweIn the wee hours of the morning of May 21, 1948, after an evening spent tavern crawling, Ann Powers and her married lover, Police Captain Thomas Rowe, arrived at the police station in Newark, New Jersey. The couple headed to Rowe’s private office where their conversation turned into an argument after Rowe did what his adult daughter had been begging him to do; he told Ann their affair was over. Neither of the lovers was sober but Ann managed to grab Rowe’s service revolver.

Despite the drink, Ann’s hand was steady and her aim was excellent. She got one shot off before an officer heard the commotion and raced to the office. “Get me to a doctor,” Rowe said, before collapsing on the floor. He died an hour and a half later.

Ann fled and was immediately captured. All she was willing to admit was the obvious — there had been a shooting, but she insisted she hadn’t pulled the trigger. She described herself as a “friend” of Rowe’s and refused to believe that the bullet wound had been lethal. “Prove it,” she said, asking to be taken to the morgue. When she saw the body of the 55-year-old Rowe, she showed no emotion.

Rowe, a 33-year-veteran of the force, was rated one of Newark’s “top men.” He was one of the officers present when gangster Dutch Schultz was arrested in 1935. However he’d also been involved in an embarrassing incident in 1937 when a 22-year-old girl was wounded while sitting with him in a car. It was reported that she brushed against Rowe’s pistol and it went off, wounding her in the thigh. What the pair was doing together in the car wasn’t specified, but it’s a safe bet they weren’t reading the bible.

Ann_Powers_mugshot39-year-old Ann was described in the news as a “shapely redhead.” (A redheaded woman — of course she was a temptress with a temper!) Ann was a waitress who’d been married for nine years to a local undertaker. She was estranged from her husband at the time of the shooting. She pleaded innocent to the charge of second-degree murder and was held for trial. In the middle of her trial she changed her plea to guilty to manslaughter. “Did you shoot Captain Rowe?” the judge asked. “Yes sir,” she said.

The judge accepted Ann’s plea and sentenced her to nine years in the Clinton Reformatory on November 17, 1948. As the court attendants led her from the courtroom she screamed hysterically. Rowe’s widow and daughter were in attendance and had no comment.

Featured image: news photo of Ann Powers taken October 18, 1948. Collection of the author.

First Lady of San Quentin

First Lady of San Quentin

She was prone to episodes of violence. Very little is known of her early life, including her birth name. Born in Ireland in the 1840s when the potato famine reached its deadly pinnacle, she immigrated to America and ended up in California. The name she became infamous by was “Mary Von.”

Mary was first mentioned in the news in December 1884 when she shot a man named Captain L. Haight in San Francisco. At the time she lived at 4 Eddy place and worked as a dress cutter. She and her victim quarreled after he tried to enter her rooms uninvited. Captain Haight recovered from the wound and Mary pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon. She was sentenced to a year in San Quentin Prison.

Mary claimed to have been married to a German nobleman by the name of Von Hammerschimdt and at the time of her first incarceration she was using the surname Hammerschmidt or Hammersmith. After her release from prison, in February 1886, she dropped Hammerschmidt and began going by the name Dr. Mary Von.

At this point Mary’s story takes a peculiar turn. She took out a string of advertisements in the Oakland Tribune, starting in late September 1886, offering her services as a natural or “faith” healer. She claimed to be able to cure numerous illnesses using her mind, with a special talent for women’s diseases. It’s impossible to know if Mary truly believed she had mental healing powers or if she was just another of the quacks and con artists roaming around the Bay Area in search of suckers to swindle.

Mary Von ad

Mary Von’s advertisement in the Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, Wed., Nov. 3, 1886.

Evidently she soon lost interest in the faith-healing field and began to explore other career options. Through advertisements taken out in a “matrimonial” newspaper in the spring of 1887, she met a New Zealand man named George Wesley Bishop. Bishop had just arrived in San Francisco for business and was reputed to be wealthy. He planned to stay awhile.

Bishop was looking for steady female companionship, despite being a married man, so he and Mary set up housekeeping together, with Bishop footing the bill. He rented a house on Powell Street and the couple moved in. He bought expensive gifts for Mary and a lot of nice furniture for the house. Mary claimed that she and Bishop were married, however Bishop was under no such illusion.

It only took a month for things to turn sour — Bishop decided Mary was only in the arrangement for his money — something he was rapidly running out of. He moved out of the house and demanded the furniture be returned. A lawsuit ensued in which Mary said her heart had been broken and, as consolation, she should get to keep the furniture. Bishop won the lawsuit. Recognizing that Mary was unstable, he decided he needed to return to New Zealand — the sooner the better.

Hearing Bishop was leaving town before she’d had time to appeal the court’s decision, Mary took matters into her own hands. Early on the morning of July 1, 1887, a woman described by witnesses as tall, portly and overdressed, waited near the gangplank of the R.M.S. Alameda at the Oceanic Dock in San Francisco — it was Mary Von and she had a gun hidden in her shawl.

Bishop arrived at the dock in the early afternoon and headed up the gangplank. Mary followed him onboard and without discussion she shot him in the back. A nearby passenger knocked the gun from her hand before she was able to fire a second time. Initially it was thought that Bishop would recover, but on July 3rd he died. Mary claimed she only meant to threaten him, not to murder him.

Mary was tried and convicted of first-degree murder and given a life sentence at San Quentin. She arrived at the prison on October 18, 1887. The following year she assaulted the matron of the female department with an iron stove lifter. Luckily for all, the matron survived.

Mary Von was the first woman photographed at San Quentin when prison officials began taking mugshots of prisoners in the late 1890s. Incarcerated there for 26 years, she was finally paroled in June 1911. Because the world had changed so much in the intervening years and because she had no friends or family left on the outside, Mary voluntarily returned to San Quentin the following year and died in the prison on February 16, 1913. She was buried in a San Rafael potter’s field, precise location unknown.

Featured photo: Mary Von, San Quentin Prison Registers, Inmate Photographs and Mug Books. California State Archives, Sacramento, California.