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.