The Mind Reader

The Mind Reader

Leon Daniels, who has been traveling about the city for some weeks, and who claims to be a mind-reader, will appear before Judge Davis this morning. He is accused of stealing from the Central Hotel an overcoat belonging to the proprietor.

The Record-Union, Sacramento, California, February 8, 1897

He most likely got off with a fine or short jail sentence for the theft of the Sacramento hotel proprietor’s coat. Not only was he a mind reader, he also a hypnotist, so perhaps he used that skill with the judge to avoid a conviction. At any rate, the newspapers made no mention of a prison sentence for Shasta Leon Daniels.

“Shasta Leo,” as he was often called, was born in 1866 in Iowa to Alvah Daniels, an itinerant cooper and carpenter, and his wife Sarah (Millard) Daniels. His parents were born in New York. After their marriage they moved their growing family westward, from Wisconsin to Iowa to Dakota Territory (now South Dakota), finally settling in the Napa County wine region of Northern California by 1890. Leon had four older sisters and a younger brother, all of whom lived conventional lives, while the quirkily named Shasta Leo followed his bliss.

Instead of working a regular job he traveled around the west, plying his unusual trade and stealing the occasional item when commerce was slow and his funds got low. “Daniels is an odd genius who travels over the country telling fortunes, hypnotizing people or almost anything that will bring in a few dimes. He is said to be quite an adept at slight-of hand,” was how one Oregon newspaper described him.

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Albany Train Depot, 1895

Shasta Leo liked to drink and occasionally tippled a bit too much. On a fine April day in the year 1900, he and his friend, Charles Berry, had been drinking in Albany, Oregon, and decided to ride the rails to Eugene. Shasta Leo hopped on a lumber train car while it was moving and slipped, falling between two cars. His left leg hit one of the rails and was run over by the wheel of the train, mashing the flesh to jelly but leaving most of the bones unbroken, according to one newspaper description of the incident.

He was taken to a nearby boarding house, where his leg was amputated just below the knee. “Daniels took the matter philosophically and seemed as little disturbed as any one around,” reported the Albany Democrat the day after the accident. Hopefully his inebriated state helped with the pain, at least for a while. Initially no one was sure if he would survive. Since he had no money, the taxpayers of Linn County paid the surgeon’s bill.

Not only did he survive, he was well on the road to recovery by May. By June he was able to return to California, where he convalesced at the home of his pharmacist brother in Napa. Evidently he took to roaming again after his leg was fully healed. Shasta Leo died on January 10, 1911, in Los Angeles, far from his family in Northern California.

Featured photo: mugshot of Shasta Leon Daniels taken in 1897 in Sacramento, California. Collection of the author.

Albany Train Depot from the Salem Public Library Historic Photograph Collections, Salem Public Library, Salem, Oregon.

An Experienced Woman

An Experienced Woman

When Judge Smith sentenced Aimee Meloling to serve three years in San Quentin Prison for burglary, she commented, “May your honor’s heart soon be as soft as your head.” Aimee might have rejoiced at getting a lighter sentence than her husband, Albert Webb Meloling, known as “A.W.” He was ordered to serve five years in Folsom Prison for the same crime. However Aimee was under the impression she was going to get off with a slap on the wrist, not hard time in San Quentin.

The Melolings, a young, middle class couple from New York, had broken into the room of a fellow guest at the upscale Granada Hotel, a residential hotel in Los Angeles, in 1905. They stole what was described as a set of “handsome hand-painted chinaware” along with some “valuable steins” (beer anyone?). The crime was burglary, so planning was involved.

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The Granada Hotel in Los Angeles, circa 1900.

Was the theft just a moment of weakness for the Melolings or was it an ongoing practice? Did they have an irresistible eye for attractive china they couldn’t afford or were they temporarily short on cash and in need of something to pawn? Both got long sentences for a crime that seems relatively minor, so possibly the police suspected they had dabbled with burglary before. Or maybe the judge just didn’t care for Aimee’s attitude.

The prison sentences came as a shock—the couple was under the impression they were going to get probation. At a court hearing a month earlier they met a man who had just been sentenced to five years in San Quentin. After being introduced by the deputy sheriff, they had a nice chat with the soon-to-be prisoner. The deputy apparently suspected what the Melolings didn’t yet realize—they would soon be headed to prison themselves and would need all the friends they could find there.

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San Quentin Prison mugshots of Aimee Meloling. Collection of the California State Archives.

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Folsom Prison mugshots of Albert W. Meloling. Collection of the California State Archives.

Aimee served two years and four months in San Quentin. Before she was released, in October 1907, an appeal was made to the governor of California to commute A.W.’s sentence so his wife didn’t have to “survive on her own.” The governor agreed and commuted the sentence but for unknown reasons it was later restored. A.W. wasn’t released until January 1909, after serving three and a half years.

Out of prison, the couple reunited and lived in a variety of locations in California. A.W. tried his hand at an array of careers, ranging from hotel proprietor in San Francisco (lock your room!) to running an auto livery in Santa Barbara and working as a commercial artist in Oakland. The couple had a son in 1916 but they later divorced.

By 1933 Aimee was the matron of the Alameda County jail in northern California. She looks happy, in a 1933 newspaper photo, escorting a new prisoner to San Quentin, but of course her role was as the jailer, not the jailed.

It isn’t a total surprise that a woman who didn’t expect to go to prison but ended up there anyway chose a career in the corrections field. After all, she had a lot of experience.

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Alameda Jail Matron Aimee Meloling, lower left. The Oakland Tribune, January 24, 1933.

Mysterious Kimono Girl

Mysterious Kimono Girl
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The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 15, 1919.

She crept into unlocked hotel rooms, clad in only a silk robe, and stole whatever valuables she could find. Her many aliases included Clara Houston, Cleo Miller, Ella Waters and Mrs. Guy Evans. On December 23, 1918 she was arrested after a mad chase by four detectives through the Adelphia Hotel in Philadelphia and charged with stealing $1500 in cash and jewelry from guest rooms. Described in the newspapers as a thief and adventuress and given the moniker “Kimono Girl,” the case was settled and the charges dropped.

The Kimono Girl struck again three months later, in mid-March 1919, with another spate of Philadelphia hotel room robberies in which clothing, cash, bonds, diamonds and jewelry were stolen. Where she hid the loot is a mystery given that she was wearing only a dressing gown. Again she was captured, but this time when her mugshot and Bertillon measurements were taken, she gave her real name—Clara Patrenets—to police.

Born in 1900 in the small town of Vesper, Wisconsin, to a large farming family headed by immigrant parents, Clara claimed she only wanted to be a “lady.” Clara’s family had troubles. Her brother pleaded guilty to assault and battery after an argument at a barn dance got out of hand. Another brother escaped custody after he was arrested for using vile and indecent language and creating a disturbance at a dance. A third brother pleaded guilty to illegal sale of alcohol during prohibition, and a fourth admitted to being drunk and disorderly.

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Clara Patrenets’s Bertillon Card (back). Collection of the author.

Clara thought all she needed to fulfill her ambition was to dress at the height of fashion in fine clothing and expensive jewelry. At her court hearing, according to newspaper reports, “she wore handsome furs and was stylishly gowned.” She pleaded innocent to the charges and wept almost continuously during the hearing.

What was not given to her willingly by men into whose apartments she went by mistake, clad in a silk kimono, she stole.

The Washington Times, Washington DC, March 16, 1919

Detectives insisted Clara had pulled similar robberies in Washington D.C., New York and Boston, however she was acquitted of the March 1919 charges of larceny in Philadelphia, thanks to “influential persons” coming to her aid.

There is no evidence that Clara committed other crimes after her release in 1919, but her subsequent life remains a mystery. She died at the young age of 35 and is buried with her parents in Saint James Cemetery in Vesper, Wisconsin.

Featured image: Clara Patrenets Bertillon card. Collection of the author.