The Baby in the Suitcase

The Baby in the Suitcase

It started with the discovery of the bruised and battered corpse of a baby boy in an old dress suitcase. The suitcase turned up on October 1, 1907 in the backyard of a home in Prospect Hill, a well-to-do neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island.

A police investigation led to a tenement rooming house on Benefit Street, more than half a mile from where the suitcase and its grisly contents were found. It was the home of Mabel Brown, age 36. Mabel told the police that her sister, Sarah McDonald, had lived in the house until recently, but had left for Worcester, Massachusetts. Mabel said Sarah hoped to find work there in a carpet factory.

Mabel identified the baby as Eddie McDonald, the eleven-month-old child of Sarah. She told police the baby was a “heavy and strong child, with pretty, light, curly hair and good form.”

The police searched Sarah’s room. According to The Boston Globe, the room “presented a shocking scene and the stench in the place was all but unbearable.” Evidence in the room led the police to the theory that after Eddie was killed, his body was hidden inside a feather bed cut for that purpose. Later it was moved to a closet, and then to a trunk, before it was finally put in the suitcase.

Mabel admitted to police that the suitcase had previously belonged to her mother. She denied any knowledge of the boy’s death and said she’d been out at the theater on the night of September 30, 1907, when the body, hidden in the suitcase was removed from the house. She also insisted she hadn’t noticed the foul smell coming from the room. Mabel admitted to the police that in the past she’d been a prisoner at the state prison in Cranston, Rhode Island, for “keeping a nuisance.” (What kind of nuisance wasn’t spelled out, but it was likely either a saloon or a brothel.

The police went to the home of another sister, Maggie Brown, in Worcester, Massachusetts. They found a woman there who claimed to be named Irene Clark. She denied ever having been to Providence and said she’d lived in Worcester for two years, during which time she worked for the Massachusetts Corset Company. But when police questioned her further she was unable to tell them the names of any businesses in Worcester and she didn’t know the name of the landlady at the boarding house where she claimed to live. Convinced she was Sarah McDonald, they arrested her and took her to Providence.

At the Providence jail she admitted the baby boy was hers, but she denied he’d been murdered. She said he died of natural causes and she’d kept the body for a week, unsure of what to do with it. Ultimately she decided to put it in her mother’s old suitcase, carry it more than half a mile north in a rainstorm, where she left it in a yard behind a house.

Sarah Heagney_back_marked

The back of Sarah Heagney’s criminal identification card.

According to the medical examiner, Eddie’s injuries showed that someone had beaten him to death “in a rage.” Sarah was charged with the baby’s murder.

Sarah pointed the finger at Patrick Edward McDonald; the man she claimed was her husband. He gave himself up to authorities. The police found no evidence that he was involved in the boy’s death and they let him go. Further investigation revealed that the couple was not actually married. Sarah’s surname was her maiden name — Heagney. Born in 1885 in Rhode Island, she was the 22-year-old daughter of Irish immigrants, Frank Heagney and his wife, Sarah Kane Heagney.

Oaklawn

The Oaklawn School for Girl in an undated photo.

In 1900, when she was 15, Sarah was a resident of the Oaklawn School For Girls, a juvenile reformatory in Cranston, Rhode Island. Oaklawn was located in a walled complex with other state institutions including the state prison, an insane asylum and a workhouse for the homeless.

The Providence police wondered why Sarah hadn’t simply disposed of Eddie’s body in the Providence River, less than a quarter mile west of her boarding house. Why did she carry the suitcase, which likely weighed close to 20 pounds, more than twice as far and leave it the backyard of Charles H. Jefferds?

By 1907 Jefferds, age 52, had been a widower for almost ten years. He was a well to do “provisions dealer” — a wholesaler merchant selling to grocery stores and markets. He had an adult daughter, Geneva, who lived with him, and three sons: Lawrence, Charles Jr. and Chester. The family was wealthy enough that during the early twentieth century they always had one or two female servants living with them.

There was no mention in the news of Sarah having worked for the Jefferds family, but according to the back of her arrest card she had worked as a maid. If she worked for the family and become pregnant by Charles Jefferds or one of his sons, it might explain why she went to the trouble of taking her baby’s body to their property and leaving it there. Girls and women who worked as servants were sometimes viewed by the men who employed them as fair game for sex, consensual or not.

RI State Prison

The Rhode Island State Prison in an undated photo.

After she was arrested the press lost interest in Sarah and didn’t report on the outcome of the case. By 1910, according to the US Census, she was one of 16 female inmates at the state prison in Cranston. It may be that she was sent to prison as a punishment for the murder of her child.

The census enumerators in 1910 were tasked with asking how many children a woman had given birth to. That column in Sarah’s listing on the census form was left blank. There is no record of her after the 1910 census.

The Galloping Cow and the Boy She Threw

The Galloping Cow and the Boy She Threw

Philomena Falkner, alias Mary Rinehardt, accused of throwing a little boy from the second-story window of a house on Broadway, was before the Police Court yesterday, but the case was continued until Thursday, the boy not being able to appear.

The San Francisco Chronicle, December 2, 1876

On the afternoon of November 29, 1876, a woman known in San Francisco as the “Galloping Cow,” apparently due to her awkward walk, tried to kill a six-year-old boy.

Sisto “Thomas” Drolet and his older brother, John, were in the woman’s neighborhood on the edge of the Barbary Coast  selling ducks. She invited the boys up to her room, allegedly to discuss a sale, but instead she picked Thomas up, held him for a moment and, after remarking “What a pretty boy,” she abruptly threw him out the window. He fell to the street below and was severely injured, with a fracture to his skull.

Two months later the woman was tried in the San Francisco Municipal Criminal Court. Thomas had recovered enough by then to appear in court as a witness. Her defense lawyer claimed that at the time of the assault she was not responsible because she had been drinking for many days and was driven insane by the amount of alcohol she’d consumed. Drinking to excess was a way of life in the Barbary Coast, so the jury didn’t buy the argument. They returned a verdict of guilty of assault to murder.

She was sent to California’s oldest prison, San Quentin, on February 5, 1877, where she was one of only a handful of female prisoners.

Mary Reinhardt SQ record1-2

According to the prison register, her true name was Mary Reinhardt and she was a 31-year-old German-born seamstress. She had a light complexion, blue eyes, brown hair and was 5 feet 8 inches tall, with “large features.” She was missing one of her front teeth. The register made no mention of a foot or leg deformity that might have caused her to walk in an unusual manner. She served most of her two-year sentence and was released on October 5, 1878.

In February 1880, a woman described as a “strapping amazon” who was “sailing under the sobriquet of the Galloping Cow” got very drunk on “coffin varnish” after visiting several saloons in Fresno, 200 miles southeast of San Francisco. She became unruly and gave vent to a stream of obscene language, so a policeman was called. In the process arresting her, she pulled out a clump of his hair “sufficient to construct a small-sized mattress.” He finally got her into bracelets and hauled her off to jail. She was found guilty of being drunk and disorderly and sent to the county jail for 3 months. It seems likely that this woman was Mary Reinhardt, though she was not mentioned by name.

Thomas Drolet mugshots 3Thomas Drolet, Mary’s young victim, was born in 1871 in San Francisco to a Chilean-born father, Juan Antone Drolet, and Johanna Ahern, a native of County Cork, Ireland. The family was a large one, with twelve children in total, eight of whom survived to adulthood.

When Thomas was 22 he stole a barrel of whiskey that was sitting outside a wholesale dealer’s place of business on California Street. The barrel was so large it was described as holding two thousand drinks. A policeman saw Thomas roll the barrel to a side street so he arrested him and returned the barrel to its owner.

Before he went to trial for the whiskey theft he tried to steal a sack of sugar from outside the Cluff Brothers store at Front and Pine Streets. Again he was caught in the act, arrested and charged with petty larceny.

In court Thomas’s mother, Johanna, pleaded with the judge to have mercy on her son, saying that the head injury he’d suffered as a child had caused long-lasting damage. She argued that he wasn’t responsible for his actions. The court wasn’t sympathetic to her argument because if he had succeeded, Thomas would have benefited financially from his crimes. He was convicted of grand larceny and sent to San Quentin for a three-year term on December 8, 1893.

After his release from prison Thomas’s life continued on a downward trajectory. He served a second term in San Quentin. After his wife, Josephine, made several unsuccessful suicide attempts, she took their two small children and divorced him in 1899. According to an article in the San Francisco Call, by the time of the divorce Thomas was a “confirmed thief” whose childhood head injury had turned him into a “driveling idiot” and a “Chinatown bum.”

Thomas died in 1903, aged 32, of cystitis and kidney stones. He’s buried with his parents and some of his siblings at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma, California.

San Francisco policeman Jesse Brown Cook kept a copy of Mary’s undated mugshot, titled “Philomena Falkner, alias the Galloping Cow” in the San Francisco crime scrapbooks he made in the early 20th century. In addition to describing her assault on “a boy who was selling wild ducks,” he also claimed she was a “pickpocket from the Barbary Coast.” I found no evidence that she was arrested for pickpocketing or explanation of why she sometimes went by the name “Philomena Falkner.”

Featured photo: Philomena Falkner, alias the “Galloping Cow,” from the Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks Documenting San Francisco History and Law Enforcement. UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

Mugshots of Thomas Drolet: California State Archives; Sacramento, California; Department of Corrections San Quentin Prison Inmate Photographs 15698-15949