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.

Her Clever Game

Her Clever Game

Emma Johnson was sentenced to the penitentiary this week in the Shawnee county district court, and her pal, E. Johnson, who claimed to be her husband, was sentenced to the Hutchinson Reformatory, the charge against both being forgery of a large number of small checks in Topeka recently. The checks were passed at Topeka stores. The woman is believed to have been the real leader in the enterprise. She is about twice as old as the man claiming to be her husband.

— The Merchants Journal, Topeka, Kansas, January 26, 1918

Part of the reason the game worked so well was its simplicity. Emma’s “husband” and “daughter” had real checks — the pay was honestly earned. But it was a simple proposition to forge the checks, making four or five checks from one, and presto: a week’s work became the wages of a month or more.

Emma went to stores in Topeka and asked the owners if they would mind cashing the checks for her. She looked honest and was well dressed and polite so most were happy to oblige. If they bothered to call at the hotel, where her “daughter” worked, or motor car company, where her “husband” was employed, to make sure everything was on the up and up, they were informed “yes, certainly” Mr. or Miss Johnson worked at the business.

They pulled the scam all over Topeka during the fall of 1917. Towards Christmas they thought they might be pushing their luck and headed out of town.

Hugh Latimer

Hugh Larimer, Kansas Historical Society

The merchants of Topeka weren’t happy about being scammed. It wasn’t right or fair and it made them look like dupes. They refused to sit by and do nothing, so they banded together and hired a private investigator from the Burns Detective Agency to try to track the criminals down. And track them he did, all the way to Oklahoma City, where Emma and the man who claimed to be her husband were arrested. The girl who posed as their daughter got away.

Hugh Larimer, the Shawnee County sheriff, took the couple into custody and charged them with forgery. The Burns detective informed Hugh that Emma and her young partner were also wanted for pulling the same check duplication scam in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The couple pleaded guilty to 3rd degree forgery.

Emma Johnson, alias Kaparis, was sentenced to between one and ten years at a new facility for women, the Kansas State Industrial Farm in Lansing, Kansas. E. Johnson, alias L.S. Burgess, got a similar sentence to the state prison for men.

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Women gardeners in front of the vegetable storage cave at the Women’s Industrial Farm in 1936. Collection of the Kansas Historical Society.

Emma became the farm’s 36th prisoner on February 8, 1918. Her date of release is unknown because many of the records of the farm no longer exist.

Featured photo: glass plate negative of Emma Johnson, prisoner 36, of the Women’s Industrial Farm in Lansing, Kansas. Collection of the Kansas Historical Society.