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.
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.