A foot race between two police inspectors and a young woman through the center of the city thrilled hundreds of shoppers late this afternoon. The chase ended in the arrest of the girl, who said she was Miss Helen Jarabeck, 26 of Cherry st., Fall River.
—The Boston Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, August 3, 1938
After the cops finally caught her, Helen Jarabek was booked on two counts of larceny. One count was for stealing a purse from a woman in a department store and the other was for shoplifting some hosiery. The newspaper noted that the policemen had difficulty keeping up with Helen in the “melting hot” sun and that all three “carried considerable avoirdupois.”
I have to admit that I had to google the word “avoirdupois.” It was a polite and rather obscure way for the police beat writer to indicate that Helen and the lawmen who chased her were all on the pudgy side. Police reporters in the 1930s obviously had a lot more subtlety than nowadays, not to mention better vocabularies!
Helen’s rap sheet included pleading guilty to stealing the watch of Mrs. Fannie Morganstein of Providence (presumably Rhode Island) in February 1933. That same day she was also accused of stealing Mrs. Mary Solup’s handbag from a baby carriage while Mrs. Solup did some afternoon shopping. (Was the baby in the buggy? Impossible to know.) The handbag was later located in a rest room at the Fall River City Hall. Helen refused to take the blame for the handbag heist because the police had no evidence against her.
The police found the Mrs. Morganstein’s watch in Helen’s purse, so there was no denying that charge.
Helen, who looks like a woman of spirit, was born in 1913 in Fall River, Massachusetts. She was the oldest child of Polish immigrants, Walter and Mary Jarabek. The family was a large one—eleven children in all—and as the oldest girl, Helen certainly would have done a lot of care-taking of her younger brothers and sisters. Money must always have been tight.
Walter and many of the Jarabek children, including Helen, worked in the textile mills, which were a major industry in Fall River during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the outbreak of World War II the textile industry in Fall River was fading, with only 17 companies still operating in 1940, compared to 49 in 1917.
Helen lived for years with her family at 308 Brayton Avenue, ten blocks from the South Watuppa Pond, in Fall River. The neighborhood is working class. Helen never married and her date of death could not be found in the records. However in the obituary of her brother, Allen, who died in 1993, she was mentioned as having predeceased him.
Lizzie Borden was the most well-known woman accused of committing a crime in nineteenth century America, though no mugshot was ever taken of her. She was tried and found not guilty of murdering her father, Andrew, and stepmother, Abby, in 1893, in Fall River, 20 years before Helen was born. The grisly ax-murder of the Bordens and the identity of their killer is still a hot topic in some circles. Many, though not all, think Lizzie did it.
It’s unlikely that Helen and Lizzie ran with the same crowd, but I wonder, did Helen ever pass her notorious fellow female Fall Riveran on the street or catch a glimpse of Lizzie, who died when Helen was 14, in a shop or restaurant? Did Helen ever walk by the Borden house, where the murders occurred, and speculate about the killer’s identity with her friends? Those are questions that, I suppose, must remain unanswered.
Featured photo: Helen Jarabek, undated mugshot, from the collection of the author.