Little Black Books

Little Black Books

Eighteen-year-old Sherrie Lee Smith had made some bad life decisions and was in a bind. The guy she’d come to Oregon with had been convicted of robbery and sentenced to prison. Back in California, her husband had custody of their three kids and he’d filed for divorce.

She found work in Portland as a call girl, but bad luck dogged her. She got caught in a vice raid. She was charged with prostitution and released on bail.

The Portland vice squad had been investigating what the press described as “a large call girl ring” operating in the city. Girls as young as 15 had been arrested in the raids. Oscar Howlett, the deputy district attorney, needed evidence to arrest the ringleaders, but he was finding it hard to get any.

Sherrie called Howlett on the last day of December 1958. She told him she had important information that could help him and she wanted to trade it in exchange for dropping the prostitution charge. They arranged to meet the following day.

Sherrie Smith back_marked_flipped

Sherrie failed to show for the meeting. A couple weeks later her mugshots were copied and given to the press. Evidently a newspaper printed her front photo (that’s why the side view is crossed out) after she went missing — a dangerous “outing” of an important potential witness. Attorney Howlett announced to the press that he was concerned because he’d heard through the grapevine that the thugs who operated the call-girl ring had beaten her up to scare her into silence.

Several months later, during a vice crackdown in which 200 women were arrested, the police located several little black address books that were “penned in feminine script.” The books contained names of hundreds of clients and many of them were prominent men in Portland. The amounts paid for call girl services —between $10 and $3,000 — were noted in the books. Information about each client’s income had been carefully recorded, along with comments such as “has paid as high as $3,00 for a two-girl party” and “always get money first.”

An unnamed young woman gave testimony to a secret Multnomah County grand jury in May 1959. In her testimony she stated that another woman made the arrangements with the customers and they split the proceeds. She said that even at fees ranging from between $20 to $300, she was earning no more than if she worked at a legitimate job and intended to quit hooking. According to a press report, she claimed she “had been a call girl here in the six weeks since she’d come from California.”

Possibly this witness was Sherrie Lee Smith, but the facts don’t quite fit, because Smith had been in Portland since October 1958 and she was arrested in December 1958.

As a result of the grand jury hearing, two Portland women in their 30s and a 26-year-old woman from Vancouver, Washington, were indicted on three charges: soliciting for a prostitute, bringing together two persons for immoral purposes and being an immoral woman. Attorney Howlettt said he didn’t think he’d need to subpoena any of the clients, who “would suffer from the publicity,” to get a conviction. This proved to be accurate; there was no trial because the three women pleaded guilty.

Prostitution is usually controlled by organized crime. But in Portland in 1959, only the three women ended up serving time. Howlett admitted during the hearings that the call girl business “is operating full blast” in Portland.

Sherrie, despite her youth, looks like a woman who was able to handle herself. I hope she survived her time in Portland.

 

 

 

Arresting Hope Dare

Arresting Hope Dare

When the Philadelphia police took Hope Dare’s mugshot on February 2, 1938, a reporter managed to get access to it and photograph it for news publication. Payoff involved? Possibly. The ex-Broadway showgirl had been charged with being a “suspicious character,” but she wasn’t on the lam. On the back of Hope’s mugshot-turned-news-photo is the comment “not a publicity photo.” Seriously?

Hope was the lover of a mobster lawyer named Richard “Dixie” Davis. Before taking up with Dixie, Hope was a chorus girl and dancer, during the early 1930s, with the Ziegfeld Follies in New York City. Ziegfeld reportedly described her as “the most beautiful redhead I ever hired.” In 1932 she’d been photographed at a New York nightclub with prizefighter, Jack Dempsey. However by the time her mugshot was taken in Philadelphia, Hope was pushing 30 and her glamorous showbiz career was over.

Hope_Dare_with_Jack_Dempsey_photo

News photo published in the Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, September 29, 1932.

Born Rosa Lutzinger in Iowa at the end of 1908, her father disappeared before she turned two. Her mother, Dolly, got remarried to a fireman from Las Vegas, New Mexico, and took her daughter there to live. Rose was a gorgeous girl who had dreams and big plans. She moved to the Big Apple and adopted a stage name — Hope Dare — that expressed her optimistic attitude along with a nod to life’s challenges and her willingness to take them on.

Her boyfriend, Dixie, was a smart and highly unscrupulous guy. He was born in 1904 to a poor family but he got himself into Syracuse University and then Columbia Law School. Money didn’t flow in fast enough while he was working at a distinguished New York City law firm, so he turned to defending policy lottery violators in Harlem at $15 a pop. By 1931 he was raking in a fortune as a lawyer for mobster Arthur Flegenheimer, better known as “Dutch Schultz.” Schultz referred to Dixie as his “kid mouthpiece.” When Schultz was murdered in a Newark restaurant in October 1935, Dixie took over his multi-million dollar “policy empire.”

Thomas Dewey, a future governor of New York, was appointed special prosecutor in Manhattan in 1935. Dewey set his sights on cleaning up organized crime in New York City, targeting Dixie and a number of other gangsters in this effort. Dixie vanished from the city in July 1937. Detectives eventually located him, in February 1938, living with Hope in Philadelphia. After battering down the door to their apartment the police took them into custody. Hope, who was wearing a black wig to hide her red hair, told police that her name was “Rose Rickert.” The charges against her were soon dismissed but Dixie was returned to New York to face the music.

Two in mugshot

Mugshot of Hope and Dixie taken on February 2, 1938 after their arrest in Philadelphia. From “The Strange Case of Hope Dare,” Life Magazine, August 15, 1938.

At the time of his arrest Dixie was a married man. The affair with Hope was widely publicized and, due to public humiliation, his wife Martha divorced him. Her comment: “The redheads always get them, don’t they?”

Dixie had already been disbarred for having advised criminals, Schultz in particular, in advance of their committing crimes. He was indicted for conspiracy to operate the numbers racket. Held at the Tombs prison in lower Manhattan, he was allowed to make “secret” visits to Hope at her apartment in return for his cooperation with prosecutors. Hope wanted him to get out of the racket so she pressed him to cooperate with Dewey.

Apartment view

Dixie Davis and Hope Dare in her NYC apartment on July 23, 1938. Life Magazine, August 15, 1938.

He received a lenient (one year) prison sentence for testifying against co-defendant, Jimmy Hines, and was released from prison in July 1939. Having turned state’s evidence, his career in the underworld was over. Hope and Dixie were married in a secret ceremony, guarded by detectives, after he was released from prison. He provided testimony against some of his other criminal associates and then the couple moved west, ending up in Los Angeles.

On December 30, 1969, two masked men broke into the Davis’s Bel-Air home. Dixie was away from the house but Hope was at home. The burglars tied her up at gunpoint and ransacked the house, stealing cash, furs and jewelry. After the men left Hope was able to get free and call police. Dixie returned home about 30 minutes after the holdup. Upon hearing the details he sat down in the living room, lost consciousness and suffered a fatal heart attack.

Hope lived another 30 years, dying on March 31, 1999, at the age of 90.

Featured photo: Hope Dare’s mugshot (news photo copy), Philadelphia Police Department, February 2, 1938. Collection of the author.