Life Savings Larceny

Life Savings Larceny

It is a grave error for magistrate and justices of the peace to permit pickpockets [to] escape conviction. What is worse, such leniency is frequently due to the influence of the pickpockets with the minor judiciary who discharge them.

— Judge John Monaghan, quoted in The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 5, 1920

Trifim Trochuk, a 37-year-old Russian immigrant, got on the Second Street trolley to ride to Philadelphia’s Washington Avenue Wharf on July 17, 1920. At the wharf he planned to board the steamship Haverford to sail back to his Russian homeland. He’d worked for the last six years as a dishwasher in a restaurant in order to save up enough money to return to Russia and bring his wife and children to America. His life savings, $867 in dollars and 600 Russian rubles, was in his hip pocket.

A young woman boarded the trolley and Trifim generously got up to give her his seat. As he did so, a man who had boarded with the woman jostled him and Trifim felt a hand reach into his hip pocket. He checked his pocket and panicked when he realized his money was gone. He shouted that he’d been robbed, then he noticed a roll of banknotes in the lap of the woman to whom he’d given his seat. She was trying to hide the notes with her handkerchief.

Ida Weiner_back_marked

Back side of Ida’s Bertillon card.

The man and woman, Harry Stoll, alias Dahl or Goodman, and Ida Wergna, alias Weiner, were arrested on suspicion of being pickpockets when the trolley reached its stop. The couple denied knowing each other, however they were tried together two weeks later. After one “stubborn juror,” who thought he needed to ask more questions and hear more witnesses, was convinced to change his vote, Harry and Ida were convicted of grand larceny.

There’s no record of whether or not Trifim got his money back.

Harry boasted of being arrested multiple times in New York and Philadelphia for pickpocketing, claiming he’d never been convicted. Not so lucky this time, he was sentenced to a minimum of two years at the infamous Eastern State Penitentiary by Judge Monaghan. Ida, who confessed to the judge about her role in the crime, was sentenced to eighteen months in Moyamensing Prison.

TrifimAccording to Trifim’s 1942 naturalization record, he never made the trip back to Russia where his four children still lived. Trifim’s wife, Uliana, died in Russia and he never remarried.

Featured photo: Bertillon card of Ida Wergna. Collection of the author.

Naturalization record of Trofim Trochuk: Massachusetts, State and Federal Naturalization Records, 1798-1950.

Mysterious Kimono Girl

Mysterious Kimono Girl
3Hotel_thief_Clara_Houston_arrested

The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 15, 1919.

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.

2Kimono girl_back_marked

Clara Patrenets’s Bertillon Card (back). Collection of the author.

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.