Silent Phil

Silent Phil

With a crisp straw boater sitting squarely on his head, the young man doesn’t look like a hardened criminal. His clothes are clean and neat. The American flag pin on his label showed off his support for the American troops fighting in the Spanish-American War when his mug shot photos were taken.

His unflinching gaze is perhaps not entirely honest but would you have guessed he’d end up devoting his entire life to crime?

He was baptized Pierre Phillipe Lambellé in 1878 in Quebec, Canada, the son of Philippe Lambellé and Philomène Bidegaré. His father, a stonecutter, was born in Belgium and his mother hailed from Canada. Philippe senior moved his family to Chicago around 1880. In America the family’s surname was Anglicized to Lambele. It’s not clear if Phillipe senior died or if he abandoned his family (no death record exists). Either way, by 1900 Philomène was living in the 18th ward of Chicago and taking in boarders to support herself and her five children.

Phil Lambele_back_low

The information (reverse) side of Philip Lambele’s rogues’ gallery card.

Philip’s mugshots were taken on July 28, 1898, after he was arrested as a shoplifter and sneak thief (a thief who shunned violence) in New York City when he was 21 years old. He told the police his surname was Ganset and said he made his living as an actor. In a way this was true, because occasions arose in the course of his work when he’d be caught in the act. A convincing story, combined with clean-cut looks and nice clothes (not to mention the pin), went a long way towards convincing bank officials that he’d made an honest mistake when he pocketed the cash lying on the counter as he walked by.

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Grand Central Station, c. 1902

Charges were not pressed against him in 1898, but his photo remained in the New York City Rogues’ Gallery. It came back to haunt him after he stole two large rolls of cash totaling $10,000 (over $300,000 current value) from a bank in Boston the following year. He got away, but witnesses had seen him. The Boston police phoned his description to police in other large cities.

In New York City an officer, Alphonse Rheaume, was dispatched to Grand Central to wait for the Boston train. When it arrived no one was allowed to get off until Rheaume had a chance to walk through each car and take a careful look at the passengers.

Rheaume thought he recognized one passenger, partly from the description, but also because he had a great memory for faces and was pretty sure he’d seen the young man in a recent line up at Police Headquarters. He later told a reporter for the New York Times that he wasn’t sure he had the Boston robber, but “when he tried to get away, I knew he’d been up to something, and I thought I would just take him in for luck.” Philip flashed the cash and offered it all to Rheaume if he’d let him go. Rheaume declined the offer, arrested him and took him to the Tombs.

The story of Philip’s arrest was published widely in the press. People were divided as to what was more amazing: that Rheaume located Philip based on a vague description or that he didn’t take the bribe. But Rheaume was an honest cop (something of a rarity in New York of that era). He commented that if Philip had played it smarter and gone someplace other than New York, he likely would never have been caught.

Drawing of Lambele - Newspapers.com

Drawing based on Philip’s mug shot that was published in the Boston Globe after his 1899 arrest in New York.

Philip’s record stretched back to 1894, when he was arrested in Chicago, his home base, for larceny. He was arrested there again for larceny in 1895. Neither of the early charges stuck, but his luck ran out when Rheaume spotted him on the train. He pleaded guilty to the Boston bank robbery under an alias, George Shea, and spent the next two years in the Massachusetts State Prison.

Free again in 1902, Philip stole a tray of diamond jewelry valued at $3,300 from a store in Brooklyn. Believing he was a paying customer, the store’s owner had offered him assistance and got a good look at him. Five weeks later the owner identified him from his rogues’ gallery photos. By then Philip was in Chicago, where, under name Philip Bailey, he was under arrest for a theft of $8000 of unset diamonds from a firm in Jeweler’s Row. Neither of the charges held up in court and he was soon on the loose again.

In March 1903 Philip was one of several men involved in a brawl in a Chicago saloon that led to the death of a man named William Tracey. The police showed up at his apartment, but he managed to escape by jumping out of a third floor window. The police gave chase and caught him. There wasn’t much evidence in the case, and in the end no one was charged with Tracey’s death.

In May he tried to rob a jewelry store in Newark, New Jersey but was caught after a sharp-eyed office boy saw him surreptitiously entering the store’s vault and alerted his boss. Since nothing was stolen, no charges were filed against him.

A serious setback came in September 1903, when he tried to rake up a pile of bills, using a bent wire from an umbrella, at the Germania National Bank in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was discovered in flagrante delicto and captured after a hot chase. Even though the robbery was unsuccessful, the Milwaukee authorities were not as inclined to be lenient as their brethren in bigger cities. Under the alias George P. Johnson, he was sentenced to 15-years in the state pen. In 1908, while he was serving his sentence, his mother died.

Barnum & Bailey circus ad. Lambele was strong man - Newspapers.c

Newspaper ad for the circus in which Philip performed as a “strongman.”

He was released in 1912. Now 34 years old, Philip had spent more than half of his adult life in prison. He joined the Barnum & Bailey circus as a strongman. The circus went to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he met a beautiful 18-year-old named Mary May Van Wormer.

Mary grew up in a law-abiding family with two parents, two sisters and a brother. Her father, Arba, was a machinist and pattern maker. He was also an inventor who had filed patents for several devices, including a shutter for movie projectors.

In July 1912, after a very brief courtship, the couple tied the knot. On the marriage license Philip claimed his name was Stavors B. Erieg. He immediately tried to skip out on his hotel bill.

The following year he unsuccessfully attempted his umbrella wire trick at a bank in Toledo, Ohio. He was arrested under the name James Donovan Evans, but he avoided a conviction. A couple of years later he did a short stint in the Detroit House of Correction for Grand Larceny.

In 1916 he and Mary were both arrested in St. Louis, Missouri after he tried to shoplift a silk coat from a department store. They told the police their names were Thomas and Mary Stewart. Mary later changed her story, claiming her name was Ruth Strong. Mary’s family found out about their arrests and her mother, Jessie, went to St. Louis to plead with authorities to release her daughter. She also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Mary to divorce Philip.

The couple returned to Indiana and bought a 20-acre farm northwest of Goshen, but they had no intention of farming. They chose the residence for its remote location, one that allowed them to come and go as they pleased. Ironically Philip began using his real name locally because he’d never been convicted of a crime under that name.

Tommy O'Connor - Newspapers.com

“Terrible” Tommy O’Connor’s mugshots, c. 1921

In December 1921 Tommy O’Connor, an old pal from Chicago, escaped from the Cook County jail while awaiting execution by hanging for the murder of police officer Patrick O’Neill. O’Connor headed to Philip’s farm, where his friend took him in and let him to hide out. Under an assumed name Philip introduced O’Connor to the locals as a business associate. When the Lambeles were away from the farm for a few weeks, O’Connor hunkered down in the cellar with only Philip’s pet crow for company. Meanwhile police continued the manhunt for him all over America.

Philip was arrested and charged with the theft of cancelled postage stamps from a Cincinnati, Ohio business in May 1922. He told police his name was Dr. Philip Kolb. He claimed to be a graduate of the University of Chicago and an inventor, taking credit for his father-in-law’s motion picture shutter. Hoping for a light sentence, he insisted he’d never been in trouble with the law before. The police didn’t believe him. They dubbed him “Silent Phil” and showed him some of his old mugshots, but he still he denied it. When they announced their intention to fingerprint him, he broke down. He admitted he’d been arrested 15 times, served jail and penitentiary sentences around the country, used countless aliases and had a criminal record that stretched back almost 30 years.

At her husband’s arraignment Mary sobbed and refused to talk about her family, but the press figured out their names and reported that they lived in Fort Wayne. It was also reported that the couple had one child, however no record of this child’s existence could be found.

Philip put up the farm as bail. He and Mary fled the state as soon as he was released.

In February he was arrested at his hotel in Louisville, Kentucky for forging and cashing stolen express money orders worth $350. With his hair now prematurely white and sporting a Vandyke-style beard, he didn’t resemble the mugshots from his youth. The Louisville police checked his fingerprints and discovered there was a warrant out for his arrest (under the name William Bailey) for robbing a Chicago bank of $12,000 worth of traveler’s checks the previous June. Mary was also taken into custody and charged with disorderly conduct. The Lambeles were carrying hypodermic needles when they were arrested and morphine was later discovered in their hotel room. Apparently they were morphine addicts and had been using the drug for some time.

As an officer escorted him to the cells, Philip grabbed the policeman’s gun and shot himself in the head. He died early the next morning at the Louisville City Hospital.

Mary’s family arrived in Louisville. They paid her fine and she was released from jail. They took her and Philip’s body back to Fort Wayne. Her brother Albert told the press that Philip was a salesman of “unimpeachable character.” However after his death, the police announced that he was wanted for forgery in cities as far away as Boston and Atlanta.

A few months after Philip’s death, Mary opened a letter mailed to him from Buenos Aires. The anonymous writer stated that Tommy O’Connor was alive and well and operating a roadhouse in that city. O’Connor’s gallows sentence stayed on the books until the 1950s, but he was never recaptured.

The Van Wormer family experienced an enormous amount of tragedy in the years after Philip’s suicide. Mary’s younger sister Eula died of kidney disease in November 1923, leaving three young daughters behind. Albert was shot and killed by his wife in 1933 when he attacked her in a drunken rage. Her sister Ruthie died of complications stemming from morphine addiction in 1936, shortly after divorcing her drug addicted, petty-criminal husband.

Finally life became too much for Mary. In 1944 she committed suicide by consuming bichloride of mercury.

The Crazed Mother

The Crazed Mother

Leo Harp, passing the home of Mrs. Johanna Healey Bacher in 138 Railroad Avenue, Greenwich, Conn., late Sunday night on his way home, found an insurance policy and a sheet of paper on the sidewalk in front of the house. The policy was covered with blood stains and on the back of it had been written with a lead pencil: “I am going to kill myself and the children.” On the sheet of paper was written: “Give this to one of the cops or to Mr. Talbot.”

— New York Herald, March 28, 1922

Johanna Healey was born in Ireland in 1891 and came to America when she was seven years old. Her family settled in New York City, where her father, James, found work as a longshoreman. By 1910 the Healey family — James, his wife, Margaret, and their six surviving children out of eight — lived in a crowded tenement at 39 Bedford Street in the West Village. Johanna and her older sister, Nettie, worked in a factory to supplement that family’s income. The family also took in a female boarder to help pay the bills.

Johanna moved Greenwich, Connecticut, after she was hired to work as a maid for a family there. She met a house carpenter in Greenwich, Henry Jacob Bacher, who was born in 1889 in New York to German immigrant parents. Henry occasionally boxed under the moniker “Kid Onion” and he was fond of playing craps.

Henry was married when he met Johanna, but in November 1915 he got a divorce from his wife so that he and Johanna could get married. Their marriage occurred on December 3, 1915, in Westchester, New York.

The couple moved into an apartment owned by Henry’s mother in Greenwich. Their first child, Margaret, was born in 1917. The following year another daughter, Johanna, was born. Henry Jr. came along in 1921.

Johanna healey bacher photos - Newspapers.com

The Bachers had marital problems. By the time their son was born, Henry was involved with an 18-year-old girl and she was pregnant with his child. Henry told Johanna he wanted a divorce on the grounds of cruelty. (Apparently she was the cruel one.)

To get her to agree to the divorce Henry threatened to take the children from Johanna and she couldn’t bear the thought of that. She went out and bought rat poison with the intention of killing the children and possibly herself.

Greenwich wasn’t a big city like New York. Word of people’s problems got around. Andrew Talbot, the chief of the Greenwich police, got wind of the fact that Johanna was distraught over her husband’s divorce suit. He’d also heard rumors that she might try something desperate. He brought her and the children into the station where she admitted she’d bought rat poison to use on the kids rather than letting Henry take them from her. Andrew made her hand over the poison and promise she wouldn’t do anything crazy. He vowed to give her any assistance she needed and asked her to check back with him in a few days. He gave each child a box of candy before they left the station.

On the night of March 27, 1922, Johanna was overcome with grief. She wrote a suicide note on Henry’s life insurance policy and took a butcher knife into the bedroom where the children were sleeping. She cut each child’s throat and stabbed each one a few times to make sure they were dead. She staggered to the window and threw the policy out. Then she went into the kitchen, tore her rosary apart and fatally cut her own throat.

Later that night Leo Harp found the bloody insurance policy on the sidewalk and took it to the police. The police went to the Bacher home where they discovered the bodies of the mother and her children.

Henry J. Bacher may be insane - Newspapers.comHenry was out gambling in Stamford when his children were murdered. Upon being told what had happened he “went violently insane.” He was taken into police custody while the murders were investigated and later he was released. Physicians expressed concern that his insanity might be permanent.

Five months after the murders Police Chief Talbot felt ill at work and went home. He died of a stoke a few hours later. He’d been on the police force for 15 years.

Henry recovered his sanity and married his girlfriend Dorothy. They had five children by the time the federal census was taken in 1940.

Some authors have described Johanna as a serial killer, but she doesn’t fit the definition. She was an unstable, desperate woman who was driven to a heinous act after being abandoned by her husband. She had to live in a society that expected women to stay home with children but gave them no support to do so without a partner.

Featured photo: Johanna Healey Bacher, Daily News (New York) photo, March 28, 1922.

The Badger Game

The Badger Game

Old-fashioned terms for crime can be confusing. When Lillie Bates was arrested in New York City on June 17, 1909, the officers listed her crime as simply “Badger.” Did that mean she was caught mistreating a short-legged, furry, mammal that hunts at night? Probably not. More than likely it meant she was involved in a criminal enterprise called “the badger game.”

The badger game involved a woman and her male accomplice, and it was actually the accomplice who was the “badger.” The game was often a venomous combintion of crimes, including prostitution, robbery, con game and extortion.

The female in the partnership posed as a reputable woman who was down on her luck and therefore willing to have a sexual encounter with an “old married man with the appearance of honor and wealth.” She got him into her bedroom, which had a secret panel cut in one of the walls. Here’s a description of what often happened next:

She fastens the door and will permit nothing until the lamp is extinguished. The very respectable gentleman lays his clothes carelessly upon a chair, together with his watch and well-filled purse, and the hour of pleasure begins. But the woman’s accomplice is outside the partition and at a signal from her he knows that the time for him to take action has arrived. Silently he opens the secret door. Light as a cat the “badger” passes through it, with his usual dexterity begins to examine carefully all the clothes of the victim as they lie on the chair, far from the bed. The darkness of the room facilitates his work. Very soon he has got possession of all that is of any value and he creeps back through the opening. The door shuts as noiselessly as it was opened. The object of the two is attained and now it only remains to set free the plucked bird without any disturbance. As soon as the “respectable gentleman” begins to dress someone knocks at the door. The “respectable gentleman” gets alarmed. His companion does the same; she urges him to dress as quickly as possible, and go out by the back door, for it is quite certain that her husband, or father, or brother, as the case may be, has returned and wants to come in.

— The Dark Side of New York Life and Its Criminal Classes, Gustav Lening, 1873

Hopefully the victim left the house so quickly that he didn’t check to see if all his valuables were where he kept them.

Variations on the badger game were plentiful. All of them required acting talent along with a boatload of nerve. Sometimes there was no secret panel and the male accomplice simply stormed into the room, claiming to be the woman’s outraged husband, fists cocked and ready for a fight unless he was financially compensated. Sometimes the couple threatened to reveal the victim’s transgression to his family unless he paid up.

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Sophie Lyons, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Pinkerton’s, Inc.

Sophie Lyons, the “queen” of nineteenth century crime, was an adept practitioner of the badger game. She was so good at it that she sometimes pulled it off without a “badger.” In 1878 she finally got caught after she lured a well-respected, elderly lawyer to her Boston hotel room with the promise of sex, got him to undress, then locked his clothes in her trunk.

She forced him to write her a check for $1000 ($24,215 in 2018), and told him he’d get his clothes back after she returned from the bank with the money. She locked the door on her way out so he couldn’t call the police.

Officials at the bank were suspicious of such a large check and called the police, who escorted Sophie back to the hotel. There they found her naked victim. She claimed she was his long-standing mistress. He refused to prosecute due to the shame it would have brought him. “She was so bewitching and fascinating that I could not help it,” he sheepishly remarked.

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I found no record of a Lillie or Lillian Bates’ arrest or conviction. Was “Fred,” whose name was tattooed on her arm, the badger? Was her victim a well-known man who was too embarrassed to press charges? We’ll never know the details of how she played the badger game. Ten months after her arrest, when the 1910 census was taken in New York City, there was no one named Lillie Bates living in the city.

Featured photo: Bertillon card photos of Lillie Bates, June 17, 1909, New York Municipal Archives.

 

Henry King’s Mysterious Mugshots

Henry King’s Mysterious Mugshots
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Henry King in 1915

Henry King was about as squeaky clean as they come in a place as rife with scandal as Hollywood. He was married to the same woman, a silent film actress named Gypsy Abbott, until her death in 1952. He and Gypsy raised four children and lived in the same beautiful home at 645 S. Muirfield Road in Los Angeles for more than 20 years.

He came from a farming family in Christiansburg, Virginia. He dropped out of high school and worked on the railroads for a time. He stumbled into acting when he accompanied a friend to an audition and got an offer to try out for a part. It turned out he had a talent for it.

He moved on from being a theatrical actor to acting in Hollywood movies, where he got in on the ground floor, just as motion pictures were taking hold. He went on to become a film director and he worked at various studios, including 20th Century Fox. He made nearly 70 films over a career that spanned almost 40 years. He was nominated twice for an Oscar for Best Director.

He was an avid pilot who enjoyed scouting film locations in his personal plane. Though he was 55 years old when the United States got involved in World War II, he served as a deputy commander of the Civil Air Patrol.

He died, aged 96, of a heart attack in his sleep at his California home in 1982.

There is no record of any wrongdoing on the part of Henry Edmondson King, in 1939 or at any other time during his long life, according to newspapers and online biographies. He was a decent man who got along with temperamental actors and demanding studio heads alike. Unlike many Hollywood celebrities, he didn’t have a big ego. He was calm on the set and efficient at his craft. Sure, he made a lot of money, but that’s not a crime in America.

Henry King stand up_marked

The only dishonest thing he ever did that I was able to discover was to tell the occasional fib about his height. On his 1918 World War I draft registration card he claimed to be 6’2.5” tall. On a 1922 passport application he said he was 6’6” tall. His “stand-up” photo indicates he was about 5’11” but he was older when it was taken, so who knows. Maybe he had osteoporosis.

Why did the NYPD take mugshots of Henry on April 28, 1939? And they were not just any mugshots, but a set of both the standard front and side photos along with the “stand up” photo of his full body. He looks calm and composed in the photos, with an expression on his face that gives absolutely nothing away. But he was an actor so it’s not surprising that he was able to carefully control his face.

Were the photos taken as a publicity stunt for a film about crime in New York City? If so the film was never made. In 1939 King was probably working on Little Old New York, a film about the life of engineer Robert Fulton as he worked to build the first steam-powered ship in America. The movie was released in February 1940 and, according to imdb, some of the scenes in it were filmed on location in New York City.

Does the number 41144 have some meaning? Is it a hidden code? Or is it just the number Henry was given when he was arrested, if he was arrested.

Henry, your mugshots are very intriguing. What’s the story behind them?

Henry King mugshot back

The reverse side of Henry King’s mug shot photos.

Featured photos: Front and side mug shot photos of Henry King, taken on April 28, 1939 by the NYPD. Collection of the author.

Shooting Louis

Shooting Louis

Last night I called on Alice Martin, the girl I am to marry. I stayed at her home, No. 622 East Thirteenth street, until midnight. Then I went to a restaurant at Twelfth street and Third avenue for something to eat. Later I went to Meiser’s saloon, in Thirteenth street, between avenue B and C. Then I started for home.

— Statement of Louis Betsch, The Evening World (New York City), January 18, 1905

NYPD officer Anthony Muldoon was on his beat on the lower east side of Manhattan when he noticed two men loitering suspiciously in front of a house on Sixteenth Street. The time was about 2:45 in the morning. The men noticed Muldoon and ran off. Just moments later he heard the sound of breaking glass coming from the front of a nearby shoe store and a man stepped from the shadows of the doorway of the store.

“I told him to halt,” Muldoon told his captain, “and he ran. I followed, but he was fleeter than I. I drew my pistol and yelled that I would shoot. I fired above his head, but he continued to run. Just at this time I slipped on the ice in the street and fell and my revolver discharged accidently. The man fell in his tracks with a bullet in his back.”

Officers in the NYPD were first issued guns in 1895 by an order from Teddy Roosevelt after he became the New York City Police Commissioner. Prior to that time officers used their personal guns on the job. Standardizing the firearms carried by policemen was part of Roosevelt’s push to clean up the department.

The man Muldoon shot was Louis Betsch, a 23-year-old self-described “boilermaker.” He was taken to nearby Bellevue Hospital. There he made a statement under oath to the New York City Coroner proclaiming his innocence in any wrongdoing. The other men Muldoon saw near the shoe store were never located.

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Bellevue Hospital circa 1898, collection of the Wellcome Library

Louis lived in a rented room on Ninth Avenue and took his meals with his widowed mother and younger siblings at their apartment on Tenth Avenue. His mother, Lizzie, a German immigrant, told police her son was always “sober and steady.” She admitted that he’d been out of work for some time, but things, she said, were looking up for her oldest child, who told her that he’d recently found a job in an umbrella factory.

Alice Martin, Louis’s fiancé, was a 19-year-old button maker who told police she hadn’t seen Louis that evening. Alice lived with her Austrian immigrant parents and siblings in a tenement on East Thirteenth Street. She told the police that she’d been to a music lesson after dinner and after the lesson ended, around 9 p.m., she’d returned home and gone directly to bed. Her mother backed up her story.

“It’s absolutely untrue that Louis called on me last night,” said Miss Martin. “I have all the confidence in the world in him, but if he tells of having been with me last night he is hiding something.”

One thing Louis was hiding was that he’d been arrested for burglary on July 1, 1902. His arrest card, complete with photos, measurements and his description was in the NYPD’s vast rogues’ gallery collection. (“LB — RB” was tattooed on his left arm. Tattoos were considered to be a sign of inherent criminality, in addition to being a way to identify someone, so the police always took note of them.) Evidently no one figured out that Louis had a criminal record.

Louis Betsch_back_marked

Officer Muldoon was a 35-year-old Irishman who’d been on the force at least eight years. He’d received a medal for bravery the previous year after jumping into the icy East River in January to rescue a man from drowning. With his record it wasn’t a hard call for his boss, Captain Hussey, to declare the shooting accidental on the morning after the event. He told Muldoon to return to his post.

Gunshot wounds were often fatal in the years before reliable anesthesia, universal sterile technique, blood transfusions and antibiotics. Louis died of his injuries at the hospital later that day.

Featured photos: mugshots of Louis Betsch, NYPD Bertillon card, July 1, 1902. Collection of the author.

Three Little Shells

Three Little Shells

Leon Kentish alias H. Wilson and Harry Montague alias R.F. Johnson were arrested yesterday by Chief of Police Little, Sergeant Kennedy and Officer Neagle. The men were stopping at the Causer House. They are charged with suspicion of larceny, and common gamblers. They are alleged to be shell workers, and travel under the pretense of selling an article for cleaning clothing. The fellows are the same ones who were recently arrested in Binghamton, and taken to Penn Yan, where they were wanted for skipping board bills. The police found the shells upon their persons.

Star-Gazette, Elmira, New York, July 17, 1893

The shell game is a con as old as time. A pea or small ball is placed under one of three shells (walnut shells were popular) that were laid out, usually on the ground. The shell operator shuffles them around and asks the mark to guess which shell the pea is under. It looks like easy money, but unbeknownst to the mark, the operator, using sleight of hand, has removed the pea before the mark makes his — inevitably wrong — choice. Then the operator surreptitiously places the pea under another shell. He reveals the pea and voila, the mark loses the bet!

Often shills or cappers were used to help convince the mark to get involved in the game or to suggest under which shell the pea would be found. Sometimes the mark was allowed to win once or twice, with the stakes being ratcheted up with each play. Then the operator went in for the kill.

Oily-tongued, nimble-fingered shell workers were said to be “in their glory when they find a man who is out for a good time with a good-sized purse.” They were the bane of the nineteenth century cop’s existence.

“Step right up, gentlemen, and be convinced that the hand is quicker than the eye.” This is the way that the shell-worker opened his game while sitting astride one of the long timbers on the pier. One of the cappers came up and called the turn for $120, which was paid to him without a murmur. Then another one of the party won and induced his friend, a young fellow who looked like he might be a divinity student to try his luck. The shells were thrown and the capper whispered: “Bet him $25 and take the shell on this end.”

The Inter Ocean, Chicago, June 12, 1894

Needless to say, the divinity student lost his stake. The shell game workers ran off when they noticed a sketch artist sitting nearby, watching them closely and “copping off their mugs” for the newspaper.

shell game

Harry Montague_back_markedIn addition to working the shell game, Harry Montague was wanted by the Newark Police for highway robbery and burglary. When he went before a New York City judge, in June 1893, he literally talked himself into jail by using language so foul that the judge held him in contempt of court. The police planned to hand him over to the New Jersey authorities once he finished serving 29 days in Brooklyn’s Raymond Street Jail.

Instead Harry managed to elude the New Jersey authorities and make his way upstate. The shells he was carrying tipped off the Elmira police to his real profession and he and his pal, Leon Kentish, were arrested. After that Harry either earned himself a long prison stretch or he changed his alias because his name disappeared completely from police notes in the news.

Featured photo: CDV mugshot of Harry Montague, alias Johnson, July 9, 1893. Collection of the author.

A Little Coke Please

A Little Coke Please

Two youths, victims of the cocaine habit, were brought before Magistrate Kernochan, in the West Side Court, yesterday morning. One was a mere boy of 16, anxious to have his mother send him away where he couldn’t get the drug. The other was a confirmed user of cocaine, and when sentenced to six months on the Island, begged for “just a little ‘coke,’ please.”

The New York Times, September 3, 1907

Bernard Mulroy, age 23, the older of the two young men in court that day, “writhed as he begged the court to give him some of the drug before sending him away” to the New York Penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island. The prison, now gone, was located on what is currently called Roosevelt Island, a strip of land in the East River between Manhattan and Queens. The Jersey City-born son of Irish immigrants told the magistrate that he’d been a cocaine user since the age of 18.

He’d been arrested the previous Sunday near the Hudson River and 59th Street, in Hell’s Kitchen, a rough neighborhood known for violence and disorder. He was warming his hands at a small fire he’d built when he was taken into custody. It’s possible that building a fire outdoors was illegal by then in New York City and that was why Bernard was hauled in to court. Or maybe the cops figured he was a vagrant and they wanted him off the streets.

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It couldn’t have been his cocaine habit that brought him into court. Cocaine was legal then in America, though by the time Bernard was arrested in 1907 there was increasing recognition of cocaine’s tendency to turn its users into desperate addicts. If he had the money Bernard could have purchased coke at the corner drug store without a prescription. It was getting the money that was the crux of his problem.

Bernard’s Bertillon photos, measurements and personal details were recorded six months before his September arrest, after he was hauled in for burglarizing an apartment in the city.

Bernard Mulroy_back_marked

A year later, on November 21, 1908, with winter about to descend on New York City, Bernard again found himself on a boat headed to the prison on Blackwell’s Island. This time he’d been convicted of grand larceny and sentenced to six months incarceration. It must have been comforting to know he’d be warmer in prison than he would have been on the streets. However there was a downside — Bernard got addicted to heroin during his second stay in the island’s prison.

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The penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, c. 1910, New York City Municipal Archives

heroinThe German drug company, Bayer, developed diacetylmorphine in the late nineteenth century. Between 1898 and 1910 diacetylmorphine was marketed under the trade name “Heroin” as a morphine substitute and cough suppressant, supposedly without morphine’s addictive side effects. Its sale wasn’t regulated in the United States until 1914, when it became available only by prescription. In 1924, with better understanding of its addictive properties and the tolerance that develops in users, Congress banned the sale, importation and manufacture of heroin. These laws came too late to help Bernard.

After he was arrested in midtown Manhattan on April 15, 1915 for trying to sell heroin to passersby, Bernard was quoted in an article for The Evening World newspaper titled “Sing Sing is Popular Summer Resort Now.” He claimed he wanted to be convicted and sent to Sing Sing Penitentiary.

“Movies and baseball for mine,” said Bernard Mulroy at Police Headquarters to-day. “I’m a sick bum in New York, but in Sing Sing I’ll be a person of some consequence, get my meals and recreation regularly and regain my health…New York is no place for a drug fiend these days. I want to get cured and go to Sing Sing and learn to be a telegraph operator.” Bernard was not alone — the news report noted that ten young men who’d been arrested within the previous three days had also asked to be sent to Sing Sing, supposedly because they wanted to play baseball in the prison yard.

Bernard’s wish to sojourn in the notorious prison in Ossining, New York wasn’t granted. Instead he was sent to a prison on Hart’s Island in the Bronx that was used to house overflow prisoners from the city jails.

On August 24, 1916, Bernard died in Manhattan at the age 29. Details of his death are not known, but his final resting place may be on Hart’s Island, where he spent time as a prisoner. The island is now uninhabited and it’s the site of a massive potter’s field cemetery. More than a million people who died penniless in New York have been buried there over the years. Bernard might easily be one of them.

Featured photos: Bertillon photos of Bernard Mulroy taken March 5, 1907, collection of the author.

The Prizefighter’s Wife

The Prizefighter’s Wife

A number of fur dealers who were robbed during the winter appeared at Central Station today in an effort to identify Mrs. Ethel Goodwin, divorced wife of Abe Attell, the former boxer, and five men who are under arrest on suspicion of having been concerned in thefts of furs worth $3,000,000.

The Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), March 21, 1922

Police Lieutenant Carlin pounded on the door of a room at Philadelphia’s swanky Majestic Hotel. Ethel Attell, the room’s occupant, refused to open it. She claimed she was only wearing a negligee and that she needed to speak to her lawyer first. The lieutenant prevailed and the door swung open. Inside he found Ethel with a man named Frank Lewis. Both were suspected of being involved in a recent spate of fur robberies from wholesale fur dealers in the city. Frank put up a fight and was knocked out by the lieutenant.

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In order to protect her identity she gave the police an alias, Ethel Goodwin. She was immediately unmasked and her real name, Ethel Attell, was published in news reports of her arrest. Reporters realized she was the ex-wife of “The Little Hebrew” Abe Attell, the retired prizefighter who’d recently been accused of fixing the 1919 World Series. Sporting a pearl necklace, fur coat and a hat covered in fake grapes, Ethel’s mugshots were snapped by the police.

She was suspected of providing stolen burglar alarm wiring diagrams for several wholesale fur companies to a gang of thieves. The police foiled the gang’s recent plans to rob an Arch Street fur warehouse. After their arrests they gave up Ethel’s name and address.

This was the second time in three months that Ethel had been in legal hot water. In December 1921 she and two male accomplices — small-time thugs with multiple aliases — were arrested on suspicion of stealing 1.5 million dollars worth of cancelled Liberty Bonds, chemically altering them to remove the cancellation marks and trying to resell them. Ethel was caught trying to pass one of the bonds at a Seventh Avenue deli in New York City. She claimed she’d paid $300 for the $500 bond, having bought it innocently from an actor friend who’d fallen on hard times. She also told police she was 27 years old when she was actually 37. A full opium kit was found in Ethel’s upper west side apartment after her arrest.

Elizabeth Egan and Abe Attell were childhood sweethearts. They were married in 1907, at the height of his boxing career, in Santa Ana, California. At some point shortly after her marriage, Elizabeth decided she preferred the rhyming cadence of “Ethel Attell,” so she changed her first name.

Abe and EthelAbe lost his featherweight title in 1912 and the marriage spiraled into quarrels over Ethel’s spending on clothes and jewelry and Abe’s losses at gambling. Fortunately the couple had no children, but the quarter million dollars Abe had made in the ring had all been squandered. A few days before Christmas in 1914, Ethel was forced to flee from her husband’s wrath. She left their Chicago hotel room half naked and all her jewelry remained behind. With the marriage in tatters, Ethel filed for divorce, charging cruelty. She demanded $200 monthly alimony from Abe’s earnings in vaudeville, a career path he’d switched to after his days as a pugilist ended. She also wanted her jewelry back. The divorce was finalized in 1915.

By 1922 Abe had emerged from a cloud of suspicion after charges against him related to the series fix — the Black Sox Scandal — were dropped due to insufficient evidence, though he almost certainly was involved. By the time Ethel was in legal trouble Abe was the co-owner of a shoe store, The Ming Toy Bootery, which specialized in novelty footwear for celebrities, located in Manhattan’s theater district.

Ethel either got lucky or she hired one of her ex-husband’s mobster lawyers. At any rate she wasn’t charged with wrongdoing in the Liberty Bond or the fur theft cases. She wisely kept a low profile after that. She died in 1966. True to form, her tombstone lopped eight years off her age.

Featured photos: Ethell Attell, 1922 mugshots. Collection of the author.

The Subway Sting

The Subway Sting

New York, Oct 11 — A trim young policewoman proved to be more than a match yesterday for a husky mugger, making up in know-how and spirit what she lacked in size and strength.

 

Repeated reports of women being molested at a subway station in the financial district, which is lonely and nearly deserted at night, brought transit Policewoman Dorothy Uhnak, 25, to the scene.

 

With another policewoman and a transit cop hiding nearby and ready to aid her, Mrs. Uhnak climbed up and down the subway stairs hoping to lure a mugger. For six days nothing happened.

 

Finally last night a man grabbed her from behind with a strangle hold and shoved a gun in her face. She acted with lightening speed. Breaking his hold and knocking the gun from his hand, she turned on him and knocked him down. She had him sprawled at the bottom of the stairs by the time her two colleagues arrived.

The Miami News (Miami, Florida), October 11, 1955

Brooklyn resident John Thomas Bishop was booked on charges of felonious assault, attempted robbery and weapons law violations after his arrest by New York City Transit Authority cop Dorothy Uhnak. The event was widely reported in the news, with 6’1” John described as being “twice the size” of 5’5” Dorothy. The fact that John was black and Dorothy was white got special attention by the media.

Dorothy, a Bronx native, who was “half Irish and half Jewish” had been a policewoman for about three years when the 1955 subway capture catapulted her briefly into the spotlight and spurred her promotion to detective.

Three years earlier a photo of 22-year-old Dorothy, vaulting over a barrier in an agility course, appeared in the New York Times in an article titled “73 Girls in Shorts Take Police Tests.” She was one of a group of 138 women (out of 1240 applicants) who passed written and medical exams, making it to the final round of competitive physical tests to qualify for a job as a policewoman. Dorothy nabbed one of the 23 positions open for “aspiring women bluecoats” in 1952. Her starting salary was $3,700 per year.

Presumably John served jail time for the subway assault, though details could not be found. According to her 2006 obituary, Dorothy gave $125 she had won in a television quiz show to John’s pregnant wife after his arrest. “I wondered what it feels like, how a criminal tells his family what he’s done,” she said to Newsday. “I felt so sorry for him when I saw his family.”

lg_717444-Uhnak_Policewoman_coverDorothy was in the news again when her first book, a memoir titled “Policewoman” was published in 1964. In 1966, after 14 years on the force, she quit, fed up with the sexism she continually encountered. She told Newsday that she was “always chased out when something interesting happened.” She completed her college education and became a full-time writer.

Her first novel, “The Bait” won the Edgar Award for best first mystery novel in 1968 and was adapted into a TV film. The book introduced the character of Christie Opara, a female NYPD detective — quite a novelty at the time. The third Opara novel became the inspiration for the blaxploitation TV series “Get Christie Love!” starring Teresa Graves, with the race of the female protagonist changed from white to black.

In total four of Dorothy’s novels were adapted into television films, including her most successful book, “Law and Order,” published in 1973.

A pioneering policewoman and writer, Dorothy committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills at her New York home. She was 76.

Featured photo: Dorothy Uhnak and John Thomas Bishop after his arrest in the New York subway on October 11, 1955. Collection of the author.