Portrait of a Drug Dealer

Portrait of a Drug Dealer

The first hint of trouble came when Elmer Tuttle deserted from the army. He’d enlisted in his home state of New York for a three-year stretch on September 14, 1901. He made it through just over a year and a half, deserting on April 2, 1902. Captured six months later, he was dishonorably discharged.

Four years later, while working as a bartender at the Lehigh Valley Hotel, he stole $65 from his employer, William Edwards. William had grown to trust “Bob” as Elmer was then known, and left him in charge for a few days while he went to the races in Ithaca. When he returned, both “Bob” and the cash from the previous three days’ sales had disappeared.

At his trial it came out that “Bob” had worked with a female accomplice who had posed as Edwards’ wife and she was the person who’d actually made off with the money. This made it problematic to prove the charge of grand larceny against him. Along with the fact that Elmer had a wife and baby at home, the court decided to let him to plead guilty to petty larceny. He served just a few months in jail.

jamesville pen

By April 1910 he’d been convicted of burglary and was housed in the Onondaga County Penitentiary in Jamesville, courtesy of the taxpayers of the State of New York. Now 30 years old, Elmer was listed on the federal census as being on his second marriage. Perhaps as a joke he told the census taker that his father, William, was born in France. In reality William Tuttle was a native New Yorker who was born in the tiny village of Walton and traced his ancestry back to the American Revolution.

Soon Elmer was on the loose again. He left his calling card (literally) in a ball of discarded clothing after robbing some much nicer clothes than those he’d been wearing from the lakeside cottage of H.C. Raymond in Penn Yan, New York. He was never arrested for this crime.

A few years later Elmer moved to Binghampton with his wife, Gertrude Bertha Rowley. What happened to his previous wife and his child is anyone’s guess. Gertrude’s father, Daniel, was a Civil War veteran who’d served honorably as a private in the 86th NY Infantry — the storied “Steuben Rangers.” Dan had seen action at many of the prominent battles of the war. What he thought of his daughter marrying an ex-con who’d been dishonorably discharged is not hard to fathom.

Elmer was arrested for selling morphine and heroin and was given a one-year stint, again in the prison at Onondaga, in 1914. While he was in prison (and possibly earlier) Gertrude was turning tricks for a living. She was arrested on November 6, 1914 for robbing a customer of a large roll of cash. The police believed the man might have been drugged before he was robbed. Gertrude was allowed to plead guilty to public intoxication and sentenced to 59 days in jail.

Elmer Tuttle_back

When he got out of prison, Elmer went back to selling drugs. According to the information on the back of his photo, by March 1915 he’d been convicted again and was serving time in Auburn Prison. His photo doesn’t look like a mugshot, so evidently the police confiscated a studio portrait he’d had taken, made some notes on the back and kept it for reference.

Around the time Elmer was incarcerated at Auburn, Gertrude was arrested for stealing a watch and chain from a “Mr. Moore” — likely a client — at a boarding house. The following year she got a six-month sentence at the Onondaga Penitentiary for vagrancy after she was arrested while working as a prostitute at a disorderly house in Binghamton. Later that same year she was jailed for six months for robbing one of her clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The fact that Gertrude often robbed her clients is an indication that she may have been addicted to drugs and needed more money than she could earn by sex work alone.

Given his life style and incarcerations, it will come as no surprise that Elmer didn’t live to be an old man. He died on September 11, 1919 of tuberculosis in Scranton. His death certificate lists his profession as “drug clerk,” which begs the question of whether or not he was selling drugs legally by then. (My guess is he was not). His family made sure he got a nice funeral and a decent burial.

Gertrude continued to work in prostitution for a number of years after her husband’s death. She was charged with running a disorderly house in Scranton in May 1927 and she was arrested for soliciting and sentenced to jail in September 1930. By 1940, when she was 58 years old, she had no profession and was living in the tiny town of Osceola, Pennsylvania, with her widowed mother. This is where she died, aged 85, on April 15, 1973.

Featured photo: A studio photographic portrait of Elmer Tuttle that was used by police as a mugshot. Collection of the author

Davidson_978-1-4766-8254-9

I’m very pleased to announce that my biography of the infamous criminal, Sophie Lyons, will be released soon. The research and writing of the book took about two years, but I think it was worth it!

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.