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.

Hotel-Majestic.5-Lobby

Ethel Goodwin_back_marked

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.

Two Chucks Make One

Two Chucks Make One

Pickpockets Arrested…The Mayor has also received information that two men, named John North, Jr., alias Smith, alias Musgrave, alias “Big Chucks,” and John Thompson, alias “Little Chucks,” professional pickpockets, were in the city, loitering and sleeping about the Neptune engine house. They were also arrested and committed thirty days each for vagrancy. On the person of “Little Chucks” was found a small memorandum book, in which he had a list of the county fairs in Ohio, where he proposed to follow his calling.

Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), September 6, 1858

The arrest in Pittsburgh of two men dubbed with the “Chucks” moniker was reported as far away Washington, D.C., where they were described as “two noted Philadelphia pickpockets.” Evidently the men planned to visit county fairs in the mid west — fertile hunting grounds for prospective victims with full pocket books and distracted brains.

The following year John Keeley, better known as “Little Chucks” was arrested in Philadelphia after he was chased from a church building by a police officer. He was sent to jail for vagrancy and attempted pickpocketing. He was also accused of “riot and malicious mischief.” Less than two months later, Thomas W. North, also known as “Big Chucks,” was arrested in Baltimore, along with another man, for knocking down and robbing Gibson M. Nelson. Mr. Nelson subsequently died as a result of the injuries he sustained during the robbery.

John North, alias Keely, was arrested in March 1861, in Camden, New Jersey, for pickpocketing. Only a few days previously he had been released after a two year stay in Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary for the same offense. The news report about his release mentioned that he was also called “Little Chucks.”

Smart nineteenth century criminals kept police busy with a bewildering array of aliases and nicknames. “Big Chucks” was called John or Thomas North, or John Smith or John Musgrave. “Little Chucks” was known by the first name John and the surnames North, Thompson or Keeley. Several newspapers reported that “Big Chucks”and “Little Chucks” were two criminals who often worked together.

Were the Chucks actually two men, as the newspapers claimed? Photographic evidence argues for a different conclusion.

big chucks backCrudely scratched in the metal plate on the reverse of an ambrotype photograph from the St. Louis Rogues’ Gallery are the words “Big Chucks alias Daly.” The photo is undated but it was likely made around 1860. A photograph made by Samuel G. Szabó shows a man identified as “John McNauth alias Keely alias little Chucks Pick Pocket.” Szabó was a Hungarian photographer who traveled around America photographing rogues’ galleries in various police departments, including those in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Baltimore, between 1857 and 1861. His reasons for doing this are unknown, however he compiled an album of prints from his negatives. The album survived and was donated to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005.

I’m convinced that the man wearing the fabulous top hat in the Met photo is the same man, shown hatless, in the St. Louis photo. It’s possible they were brothers who had remarkably similar hair and facial features but if so, it’s likely that detail would have been commented on in the news, but it wasn’t.

Why was it reported that “Big Chucks” and “Little Chucks” were two people? Like any accomplished criminal, he wanted to keep the police guessing about his identity. If they thought they were chasing not one man but two it was all the more confusing! So he varied his moniker and, when he worked with another pickpocket, suggested to the partner that he also use one of the “Chucks” sobriquets. As long as he wasn’t photographed, who would ever know?

Once police got his photograph and circulated it around, the game was up. This was precisely the reason rogues’ galleries were started in St. Louis and New York City and were soon in popular demand in other large American cities.

Who was he really? Based on most of his aliases he was probably Irish or the child of Irish immigrants, but we’ll never know for sure.

Featured photos: “Big Chucks,” Missouri History Museum, and “Little Chucks,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Cupid Pleaded

Cupid Pleaded

Joseph Kanefsky_back_markedPauline Wernovsky had been waiting a long time to marry her sweetheart. In fact she’d been waiting two and a half years for her fiancée, Joseph Kanefsky, to get out of Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia and he’d finally been released after serving time for burglary. But on January 20, 1937, he and two prisoners and their girlfriends were charged with smuggling narcotics into the prison. Instead of marrying Pauline it looked like Kanefsky was headed back to the slammer.

Judge Parry, however, was sympathetic to Pauline plight. The persuasive young woman told him she would personally make sure her fiancée stayed straight, so he allowed Kanefsky to sign a $2000 bond, gave him two years probation and the couple were married before a magistrate then and there. As one newspaper put it, “Cupid pleaded successfully in Philadelphia Quarter Sessions Court for Joseph Kanefsky.”

The other four people arrested for dope smuggling were convicted of the charge.

Kanefsky, alias Joe Neff, has a self-assured look in his mugshot. His stylish hat is tipped at a rakish angle and his yellow-blue eyes have an intense gaze. He has just a hint of a smile playing on his lips. It’s as though he already knows that his pretty, dark-haired girlfriend is going to play the judge for a chump — his freedom to follow.

Two and a half years later, in September 1939, Pauline and Joe were in front of a different judge, charged with illegal possession and use of narcotics. They were arrested while sitting in an automobile parked on a Philadelphia street and detectives testified they found a hypodermic needle and morphine in the car. Having previously played Joe’s “get out of jail free” card, both were sentenced to the Philadelphia House of Correction.

In May 1944 Kanefsky was in trouble again when he was caught trying to use prescription blanks stolen from a South Philadelphia physician’s office to obtain narcotics. He was charged with forgery and drug addiction.

Joe’s final reported arrest came on September 21, 1951 in New York City.

The detectives said they had spent some time watching him stroll along Broadway looking for customers. They said that when he was arrested a man who was walking along with him escaped.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 22, 1951

Detectives found $329, a capsule of opium and 15 envelopes of heroin in Joseph Kanefsky’s pockets. He was charged him with possession and suspicion of selling illegal drugs.

Featured photo: Philadelphia Bureau of Police mugshot of Joseph Kanefsky taken on January 20, 1937. Collection of the author.

Mysterious Kimono Girl

Mysterious Kimono Girl
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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.

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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.