Growing Up among the Rogues

Growing Up among the Rogues

He’s one of the most down-and-out looking individuals in the St. Louis Rogues’ Gallery. His jacket is far too large for him, his shirt collar looks grimy, and his hair is disheveled. His misshapen hat sits on a nearby table, and the expression on his face is one of deep sadness. The arresting officer’s notes on the back of his 1867 rogues’ gallery photo describe him as “John Manly Thief. Pickpocket 17 years old.” But there’s far more to the story.

According to census records, John Manley was about 20 years old at the time this photo was taken. Because the person pictured here looks quite young, it’s more likely that he’s James Manley, John’s younger brother. James was only about 14 years old in 1867.

The two brothers and their sister, Julia, had extensive dealings with St. Louis law enforcement over many decades—a situation that may have been avoided if not for a tragic accident. On February 10, 1858, the Manleys’ father, an Irish immigrant, was killed while working on a railroad construction crew east of St. Louis.

Left without a breadwinner, the Manley family went from being working poor to a state of direst poverty. Life was so hard that their destitute mother was forced to send her three children to live in the St. Louis House of Refuge.

 

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The House of Refuge at 3300 Osage St., March 1894. Photo by A. J. O’Reilly. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Child inmates at the House of Refuge slept on straw mattresses at night and spent just three hours a day in school. The rest of their time was spent caning chairs and making shoes that were sold for a profit in town. A grim description of the institution comes from the 1878 book A Tour of St. Louis: Or, The Inside Life of a Great City:

The St. Louis House of Refuge, situated in the southern part of the city, strictly speaking, is a prison for the detention of juvenile offenders. Its discipline is that of a prison, and in all features of its operation it is distinctly a penitentiary for the detention and correction of youthful criminals.

The Manley children came home in 1860, but in April 1861, James was labeled “incorrigible” and returned to the House of Refuge. The following year he was sent to live with a tailor in Chamois, Missouri, 100 miles west of St. Louis. Authorities likely hoped he’d fare better far away from the evils of the big city, but the country air wasn’t for James. He soon found himself back in St. Louis.

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Record of James Manley’s first admittance to the House of Refuge on February 24, 1860, at just 8 years old (sixth from top). Missouri Historical Society Collections.

By 1866 young James was on his third stay at the House of Refuge, this time as punishment for a petty larceny conviction. He was supposed to live there until he turned 21, but soon after his arrival he escaped.

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Entry in the Criminal Court of Corrections record book, issue 1, regarding James Manley, November 1866. Courtesy of Shayne Davidson.

Around the time his photo was taken for the rogues’ gallery—March 13, 1867—James was in serious legal trouble: He and two companions had been charged with assault and battery. (Whether James was convicted in the case couldn’t be verified.)

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The back side of the rogues’ gallery photo. Police misidentified James as his brother John.

In December 1869, James was jailed for grand larceny in St. Louis because he was unable to pay his $1,500 bail. He was found guilty, and the judge sentenced him to the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Seventeen-year-old James entered the prison on January 29, 1870, and spent the next 18 months there. The system of leasing prisoners to businessmen, providing free labor in exchange for financial support of the prison, hadn’t yet been abolished, so he may have worked on prison building projects or even outside the prison walls until he was pardoned by the governor and released on August 3, 1871.

After a quiet couple of years, James attracted news coverage in September 1874 for trying to jump ahead of others waiting in line to cast ballots in a St. Louis election. When a police officer intervened, James tore off the man’s coat and punched him, at which point he was taken into custody. The following year, James was stabbed twice during a nighttime scuffle at Broadway and O’Fallon Streets. His wounds were serious but not life threatening.

By the 1880s, James and his brother had both found honest work as telegraph linemen. Then in 1888, James was elected constable of St. Louis’s sixth ward and tasked with serving summonses for court appearances. It seemed like his life was taking a prosperous turn, but while serving clothing-store proprietor Martin Monti with an eviction summons, James apparently couldn’t stop himself from stealing $75 and other property belonging to Monti. He was convicted of embezzlement—a decision he appealed—but the conviction was upheld. So in November 1891, James headed to the Missouri State Penitentiary again, where he remained until his release in January 1893. In May 1903, James and three other men were arrested and charged with shooting craps behind a saloon on North Broadway. This was his final record of criminal behavior.

Ten years later, James found himself at the St. Louis City Infirmary, a hospital for the indigent located on Arsenal Street. By this point he was the last surviving member of his family. His mother had died in 1885, and his brother had passed in 1903. It’s possible his sister was still alive, but she disappeared from records after the 1880 census.

James spent his final moments at the infirmary, evidently all alone, dying of a lung ailment just two months shy of his 60th birthday.

Featured photo: Quarter-plate tintype of James Manley, March 1867. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

“With Long Criminal Records”

“With Long Criminal Records”

Warrants charging larceny were issued yesterday by the Circuit Attorney’s office against three women arrested last week in their room in Hotel Statler for shop-lifting. Police reported finding the wallet of a victim in the room. The women, all of whom said they are from Milwaukee, Wis., are: Ruth Stehling, 34 years old; Louise R. Smith, 32, and Jean Miller, 34. In the room police found a wallet containing $14, some checks and personal papers belonging to Mrs. Katherine Rueckert, 3435 Halliday avenue. Mrs. Rueckert had reported that the wallet was snatched from her in a downtown department store.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri), March 27, 1934

The Kusch family crime poster has the look of a kid’s school project, with the awkward placement of text, some of which was hand-drawn, and the amateurish attempt at a symmetrical layout. It was made by a St. Louis police officer in 1934 and photographed as a magic lantern slide, possibly for use as a lecture aid.

I suspect the point of the poster was to demonstrate how suspects might avoid being identified as repeat offenders by using aliases. The real names of the three ladies in stand-up mugshot were (left to right) Helen, Anna and Julia Kusch.

Another aim of the poster was to demonstrate that crime was a career choice that occasionally ran in families.

The mother of two of the three women in the photo was Mary Meka Kusch. Mary was a German immigrant to the United States who tutored her young daughters in how to steal ladies’ purses and forced them to become pickpockets. Mary’s husband, Michael, who was also born in Germany, was not involved in the “family business.”

In 1909 Anna Kusch was the youngest child ever arrested by the detective bureau in Buffalo, New York, after she was caught stealing shoppers’ purses in department stores. At the ripe old age of eight Anna was a suspect in many purse thefts.

Anna and her older sister, Helen, were serial pickpockets while they were still in grade school. The girls strolled the streets, stealing ladies’ purses as the opportunity arose, and hiding their loot in a baby carriage. Imagine the surprise of the beat officer who leaned over to give the “baby” a tickle on the chin!

In 1910 the Kusch sisters were taken into police custody for pickpocketing. Mama Kusch got three months probation for teaching her children to be thieves.

The following year Helen was arrested again for stealing cash from the purses of women shopping on the main drag of Buffalo. She told the police that her mother sent her out every day after school to steal money and if she didn’t do it she got a whipping. Mary was charged with receiving stolen property. Helen was sent to a detention home for juveniles.

Meanwhile the sisters’ older brothers, John and Albert Kusch, were engaged in robbing the poor box at a local Catholic church. They drank enough whiskey to put Albert and a friend in the hospital in critical condition with alcohol poisoning. Albert subsequently recovered. John went on to be convicted of burglary and sent to New York’s Elmira Reformatory at the age of 19.

As Helen and Anna blossomed into their teen years they continued to shoplift and pickpocket. Both were caught and earned themselves another stay in a Buffalo detention home.

The Kusch family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by 1920. The change of state may have been motivated by their notoriety in Buffalo because their crime careers continued in “America’s Dairyland.” When Helen was 28, in 1926, she was arrested for pickpocketing in Milwaukee. She jumped bail and forfeited her $1000 bond.

John was arrested for passing bad checks in 1931 when he was 38 years old. Over the previous 20 years he’d accumulated 16 arrests, including one for contributing to the delinquency of a minor after he’d picked up an underage girl and had sex with her. He was sentenced to five to seven years in a Wisconsin state prison on the bad check charge. John joined Albert, who was already in state prison, serving a three-year sentence for the attempted robbery of a pharmacy.

When the Kusch ladies were arrested for pickpocketing in St. Louis, Helen and Anna had 25 years of experience under their belts. They knew it would be a smart move to give the police false names to fool them into believing it was their first offense. Julia Kusch was not their sister but she may have been their sister-in-law because Albert was married for a while to a woman named Julia.

Helen was picked up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for shoplifting an item worth $1.50 in 1935. Police there claimed she’d been arrested many times in the past. She was given a six month suspended sentence and a $100 fine. Anna was also arrested and later released without charge.

The 1935 arrests of Helen and Anna were last time any Kusch family members appeared in the police news. It’s impossible to know if the poster put an end to their criminal activities, however there’s an old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” That little proverb may have run through the mind of the police officer when he got out his glue and pen to make the Kusch Family crime poster.

Featured photo: St. Louis Police Lantern Slides, collection of the Missouri History Museum.

Moll Buzzing

Moll Buzzing

A lady slipped on the pavement in a street in Philadelphia and was aided to arise by a very polite gentleman. She thanked him kindly and was struck by his handsome eyes, which haunted her until she missed her pocket-book and discovered through the police that a noted pickpocket known as “Baltimore Pat” was their owner, and that his attentions were part of his daily duty of “buzzing.”

The Wilmington Daily Herald (Wilmington, North Carolina), January 31, 1860

Imagine her embarrassment, not to mention discomfort, when she lost her footing and fell to the ground on a busy city street. Like every well-off woman in 1860, she wore a tight corset and an unwieldy hoop skirt. How did she get up without entirely losing her dignity?

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1861 day dresses, Godey’s Lady’s Book

Her tears were on the verge of overflowing when a young man came to her rescue. He leaned down and offered her his arm. She gratefully accepted and he easily pulled her to her feet. He smiled at her and asked if she was all right. With a blush she answered that she was fine. He nodded his hat, wished her a good day and vanished into the crowded street. She brushed off her skirts, reinstated her dignity and continued to her destination.

She arrived at the shop and selected an item to purchase but she couldn’t find her purse anywhere. Embarrassed, she left and went to the police station where she reported that her purse had been stolen. The police told her that she’d been “moll-buzzed” and showed her some photos in their rogues’ gallery. Suddenly it dawned on her why the striking-looking man had been so helpful. She pointed to a photo labeled “John William, alias Baltimore Pat.”

Pickpockets who specialized in preying on women were called “moll-buzzers.” Baltimore Pat’s good looks no doubt helped him professionally. Numerous articles describing his thievery and arrests appeared in newspapers between 1857 and 1862.

John Williams aka Baltimore Pat arrested as pickpocket - Newspap

— The Daily Exchange, Baltimore, Maryland, April 4, 1860

If a female victim was not available he was willing to prey on men. One Saturday night in 1862 he picked the pocket of a Baltimore merchant, B. J. Sutton, to the tune of $1,240 ($30,956 in 2018).

The arrests didn’t slow him down. He worked on trains and streetcars — a pickpocket’s paradise — where people were crowded together affording plentiful opportunity for stealthy theft. Allan Pinkerton warned about moll-buzzers in his 1884 book Thirty Years a Detective.

The scene is an ordinary street car, and the seats are all occupied. The thief enters and at once takes up his position immediately in front of the lady, with one hand he grasps the strap hanging from the roof, and the other hand is seemingly thrust into his coat pocket. I say seemingly, for really the hand of the thief is thrust through his coat, the end of which is resting carelessly on the pocket of the lady. With the hand which is pushed through his coat, the thief quietly pulls up the edge of the overskirt worn by the lady, little by little, so he can reach the pocket…and then catching hold of the pocket-book, he draws it up and into his own pocket and then steps away.

His photograph ended up in a police rogues’ gallery, likely in Baltimore or Philadelphia. Whether it helped end his career as a pickpocket is a matter of conjecture.

Featured photo: “John William, al Baltimore Pat, Pick pocket” from Rogues, A Study of Characters by Samuel G. Szabó. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

The Rogue Cop, The Skunk Farmer & The Candy Kid

The Rogue Cop, The Skunk Farmer & The Candy Kid

Yesterday the governor made requisition on the Utah authorities for the extradition of Harry Morgan and Jane Doe, alias “The Candy Kid,” whose true name is unknown. They are charged by Anton Fritz of Portland with larceny from the person. Fritz claims he was robbed about 12 o’clock on the night of Saturday, August 28th, last, of $9,400 near the white temple in Portland. His statement has since been denied but Joe Day now claims he has the guilty parties under arrest at Salt Lake City and will bring them back to Oregon for trial. He claims to have located $4,500 of the stolen money in a safe deposit vault in Chicago.

Statesman Journal (Salem, Oregon), October 3, 1906

She was huddled in the shadows of the covered entryway to the First Baptist Church (The White Temple) in downtown Portland, Oregon, crying loud enough to attract his attention. Anton Fritz went up the church steps and asked her what was wrong. She told him her husband had run off with all their worldly goods, leaving her and their baby with nothing. She said she was going to kill herself. Her tale tugged at his heartstrings, so he gave her a few dollars. Overwhelmed by his generosity she gave him a hug. They parted and he continued on his way, not realizing that his pocket had been picked until he arrived at his lodgings. This was one reported version of how Anton was robbed.

White Temple Baptist Church Portland, OR

White Temple Baptist Church Portland, OR

Another, more unsavory, story was that Anton was drunk and the woman picked him up and took him to a “secluded spot” where she robbed him.

The third account was that Anton offered to get her a room for the night at the hotel where he was lodging. She gratefully accepted and the next morning he discovered his money was gone.

The woman robber was dubbed “The Candy Kid,” and along with Harry Morgan — the man described as her partner in the caper — she was said to have fled Portland with $9,400 (over $260,000 in 2018) of Anton’s money.

Anton Fritz

Born in Germany in 1848, Anton Fritz and his wife, Johanna, arrived in the United States in 1881. They settled in Smithton, Pennsylvania, where Anton made his living as a butcher. One day he discovered skunks feeding on the offal near his slaughterhouse. Skunk fur was a hot commodity at the time and he seized on this as a fresh business opportunity. He began to raise skunks and sell their pelts. Anton had 700 skunks at one point and was known locally as “The Skunk Farmer.”

Soon he had enough capital to get into a less odoriferous profession. He moved his wife and six children to Monessen, Pennsylvania, where he invested in real estate, eventually owning three hotels, including one he named “Hotel Fritz.”

Johanna had a stroke and died in 1904, the same year Anton built an opera house in Monessen. The project was a money sink. The opera house and Anton’s other real estate holdings overextended his finances. He was forced to borrow large sums of money and was unable to repay his creditors.

Anton skipped town, taking with him about $18,000 (almost half a million dollars in 2018) in cash. The creditors tried to locate him but were told that he’d returned to his homeland. Deciding it was futile to try to find him in a foreign country, they eventually gave up the chase.

Anton had not left America. He’d headed west to Portland, where he had a younger brother, Fred Fritz, who owned a large saloon on Burnside Street. Anton didn’t trust banks and carried all his cash with him in a leather wallet he kept inside his jacket. He had a bad habit of flashing his cash around at the saloon and this may be what led to the robbery.

Rather than go to the police, who might alert his creditors to the fact that he was still in the country, Anton hired a private eye named Joe Day to try to track down the thieves on the Q.T. The timing was perfect for Joe, who’d just been fired from the Portland Police Department and was in need of a new income stream.

Born in New Orleans in 1851, Joseph Day traveled to the west coast with his family while he was still a babe in arms. He became a Portland cop in 1881 and rose to the rank of detective. He loved being a detective (he named his son William Pinkerton Day) but he had an independent streak that infuriated his superiors. Things came to a head when the chief of police complained to the mayor and police board that Joe and several other detectives were undisciplined, rogue officers who cursed constantly, never informed him of their activities and tolerated criminal activity in Portland. The mayor dismissed him and five other detectives in August 1906, saying that they hadn’t earned their salaries and had to go.

Joe Day detective profile - Newspapers.com

Detective Joe Day

Anton also had a problem with Joe — the detective couldn’t keep his mouth shut. He told the newspapers that Anton’s cash had drawn the attention of two regulars at the Fritz saloon, “The Candy Kid” and her partner, Harry Morgan. He described the pair as “colored criminals” with records in other states and also claimed that Harry was also a “stool pigeon” for the Portland police.

Evenutally the press figured out that the real name of “The Candy Kid” was Leora Worlds. She was also known as Clara, Alice or Laura Adams and Clara Morgan.

Joe put out the word that “The Candy Kid” and Harry had headed east to Chicago, spending lavishly as they traveled. It was rumored that she hired a couple of men in Chicago to kill Harry, but that one of them lost his nerve and instead blabbed to Joe about the plan.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, the police wired Joe that they had arrested the couple. Joe and Fred Fritz went to the Salt Lake City jail but extradition papers mysteriously never arrived from Oregon. A few days later the pair were discharged for lack of evidence.

What happened to the money is a matter of speculation. It was reported that Joe took a bribe of $2000 to get Anton to drop the matter, with Leora and Harry receiving $4500 and whatever cash remained being returned to Anton. The police chief in Salt Lake City went on record that no bribes had been offered under his watch.

However by the time Leora and Harry were released from custody, Anton had completely changed his story. He claimed that his saloon-owner brother, Fred, robbed him with the assistance of Joe and other people he refused to name. He said the tale of Leora and Harry robbing him was a “bluff.”

It was true that Fred Fritz had need for cash. He had a gambling problem that had cost him over $1000 in fines by 1905. He was also fined repeatedly for serving liquor at the vaudeville theater he owned next door to the saloon.

Two months later Anton laid down on the railroad tracks in front of an oncoming train in San Fernando, California. The train decapitated him and his head was discovered not far from the tracks. His death was thought to be suicide, though no note was found. A small sum of money, a check and some jewelry were found with his body. His attorney noted that prior to his death Anton was “mentally unbalanced.”

Joe was eventually rehired by the Portland Police Department. He was later reduced to the uniformed ranks but he stayed on and ended his career as a policeman in 1926. He died ten years later in Portland.

Leora was arrested for vagrancy in Portland in 1910. She told the arresting officers she had done no “job.” The news article about her arrest referred to her as “The Candy Kid” and erroneously described her as “one of the star female criminals of the Pacific coast.”

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The reason Leora was called “The Candy Kid” remains a mystery to this day. My guess is that Detective Joe Day gave her the nickname. Written on the back of a news copy of her mugshot photo is the notation “DAY,” but precisely why he called her that I can’t say.

Though no one was ever charged with the robbery of Anton Fritz, the rumor that Leora did it continued for at least 30 years.

Thanks to Stacy Waldman of House of Mirth Photos for allowing me to use the photograph of Leora Worlds.

Featured photo: Leora Worlds (Clara Morgan), undated news copy of mugshot; collection of Stacy Waldman

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.

Angry in Omaha

Angry in Omaha

Minnie Bradley was arrested on the evening of December 11, 1902, and charged with “larceny from the person” or pickpocketing. Someone from the Midway Saloon, a well-known dance hall and whorehouse owned by several notorious Omaha crime bosses, offered to pay her $25 bond. Before she was released, W. H. Breiter showed up at the police station and identified Minnie as the person who had robbed him earlier that evening. Minnie offered Breiter $5 to drop the charge, but he refused, so she spent the night in jail.

Described in the newspaper as a “traveler,” Breiter had been “strolling about” near the Tenth street viaduct in Omaha, Nebraska. He told police that a woman appeared out of the darkness and demanded his money. He claimed he handed it over to her.

The next day Minnie appeared before Police Judge Louis Berka. The judge decided she could stand for trial for the Breiter hold up, but he offered her an alternative — if she left Omaha the charges against her would be dropped. She chose to leave rather than face a trial, but first the police took her mugshot to guarantee that all Omaha police officers would be familiar with her face, in case she was tempted to return.

judge-Berka

Judge Louis Berka. Find-A-Grave.

Minnie’s 1901 mugshot is unusual for the amount of emotion she displayed. She has her arms crossed and it’s obvious that she’s angry and unwilling to look at the camera, or maybe she looked away just before the shutter was released. Her occupation was listed as “prostitute” and her home, at 116 North Eleventh Street, was around the corner from the Midway.

Breiter’s story about Minnie robbing him doesn’t really add up. It’s unlikely that a lone woman would rob a man outdoors in a deserted spot at night. It’s possible that Breiter was a client who didn’t want it known that he visited a prostitute, particularly an African-American prostitute. He might have refused to pay, so she took what he owed her.

Minnie returned to Omaha in 1904 and made two more appearances in police court before Judge Berka. The first, in March 1904, was as witness against a man named William Warwick, who was accused of assaulting her. The two had gotten into a heated argument when he bragged to her that, due to his light complexion, he often passed as a white man during his travels out west. He also mentioned that he had been in the company of two white women the previous evening. Minnie said William should show more respect for his race and reminded him that his mother was a black woman. His response was to punch her. Judge Berka sentenced him to 30 days in jail.

Two months later, in May 1904, Minnie was the defendant in a case of assault and battery brought against her by an African-American woman named Annie Curtis. Annie was drunk and her behavior was violent — an argument broke out between the two women. Minnie claimed Annie was on the verge of throwing a phonograph at her when bystanders intervened. Annie claimed Minnie threw a brick at her, which Minnie denied. The outcome of the case was not reported.

Minnie slipped out of the news after 1904, but her mugshot leaves little doubt that she was a force to be reckoned with.

Featured photo: Minnie Bradley’s 1902 mugshot. Collection of the Nebraska State Historical Society.