Female Fraud

Female Fraud

Fairhaven, Mass., Feb. 19 (Special) — An attractive “girl” of 17, who had been a perfect lady’s maid for a New York family and a hootchy-kootchy dancer with a carnival, was unmasked today as a young man who had fooled associates with his female impersonation for more than a year.

 

The young man, Albert H. Cook, son of a Fairhaven laborer, also was identified as a thief. Exposure of his hoax came with his arrest for the theft of $25,800 worth of jewelry from the home where he worked as a girl domestic.

Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1947

Albert Cook went to a party dressed as a young lady on Halloween in 1945, and the disguise was so good that no one, not even his closest friends, recognized him. It gave the 15-year-old resident of Fairhaven, Massachusetts an idea — why not dress as a girl and see if he could get a job in a big city? There wasn’t much keeping him in Fairhaven — his mother died when he was small.

An only child, Albert and his father lived with his grandparents. His father had been a fisherman, but by 1940 Charles Cook worked in a dull, backbreaking job, on a road construction crew for the W.P.A. Life in a small New England town wasn’t exciting and it didn’t hold much interest for young Albert.

Blessed with a creamy complexion, black hair and dark blue eyes, Albert put on his blonde wig, padded himself with “falsies” and dressed in his Halloween costume in March 1946. He headed to Manhattan, where, using his friend, Ruth Hathaway’s name as an alias, he went to an employment agency and was quickly hired as a servant for a Khedouri Zilkha, a wealthy Iraqi-Jewish banker. Dainty in a lacy French uniform, “Ruth” was acknowledged by the Zilkha family to be the “perfect maid.”

A few complications cropped up. Every so often his voice cracked unexpectedly. He had to shave his beard daily, but he had a private bathroom in the Zilkha home. With the help of his wig and padding, along with an electric razor, powder and rouge, he was able to keep up the ruse for six weeks.

Then in May 1946 Mr. Zilkha accused “Ruth” of stealing two silver platters. Albert claimed he was innocent of the crime, but it got him to thinking. If he was going to be labeled a thief and lose his job, he might as well be one! He absconded with $25,800 worth of the Zilkha’s jewelry, including a $6000 diamond studded platinum clasp, and headed to Boston. There he pawned some of the loot to finance a six-month long tour of the country.

Albert_Cook_arrested__PhotoHe moved on to Chicago where he donned his female disguise and paid a private detective $30 to guard him and the jewelry for an evening on the town. After pawning more of the jewelry he left for Tennessee. Still in disguise, he joined a carnival as a “hoochie coochie (i.e. belly) dancer” and traveled with the show to Lake City, Florida. Eventually he ran out of money and, putting his “boy’s clothes” back on, he returned home to Fairhaven, where he was arrested for grand larceny and extradited to New York. Albert admitted to the theft and signed a confession. None of the Zilkha’s jewelry was recovered.

In a photo taken of the manacled Albert after his arrest, he appears to be considering what kind of bracelet the handcuff he’s wearing might make.

“Oh that Albert,” the real Ruth Hathaway giggled to police, “he was always a great one for dressing up in my clothes.”

Featured photo: news photo of Albert Cook, Feb. 26, 1947. Collection of the author.

Girl Bandits

Girl Bandits

Edna McCarthy and Leona Bell, alleged to have participated in several holdups, were held to the grand jury yesterday by Judge Richardson of the West Chicago avenue court. Bonds of each were fixed at $30,000. Both girls were companions of John Getzen, who was shot while he was attempting to rob Segt. Frank Cunningham of the North Avenue station on July 16.

Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1925

The 1920s was well into its roaring phase when newspaper articles began to appear about young female offenders, often described as “girl bandits,” “bandit queens” or “flapper bandits.” For some members of the fair sex, getting the vote, shortening their skirts and bobbing their hair also unleashed law-breaking urges, resulting in a feminine crime wave.

Edna McCarthy, aged 26, and Leona Bell, 21, were two of the “girl bandits” wreaking havoc on the citizens of Chicago in 1925. After a number of successful robberies, the girls, along with Edna’s brother-in-law, John Getzen, made the fatal mistake of trying to “stickup” a plain-clothes police officer, Frank Cunningham. Leona stopped Cunningham and asked for street directions. After he got out of his car to help her, Getzen emerged from a hiding place and held a gun to his ear. Rather than cooperating, Cunningham grabbed Getzen’s gun and shot him four times. The fourth bullet was fatal. Getzen was “full of hop” at the time of his death.

Edna and Leona escaped in their stolen car and made a two-week jaunt through Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. The ladies were captured in Toledo and returned to Chicago, where they were charged with robbery, attempted robbery, concealing a felony and forgery. Apparently the girls got lucky and didn’t get prison time for the Chicago crimes. However Leona was convicted on an earlier forgery charge and was sentenced to two years in the Wisconsin State Reformatory for Women. But the ever-clever Leona soon escaped, along with another inmate, by sliding down a drain pipe and stealing a getaway car.

Crime among women is increasing. Cheap movies have glorified the girl bandit. There is many a girl today whose one ambition is to be queen of the underworld. Sometimes dope’s to blame. Sometimes it’s something more insidious than dope — the lure of silk stockings and finery.

— Policewoman Mrs. Mary Hamilton, New Castle Herald, January 26, 1924

Elizabeth_Sullivan_bandit_queen_girl_bandit

Arizona Republic, January 14, 1923

Another bandit queen, Elizabeth Sullivan, 21, robbed Chicagoans at gunpoint with her pearl-handled automatic. She pulled the robberies to build a nest egg so she could marry her “sheik,” a man named Glen, who was also a bandit. “He was the cat’s ankles,” she exclaimed. The crime spree ended when Elizabeth and some of her gang were arrested in January 1923.

Alice_and_Caroline_Peterson_girl_bandits

Weekly Town Talk, May 17, 1924

Two young sisters, Alice and Caroline Peterson, of Red Wing, Minnesota, read about girl bandits in the news and decided that crime life sounded exciting, so they formed a gang with two young men. Their victim was a taxi cab driver, who they bound and robbed, taking his money and his vehicle. The four were found the next day, asleep under a haystack, and arrested. Alice and Caroline got one to ten years each in the state prison. However young women were still, in certain ways, not equal to young men — the guys got five to forty years each in the pen.

“Why are there so Many Girl Bandits?” was the headline of an April 1924 article in the Baltimore Sun. The reporter tried to answer the question with explanations ranging from lack of moral training to indifferent “flapper” parents. Or perhaps, the author suggested, young women simply had too much economic independence or were oversophisticated for their age. Not to mention that age-old problem of young people choosing pleasure over discipline!

She’s more afraid of failing her sweetheart than she is of handling a gun. The fear may be born of his threats, but I believe that it is usually born of her affection for him; psychopathic love, perhaps, an infatuation, but a consuming one while it lasts. In short, the gungirl becomes a gungirl in order to win the approval of a man.

— Helen P. McCormick, Assistant District Attorney of Brooklyn, New York, 1924

So you see, guys, when it comes to crime, it’s all your fault!

Featured photo: Edna McCarthy, 1925 press photo. Collection of the author.

Mistaken

Mistaken

LOS ANGELES, May 11. — Carl York, 22-year-old police informer who was shot down by detectives through “mistake,” died today in General hospital. He succumbed to five bullet wounds while police sought to link him with a series of recent filling station robberies. They claimed nine attendants identified the youth as one of two bandits who staged a series of recent spectacular raids in which attendants were kidnapped.

York denied any complicity in the robberies.

San Bernardino Sun, May 12, 1935

Carl York, a police informer, and W.L. Lanier, a narcotics squad detective with the LAPD, mounted the rickety stairs to the second floor door of a cheap Los Angeles rooming house during the early hours of the morning on May 8, 1935. Carl and Lanier didn’t know it, but three LAPD robbery squad detectives were staked out in a “bandit trap” near the bottom of the stairs outside the house, waiting for the occupants to return. The detectives had already searched inside the house, where they’d found a handgun and a small amount of narcotics.

“We’re police officers, hands up!” came the command from below as Carl and Lanier moved towards the door. Carl’s hand moved towards his hip pocket and the officers on the ground floor opened fire. Lanier wasn’t hit but Carl slumped over, seriously wounded. Lanier shone his flashlight in the direction of the gunfire. Recognizing one of the shooters as a fellow officer, he identified himself and ordered them to stop firing.

shooting photo

The Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1935.

Carl didn’t have a weapon. He was taken to the prison ward of Los Angeles General Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries three days later. He left a wife and small daughter in Denver, Colorado.

Carl York not a mugshot

The Los Angeles Times, May 10, 1935

News reports described Carl as both an “undercover agent” and a “police informer” who was engaged in a narcotics investigation when he was shot by mistake. Both the LAPD narcotics and robbery squads were involved in separate investigations that brought them to the rooming house on the morning that Carl was shot. Each squad was unaware of what the other was doing.

The police claimed witnesses identified Carl as one of two men who carried out a series of raids in which parking lot attendants and vehicle owners were carjacked at gunpoint, robbed of small amounts of cash and kidnapped. Over the course of four days in April 1935, the bandits struck 12 times. The culprits drove the stolen cars, sometimes with the victim inside, through the city at high speeds. They’d abandon one car and steal another one. The victims were frightened, but not injured, though one man was thrown from his vehicle while it was moving and another was forced to hand over most of his clothing before being released from his car semi-nude.

Carl York mugshot

News photo mugshot of Carl York, May 9, 1935. Collection of the author.

The L.A. coroner ordered an inquest into Carl’s death. The verdict was “justifiable homicide” — an accidental and unintentional shooting by the officers. The Municipal League demanded an inquiry into Carl’s shooting, but nothing came of that.

After Carl’s death, four men reported to be Carl’s criminal associates were charged with robbery and conspiracy to rob but there’s no evidence that they were ever tried or sentenced to prison.

Then in June 1937, a series of kidnap robberies that were eerily similar to the crimes of April 1935 occurred in Bakersfield, California, 115 miles north of Los Angeles. Los Angeles residents Moran Pierce and Charles W. Taylor, both aged 23, committed the crimes.

Armed with automatic pistols, Pierce and Taylor staged their first holdup at El Tejon garage. They stopped E.W. Stevenson of Burlingame, as he drove into the garage in a big Packard, and subsequently held up Henry Lopez, garage attendant. Both Stevenson and Lopez were taken out on the Edison Highway, obliged to get out of the car and were strapped to the fence with belts.

 

Pierce and Taylor returned to Bakersfield and held up H.R. Thompson, operator of a Richfield service station, at Twenty-first Street and Golden State Highway. They abandoned their stolen automobile after this holdup and returned to their hotel.

The Bakersfield Californian, June 15, 1937

Pierce and Taylor were captured in their flophouse the morning after the crime spree during a search of all the rooming houses in the vicinity. The two men admitted to the Bakersfield kidnap robberies, along with some other burglaries. They also told police they pulled two service station kidnap robberies in Los Angeles a few days before the Bakersfield crimes. Both got life sentences, with Pierce heading to Folsom State Prison and Taylor going to San Quentin.

No photo of Taylor was located, however Pierce and Carl bear a resemblance to each other. It’s plausible that Carl was mistaken for Pierce who, along with Taylor, committed the Los Angeles kidnap robberies in April 1935. Then the pair laid low for a while only to reappear and commit similar crimes in Bakersfield. If so, Carl was telling the truth when he said he had nothing to do with the kidnap robberies. After death he was vilified as a criminal when perhaps all he’d done was help the police with their narcotics investigation.

Featured photo: Moran Pierce (left) in his Folsom prison photo, collection of the California State Archives. Carl York (right) in a news photo mugshot, collection of the author.

The Feminine Touch

The Feminine Touch

Becky Cok (sic) was given a sentence of two years in the penitentiary by the federal judge at San Angelo for making her little daughter steal. Mrs. Cook had a box at the Brownwood post office. Next to her was the box of the bank. She would have the child go to the post office and rob the bank box by reaching around through hers. Checks and drafts for large amounts ware (sic) thus abstracted from the bank box.

El Paso Herald (El Paso, Texas), November 26, 1900

Robbing a post office was a crime committed often in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States, but usually it was the purview of gun-toting men. Becky Cook, an Iowa-born seamstress and washerwoman, took an unusual approach when she used her young daughter to extract checks and drafts from the post office box of a Texas bank. Possibly the child was double jointed or had unusually nimble fingers. At any rate the little girl’s hand was small enough to reach in beyond Becky’s post office box, through the bars at the back and into the adjacent box — no weapons or threats of violence required!

Becky Cook news

Leavenworth Penitentiary file of Becky Cook. Collection of the National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.

Post Office robbery, no matter how it was accomplished, was a federal crime and Becky’s conviction earned her more than a slap on the wrist. Though unable to cash the checks and drafts she stole “child-handed” so to speak, she was sentenced to two years at USP Leavenworth. Like other women sent to Leavenworth, she was transferred to the Kansas State Penitentiary to serve out her sentence.

Her penitentiary forms noted that Becky was just under 5’6” tall with a slender build, blue eyes and brown hair and her teeth were “full & good.” She was described as “very talkative.” She had several scars and moles on her face and both of her ear lobes were pierced. She was Catholic, could read and write, and left home when she was 12 years old. At the time of her incarceration she wasn’t married.

The Texas sun was hard on fair skin, and prison officials at Leavenworth described Becky as looking 35 rather than the 25 years of age she claimed to be. Her weather-beaten skin does make her look older than her mid-twenties — did she lie about her age? Her shaky signature on a penitentiary form doesn’t really look like “Becky Cook.” Could it be that she used an alias when she was arrested, but was not skilled enough at writing to pull off the subterfuge?

Becky Cook's signature

She was released from prison by 1902. Who took care of her daughter while she was in prison? Was it even her child? Where did she go when she was released? Was her name really Becky Cook? After her brief moment of infamy, thanks to a clever and feminine method of robbing a post office, the lady vanished from newspaper and genealogical records.

Featured photos: Leavenworth Penitentiary photos of Becky Cook. Collection of the National Archives, Kansas City, Missouri.

 

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.

Dead Man Naming

Dead Man Naming

Sheriff James S. Scarborough and his posse of cowboys were out looking a burglar who had blown open the safe of a local store on the night of April 19, 1906, making off with $302.61. Unfortunately the crime wasn’t discovered until the following day, giving the culprit plenty of time to escape. The posse set out on horseback to search the scrubby grasslands in the vicinity of Dime Box, Texas, where the crime occurred.

The focus of the search was a stranger who’d been hanging around the town of Lexington the previous day, claiming he was an engineer for the Sante Fe Railroad. The last time the man was seen he was headed towards Dime Box late in the evening on the night of the safe cracking.

Scarborough, a well-respected lawman with a fierce crime-fighting reputation, was alone and it was getting dark when he encountered a man walking along the railroad tracks south of Lexington. He ordered the stranger to halt but rather than stopping, the man pulled out a gun and fired three times in rapid succession at the sheriff, missing him with all three shots. Scarborough fired back and he was the better shot. A bullet hit the stranger in the right side of his chest. He fell over and died several minutes later without uttering any last words.

lee-county-sheriff-james-scarborough

Sheriff James S. Scarborough, circa 1899. Collection of Turner Publishing/Historic Photos of Texas Lawmen by Mike Cox.

The dead man had more than $340 in cash on him — some of it was the stolen cash — however he carried no identification. He also had six drill bits, a punch, one brace, two large rolls of fuse, twenty-two short pieces of fuse cut ready for use, and a pint flask of powder on him. Clearly the man was a safe blower — a “yegg” — in the parlance of law enforcement.

The sheriff wrote up an exhaustive physical description of the man, along with details about the crime. The information was placed in the local newspapers. To cover all the bases, a local photographer was called to prop up the dead man and photograph him. Though the photo wasn’t published, if someone recognized the man’s description, a copy would be mailed to the person to get a positive I.D. The photographer made some cash too; he sold 24 copies of the photo to the locals at 25 cents a copy!

Scarborough letter

Letter (page 1 of 3) from Sheriff Scarborough to Warden McClaughry. Coleman’s Leavenworth Penitentiary Inmate files. Collection of NARA-Kansas City, Missouri.

Leavenworth Penitentiary guard Samuel D. Sample read an article in the Daily Times Herald, a Texas paper, about a professional bank robber who was killed the previous week by the sheriff of Lee County. He thought the description of the dead man matched that of a recently released Leavenworth prisoner, Charles Michael Coleman. Charles  completed a four-year sentence in Leavenworth for post office burglary the previous month. Upon his release he was given a train ticket to Houston, Texas, where his wife lived.

Samuel brought the article to the attention of the Robert McClaughry, Leavenworth’s warden, who got in touch with Sheriff Scarborough. The sheriff sent McClaughry his description of the man (“hair as fine as silk”) and a copy of the dead man’s photo. The warden confirmed the man was ex-Leavenworth inmate, Charles M. Coleman, and he wrote back to the sheriff: “Yourself and officers are congratulated on getting rid of this dangerous burglar without he having succeeded in killing any of you before he was killed himself. We had enough of him here and were glad to get rid of him. We also identify in your photograph the coat and shirt that were given to Coleman when he left here.”

Coleman_SanQuentin

San Quentin Prison mugshot. California State Archives.

Born about 1858 in New York to Irish immigrant parents, Charles left home when he was 17. His first prison sentence occurred in 1886 — four years in San Quentin — for a burglary he committed in Calaveras County, California. More prison stints followed in the 1890s, when he was incarcerated in the state prisons of Illinois and Wisconsin for burglary and robbery.

Ironically but perhaps not surprisingly, given his talent as a safe blower, Charles was a skilled machinist and mechanic. While he was incarcerated at Leavenworth he was in charge of work on the huge steel gates at both the east and west entrances to the prison. He also made the doors and gratings of the prison gates. Though he was an expert at both breaking safes and making prison gates, he died unidentified and was buried in an unmarked grave near where he fell in rural Texas.

Featured photos: mugshot and postmortem photo of Charles M. Coleman from Coleman’s Leavenworth Penitentiary inmate files. Collection of NARA-Kansas City, Missouri.