Checkered Career

Checkered Career

Arraigned in police court yesterday before magistrate P.J. McNamara, George Kelly, 27, of Wilkes-Barre, was held in $500 bail on a charge of larceny, while a woman, who describes herself as Dorothy, his wife, 22, was held under a similar bond as accessory.

 

The woman has had a rather picturesque career, according to her story to Superintendent of Police M.J. McHugh. She says she ran away from home, lured by the glamor of the stage, when only fifteen years of age. She started out as a chorus girl, drifted into the carnival field in the role of fortune teller, then cowgirl with a wild west show, later into vaudeville, and most recently into burlesque. Her mother, she says, is the owner of a store in Wilkes-Barre.

 

The couple were (sic) arrested here for the theft of a dress from the Jordan & Plottle store on Wyoming avenue.

The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania), October 26, 1923

Burlesque dancer 1920s

Burlesque dancer, 1920s.

Did Dorothy want a new dress for her burlesque routine or did she need something valuable to pawn or resell? One minute she and her friend George were discussing what to buy at an upscale Scranton ladies clothing shop and the next minute they were gone, taking an expensive dress with them but omitting to pay for it. The shop clerk immediately noticed the dress was missing and called the police.

Police quickly arrested Dorothy and George. Their refusal to tell detectives where they lived made the authorities think they had more stolen loot at their house. Add to that the fact that George had a police record — he’d been arrested a few months earlier on suspicion of burglary. The police decided he was not involved in the burglaries, but he was told to get out of Scranton — an order he’d ignored.

In her mugshots Dorothy looks more amused than worried about the situation she found herself in. Maybe she’d been arrested before and figured it was no big deal.

Dorothy Kelly_back_marked

Whether or not the couple was actually husband and wife or just shoplifting cronies couldn’t be determined. Young Dorothy had a checkered career after running away from home at a tender age. She started out as a chorus girl and things went downhill from there, to the point that she was doing semi-nude “burlesque” dancing for a living by the time she and George were arrested.

George pleaded guilty to larceny and receiving the following month. The case against Dorothy was dropped but there’s no doubt that the judge ordered her to get out of town. If she had any sense she complied.

Featured photos: Front of Dorothy Kelly’s 1923 Bertillon card. Collection of the author.

Puzzled Police

Puzzled Police

On March 4, 1938, Jean Williams was arrested in Scranton, Pennsylvania, for disorderly conduct. Born in New York City, Jean told the police she worked as a “nightclub entertainer.” After conducting a search of her person, police placed Jean, who was dressed in men’s clothing, in the cell room for males. This was apparently her first arrest in Scranton.

Jean_Williams_confuses_police

Headline from The Evening News, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Saturday, March 5, 1938.

A friend arrived at the police station a short time later, asking why Jean had been arrested. After informing Captain John Lewis that Jean was female, the friend wanted to know why Jean was being held in a cell for male prisoners. Eventually he succeeded in convincing the police captain that Jean was a woman. She was transferred to the women’s cells and later discharged.

Scranton Police arrested Jean again for disorderly conduct on December 12, 1938. Her booking card indicates that she was 27 years old, tall and slender, with black hair and “maroon” colored eyes. In the “mustache” section of the card the police wrote “Hermaphrodite” in parentheses, as if embarrassed and needing to whisper the description. It’s unknown which cells she was placed in on that occasion.

Jean Williams_back_marked

Jean Williams’ police booking card (back). Collection of the author.

Jean identified as a female. Her face, with its delicate features and thin eyebrows, looks feminine, however she has a distinct adam’s apple, no breasts and she’s dressed as a male. The way her hair is tucked under at the back gives the impression that she’d recently been wearing a wig.

The confusion regarding Jean’s gender identity isn’t surprising. America in the 1930s was decades away from acceptance of people who didn’t fit clearly into traditional sex roles and appearances. The word “transgender” wouldn’t come into common use until the 1970s. It would take until almost the end of the 20th century, with advances in understanding of genetics, for the word “hermaphrodite” to be replaced by “intersex.”

Jean appears in only one Scranton city directory — the 1936 edition. Her profession is listed as “waiter” so she may have identified then as male. She worked at a Scranton tavern called the Ritz Café that was raided by police due to violations of the state’s liquor laws.

After December 1938 Jean could not be traced. Perhaps she’d had enough of being arrested by the puzzled police in Scranton, so she moved on.

Featured photo: Jean Williams’ police booking card (front). Collection of the author.