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.

Murder in Sacramento

Murder in Sacramento

He came up to the room. He had the clothes on his arm. He said that he beat a woman on L street out of them, and finally said he got them off Mrs. Gibson. He said he got her drunk and that he “croaked” her. I do not understand what croaked means. He never told me what it meant. He told me he killed the woman, and that the d — old — would not tell any tales on him. I put the clothes on the bed and afterwards on the rocking-chair. They lay there till the next day. There was a watch and a gold locket among the jewelry. The locket was of a small size and carved. I believe the dresses were all wrapped up in one when he brought them in. The jewelry was in the pockets.

— Testimony of Carrie Spencer, San Francisco Chronicle, March 16, 1873

After Charles Mortimer was arrested for the brutal murder of Mary Shaw Gibson, the Sacramento police took a photograph of him. That photo, along with a rogues’ gallery photo of Mortimer taken sometime before the murder, may be the earliest example of the police using photography to help convict a criminal suspect.

Carrie Spencer_flatOn the morning of September 20, 1872, a passerby discovered the body of Mrs. Gibson at her Sacramento business. Mrs. Gibson, a 45-year-old widow from Ireland, sold groceries and liquor from the front room of her property on Jibboom Street and lived in the back room. Her head was lying in a pool of blood from a deep knife wound to her neck that had severed her jugular vein. She was fully clothed and there were signs that she had put up a fierce struggle with her assailants, because reddish-brown hairs were found tightly clenched in her hand. The police believed she had pulled the hairs from the beard of her attacker during the deadly assault. Cash had been taken from the dead woman’s pocket and clothing and jewelry were missing from her room. A glass of beer on the bedside table was taken as evidence and later found to contain strychnine.

Suspicion quickly focused on an ex-convict named Charles Mortimer and his prostitute “moll,” Carrie Spencer. The pair had been seen drinking in Mrs. Gibson’s establishment on the day of the murder. Dresses and jewelry belonging to the dead woman were found in the couple’s room at the Mechanic’s Exchange Hotel and Mrs. Gibson’s ring was found in Charles’ possession. Charles claimed he purchased Mrs. Gibson’s belongings from a man named “George.”

Mechnic's hotel

Mechanic’s Exchange Hotel, undated photo, Library of Congress

Most damning of all, Charles had a fresh injury to his face and he was missing some of his whiskers. He’d been to the local barber to get his beard trimmed to try and make the missing facial hair less noticeable. Police also found a partially empty packet of strychnine powder in his pocket.

The couple was arrested for the murder and photographed by the police. A comparison of a pre-murder photo of Charles to one taken shortly after the murder clearly shows that he normally sported a beard and it had recently been shaved off. His facial hair was described as being reddish-brown in color.

Charles Mortimer was born Charles Flinn in 1834 in Vermont. He was the eldest of five brothers. His family moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, when he was still a child. By the time he was 14 he was in the state reform school in Worcester, where he was described as “idle and dissolute.” He moved west around 1860 and served a one-year sentence at San Quentin Prison in 1862 for a robbery he committed in San Francisco.

Another arrest for assault and robbery followed in 1864. At that time Charles claimed to have reformed and offered to show the police where he buried some stolen loot in exchange for leniency. While pointing out the spot to an officer, who bent down to get a better look, Charles knocked him over the head, grabbed his gun and beat him with it until he thought the man was dead, then made his escape. (The officer eventually recovered). The following year he teamed up with another escaped convict and committed a series of robberies under the name George Foster. These crimes landed him back at San Quentin for a seven-year stretch. Shortly after he was released, in 1872, he met Carrie at a dance hall in San Francisco.

In order to save her own skin, Carrie became the chief witness against Charles at the murder trial. He threatened to kill her if she testified against him, but she had little choice but to cooperate with police if she wanted to avoid being charged as an accessory. She pinned the blame squarely on him, claiming that she knew nothing about Mrs. Gibson’s murder until afterwards, when he showed up at their room with the cash, clothing and jewelry.

Charles was convicted and sentenced to hang. After his conviction he told his version of the story to the press in exchange for money to pay his lawyers. He admitted that he hit Mrs. Gibson with a beer mug, cutting her face and causing her to fall over, but it was Carrie, he insisted, who dealt the deathblow by cutting her throat while he held down the victim’s hands.

A month before the execution date an armed stranger tried to enter the Sacramento Jail, where Charles was being held, in the middle of the night. He was shot and killed by the officer guarding the jail entrance. The man was William John Flinn, Charles’ younger brother. Though he hadn’t seen his brother for many years, William traveled more than 3,000 miles from his home in Massachusetts to Sacramento, hoping to rescue Charles from the gallows.

Charles feigned insanity after the death of his brother but it didn’t help his cause. He was hanged on May 15, 1873. It took him 13 minutes to die. He was buried in the Sacramento City Cemetery, near the brother who died trying to save him.

Carrie returned to her previous pimp, James Willis, and resumed her career as a prostitute. In September 1873 she was arrested in Sacramento for trying to entice a young girl into a “house of ill fame.” Later that year, Carrie and James, who had been convicted of vagrancy and asked to leave the city, boarded a train to Stockton. They were seen in San Francisco, where it was reported that James was fined $300 for violently assaulting an African American woman after she refused his offer of drugged beer.

Mrs. Gibson’s family initially was unable to locate her will and were uncertain about how to divide her $13,000 fortune. Her will was finally found in March 1874 among a pile of papers taken from her house. Rather than leaving her estate to all six of her siblings, she left it only to the ones who had followed her instructions and immigrated with her to California, cutting out those who had remained in Ireland.

Featured photo: Charles Mortimer, before and after the murder of Mary Gibson, courtesy of Graham Pilecki.

Photo of Carrie Spencer, courtesy of Graham Pilecki.

The Family Gems

The Family Gems

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., July 13–Paroled from the Pontiac reformatory, Arthur Groves, alias Harry Williams, a negro, has repaid former Governor Yates, his benefactor, by stealing $3,000 worth of diamonds from the former executive’s handsome new residence in Washington Park. The robbery occurred on June 7 last, at a time when the former Governor was in Kentucky attending the Powers trial as an associate attorney. News of it has only just leaked out through local police officers.

The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois), July 14, 1905

Mrs. Yates

Mrs. Yates, early 1890s

After discovering that her jewelry was missing, Helen Yates, wife of former Illinois governor, Richard Yates, searched the coat of her servant, Harry Williams, and found her brooch pinned in the lining. This “confirmed her suspicions that someone about the place has committed the robbery.” Rather than calling the local police, she telephoned Superintendent Mallory, a family friend who ran the Pontiac State Reformatory where Harry had been incarcerated before he was paroled and hired to work as a coachman for the Yates family. She told Mallory she suspected Harry of stealing the family gems, consisting of “solitaires, brooches and clusters of diamonds.”

Harry disappeared from the Yates’s newly built, architect-designed mansion before Mallory arrived to investigate. Mrs. Yates stated later that when she called the superintendent from the first floor phone in her home, she suspected Harry had been on the second floor, eavesdropping on the phone extension, therefore he realized she suspected him of the theft. Or maybe she called from her bedroom and Harry listened in on the first floor phone. Reports varied about who was on which phone.

Though he was last seen working in the carriage house behind the main house, the fact that Harry went missing after the phone call confirmed his guilt as far as the newspapers were concerned. Mallory offered a reward of $100 for Harry’s capture and the Yates family upped the ante with $150 of their own cash.

A local police detective was sent to try to locate and arrest Harry. He tracked him to several cities in northern Illinois but lost him en route to Chicago.

Harry Williams_back_marked

It was reported that Mallory found Harry in Louisville two months later and “it was necessary to shoot him to capture him.” Harry survived the shooting and was sent back to the state reformatory on a stretcher. There were no reports on whether or not he recovered from his injuries.

Mallory found a couple of the stolen rings in the possession of a Chicago woman named Carrie Washington, however the rest of the loot, according to Carrie, had been pawned. Mallory recovered most of the jewelry from a State Street pawn shop and returned it to Mrs. Yates.

The Yates family lived in their Springfield mansion until 1928. A ghost, it is said, now inhabits the house, pacing the attic on nights when the moon is full, possibly in search of lost family gems.

Featured photo: Harry Williams, 1905 Bertillon card. Collection of the author.

Photo of Mrs. Yates from the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.

100 Stolen Hats

100 Stolen Hats

The detectives accordingly returned to the house, and found another hat in the yard, which they say was thrown out by Pearl Wolf. She was accordingly arrested on a charge of petit larceny. A lot of silk hats and other goods which were found in the flat were taken to headquarters. A number of merchants who were robbed will call this morning to see if they can identify the stuff. Pearl Wolf denies knowing anything about the stuff found in the flat.

The Cincinnati Enquirer, April 30, 1898

Police were called to Moore’s dry goods store in Cincinnati on April 29, 1898, after an alert clerk noticed a woman wearing a cloak that had been stolen from the shop the previous week. The woman, Anne Ernstein, alias Annie Campbell, claimed she purchased the cloak from a peddler, however the police didn’t swallow her tale, so they locked her up for shoplifting. Her companions, Pearl Wolf and Laura Butler, were not charged. Both women boarded with Anne.

Detectives went to Anne’s apartment where they discovered a large collection of stolen items, including hats from Appel’s millinery store. They also found Pearl trying to get rid of the evidence by throwing it out into the yard, so took her into custody on a shoplifting charge.

Pearl Wolf back_markedPearl, a local butcher’s daughter, had been in trouble with the police before. She and her roommate Laura (the other woman in the store when Anne was arrested) had been detained a few days earlier. The pair had been out drinking with a “traveling man” and he claimed they robbed him. It’s possible that sex for hire was involved and one of the women stole his money while he was “distracted” by the other. The man refused to press charges, likely because he didn’t want his name published in the newspaper.

What’s clear from her rogues’ gallery photo is that Pearl appreciated a nice hat. (Did she steal it or buy it?) During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries most women adored beautiful hats and never went on an excursion, jail included, without one. The police allowed Pearl to keep her pretty chapeau on her head in both the front and side photos — normally the hat would be removed for the side shot. She went to trial for larceny but the press didn’t cover the outcome of her case.

appel store ad

There was another attempt to rob Appel’s millinery store a few days later when young woman went into the shop wearing an inexpensive tam o’ shanter (a beret with a pom-pom on top) and tried to walk out with a $25 confection fit for a queen on her head. She was caught when she aroused the clerk’s suspicions by asking to buy some cheap roses to put on “her” expensive hat. Harry Appel, the shop’s owner, decided not to prosecute after the young woman’s employer pleaded for mercy. However the exasperated Appel complained that more than 100 hats had been stolen from his shop in the previous two months and noted that he intended to hire a private detective for his store.

Featured photo: Bertillon card of Pearl Wolf. Collection of the author.

Prison for Boots

Prison for Boots

Note: This story is excerpted from my book, Captured and Exposed: The First Police Rogues’ Gallery in America.

On April 12, 1859, seven cases of kip (work) boots from Biggs, Staples & Co. were loaded onto the wagon of Andrew McCullough in Canton, Missouri, near the Mississippi River in the northeastern part of the state. McCullough was taking the load west to Edina, Missouri. Because the 38-mile trip would take him more than a day, he stopped overnight at the home of a friend named John Fisher. Before retiring for the night, McCullough went out to check his wagon and cover it with a sheet — at that time all was well.

The following morning, one of Fisher’s neighbors discovered a box of boots sitting by the road some distance from the wagon. Several pairs were missing from the box, including two sets, sizes eight and nine, in which one boot had been removed from each pair. Fisher headed to town to find the boots’ owner, James Biggs, and report the theft to him. On the way he noticed two men wearing new kip boots and immediately suspected them of having tampered with the box and removed the boots. A small posse was formed to hunt for the suspects, who were soon located not far from town.

Nineteen-year-old Richard Shannon was found wearing the incriminating mismatched boots. His companion, James Ford, an older, larger man, was also shod in new boots made by Biggs, Staples & Co. Shannon gave himself up, but Ford pulled out his revolver. One of the men in the posse fired shots in response. No one was injured, but Ford temporarily escaped. He was soon recaptured, and both he and Shannon were tried and convicted of grand larceny for the theft of the entire case of 12 pairs of boots, valued at $48 — despite the fact that no witness saw either man remove the case from McCullough’s wagon. (The lesser charge of petty larceny might have applied if the men had been accused of stealing only the boots they were wearing.) Both men were sentenced to two years at the Missouri State Penitentiary, however, Ford escaped from jail while awaiting transfer to Jefferson City and was never recaptured.

Richard Shannon back

Reverse side of Shannon’s rogues’ gallery photo. Collection of the Missouri History Museum.

Shannon served his full sentence, beginning on September 22, 1859. The date on his St. Louis rogues’ gallery photo — August 9, 1858 — may be incorrect because it’s nine months prior to the date of the crime. In his photo, the auburn-haired Shannon wears the wrinkled, lightweight jacket of a laborer. With his tousled hair; young face; and rosy, hand-tinted cheeks, he looks like the last person one would expect to see headed to a prison where 12-hour days of hard labor, crowded cells, poor food, and inmate whippings were the norm.

Born in 1839 in the town of Galena in northern Illinois, Richard Emmet Shannon was the third of ten children belonging to Irish immigrants Thomas and Mary Shannon. Prior to his arrest, Richard Shannon worked as a raftsman, bringing logs that were tied together as rafts down the Mississippi River to the sawmills. Of the identified individuals in the Rogues’ Gallery Collection about whom information was found, Shannon is one of only two people who didn’t commit their alleged crimes in St. Louis.

George_Caleb_Bingham_-_Raftsmen_Playing_Cards

“Raftsmen Playing Cards,” 1847 painting by George Caleb Bingham. Collection of the St. Louis Art Museum.

In October 1861, two weeks after his release from the Missouri State Penitentiary, Shannon enlisted in the 2nd Kansas Cavalry, serving as a private in Company I during the Civil War until his muster-out on May 25, 1862. He enlisted in the 3rd Cavalry, Company H in Vallejo, California, in July 1870. At the time of his enlistment, Shannon worked as a stonecutter (perhaps this occupation was inspired by his father, who worked as a stonemason). He deserted his company on January 11, 1872, and managed to avoid being captured. By the late 1870s he resided in San Francisco, where he worked at cutting and shaping stone.

Shannon was familiar not only with stone masonry but also with horses, a fact that led him to try his hand at entrepreneurship. In May 1882 the federal government issued him a patent for a rein holder — a mechanism he invented for securing the reins of a carriage’s horse to keep them from getting tangled with the horse’s feet. This was the second such device Shannon submitted for a patent, stating in his application: “My present invention is an improvement upon my former one.” It’s unknown whether either of Shannon’s rein-holder designs was ever manufactured.

In July 1885, Shannon visited Chicago and spoke at a strike of the Chicago West Division Railway Company, where newspapers covering the event intriguingly described him as a “labor agitator from the Pacific coast.”

Details about the later life and death of raftsman, Civil War veteran, stonemason, inventor, labor agitator, and ex-convict Richard Shannon are likely lost to history.

Featured photo: Richard E. Shannon, 1859 rogues’ gallery photo (ambrotype). Collection of the Missouri History Museum.

That Crook Look

That Crook Look

His eyes are cold and his stare is intense. His thin lips curl in a slight snarl. If central casting needed an actor who looked the part of a ruthless crook, this stiff-jawed man would fill the bill perfectly. Even his suit, bow tie, starched collar and homburg hat can’t make the man who claimed to be “Henry Sarto” look honest.

Henry’s crime story goes back a couple of years prior to February 1916 when these mugshots were taken.

On March 27, 1914, Inspector J.B. Bradley, an agent of the Boston and Maine Railroad, discovered a man in the midst of robbing a freight train late one night at the Fitchburg Rail Yard, northwest of Boston, Massachusetts. He ordered him to stop but instead the man shot him twice. Fortunately the bullets tore through Bradley’s coat, missing him. Next the assailant hit Bradley in the face with a sharp object, injuring his nose. Then the man turned and fled, escaping capture, at least for the time being.

Bradley was not about to let the individual who tried to kill him go free — he searched long and hard for him. His efforts paid off, in January 1916, when a car was seen in the vicinity of more recent railroad car break-ins and the license plate number was taken down. The number was traced to a “Harry Taylor” living at 65 Oread Street in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Inspector Casey, a Worcester police officer, went to Taylor’s house on February 17, 1916, to question him about the break-ins, but Taylor pulled a gun on Casey and refused to cooperate. This was a stupid move on Taylor’s part because Casey returned with more officers and they took him into custody. 600 pairs of stolen shoes, stolen clothing and other stolen items were discovered in his home.

Henry Taylor_BackHe told police his name was “Henry Sarto” but that was an alias. He was charged with larceny from railroad cars.

His real name was Henry Leroy Taylor and stealing from railroad cars was his stock in trade. In fact he’d joined a railroad union in New York to increase his access to facilities for robbing cars in both New York and Massachusetts.

Henry’s first wife, Margaret, charged him with cruelty, neglect and desertion. After only two years of marriage they divorced in 1902 and Margaret was left with two young children to raise on her own. Henry had two more wives and three more children, but those marriages also ended in divorce.

The larceny charge was the least of Henry’s problems — police wanted him on the more serious accusation of attacking Inspector Bradley. A grand jury charged him with assault with intent to commit murder. On January 2, 1917, he was convicted of the charge and sentenced to four years in the Massachusetts State Prison in Charlestown, close to the tracks of the Boston and Maine Railroad he had spent so much time robbing.

If Hollywood had come calling, Henry might have ended up making an honest living off his scowl by playing the bad guy in silent films. But it didn’t happen that way.

Featured image: Henry Leroy Taylor’s 1916 police identification card (front). Collection of the author.