Most Wanted Fugitive

   Katherine Ann Power spent 23 years on the run after participating in the September 23, 1970, robbery of the State Street Bank & Trust Company in Brighton, Massachusetts. Boston patrolman Walter Schroeder, 42, was shot in the back during the getaway. The thieves fled with $26,000. Schroeder later died.

   Although Power did not go into the bank, she acted as a lookout and sat behind the wheel of the getaway car. That earned her a place on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list and a smiling photo on one of its posters. At the time she was one of only six women to make the list and one of the bureau’s longest-sought female fugitives. She had no fingerprints on file, which made the chase especially difficult for authorities.

   Power was a 21-year-old senior at Brandeis University when she became radicalized in the anti-war movement. According to one newspaper account, she was a straight A student, attending the university on a scholarship. One of seven children, she came from a devout Catholic family and was the valedictorian of her Denver-area high school.

   Power and Susan Saxe, a magna cum laude graduate, became involved and worked tirelessly in the student strike movement to protest the Vietnam war, the expansion of the war into Cambodia, and the killing of four Kent State students on May 4.

   As the two young women got more involved in the movement, they met William “Lefty” Gilday, Robert Valeri and Stanley Ray Bond. All three men were ex-cons who had been paroled that June from Walpole Maximum Security Prison. Their paroles were contingent on them attending the university in the fall on an inmate-education program.

   Forty-one-year-old Gilday had been a minor-league pitcher for the Washington Senators farm team before he was sent to prison for armed robbery. It was Gilday who laid down a barrage of submachine gun fire that killed Schroeder. Valeri was a member of a traveling circus. At age 21, he went down for car theft and attempted robbery. By far, the worst of the bunch was 25-year-old Bond, a former helicopter pilot in Vietnam. After coming home from the service, he committed 20 armed robberies within a three-month period. He was the ringleader of the gang.

   Looking back, Power’s friends thought she may have been sexually obsessed with Bond. In a 1994 article by Lucinda Franks in the New Yorker, Kathy denied these theories but did claim he was her “soul mate.”

   In all, the gang held up five banks and raided a National Guard Armory in Newburyport of its ammunition. Money from the robberies helped fund the movement against the war.

   Valeri was the first to be caught, having been identified by bank surveillance photos. He was picked up a few days after the robbery as he got out of a cab in front of his home. He cut a deal to testify against the others and was sentenced to 25 years. He was paroled eventually. Police cornered Gilday after a carjacking and a bullet-filled, high-speed chase with numerous police cruisers a few days after the Boston robbery. He was sentenced to life and died in prison at the age of 82. Bond was caught in Grand Junction, Colorado, as he was boarding a plane for Chicago. While awaiting trial at the Walpole prison, he attempted to escape by making a bomb. He was killed when the bomb exploded.

   Power traveled with Bond for a few days after the robbery. To disguise her identity, she purchased new glasses frames and chopped off and colored her hair.

   In the Atlanta airport, Bond handed her a suitcase to take with her to St. Louis. She claimed to be unaware of a loaded gun inside the suitcase. It went off on the luggage carousel in St Louis, injuring two airport workers. At that point, she began to realized that Bond did not have her best interests at heart.

   She told herself not to panic when airport security began checking tickets. When they started to check them a second time, she calmly walked out of the airport. She found a cab outside and asked the driver to deliver her to a department store where she bought a wig, a dress and a new suitcase. Once she had changed into the dress and put the wig on, she went to the nearest bus station.

   Power met up with Saxe in Detroit. From there the two women contacted other antiwar protestors who provided them with false IDs. The two women worked odd jobs, but they didn’t stay at any one job for long for fear their employers might catch on to their phony Social Security numbers and false addresses.

   Power and Saxe moved around the Northeast during this period until underground contacts came up with valid Social Security numbers for them. They chose to live in “all-female cells” in Torrington and Hartford, Connecticut. Power became close friends with one particular woman and confided in her. After a short period, the woman distanced herself from Power having decided the friendship was too risky.

   Power and Saxe went their separate ways in 1974. Saxe wound up in Philadelphia and was captured in 1975 when a Philadelphia police officer recognized her from an FBI photo. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10-12 years in prison. She served seven years.

   For the next two years Power moved around doing clerical work while living in a furnished apartment and wearing non-descript clothing. Each day was the same. She was cut off from friends and family. There was nothing to look forward to. She sank into depression, and she began to drink.

She was fired from one job for helping three of the female employees join a union.

   Finally in 1977, Power got a birth certificate for a baby who had been born around the same time as she but who had died shortly after birth. With the birth certificate in hand, she was able to get a Social Security number and a drivers license. She left the Northeast and headed to Portland, Oregon, where she started a new life as Alice Metzinger.

   She found work waiting tables and cooking in a restaurant. When she wasn’t working, she hung out to drink at a bar called Slammer. Apparently, she gave no thought to the name of the bar until she realized the walls were decorated with FBI Wanted posters. One of them was hers. By that time, her hair had grown out and back to its natural color, so she looked like her old self. She realized this one night while sitting next to a Portland cop who didn’t recognize her.

   Power gave birth to a son with the assistance of a midwife at home in 1979. A year later she met and fell in love with Ronley Duncan, an accountant. She divulged her true identity to him. At Power‘s insistence, the couple moved around and had few friends. By 1984, Power had found a job working at Linn-Benton College as a culinary instructor. Things got even better when she learned the FBI had dropped her from their Most Wanted list.

   In 1989, Power opened Napoli restaurant with six investors. To make it a success, she worked long hours. By 1991, she was burned out. She quit to concentrate on her family and to make a home, but later that year she was hired to manage another restaurant and consult for others. She also helped a group buy another eating establishment.

   Throughout all of this, her depression was worsening, and she finally sought counseling. Medication and therapy helped. She started to blossom, gaining new interests and friends. After 13 years of living together, she and Duncan decided to marry, and he adopted her son.

   With the help of counseling, she decided to give herself up, and in 1992, she hired lawyers to negotiate her surrender. Although Duncan pleaded with her to not go through with it, she was adamant. She knew if she had to go underground again her son would suffer. The hardest thing she had to do was tell her son who she was.

   She was taken back to Massachussetts where she was charged with murder and armed robbery. Through a plea agreement, the charges were dropped down to manslaughter, armed robbery and robbery. She was sentenced to 8-12 years. She was released on good behavior in 1999 after serving six years.

She risked it all

Forty-year-old Joyce Bailey Mattox was so crazy in love with Jesse Glen Smith, 36, that she decided to risk it all to break him out of the Perry Correctional Institute in South Carolina. Smith was doing a 40-year sentence for armed robbery, receiving stolen property, and assault and battery with intent to kill.

Joyce told reporters she met her sweetheart through a friend who was talking to another prisoner. Other reports say the two met through Smith’s brother. However they met, she began writing to him and talking on the phone with him every day. Next came contact visits at the prison. “We would kiss and hold hands,” the busty blond said.

The visitations went on for eight months in 1985. Joyce knew Smith was married, but the three-time divorcee swept aside any guilt she may have had by saying his wife had not visited him since he was locked up. And anyhow, he had told his wife he was in love with Joyce.

The lovebirds continued with their relationship at the prison until one day one of Smith’s fellow inmates, William Douglas Ballew, came up with an escape plan. Ballew, 42, was serving 23-years for armed robbery. His plan included a helicopter, and although it sounded spectacular, it was not particularly original. It had been tried before. One of those escapes wound up as the movie “Breakout.” But another helicopter-planned prison escape went awry when the woman who hijacked the bird was shot dead by the pilot.

But Joyce, a high-school dropout, was willing to do anything to be with her “Glen,” so she followed the plan to a T. She started by emptying her bank account of $780. The next move was to get a gun. She tried to get her neighbors to buy one for her. She told them she wanted it for protection against one of her three ex-husbands. The neighbors declined to help her, so she went to a pawn shop and bought a .32 caliber handgun. Because she had no knowledge of guns, the salesperson had to load it for her.

Next, Joyce bought Smith some clothing and packed it, along with some of her own, in her blue Chevy Nova. She was able to talk her unsuspecting neighbors into following her out to a field where she left her car five miles from the prison. Then they left a second car at a convenience store 20 miles away. She told her neighbors she was leaving the cars for a friend to pick up later. The last thing, Joyce had the neighbors drop her at Palmetto Helicopter on December 19. When they asked her what she was doing, she was vague about her plans and “talked in circles.”

At Palmetto, she told the pilot, Larry Green, that she wanted a large helicopter to go sightseeing. Green, who had flown during the Viet Nam war, talked her into a smaller, two-seater aircraft for $165.

Once they were in the air, Joyce shoved $165 into Green’s shirt pocket, then pulled the .32 from her cowboy boot and ordered him to fly to the prison. Smith had instructed her to make the pilot remove his headset, so he would have no communication with the ground.

When the prison came within eyesight, its fence loomed twelve-foot high and was topped with razor wire. Only one-armed guard stood watch in the tower, and a second patrolled the perimeter in a car. There were approximately 200 men in the recreation yard.

Joyce directed Green to set the chopper down in the recreation yard. Smith, Ballew and a third inmate, James Rodney Leonard, 20, were ready. Just as the aircraft touched the ground, the three came running. A guard grappled with the men, trying to yank them out of the aircraft, but a bullet from inside the copter hit him in the mouth, breaking his jaw and knocking out some teeth. Joyce would later deny firing her gun. Ballew would take responsibility for it.

They were on the ground for all of two minutes, but to Joyce it seemed like an eternity. Green, relying on his military training, safely lifted the overloaded helicopter off the ground and flew them to the field where Joyce had left her Chevy Nova. The escapees let Green go unharmed and piled into the car with Smith at the wheel, Joyce riding shotgun and the other two crouched down in the back seat. They headed to the convenience store to drop her car and hop into the Dodge Aspen that had been left there.

As they started to drive, it dawned on them that they had no plan for what came next. They just kept heading south, listening to country music and stopping for beer and fast food along the way. Finally, they rented a single motel room for the four of them, but Ballew and Leonard stepped out for a while to give Joyce some privacy with her lover.

The next morning, the four hit the road again, this time headed for Georgia. By that night, the authorities had found Joyce’s car, and the FBI disclosed her name to the media. Her picture was in the newspapers. Somewhere on the road, they stole a 1979 Pontiac with Alabama plates.

In the early morning hours of December 23—four days after the prison break—they pulled into the Welcome Center on I-95 at the Georgia-Florida line to catch some sleep. A state trooper spotted the car at 3:30 a.m. He ran the plates and they came back to a stolen car. The trooper called for backup, and three cruisers showed up and surrounded the suspect car. The troopers turned their spotlights on the car and used their public address system to wake up the inhabitants.

Joyce, Smith, Ballew and Leonard stumbled out of the vehicle, sleepy, barefoot, hands up and squinting their eyes against the blinding spotlights. They were faced with heavily armed police officers.

The four fugitives were transported back to South Carolina to face the judge. The three men were sentenced to life in prison. Joyce was charged with aiding and abetting escape and assault and battery with intent to kill. In addition, she faced a federal charge of air piracy. She was sentenced to 40 years with the hope of parole after ten.

As Joyce was led away, reporters following the case asked her why she did it. “Because I loved Glen Smith,” she said.

The two never saw each other again.

“Cowboy Bob”

He never waved a gun or said a word, just handed the teller a note that read, “This is a bank robbery. Give me your money. No marked bills or dye packs.”

The Texas robber wore a big white cowboy hat, a brown leather jacket, gloves, and a bushy beard and moustache under huge sunglasses. The hat kept security cameras from snapping a good image at his face. After each robbery, he rode away in a 1975 orange Pontiac Grand Prix baring stolen license plates. During his getaways, the robber, who was dubbed “Cowboy Bob” by the FBI, kept an even foot on the accelerator and obeyed all stops signs and red lights.

The heists baffled the special agents of the FBI. During a 17-month period from May 1991 to September 1992, “Cowboy Bob” exhibited such uncanny calm during his robberies that investigators labelled him a pro.

After five successful holdups, “Cowboy Bob” got greedy on September 25, 1992 and it led to his downfall. He robbed the First Gibraltar Bank in Mesquite then went a mile down the road to knock over the Mesquite’s First Interstate Bank both in the same day. He slipped up by using the license plate that belonged to the owner of the car, and someone wrote it down.

That same day, FBI tracked the plate and learned that it belonged to a Grand Prix owned by Pete Tallas. Tallas admitted owning the ride and told agents he had given it to his mother and sister, Peggy Jo Tallas, a year back because they couldn’t afford a car. He gave them his sister’s address.

Special Agent Steve Powell and his team sat outside Peggy Jo’s apartment discussing how they were going to handle the situation when a woman came out and got into the Pontiac in question and drove away. The lawmen figured she was “Cowboy Bob’s” girlfriend. While Powell followed her car, his partners rang the apartment’s doorbell. Peggy Jo’s elderly mother answered the ring and screamed when armed agents shot past her into the apartment. Their search turned up a Styrofoam head on the shelf of the bedroom closet. A fake beard and moustache were pinned to it. It was topped by a large white cowboy hat. A stash of $13,000 cold, hard cash was found under Peggy Jo’s bed.

A few blocks away, Powell had pulled Peggy Jo over and told her he wanted to know about the man in her apartment. “There is no man,” she said plainly. Looking at her closely, Powell noticed streaks of grey dye in her hair and bits of adhesive on her upper lip.

Powell and his team put all the clues together and realized that Peggy Jo was “Cowboy Bob.”

Peggy Jo had been shrewd in putting together her disguise. The hat, facial hair and big sunglasses concealed her face from witnesses and security cameras. She rolled up a towel and put it under a man’s shirt to give herself a paunch, and she wore a large pair of men’s cowboy boots. By presenting notes to the tellers, she wouldn’t give away her gender.

A look into Peggy Jo’s life showed her to be a free spirit. She dropped out of high school in her sophomore year to see the world and maybe spend her life on a Mexican beach. Instead, she wound up in Dallas, Texas, working as a receptionist. Her off times were spent in nightclubs and at the movies with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid being her favorite.

Her dreams were dashed when she became the sole caretaker of her mother who was bedridden from a degenerative bone disease. Peggy Jo’s own health began to suffer when she injured her back at work. Later on, she had to have an emergency mastectomy. More troubles followed as she hopped from job to job, and she and her mother moved from place to place. The one love of her life was a huge disappointment because he turned out to be married, but had never bothered to tell her. She was so hurt that she never dated after that. Worst of all she faced mounting debts, and so she turned to crime.

Peggy Jo Tallas was 48-years-old when she pleaded guilty to bank robbery. Her public defender asked for a light sentence, telling the judge her client was in a desperate situation with no job and a dependent invalid mother. At the time of her first robbery, the electricity had been turned off in their apartment. She never carried a gun and never hurt anyone, and she suffered from depression and was addicted to drugs, the attorney said. Peggy Jo was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison.

She did her time and was released in the mid-1990s. She went back to a quiet life of taking care of her mother and working at a marina where no one knew about her past. She was a dependable and hard worker. Her boss and customers were fond of her and had nothing but good things to say about her.

In 2002, her mother died in her sleep, and that seemed to hit Peggy Jo hard. By 2004, she was restless and ready to move on. She bought an RV for $6,400 from a man she knew at the marina. It was time to fulfill her dream of living on a beach in Mexico. The only problem was she didn’t have the money to make it across the Texas-Mexican border. There was only one way she could get the money.

Sixty years old by then, Peggy Jo turned to robbery again, sticking up numerous banks from the summer of 2004 to May of 2005. During each hold-up, she donned men’s clothing, pasted a moustache on her lip and padded her shirt to give herself a belly.

On May 5, 2005, she left her cowboy disguise behind and hit the Guaranty Bank in Tyler, Texas, wearing a wide-brimmed hat, oversized sunglasses and her regular clothes. She handed over a note that demanded the money and warned against setting off the alarm. In careless move, she didn’t insist on unmarked bills and no dye packs.

As she left the bank, the dye pack was radio-triggered and blew up inside her bag, marking the loot, as well as her clothing and skin. Peggy Jo ran from the bank in a red cloud of aerosol dye.

She climbed into her RV and sped away. Police responded and were quickly on her tail. She pulled over in a residential area two miles away from the bank. Police ordered her to get out of her vehicle, but she did not comply. She sat still in her RV for several minutes. After a while, she went to the back bedroom where she had a loaded .357 Magnum and a realistic toy gun. She selected one. She went to the side door and, hiding the weapon, stepped out. Officers tried to persuade her to surrender. But she raised her gun and pointed it.

Gunfire exploded. When the smoke cleared, Peggy Jo Tallas, was lying dead on the ground, having been shot four times. She was holding a replica toy gun.

70 years as an international jewel thief

Like most little girls Doris Marie Payne played dress-up. She’d put on a hat and loop a purse over her arm and pretend to be far away from her impoverished life in Slab Fork, West Virginia. It was a game she called “Miss Lady” and good practice for when she grew up and began a seven decade career as an international jewel thief.

In her more than 70 years traveling the world, she stole millions of dollars in precious gems. Tied to crimes from California to New York and Paris to Tokyo and glamorous places in between, she used nine passports and cast herself into different personas with multiple aliases, ten social security numbers, and nine dates of birth.

Doris’s modus operandi was simple. Dressed in expensive, designer clothing and carrying a costly handbag, she posed as a wealthy woman when entering a jewelry store. At 5’9”, she had a regal bearing and a charismatic personality. She would ask one of the employees to see several pieces of jewelry. As she compared pricey baubles and tried them on to admire in the mirror, she would engage the clerk in conversation. Her pleasant manner and charm would inevitably trick the clerk into forgeting how many pieces were outside the display case. When the clerk was suitably confused, Doris would leave the store with one or two pieces of bling.

The first time she thought about stealing anything was when she was a youngster. She went into a shop looking for a watch. The owner was helping her when another customer came into the store and interrupted them. The owner didn’t want to be seen helping a black person. Not noticing that she still had the watch on, he asked her to leave. She did so with the watch attached to her wrist, according to one account. In a 2013 documentary, “The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne,” she said she realized at that moment just how easy stealing could be.

Growing up in the 1930s, Doris often witnessed her father abusing her mother. Her coal miner father was African-American and her seamstress mother was Native American. Doris claimed to be a thief out of necessity. Her first arrest was in 1952, but she appeared to be active long before that. While quite young, she boarded a bus to Pittsburg where she stole a $22,000 diamond then sold it for cash so her mother could leave her father.

The dates and capers are hard to untangle. Out of her nearly 20-page-long rap sheet, her theft of a 10-carat diamond ring valued at a half a million dollars is most notable. Doris boosted it from Monte Carlo in the 1970s. Authorities chased her to France and caught up with her in Nice. She was extradited back to Monte Carlo and held for nine months while authorities hunted for the ring. One account said she pried the stone from the mounting, discarded it then sewed the stone into the hem of her girdle. The authorities never found it, and she was let go. According to the story from, she sold it in New York.

At one point she found a fence for her gems in Cleveland through a prostitute.

Doris’s criminal career included snatching a 3.5 carat diamond ring in Palm Desert, California, an entry on Wikipedia claims. She was 83-years-old at the time. She was sentenced to two years in prison for that heist but was released after a few months due to overcrowding.

One would think at her advanced age, she would have retired from the diamond business, but according to the Daily Beast, in 2015 she was accused of boosting $33,000 ring from a mall jewelry store in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was wanted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg sheriff’s department for that theft.

But she wasn’t done with her crime spree. Months after the Charlotte theft, she was arrested in Atlanta for making away with a pair of $690 pair of Christian Dior earrings from Saks Fifth Avenue. It wasn’t her first lift from Saks. A few years earlier, she tore the tags off a Burberry trench coat costing $1300, put it on and walked out the door of a Costa Mesa store. In 2016, she pocketed a $2000 Lagos diamond necklace from a department store in Dunwoody, a suburb of Atlanta. She was caught by a security guard.

The most recent case as of this writing was in 2017 when she swiped $86.22 worth of items from a Walmart store outside of Atlanta. On probation at the time and wearing an ankle monitor, she was charged with a misdemeanor.

“I don’t have any regrets about stealing jewelry,” she told one of her jailers, according to the Daily Beast. “I regret getting caught.”


The witches of Santa Fe

While in Santa Fe for a photographic workshop several years ago, a friend and I wandered into a small adobe gift shop and museum on East De Vargas Street. Inside, an artist named Bobbie Garcia was creating crosses by cutting and pounding pieces of tin he had rescued from the roof of an old fallen-down mission. In the center of each cross he affixed three pieces of turquoise with thin wire.

From under his black pork-pie hat, he eyed our cameras which were slung around our necks. “You’re most welcome to take photos as I work,” he said. We, of course, were delighted and snapped away. A three-inch long, wispy goatee floated from his chin as he explained his process. After awhile, we asked about the museum. “Ah yes, there is a story about this house that I must tell you,” he said.

We were standing in the oldest house in the USA, he told us. I know that people from St. Augustine might beg to differ. But this adobe structure was built at the beginning of the 17th century and rests on the foundation of an ancient pueblo which dates back to around 1200. The history of the house itself is interesting, but the legend of a couple of its inhabitants makes it the perfect subject for my October/Halloween blog.

The tale begins somewhere around 1692 following the Spaniards’ reconquest of Santa Fe after the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, Garcia said. Juan Espinoza, a mounted soldier, was one of the young men to return to Santa Fe. Somewhere along the road, he had caught a glimpse of a young woman named Catalina Monroy. She had beautiful dark eyes and long black hair. Juan was immediately smitten, but Catalina was a flirt, and she teased many of the young men.

Catalina had several suitors, including Juan’s best friend Pedro Pino. Other accounts have Pedro being Juan’s commanding officer. Whatever the relationship, Juan and Pedro were opposites. While Pedro was tall, handsome, and flashy, Juan was short and pudgy and easily overlooked.

Juan had worked hard and saved his money, and he was determined to marry Catalina. As was the custom of the day, he took an older person with him to ask Catalina’s father, Don Vicente Monroy, for her hand in marriage. He was brokenhearted to learn that she was not interested in marrying him. Instead, she had fallen in love with Pedro.

Oldest House

Stricken with grief and jealousy, he went to visit two witches Doña Filomena and Doña Lugarda, who lived in the Old House in the Barrio de Analco (neighborhood on the other side of the river). The two old crones steadied themselves on canes while tending their herb garden as he approached them. Much to his amazement, they already knew his name.

Juan confessed his feelings for Catalina to them and asked if they could mix a potion that would make her love him in return. The witches said indeed they could. They began mixing herbs and chanting as they brewed a tea in a pot over a fire in the corner fireplace. As the old hags handed the finished potion to him, they cautioned that he must do two things to assure the spell would work. The first was to kill a pig and eat its heart raw. They told him after he had accomplished eating the pig’s heart to take the tea to Catalina and have her drink it.

Juan thanked the old witches and paid them in gold. He took the precious tea, but the thought of killing a pig and eating its raw heart was repulsive. He decided if the tea didn’t work he would then kill the pig.

Tea in hand, he went to call on Catalina and her father. Don Vicente Monroy was most impressed with the present. All three of them sat and drank the delicious liquid from fine china cups. But then Catalina became ill all at once and had to leave to the room.

For the next several days, Juan heard nothing. He had no idea whether the potion had worked. Then one day he happened across Pedro who was all smiles and had a light step. Juan asked what made him so jovial, and Pedro told him that Catalina had consented to marry him.

Juan was so taken aback that he stumbled to his horse and climbed up on the animal’s back. He rode as fast as he as he could to the witches’ house. Once there, he jumped from his horse and pounded on the door. “You lied!” He screamed when Filomena opened the door. “The potion didn’t work!”

“Did you do what we told you?” the black-clad hag asked.

“Yes. I did exactly as you instructed.” The lie flew out of his mouth. “And it didn’t work, I tell you. I want my gold pieces back!”

Knowing that Juan had not followed their instructions, the witches refused to give the money back. At their refusal, he drew his sword against them. He seemed to have forgotten about their canes as one of them swiftly hit him with hers. He fell and his sword went skittering.

One of the witches—and legend does not tell which one—seized the long sharp sword. With one swift strike, she came down on Juan’s neck. His head fell away from his body and left a bloody trail as it went rolling down De Vargas Street.

One story claims Juan’s headless body jumped up on his horse and road down the street trying to scoop up his head. Some Santa Feans say the sound of hoof beats can be heard and a headless horseman can be seen on East De Vargas Street on moonlit nights.

Bobby Garcia told us that the old witches sat his body up in a chair outside their door as a caution to anyone who would cross them. And the headless body sat and rotted.

Happy Halloween, everyone!





Feminine wiles and treacherous smiles

Ohio has produced its share of dark-hearted women.

Take, for instance, Cleveland’s Clara Palmer, who contended with constant police raids during the 1880s and ’90s. Only her death could shut the doors of her “gilded bordello” but not before a well known police detective and his supervisor were caught partaking of her establishment’s “entertainment.”

Failed actress Mildred Gillars left for Europe right before World War II. While in Germany, she fell in love with the wrong man and wound up peddling Nazi propaganda on the radio as “Axis Sally.” She served time as a traitor at Alderson Prison in West Virginia upon return to the United States.

Volatile Hester Foster was already doing time at the Ohio State Penitentiary when she took up a shovel and bashed in the head of another inmate. The first woman in the state to pay the ultimate price, Hester was hanged for the murder.

A sinister woman, Anna Marie Hahn promised love and marriage to at least five elderly Cincinnati men. Instead, she took their money and dosed them with arsenic and croton oil and then watched them die in agony while pretending to nurse them back to health. She was the first woman in Ohio to die in the electric chair.

Five more desperate killers, three additional “ladies of the night,” and the state’s first female sheriff, who solved a double murder, are included in the pages of Wicked Women of Ohio, my seventh book. It is due out September 10 and will be available online and at bookstores.

Belle’s Indiana Murder Farm

Personal — comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in LaPorte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.

This personal ad appeared in the Chicago daily and large Midwestern newspapers in 1907. Little did the men who answered it know that the woman who placed it was not looking for love. Of the several middle-aged, well-to-do suitors who came to meet Belle Gunness on her farm, only one got away alive.

Belle was the mother of three and anything but comely. Instead, she was a coarse farm woman, who stood 6 feet tall (although some sources put her at only 5 feet 6 inches tall) and weighed upward to 280 pounds. With the help of fashion magazines of the day and the town’s clothiers, she gussied herself up and became quite presentable with the latest hair styles and a corset and stylish dresses before her prey arrived by train.

Belle was charming to her victims. She made them feel welcome and cooked elaborate meals for them. When they weren’t looking, she drugged their coffee, and then when they were sedated, she split their heads open with a meat clever. If they didn’t drink coffee, she waited until they were in bed, then she snuck into the room after they were asleep and covered their faces with a rag doused in chloroform. Because of her size and strength, she carried them to the basement where she dismembered them. Her second husband had been a butcher, so she was handy with a meat clever. She disposed of their body parts by either burying them in the yard or feeding them to the hogs. Sometimes she dumped them into the hog-scalding vat.

Neighboring farmers who drove past her place after dark on occasion thought it peculiar that she would be out digging in the yard late at night. A delivery man thought it was odd that she received so many big trunks. Remarking about her size and strength, he said she slung the heavy trunks around “like boxes of marshmallows.”

George Anderson from Missouri was the second to answer her ad. He might have thought it was odd that she kept the curtains pulled even in the daylight, but he was eager to learn more about this giant woman. They talked over dinner and, she asked if he would be willing to pay off her mortgage. He replied that if they decided to marry, he would take care of it. Later that evening, he retired to the spare room. Deep into the night, he was awakened to find her standing over him, her face fixed in a terrifying expression. He screamed and she turned to leave the room. Fearing for his life, he dressed quickly and fled the house, leaving his belongings behind.

More than 30 other men were not so lucky. Elderly widower Ole Budsberg of Iola, Wisconsin, answered Belle’s ad and went to visit her. He apparently gave her thousands of dollars after mortgaging his home. He was never seen again. When his sons became concerned at his disappearance, they wrote to Belle, but she claimed to have never met their father.

Minnesotan John Moe brought $1000 with him when he came to meet Belle. The money was intended to pay off her mortgage after marriage. The marriage didn’t take place; the money was gone; and John never left Belle’s farm alive.

As men answered the ads, she wrote back loving letters. Andrew Helgelien from Aberdeen, South Dakota, was one who corresponded with Belle and received letters claiming: My heart beats in wild rapture for you. My Andrew, I love you. Come prepared to stay forever. He did come prepared. He had a $2900 check with him. Belle promptly took him to her bank and deposited the money into her account. He did stay forever—in a grave in her yard. His brother, Asle, became alarmed when he couldn’t find Andrew, so he wrote to Belle. She wrote back and told Asle that Andrew had gone back to Norway. Asle didn’t believe her. Letters flew back and forth with Belle telling him to come to La Porte and she would help look for Andrew, but she would charge for her time. That did not put an end to Asle’s inquiries. Instead, he said he would come to LaPorte in May.

During this time, Belle had a farm hand named Ray Lamphere. In between her suitors’ visits, she and Lamphere were quite cozy. He was in love with her, so he carried out many gruesome tasks at her bidding. After watching her with man after man, he grew jealous and began to make demands. Arguments ensued, and she finally fired him and told him to leave in February of 1908. But he kept returning, so she had him arrested, claiming he was crazy and should be put away. During a sanity hearing, Lamphere was found to be perfectly sane. When that didn’t work, Belle went to an attorney and told him that her former handy man had threatened to kill her and her children and said he would burn down her house. She asked the lawyer to make out a will for her in which she left everything to her children. Then she went to the bank and paid off the loan on her property.

She wasn’t really afraid of Lamphere physically. She was afraid of what he might tell authorities. And a new threat presented itself in the form of Asle Helgelian, who had come looking for his brother.

At the end of April, her new hired man Joe Maxson awoke to the smell of smoke one night. By the time he realized what was happening, flames were raging through the house, blocking his escape. His room was on the second story, so he jumped from the window and ran to town for help. By the time fire fighters got to the house, it was in smoldering ashes.

The bodies of three children and one adult woman were found in the ruins. Authorities were puzzled as to why the woman’s body was headless.

Scores of people who knew Belle Gunness viewed what was left of the body and swore it was not her. Clothiers from the town where Belle bought dresses knew her size and told the sheriff that the body was too small to be Belle. Authorities measured the remains and concluded that the body was not that of Belle Gunness. Furthermore, the coroner took samples from internal organs and sent them away for pathology. The victim’s organ showed heavy doses of strychnine.

In the meantime, Lamphere had been arrested. “Did the Widow Gunness and the kids get out all right?”he asked. When accused of the fire, he claimed to not be in the vicinity when the fire was set, but a boy from the neighborhood claimed he saw Lamphere running down the road that night. He told the sheriff Lamphere threatened him if he told what he had seen.

By this time Asle Helgelien had come to LaPorte and talked to the sheriff about his missing brother. This triggered something in Joe Maxson’s memory of hauling wheelbarrows full of dirt to an area of the property where the hog pen was fenced off. There were depressions in the land and Belle wanted them filled in, claiming it was where she buried garbage.

The sheriff took men and shovels to this area of the land and began to dig. The first body was that of Jennie Olsson who had disappeared two years prior. Two unidentified children were unearthed and then one by one the men who had answered Belle ads were uncovered. Some of the bodies were not identifiable, but Andrew Helgelien’s body was identified by his brother and Lamphere was found wearing his coat.

Lamphere was tried for murder and arson. He was acquitted of murder, but convicted of arson and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He died of tuberculosis in 1909. On his deathbed, he confessed to the minister to helping Belle dispose of the bodies. He said the headless body was that of a woman who had answered an ad for a housekeeper. Belle bashed her head in and chloroformed her own children before the fire.

Lamphere admitted that he helped her set the blaze. She was to meet him on the road afterward, but she failed to show up. Instead, she vanished into the woods, and he never saw her again. He said she had killed somewhere around 42 people and amassed a fortune of $250,000.

To this day, no one knows what happened to Belle Gunness.



The Rose of Cimarron

Convent-educated Rose Ella Dunn was approaching her fifteenth birthday in 1893 when she fell in love with an outlaw named George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb. At that age she may have been a bit rebellious but not too young for romance. Newcomb, who was handsome and had an edge to him, came from good parentage, but somewhere in his upbringing he jumped over the line to the wrong side of the law. He was a good eleven years older than Rose.

Rose had four brothers, who taught her to ride and shoot, and she met Newcomb through them. A couple of her brothers rode both sides of the law. The Dunn boys owned a ranch near Ingalls, Oklahoma, and their home was a known hangout for the Doolin and Dalton gangs. Newcomb rode with the Daltons until they were wiped out in 1892 in Coffeyville, Kansas. He then joined the Doolins and participated in at least five robberies—both bank and train—and several murders.

“Bitter Creek” Newcomb quickly became smitten with Rose because of her beauty and calm manner. He called her “The Rose of Cimarron.” She was loyal to her love and his gang and supported their outlaw lifestyle, often providing them with food and other supplies at their hideouts.

“The Rose of Cimarron” is most famous for what she allegedly did during a shootout between her lover and the law on September 1, 1893, in Ingalls.

Newcomb and other gang members were drinking at George Ransome’s saloon when thirteen lawmen surrounded the area and ordered the bandits to come out with their hands held high. One of the outlaws yelled, “Go to hell!” And all hell did break loose as the guns started to blaze.

Three marshals died during the shootout. Newcomb was wounded. So was gang member Charley Pierce. Western legend has it that Rose saw her lover lying in the street, so she grabbed up a rifle and two ammunition belts and made her way to him through a barrage of fire power. One story tells of her standing over Newcomb firing the rifle until he could reload his six shooter. Actually, his Winchester had been hit by a shot from Deputy Dick Speed’s rifle and was rendered inoperable. One account went so far as to say Rose killed the three marshals as she rescued Newcomb, but that was never substantiated. Speed was killed by Arkansas Tom Jones, who was captured during the skirmish.

Both Newcomb and Pierce got away with the help of Bill Dalton, Bill Doolin, Dynamite Dick and Red Buck who sent a hail of bullets over the street in order to cover their pals’ escape. “The Rose of Cimarron” hid out with the remnants of the gang for a time, nursing their wounds.

After that, the law placed a $5000 bounty on Newcomb’s and Pierce’s heads. The two bandits met their end at the hands of Rose’s brothers who had turned bounty hunters. The Dunn boys killed the pair for the money, claiming to have shot then during a fire fight. The condition of their bodies told a different story.

George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb was buried outside of Norman, Oklahoma, near the South Canadian River. The river changed course over the years and even flooded, washing away Newcomb’s grave.

Rose was never called into account for her actions and lived out the rest of her life as a respectable citizen. She was married for 33 years to an Oklahoma politician named Charles Noble. Sixteen years after his death, she married Richard Fleming. Her second husband claimed that she was a friend to the outlaws but had never been romantically involved with any of them.

“The Rose of Cimarron” died in 1955 in Washington State, where she had lived with Fleming. She was 76. She is buried in Salkum Cemetery in Lewis County, Washington.

Photograph courtesy of Liz Freeman

She shot her man

On February 23, 1883, May Woodman was packing a Bulldog .38 nickel-plated revolver as she approached her lover, Billy Kinsman, in front of the Oriental Saloon in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. At first, the two talked, argued maybe. After a few minutes, she raised her gun, leveled it on him and pulled the trigger without a blink of her grey eyes.

The slug entered the left side of his body below the rib cage and passed straight through. He clutched at his wound as if to staunch the blood and staggered backward. A witness seized her arm just as she pulled the trigger again, causing the second bullet to drill into the wooden boards of the sidewalk. No matter. The first bullet had done its job. Billy would be dead within four hours.

May and Billy had been living together, but it was a tumultuous affair. Twenty-seven-year-old May was estranged from her husband and well-known to the other men of Tombstone. Billy, 25, was a miner-turned-gambler—or as they called it at the time, a sporting man—who frequented the Oriental Saloon on the corner of Allen Street and Fifth. His other haunts probably included the famed Bird Cage and Crystal Palace.

History cites two possibilities for May’s action. The most popular story has it that one of Billy’s friends pulled a prank by putting a notice in the Tombstone Epitaph that “William Kinsman was betrothed to May Woodman.” Billy did not think it was funny, so he put a notice in the next edition of the paper that he had no intention of marrying May. She was humiliated.

A lesser repeated story was that May was pregnant, but she had intimate knowledge about Billy, which caused her to doubt his ability to father a child. To make sure, they consulted a doctor, who after an examination assured the pair that Billy could indeed sire a child. The doctor claimed the two asked him for a potion that would end the pregnancy, but he declined. May’s version differed. She claimed Billy wanted her to have the abortion and it was she who refused.

Billy must have wondered who else May had been overly familiar with. Perhaps Billy’s friend who ran the ad in the paper knew of May’s condition and that is why he pulled the prank. If that was the case, Billy’s public rebuke must have been more than May could take.

May showed no remorse for killing Billy and was tried for murder a month later. On the witness stand, she claimed self-defense. It took the jury a mere thirty minutes to decide that she was guilty of manslaughter instead of murder. After striking down a motion for a new trial, Daniel H. Pinney, Associate Justice on the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court, sentenced her to five years in the Yuma Territorial Prison. “May God curse you forever,” she spat at him.

After that May attempted suicide in her Tombstone jail cell by taking an overdose of chloride hydrate and morphine. She had been prescribed the medicine to help her sleep. Dr. George E. Goodfellow saved her life. He also attended to her when she miscarried in her fifth month. At that time, he noted she had several bruises on her body. Her condition led him to believe Billy had beaten her. He also said her mental condition was quite fragile.

After May got to Yuma, she settled in to be a model prisoner. But she could not remain free from drama for long. Whispers that she was pregnant again spread into full-fledged rumors, but no evidence surfaced to substantiate the gossip. Prison authorities moved quickly to squelch the talk, insisting male guards could not gain access to either of the two female prisoners’ cells.

May’s mother, Ellen McIntyre, started a petition to have her daughter pardoned. At least two-hundred Tombstone citizens, including some of the jurors from her trial signed the petition. Secretary of Arizona Territory Hiram M. Van Arman, acting as governor at the time, pardoned her—provided she leave the territory and not return.

May Woodman walked out of the Yuma Prison gates in 1884 after serving less than a year for Billy’s killing. As far as anyone knows, she never set foot in the Arizona Territory again.

Mary Harbored Contagious Bacteria

Fourteen-year-old Mary Mallon came to the United States from Cookstown, County Tyrone, Ireland, one of the poorest areas of the green island. At first, like so many single female immigrants, she found work in New York City as a household servant, but it didn’t take long before her employers found that she was proficient in the kitchen, so by the early 1900s, she was cooking for some of the City’s wealthiest families.

One of Mary’s most popular desserts was ice cream with fresh cut-up peaches frozen in it. Although delicious, it would prove to be the cause of three deaths and more than fifty cases of typhoid fever. It took a sanitary engineer to ferret out where the infection started.

In the summer of 1906, Mary was cooking for a rich banker, Charles Warren, and his family while they vacationed on posh Long Island’s Oyster Bay. While there, six members of the Warren household came down with typhoid fever. Long viewed as a disease among slums where sanitation was absent, it was a mystery as to how it came to the playground of New York’s wealthiest citizens. After all, the neighborhood was also home to President Teddy Roosevelt’s summer White House.

Freelance sanitary engineer Dr. George Soper was hired to find the cause of the sickness at the Warren house. He was especially interested in this case, because he had investigated other cases in the City. He went over the Warren house with a fine tooth comb, checking the plumbing and even going so far as to check the seafood supplier.

Finally, Soper turned his eye toward their Irish cook, Mary Mallon. He looked into her employment history back as far as 1900. He found twenty-two cases of typhoid fever—one resulting in death—in seven households where she had cooked.

What he discovered was that although Mary, herself, was as healthy as a horse—had never had a symptom—she was a carrier of the bacteria. She passed the bacteria on to the people she cooked for by not washing her hands before fixing meals. He knew that cooking would kill the bacteria, so the frozen peach dessert was most likely the cause.

Sober went to visit Mary at her new place of employment and asked for a blood sample. In a fit of temper, she chased him from the house with a fork. The second time he went to her home, she slammed the door in his face.

Calling her “a menace to the community,” Soper asked for and got help from the New York City Health Department. When City Health Inspector Dr. Josephine Baker, four police officers, and two interns knocked on her door, Mary fled through a back window, leaving footprints in the snow that led them on a three-hour chase to an outhouse. A small piece of gingham sticking out of the door gave away her hiding place.

Police pulled the cursing, fighting Mary out of the outhouse, and Dr. Baker ordered her into an ambulance. Lab tests taken later revealed that she was carrying a dangerously high level of typhoid bacteria.

Mary was sent to North Brother Island in the East River and forced to live in a small house for the next three years with only a fox terrier as company. During that period, she was under treatment and was made to submit 163 samples. Most of them came back negative, but authorities still refused to let her go.

“I never had typhoid in my life and have always been healthy,” she said. “Why should I be banished like a leper and compelled to live in solitary?”

Mary decided to sue. Rumor had it that William Randolph Hearst paid her legal fees, so he could have first crack at the story for his newspaper. She lost the case and remained in solitary for another year.

In 1910, she was released under the condition that she would never work as a cook again. Although she gave her word, she changed her name several times and went back to work. Five years later, typhoid broke out in a maternity hospital. Upon investigation, authorities found that there was a woman cooking in the hospital that looked suspiciously like Mary.

The Health Department rounded her up again and sent her back to North Brother Island. She stayed there until her death from pneumonia in 1938. An autopsy revealed live typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder.

The official count attributed to Mary Mallon was fifty-one cases with three dead. This most notorious carrier of disease went down in history as Typhoid Mary.