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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Dago Rose”

“Dago Rose” was one of the most notorious madams of the 1930s and 40s. She plied her trade in and around Port Clinton, Ohio, not far from Camp Perry. Her familiarity with the men on the Ohio National Guard base is probably why her name and reputation is blazed in infamy. As the service men who trained at Camp Perry moved on to fight in foreign lands, they shared fond memories of Rose and her girls.

While the lonely soldiers at Camp Perry and the citizens of Port Clinton held a soft spot in their hearts for the short Italian woman, Ottawa County authorities and the Ohio National Guard did their best to put her out of business.

Rose went by several last names: Rose Sherry, aka Rose Shallo, aka Rose Phipps, aka Rose Silverwood. Born February 18, 1900, in Plainfield, New Jersey, to Michael and Maria Sciallo, she married James Pasco and had three children.

Her troubles with the law began on a Saturday night in the summer of 1930 when she threw a raucous party at her Ascher Beach cottage. Ottawa County Deputy Dewey Cullenen, who later became sheriff, led a raid on the wild gathering. He told the Ottawa County News that when he and his raiding party got to the house, they found the door had been bolted, leading him to believe the inhabitants had been tipped off. He banged on the door, but the only answer he got from inside was the sound of another bolt sliding across the door. The screen door was latched, so he ripped it from its hinges, then he and other deputies broke down the heavy hardwood door.

As the deputies burst into the living room of the cottage, at least twenty-five Port Clinton men scrambled to escape the house or otherwise hide themselves from police. The ones who were rounded up were questioned and gave varying stories for their presence. Some of them claimed to be repairmen there to fix the plumbing, electrical, phone, etc. A couple of men said they were passing by the cottage. Thinking there was a fire, they claimed to have stopped to help out. One fellow told Cullenen, he stopped to pick up his coat and hat, which he’d left there a few days before.

It was Prohibition, and authorities were probably looking for liquor. None was found, but the smell of alcohol permeated the air. Cullenen figured a bottle of liquor had been broken into a pail just as he and his raiding party burst through the door.

The men were free and clear to go, but Rose and Helen Ryan of Toledo were taken into custody. They were held in jail until Monday morning when the justice of the peace sentenced both women to ninety days in jail but suspended their sentences. Rose was fined $300. The women each had to pay court costs of $8.66. Rose was given ten days to clear out of Ottawa County, but Helen was given only 48 hours. They both promised to stay out of the county under threat of having to serve their jail sentences if they came back. Rose broke her promise and reopened with no police interference.

“DagoRose’s” establishment became so popular with the men on the army base that at one point guards were placed at the roadside entrance to the house in an effort to stop soldiers from entering. When that failed, Camp Perry officials asked the Ottawa County sheriff for his assistance in closing the cat house down.

Deeming the house a public nuisance, authorities ordered Rose Pasco to close her house of ill repute. She ignored the order and kept operating. On Friday night, July 27, 1934, Sheriff D. L. Cullenen and National Guard officials decided they were going to “swoop down and clean her out.” During the raid, authorities arrested three “working” girls and found Rose hiding in the bushes a distance away from the house.

“Dago Rose” and the girls were told to leave the house and not return. The men in the establishment were booted out and the sheriff then locked the doors. No arrests were made in that incident, and Rose opened her doors a few weeks later.

In 1942, Rose’s house of prostitution was raided again, this time by Sheriff Ralph H. Riedmaier and Deputy Harry Swartzlander. That strike netted six arrests: Rose, Faye Clarke, Anne Brown, Raye Rogers, Francis Rogers and Georgia Brown. Rose and Faye were given ninety-day suspended sentences—if they would quit the business—and fined $100 each. The other four women each served ten days of ninety-day sentences and were let go after passing health examinations.

Authorities were not having a lot of luck in closing down “Dago Rose” and her house of ill repute, so in 1946, they decided to take a different tact. They got the federal authorities involved after a sailor from Great Lakes, Illinois, contracted a communicable disease. The county health commissioner, Dr. George A. Poe, paired up with Walter A. Hixenbaugh of the Federal Security Agency, who was on loan to the Ohio Department of Health. They planned to arrest Rose’s girls and hold them in jail for a ten-day period until they passed health tests. The women were told if they went back to the house, they would be arrested again and quarantined until they passed another medical exam. Authorities said they would continue to do this until the women left the county. It didn’t do much good.

Rose stayed out of the papers until 1970 when her ex-daughter-in-law, Lillian “Ginger” Pasco Tailford Belt, who ran her own whorehouse called the Round the Clock Grille, was arrested on federal charges during a bribery case that involved sitting Ottawa County Sheriff James Ellenberger, former County Sheriff Myron Hetrick, and a pinball machine operator. It seems as though the three gentlemen were taking bribes to keep the cat house doors open.

The case also alleged that Rose had bribed Sheriff Riedmaier by giving him a refrigerator and television set. In addition, she was accused of perjury in claiming the Port Clinton police chief had not told her to close down her house of prostitution. Both counts against her were eventually dropped as no one would testify against her.

Rose Pasco died in 1979 after a lengthy illness. Curiously enough, her funeral mass was held in a church named the Immaculate Conception. She was buried in Riverview Cemetery in Port Clinton.

The Bandit Queen

belle%20star

 

I’m always asked how I got interested in writing about crime. My stock answer is that I come by it “honestly”— I have a degree in criminal justice and I was a police reporter. But when I dig a little deeper into my criminal curiosity, I remember as a little kid seeing an old movie about Belle Starr with Randolph Scott as Sam Starr and Gene Tierney in the title role. I’ve always loved stories of bandits and gunslingers that galloped across the mountains and red dust of the Old West, gambling and drinking in saloons and shooting up Deadwood and Tombstone. I was fascinated with stories of Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok and Billy the Kid. So when I saw the story about the “Bandit Queen,” I was hooked on women criminals.

Dime novels and exaggerated newspaper accounts of the time romanticized Myra Maybelle Shirley’s violent life, so it’s not easy to discern fact from fiction 135 years later. Belle, as she liked to be called, played into the stories by wearing a long velvet riding habit in her favored black, topped off by one of the new Stetson hats, festooned with an ostrich plume. With a pair of six-shooters strapped to her waist, she rode side-saddle on her favorite mare, Venus.

Belle was born in Missouri, near on Carthage February 5, 1848. Her parents, John and Eliza, tried to raise her to be a lady, but it didn’t work out that way. Although educated at Carthage Female Academy and Craven, another private school, where she learned the piano and other cultured studies, she got into fights with girls and boys alike. She was an intelligent girl but she had a temper that could go unchecked and a mouth that would turn a mule skinner’s face scarlet.

The Shirleys were originally from Virginia. After they married, they moved to Missouri where John bred horses and became well-known for his fine stock. He also owned a tavern, and he and his wife, both Confederate sympathizers, often entertained the notorious Rebel guerilla, William Clarke Quantrill whose gang included such bandits as the James boys and the Younger brothers.

During one of Quantrill’s Raiders’ visits, a 15-year-old Belle met and fell in love with Cole Younger. There is a story that Belle and Younger married in a mock horseback ceremony with his gang as witnesses. Whether this was true or not, for certain Younger left Belle and rode off with his comrades to rob trains and banks and shoot up pioneer towns.

Legend has it that Belle was heartbroken at Younger’s departure, but the die was cast. She began a pattern of consorting with bad actors. After Younger, she moved on to a man named Jim Reed, another one of Quantrill’s band, and an outlaw in his own right. She married him, probably to get out from under her parents’ rule. The two settled near Dallas, Texas. At the age of twenty, she gave birth to a daughter and named her Rose Lee but called her Pearl. It was always speculated, but never confirmed, that Cole Younger was Pearl’s father. Although he was a frequent visitor to the Reed household, Younger denied paternity, and Belle never confirmed or denied the question. Three years later, a son, James Edwin, was born to Belle and Jim Reed.

Even though Belle had two children, she played poker and hired out as a singer and piano player in Dallas dance halls, and she learned to outdrink any cowboy. She was known to be an excellent horsewoman and ran a stable where she dealt in horses stolen by her husband.

Stories differ on exactly what happened to Jim Reed, but he and Belle robbed a man named Grayson of $30,000. Reed was recognized and was forced to flee. In another story he killed two men and made a run for it to California. Belle and the children followed.

The pair traipsed back and forth between California and Texas until Reed was shot down August 6, 1874, by either one of his own men or a deputy in Paris, Texas.

Belle’s next wedding ceremony to Bruce Younger, Cole’s cousin, was performed under the threat of her expert markmanship. Whether Belle was in love with Bruce or still pining for Cole, is anyone’s guess. The union lasted mere hours because Bruce took off and was never heard from again.

Not one to mourn for too long, Belle fell for a Cherokee Indian named Sam Starr, an infamous killer and horse thief. Some say he strung his victims’ dried earlobes on a cord to wear around his neck.

Belle and her new husband settled on a piece of land in Oklahoma Indian Territory on the Canadian River. She called their homestead Younger’s Bend. Her three-room cabin may have held a piano and walls covered with books, but it became a haven for horse thieves, robbers and killers, most of whom had ridden with Belle at one time.

There are no records to show that Belle was ever involved with any murders. Her main income came from stealing and selling horses. In 1882, she and Sam were arrested for horse theft and taken before the famous Hanging Judge Isaac Park. They got off light with a year each in a Detroit prison.

Belle was a model prisoner and taught music (believable) and French (if this can be believed) to the warden’s children. She supposedly wrote a book while behind bars, but if she did, it never saw the light of day. After six months, she was set free.

Her stint behind bars did little to change her attitude. “I am a friend to any brave and gallant outlaw,” she told the Dallas News upon her return home.

As soon as Sam got out of prison, the two returned to Younger’s Bend and their criminal ways. Unfortunately for Sam, his banditry came to an end in 1886 during a shoot out with his lawman cousin Frank West. Both men fell dead.

Belle’s name was romantically connected to other outlaws, including Blue Duck, Jack Spaniard and Jim French, but a man named Jim July became her fourth and final husband. She married him because he was a Creek Indian and the marriage allowed her to keep her home on Indian land. Because she had become well-known under the name Starr, she forced the much younger July to change his last name to Starr. Belle treated him terribly.

On February 3, 1889, just two days shy of her forty-fifth birthday, an unknown person shot her in the back as she rode along a muddy road on her way home. The shotgun blast knocked her from her horse. The assailant then stood over her and fired another round of buckshot into her face and shoulder. Since Belle had many enemies, several names were bandied about as her possible killer. No one was ever arrested.

Pearl reached her moments before she died. Belle whispered something to her daughter, but the younger woman never repeated it.

The “Bandit Queen” was buried in her front yard in her favorite black velvet riding habit and jewelry. Fittingly, she was clasping a pearl-handled six-gun, a gift from Cole Younger. A star and a likeness of her horse, Venus was chiseled into her tombstone. A poem written by Pearl served as her epitaph:

Shed not for the bitter tear,

nor give the heart to vain regret,

Tis but a casket that lies here,

the gem that fills it sparkles yet.