The Bandit Queen



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.




Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress – guest blog by Richard O Jones

While participating in Books by the Banks, the Cincinnati Book Festival, in October, I had the pleasure of signing next to fellow true crime writer, Richard O Jones. I was fascinated by his book, Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress: The Shocking Edythe Klumpp Murder Scandal. It is meticulously researched, well written and an engrossing read. He and I became friends, and he graciously consented to guest blog about his book. Here he shares some information that has not published.


When a trio of young duck hunters stumbled upon the charred body of Cincinnati woman Louise Bergen one drizzly fall morning in 1958, suspicion quickly fell upon her estranged husband’s live-in girlfriend, the 40-year-old divorcee Edythe Klumpp. In Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress: The Shocking Edythe Klumpp Murder Scandal (The History Press), True Crime Historian Richard O Jones details the elaborate lies that Edythe told in her embroidered confessions and tells how her attorney and the governor of Ohio attempted to get to the truth and find justice for Edythe in spite of herself. The author deleted the following scene of the demise of Edythe’s first marriage from the original manuscript to meet the publisher’s word count, but shares it here in this Dark Hearted Woman exclusive to provide further insight into the defendant’s pattern of behavior. — Richard O Jones

Edythe Klumpp

Edythe’s First Divorce

The divorce proceedings between Robert and Edythe Klumpp included four or five appearances before a criminal judge when Edythe brought assault and battery charges against her husband. A report by a parole officer after the first arrest in November 1956 showed that the Klumpp marriage was rocky from start to finish and beyond.

“The man appears to be very nervous and is really upset about the divorce being filed,” it read. “He said he didn’t even know she had filed for divorce, as they were living together, and when he came home one night his clothing was in his stepson’s car” in the rain.

Not only that, but there was an order from him to stay away from the home.

It was all a shock to him, because if anyone should be suing for divorce it should have been him, he said. She would run around after work until 5 in the morning sometimes. He followed her on many occasions and had caught her in lies about where she had been. He admitted that he pushed her around numerous times, but she struck him just as frequently. He said then that he had done everything possible to hold their marriage together, but they had been separated many times, even before moving to Mt. Washington.

“He stated his wife has always had jobs as baby sitter in the home and he assisted by taking the children to their homes over the weekends and washing dishes at night because his wife held another job also. He knows his wife worked very hard and tried to get along, but she didn’t seem to be happy.”

Edythe told the police in 1956 that she felt her husband was “so nervous he is mentally ill.”

She admitted to staying out after work with some girlfriend, but due to his fussing she was afraid to go home because the questioning would lead to arguing and then to a fist fight. Each time they separated, he would promise to do better, then it was the same thing all over again. They belonged to the Norwood Lutheran Church, where she had been active since the children were small. She had never mentioned their marital difficulties to anyone there, but Bob Klumpp at one point contacted the pastor, told him that Edythe was a very immoral woman and that he was at his wit’s end. She was so embarrassed when word of their conversation got around the church that she decided to finally divorce Bob.

Edythe told the parole officer that Bob was insanely jealous, would accuse her of improper associations with every man she spoke to at work, and would come into her workplace and insult her in front of the customers and call her vile names. He had caused her to lose jobs, she said. She couldn’t bring any friends to the home as the minute she introduced them, Bob asked them where Edythe was on a certain date, maybe two months prior. Naturally the person didn’t know and became embarrassed.

This pattern of behavior had been going on for 10 years, Edythe said. She wanted to keep the home together, but just could not take it any longer. The children were suffering from the fighting and arguing. Her oldest daughter would not speak to her father or go out with him. She urged the children to be kind to him, but they feared him. The nine-year-old daughter was extremely nervous; the doctors attributed this to the conditions at home, so Edythe felt it was best to separate.

The writer of the report, identified only as Miss Maucher, said that during the 90 minute joint interview, Bob Klumpp was so nervous that “he was never quiet. He wanted her to account for every time she was late from 1952 to 1954.”

Miss Maucher told him that they could hash it out in Domestic Relations Court if they wanted to, but this office didn’t handle divorce work. What it does handle, she said, is assault and battery and if he ever struck her again, the judge could take care of it.

“What should I do if she strikes me?” he said.

“If you stay away from her as you are supposed to do,” she scolded, “there will be no occasion for her to strike you. But if she comes to you and strikes you, you have the privilege of having her arrested.”

He was ordered to pick up the children for a weekly visit at Edythe’s mother’s house. Bob felt like he ought to be able to pick his own kids up at his own house, but Edythe would not hear of it, knowing that he would start some kind of argument.

The judge did not issue a fine or any punishment for that altercation, but Bob Klumpp did have to pay the court costs. When he was brought before another judge, however, in July, 1957, for abuse of family charges, he received six months’ probation.

Parole Officer Maucher reported that when they came into the office there was constant bickering and arguing. Edythe didn’t agree with the charges because he had not abused the family. She did claim that he broke into the home and stole $20 out of a drawer where she’d hidden $100 (besides this $20) to pay her taxes. A burglar would have taken the whole wad, she charged.

“Mr. Klumpp never ceases talking,” the report said, and he “rants and raves from one subject to another.

“He is extremely nervous and lives entirely in the past. He keeps recalling ‘all her misconduct with other men for the past three years.’”

Maucher felt it was fruitless to speak to them together, but that “in all probability,” Edythe had given him cause to be jealous and suspicious, indicating that she had other sources who spoke of her extramarital activities.

“Klumpp appears to be a mentally disturbed person and has pushed his wife around on numerous occasions,” the report concluded, recommending that Klumpp be allowed to see his children, but pick them up in a neutral location rather than go to the home. “The husband appears to be a very domineering person and apparently is the aggressor in their difficulties.”

The divorce became final in August 1957, and in March 1958 there were two more court appearances noted in his file. On March 25, charges of “abuse of family” were dismissed, and on March 29, he was fined $11 and costs for assault and battery, presumably brought on by Edythe, but the file lacks any details of that appearance.


Cincinnati’s Savage Seamstress: The Shocking Edythe Klumpp Murder Scandal is available online or at your favorite bookstore.

Read more about Richard O Jones at




Nannie Doss, Giggling Granny

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted. The time has been spent productively, though, by writing two more books–Murder & Mayhem on Ohio’s Rails (yep, train robberies) and Ohio Train Disasters due out mid-November.

Now that those books are finished, I promise to post more regularly. Below is the story of killer Nannie Doss. I hope you enjoy it.

Nannie Doss looked like anybody’s grandmother—all sugar cookies and fresh lemonade. She had a round, soft body and big breasts. Her hair was a jumble of dark curls that framed her face, and she wore glasses that set on top of her pink cheeks. Because she was always smiling, she was known as the Giggling Granny or Giggling Nannie.

But behind those smiles, underneath that warm exterior lurked the dark heart of a vicious killer responsible for at least 11 deaths. Between 1920 and 1954, she murdered four husbands, her mother, one of her sisters, one of her mothers-in-law, two of her own children and two grandchildren.

Born Nancy Hazel on November 4, 1905, in Blue Mountain, Alabama, to Lou and Jim Hazel, she had one brother and three sisters. Her father was overly strict and didn’t believe in education. Instead he forced his children to work the farm. When Nannie did attend school, she did poorly and never did learn to read well.

When she was seven, she and her family went on a train trip to visit relatives. During the trip, the train made a sudden stop. Nannie flew forward and hit her head on the metal bar on the seat in front of her. From then on, she complained of headaches and blackouts. Later on, she blamed the accident for her depression and mental instability.

As a teen, she wasn’t allowed to wear makeup or dress in fashionable clothing, nor was she allowed a social life. To while away her free time, she read romance magazines, her favorite part being the lonely hearts column.

Nannie’s first known victims were her own children. She had married Charley Braggs when she was just sixteen. “She was a pretty girl,” he said. “Good build and lots of fun.” Four baby girls were born in quick succession after their marriage. She complained that her mother-in-law took over her life. Unhappy and stressed, she turned to drink and began to smoke. Both she and her husband turned their amorous attentions to others.

Bragg claimed Nannie would take off and he would have to hunt her down and bring her home. Nannie countered that it was he who would be gone for days, leaving her with her demanding mother-in-law and four little children. During one of his absences in 1927, two of the children died of so-called “food poisoning.” A neighbor was suspicious because the children’s bodies turned black right away. Bragg rightly suspected Nannie had done away with them, so he took the oldest daughter, Melvina, and left. He called his father-in-law to come and get the baby, Florena. It wasn’t too much later that Bragg’s mother died under suspicious circumstances.

A year later Bragg returned to divorce Nannie, claiming he had always been afraid of her. Still he left his daughters with her.

Nannie moved on to 23-year-old Frank Harrelson, whom she met through a lonely hearts column. Their romance started off when he sent her poetry. She, in turn, sent him a cake. Unbeknownst to her, Harrelson was a drunk and had a criminal record for assault. In spite of his short comings, they were together for 16 years, though a marriage license was never found.

During this time, Nannie’s daughter, Melvina, had two children. The second baby died immediately after birth. Melvina, still groggy and exhausted after the baby was born, thought she saw her mother stick a hatpin into the newborn’s head. Melvina quizzed her husband and her sister about what she had seen. Was it accurate? Had they seen the same thing? They told her that Nannie said the baby was dead, but they did notice that she had a hatpin in her hand.

A few years later, Melvina and her husband parted company. She began dating a soldier. Nannie didn’t like him one bit. After a particularly ugly argument with her mother over the soldier, Melvina left her son in Nannie’s care while she went off to visit her father, Braggs. Melvina returned home to find her son had died of asphyxia from an unknown cause. Conveniently, Nannie had taken out a $500 insurance policy on the boy’s life.

By 1945, Harrelson’s drinking had escalated. He became particularly inebriated one evening and raped Nannie. The next day she added rat poison to his corn whisky stash. It made his death the next day most painful.

Nannie met husband number three, Arlie Lanning, through a lonely hearts column. Only three days later—and with great hope—she married him. But she had chosen poorly again. Arlie was both a drunk and a womanizer.

To get away from a miserable marriage, Nannie disappeared for months at a time. Oddly, when she was home, she acted like the perfect wife, so when Lanning died of a supposed heart attack, her neighbors gathered around her at his funeral.

The house where the pair lived was willed to Lanning’s sister. It soon burned down. The insurance money went to Nannie, who quickly banked it. Not too long after that, Frank Harrelson’s 83-year-old mother “died in her sleep.” Nannie quickly fled the state and ended up living with her sister, Dovie. Dovie was quite ill and bedridden. A short time after Nannie’s arrival, Dovie died.

Nannie’s fourth marriage was to a man named Richard L. Morton, who hailed from Emporia, Kansas. He wasn’t an alcoholic, but he was a philanderer. Nannie’s mother, Lou, came to live with them during this time. She went the way of other’s in Nannie life—with poison. Three months later, Richard died under suspicious circumstances.

Husband number five’s nature was a departure from the others. His name was Samuel Doss and he was from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Doss was a church-going man, who had a good job. He disapproved of the romance novels and true confessions magazines Nannie so loved. The two had married in June 1953 and by September he was taken to the hospital with flu-like symptoms. He was diagnosed with and treated for a severe intestinal infection. After 25 days, the hospital finally released him on October 5.

Nannie brought him home and that evening promptly murdered him. She apparently was in a hurry to collect on the two insurance policies she had taken out on him. His doctor was suspicious and ordered an autopsy. A huge amount of arsenic was found in his system.

Nannie was finally arrested and charged with first-degree murder. The 49-year-old grandmother admitted to feeding rat poison to four of her husbands, because of little things that annoyed her. She denied wrong doing in any of the other deaths in her family. Reports said she giggled when she told police, “You can dig up all the other graves in the world, but you won’t find anything else on me.”

She admitted to putting poison in Harrelson’s booze because, “He tried to force me to go to bed with him. I decided to teach him a lesson.” Harrelson “ran around” and was going to leave her, she said. Jealousy led her to killing at least two of her husbands. Both Lanning and Morton were “popular with the women” according to Nannie, so she poisoned them.

Doss was “mean,” she said. He wouldn’t let her have a radio or television. He was fond of prunes, so she dumped rat poison on a dish he ate the night before being rushed to the hospital. Much to her dismay, he survived. When she got him home she gave him another dose of poison in a cup of coffee. That did the trick. “He sure did like prunes,” she said.

Nannie had already picked out James H. Keel as husband number six before number five was even dead. Just like some of the others, he was corresponding with her through a lonely hearts club. When he heard about her true nature, he counted himself lucky. “I’m sure mighty proud that she didn’t come to my part of the country,” he said.

She pleaded guilty to Doss’ murder but was never charged for the others. She remained adamant that she had never killed any of her “blood kin” even though poison showed up during an autopsy performed on Louis Hazel, Nannie’s mother.

Her first husband, told authorities that he always thought the food she served him didn’t taste right.

Nannie was found guilty of murder, but escaped getting the chair. Tulsa Judge Elmer Adams thought it would be poor precedent to execute a woman in Oklahoma. Instead, she was sentenced to life in the state pen McAlester. She died ten years later to the day. She was 60 years old.

Vance Avenue Alma

Alma Theede had too many husbands, so she killed three of them. She served a time out behind bars for two of those killings, but the third was ruled justifiable.

Alma came to my attention through a couple of friends who were visiting the historical sites of Memphis. Besides Graceland and Beal Street, they took a tour of Elmwood Cemetery. There, they heard the story of Alma, who from 1919 to 1960 was married seven times to six different men.

Originally from Mississippi, Alma Herring came to Memphis with her mother, Nettie. A sister and a brother may have also been in the picture. By age 16, she was supporting herself and her mother as a streetwalker on Vance Avenue in an area known for red lights, booze and craps games. At the time street walkers made $1 a trick or $2 if they were lucky. In no time, the teenage Alma earned the nickname “Vance Avenue Alma.”

When she was just 17, she married Halprin Cox. He ran a dice table in one of the gambling dens. Love didn’t conquer all, though. The union between the hooker and the gambler ended in divorce after a short time.

Next, she and railroad worker Roy Calvert ran off and got hitched in Little Rock, Arkansas. The marriage was rocky to say the least and proved to be a death sentence for Calvert. “Roy drank,” Alma said. “My, that marriage was a wild one.” She was charged with his murder after shooting him in 1919. The jury took pity on the 20-year-old widow and found it to be a justifiable homicide. Alma went back to Memphis and remarried Cox, who was later killed in an auto accident. At some point–though it’s not clear when–Alma was allowed to adopt Cox’s two children.

If Alma was in mourning, it didn’t show. Thanks to her most recent husband, she had been bitten by the gambling bug. That and her mother’s needs were draining her coffers, so she went back to Vance Avenue. This time she traded the streets for more profitable work in a cathouse.

By the time she met Michael McClavery, her looks were gone and she was pretty well used up. In fact, the madam had kicked her out of the house, so she bundled up her black lace nighties and moved to a second, seedier establishment. McClavery was a prosperous businessman and a good deal older than Alma. What he saw in her is anybody’s guess, except history has it that he was somewhat hard of hearing; his eyesight was fading; and he wasn’t much to look at either.

McClavery was a kind soul. He even allowed Alma’s mother to come live with them, and he gave his bride money to gamble, which after awhile got to be problem financially. So Alma considered going back to the streets to help pay for her addiction. But she decided against that in favor of taking in a boarder. His name was Charles Miller, a good looking ex-jockey who was closer to Alma’s age. And the inevitable happened.

McClavery died with a bullet wound to the heart. Police were suspicious of Alma and Miller right away. Alma tearfully told the cops that Miller had vanished. Witnesses had overheard the illusive boarder threaten to kill McClavery if he tried to break up the duo. It was also reported that Alma bought a gun for Miller. Police began to gather evidence, taking into consideration that she had shot a previous husband in Little Rock. By keeping tabs on Alma, police soon collared Miller, then arrested the ex-streetwalker and charged her as an accessory.

The 1928 trial was colorful. Alma was passionate in her pleas of innocence before the jury, claiming she worshipped her husband. After all, he had taken her out of a “den of iniquity” she cried, and “made a lady” of her. It was true, she told the court, that he did drink, but he was a good man and husband. At one point she was so loud with her entreaties that the courtroom doors had to be closed.

In his final argument the prosecutor claimed that she had repaid her husband’s kindness and love by planning his murder and supplying the weapon. The jury agreed. Both Alma and Miller were sentenced to 15 years.

Alma could find love anywhere, and jail was no exception. In the course of her prison job, she met and fell head over heels with Bill Theede. Theede was doing 21 years for gunning down a 15-year-old kid during a grocery store robbery.

Lucky for them, they were paroled around the same time, and they tied the knot in 1933.

Alma’s mother had saved up some cash, so she gave it to her daughter to buy a run down, derelict shack at the edge of town. The property had some acreage, so Alma, her mother and Theede raised chickens and pigs.

All was well for a couple of years until love grew cold, and Theede wanted out. Alma had lost all her looks by this time, and Theede said the house was literally a pigsty, and besides that he was afraid of her.

Just as Theede was about to get his divorce, the newspapers ran pictures of him and Alma. As bad luck would have it, a woman took a look at their pictures and fingered them as a pair who had stolen her silver. Both Alma and her husband were convicted of the theft and served short sentences at the Shelby County penal farm.

After this stint behind bars, Alma went back to the pitiful cottage, her needy mother and the pigs and chickens.

The next time she ran afoul of the law was for stealing a cow. She told authorities that she needed milk for the children. By now she had adopted another child, an illegitimate baby from an Arkansas women, so she had three children in tow. The cow cost her 90 days in the workhouse. Her mother tried to care for the orphans while Alma was in jail, but do-gooders took the children away.

A sixty-two-year-old mill worker named Ed Gill accompanied Alma on her sixth trip down the aisle. Three years later, poor Ed’s body was found lying in the street with a bullet hole in his head shot from a .38 caliber gun. The sheriff’s men knew where to find the shooter.

Alma denied having anything to do with the slaying, even though she owned a .38 caliber pistol. When the ballistics matched up, she changed her tune. In the new story, she claimed they were driving home from a friend’s house. Ed had been drinking heavily for about a week, and they were arguing because he had made up his mind to leave her. The exchange got so heated that he stopped the truck and grabbed a gun from the glove compartment and loaded it. They got out of the truck and started to scuffle. The gun went off, she claimed, and Ed slumped the ground.

The evidence didn’t match up with her story. For one thing, Ed’s friends and co-workers told police they had never known Ed to drink. For another, the passenger door on the truck didn’t open. And the altercation between Alma and Ed was not believable. He was a foot taller than she was and had at least a hundred pounds on her.

Alma knew her record wasn’t good. Afraid to go to trial, she took a plea bargain for second-degree murder. She was sentenced to ten years. She was paroled in 1955.

Not much is written about Alma’s seventh husband, William Massey. All that’s known is she met and married him shortly after she was released from jail. That marriage didn’t last long, and the couple was divorced.

In her last years, she ran a boarding house in Memphis. She died in 1970 at the age of 75. It’s probably a blessing that she died before she had the chance to marry again.

Bonnie Parker – Outlaw Poet


Bonnie Elizabeth Parker was just a 19-year–old nobody when she crossed paths with 21-year-old Clyde Champion Barrow in Texas on a January day in 1930. The two would become an explosive pair, destined to go down in history for all the wrong reasons.

More than one account has them first setting eyes on each other at a friend’s house. And it was love at first sight. Bonnie had been married since the age of 16 to an abusive jailbird, Roy Thornton. Clyde was single.

Their love affair suffered a delay when Clyde got put in jail just two months after they met. That didn’t deter Bonnie. She wrote him letters, visited him and even smuggled him a gun so he could break out. He was recaptured and sent back to prison, but the lovers reunited after his release in February 1932.

Together they sparked one of the most spectacular manhunts of the 1930s. Their 21-month crime spree took them across Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and New Mexico. Side by side they stole cars, robbed small banks, grocery stores and filling stations.

Clyde was credited with kidnapping, and some 13 murders, at least two of them police officers. At times he and Bonnie were joined by their brothers and other gang members.

Bonnie and Clyde met their end in a hail of steel-jacketed bullets on May 23, 1934, at dawn. They drove their Ford V-8 straight into an ambush of Texas and Louisiana lawmen that were hiding in the bushes along the highway near Sailes, Louisiana. They were killed instantly.

Their bullet-riddled car containing their dead bodies was towed to Conger’s Furniture and Funeral Home, where a crowd gathered to get a look. One witness said he could smell Bonnie’s perfume as he past the car.

Bonnie was still wearing her wedding ring when she died. Apparently she thought it wouldn’t be fair to divorce her husband while he was in prison. In reality, there would have been no way for her to file for divorce.

She was just four months shy of her 24th birthday.

She’s been shown in pictures toting guns and smoking cigars. But who knew that she wrote poetry? A few lines appear on her epitaph:

As the flowers are all made sweeter by the sunshine and the dew,

So this old world is made brighter by the lives

Of folks like you

And here are two of Bonnie Parker’s prophetic poems in full:

The Trail’s End                 

You’ve read the story of Jesse   James

of how he lived and died.

If you’re still in need;

of something to read,

here’s the story of Bonnie and   Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the   Barrow gang

I’m sure you all have read.

how they rob and steal;

and those who squeal,

are usually found dying or dead.


There’s lots of untruths to   these write-ups;

they’re not as ruthless as that.

their nature is raw;

they hate all the law,

the stool pigeons, spotters and   rats.

They call them cold-blooded   killers

they say they are heartless and   mean.

But I say this with pride

that I once knew Clyde,

when he was honest and upright   and clean.

But the law fooled around;

kept taking him down,

and locking him up in a cell.

Till he said to me;

“I’ll never be free,

so I’ll meet a few of them in   hell”

The road was so dimly lighted

there were no highway signs to   guide.

But they made up their minds;

if all roads were blind,

they wouldn’t give up till they   died.


The road gets dimmer and dimmer

sometimes you can hardly see.

But it’s fight man to man

and do all you can,

for they know they can never be   free.


From heart-break some people   have suffered

from weariness some people have   died.

But take it all in all;

our troubles are small,

till we get like Bonnie and   Clyde.


If a policeman is killed in Dallas

and they have no clue or guide.

If they can’t find a fiend,

they just wipe their slate clean

and hang it on Bonnie and Clyde.


There’s two crimes committed in   America

not accredited to the Barrow   mob.

They had no hand;

in the kidnap demand,

nor the Kansas City Depot job.


A newsboy once said to his   buddy;

“I wish old Clyde would get   jumped.

In these awfull hard times;

we’d make a few dimes,

if five or six cops would get   bumped”


The police haven’t got the   report yet

but Clyde called me up today.

He said,”Don’t start any   fights;

we aren’t working nights,

we’re joining the NRA.”

From Irving to West Dallas   viaduct

is known as the Great Divide.

Where the women are kin;

and the men are men,

and they won’t “stool”   on Bonnie and Clyde.


If they try to act like citizens

and rent them a nice little   flat.

About the third night;

they’re invited to fight,

by a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.


They don’t think they’re too   smart or desperate

they know that the law always   wins.

They’ve been shot at before;

but they do not ignore,

that death is the wages of sin.


Some day they’ll go down   together

they’ll bury them side by side.

To few it’ll be grief,

to the law a relief

but it’s death for Bonnie and   Clyde.


The Story of Suicide Sal

We each of us have a good “alibi”

For being down here in the “joint”

But few of them really are justified

If you get right down to the point.


You’ve heard of a woman’s glory

Being spent on a “downright cur”

Still you can’t always judge the story

As true, being told by her.


As long as I’ve stayed on this “island”

And heard “confidence tales” from each “gal”

Only one seemed interesting and truthful-

The story of “Suicide Sal”.


Now “Sal” was a gal of rare beauty,

Though her features were coarse and tough;

She never once faltered from duty

To play on the “up and up”.


“Sal” told me this tale on the evening

Before she was turned out “free”

And I’ll do my best to relate it

Just as she told it to me:


I was born on a ranch in Wyoming;

Not treated like Helen of Troy,

I was taught that “rods were rulers”

And “ranked” as a greasy cowboy.


Then I left my old home for the city

To play in its mad dizzy whirl,

Not knowing how little of pity

It holds for a country girl.


There I fell for “the line” of a “henchman”

A “professional killer” from “Chi”

I couldn’t help loving him madly,

For him even I would die.


One year we were desperately happy

Our “ill gotten gains” we spent free,

I was taught the ways of the “underworld”

Jack was just like a “god” to me.


I got on the “F.B.A.” payroll

To get the “inside lay” of the “job”

The bank was “turning big money”!

It looked like a “cinch for the mob”.


Eighty grand without even a “rumble”-

Jack was last with the “loot” in the door,

When the “teller” dead-aimed a revolver

From where they forced him to lie on the floor.


I knew I had only a moment-

He would surely get Jack as he ran,

So I “staged” a “big fade out” beside him

And knocked the forty-five out of his hand.


They “rapped me down big” at the station,

And informed me that I’d get the blame

For the “dramatic stunt” pulled on the “teller”

Looked to them, too much like a “game”.


The “police” called it a “frame-up”

Said it was an “inside job”

But I steadily denied any knowledge

Or dealings with “underworld mobs”.


The “gang” hired a couple of lawyers,

The best “fixers” in any mans town,

But it takes more than lawyers and money

When Uncle Sam starts “shaking you down”.


I was charged as a “scion of gangland”

And tried for my wages of sin,

The “dirty dozen” found me guilty-

From five to fifty years in the pen.


I took the “rap” like good people,

And never one “squawk” did I make

Jack “dropped himself” on the promise

That we make a “sensational break”.


Well, to shorten a sad lengthy story,

Five years have gone over my head

Without even so much as a letter-

At first I thought he was dead.


But not long ago I discovered;

From a gal in the joint named Lyle,

That Jack and his “moll” had “got over”

And were living in true “gangster style”.


If he had returned to me sometime,

Though he hadn’t a cent to give

I’d forget all the hell that he’s caused me,

And love him as long as I lived.


But there’s no chance of his ever coming,

For he and his moll have no fears

But that I will die in this prison,

Or “flatten” this fifty years.


Tommorow I’ll be on the “outside”

And I’ll “drop myself” on it today,

I’ll “bump ’em if they give me the “hotsquat”

On this island out here in the bay…


The iron doors swung wide next morning

For a gruesome woman of waste,

Who at last had a chance to “fix it”

Murder showed in her cynical face.


Not long ago I read in the paper

That a gal on the East Side got “hot”

And when the smoke finally retreated,

Two of gangdom were found “on the spot”.


It related the colorful story

Of a “jilted gangster gal”

Two days later, a “sub-gun” ended

The story of “Suicide Sal”.



Belle Moore found guilty as a white slave trader

Here is the conclusion to the story of Belle Moore.

Finally on April 26, Belle Moore called Miller and told him she had a couple of girls for his inspection. Miller took Amy Jackson with him as a witness. Jackson accompanied him under the pretense of being Madam Fuller’s maid. When Miller and Jackson arrived at Moore’s apartment, the two girls, Alice Milton and Belle Wood, were asleep in another room. Calling the girls “peaches and cream,” Moore opened the bedroom door for Miller’s approval. “Now, Dick, those girls are just what you want and I know they will please Frankie; I know they will get the money in any whorehouse.” Actually, the two young women had come from Mrs. Palmer’s, “disorderly house” a few blocks away at 137 West Forty-First Street.

After some haggling, a deal was struck for $75 for each girl. Miller did not have the full $150. Instead he pulled $90 from his pocket and borrowed $30 from Jackson. Belle Moore took the cash, rolled it up and stuck it in her stocking. Miller agreed to forward the remaining $30 to her within a reasonable amount of time.

She went to the window then and peered out. “I will look out and see if the coast is clear.” She was satisfied it was safe but still instructed them to all leave separately. Miller left first, carrying the girls’ luggage. Milton and Woods followed a few moments later and joined him in a waiting cab at Forty-second Street and Ninth Avenue.

Moore was arrested soon after and lodged in New York’s Tombs. Both she and Alex Anderson were indicted under the John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Grand Jury for the sale of the two girls.

At Moore’s trial, Defense Council Alexander Karlin called Miller’s spending habits into question. The district attorney explained the money had come from an expense account privately given for this particular investigation. Karlin elicited a tally of between $3,000 and $4,000 spent on liquor both at drinking establishments, supposedly for information. Miller admitted that both he and Francis Foster bought champagne for the defendant.

Francis Foster was questioned about her own character. She told the court that she had been married up until the year before, but admitted she did not know where her husband was at the time. She testified that during the investigation, she spent weeks in the Tenderloin district gaining information and evidence from harlots, drunks and gamblers.

Karlin asked her if she thought it proper for a college educated women to be “going about in sporting joints.” Foster replied that she did not know what a sporting joint was but admitted to frequenting two saloons. She said Miller was always with her in these situations, and she never drank anything but champagne.

Although Alice Milton and Belle Woods had also been detained and held at the Magdelan Home, a facility for “unfortunate women,” the district attorney had no plans to put either of them on the stand. They had been described as mere children, hardly 16 years old. One story told that when Alice Milton consented to go to Seattle, she wept because she had to leave her teddy bear behind.

Milton was called as the first defense witness. Brown curls spilled out of her big red hat and tumbled over her shoulders. It was obvious even before she stated her age of 23 that she was not a child. Her attitude was evident in the way she dangled her patent leather shoe on the toe of one foot as she sat on the stand.

Her testimony differed from Miller’s. She claimed she was summoned to Belle Moore’s apartment to meet a man named “Dick Morris,” who would present an advantageous offer about going to Seattle to work for him. “I said ‘sure.’”

At Moore’s suggestion, Alice Milton contacted her friend, Belle Woods, to see if she might also be interested. According to Milton, that evening George A. Miller aka Dick Morris went to Mrs. Palmer’s where Milton and Woods worked.  He laid out his plan and asked them if they would be willing to go to Seattle. He also asked if they wanted money. “We said we did,” Milton testified.

When Belle Woods came to the stand, she gave her age as 25 and confessed that she had been married. She corroborated her friend’s testimony about the meeting with Miller. She said the three of them met at Mrs. Palmer’s and talked over the plans before she ever actually met Belle Moore. She told Miller that she would go to Seattle, but likewise, she might change her mind.

The two women agreed to meet Miller at Moore’s flat the next day, April 27, when the money would change hands.

In closing arguments Karlin told the jury that Belle Moore had been “seduced into crime through the agency of the Commonwealth of New York.

“You have no ‘white slave’ traffic uncovered here,” he said.

No one doubted that Belle Moore had persuaded Alice Milton and Belle Woods to accept the Seattle opportunity, or that she had taken $120 for connecting the parties. According to Karlin, Miller’s and Foster’s testimonies proved that they had pursued Moore. “She got the girls only after they (Foster and Miller) had scolded and begged, written and telephoned her for two weeks to do the thing she had promised.”

Karlin, again, brought up the money Miller spent on liquor. “Champagne out of the county’s money?”

In closing Karlin called Belle Moore “a mean, poor, inconsequential colored woman.” With that, tears pooled in Belle Moore’s eyes for the first time.

In spite of Karlin’s best effort, Belle Moore was found guilty of selling women for immoral purposes. It was an unexpected verdict as most everyone who followed the two-day trial believed she would be acquitted, or at the very least, the jury would be deadlocked. She was sentenced to the Auburn State Prison for at no less than two years and six months and no more than five years.

All posts on this blog are Copyright © 2012 Jane Ann Turzillo

Belle Moore found guilty as a white slave trader

On May 19, 1910, a young New York woman newspapers dubbed the “mulatto madam” was found guilty of selling young girls into lives of prostitution. Barely 30 years old and quite thin, Belle Moore got caught up in the “white slave” investigation conducted by the New York County District Attorney’s Office. In spite of calling herself a manicurist, she was believed to be the “leading white slave dealer of the west side.”

Morality was a public concern at the beginning of the 20th century. Prostitution was rampant. Muckraking journalists fanned the flames with stories of un-chaperoned young women being snatched off the streets, drugged and sold into lives of shame and debauchery by organized networks of immigrants. One magazine article went so far as to suggest that certain politicians were in control of the procurers. Home to innumerable brothels and streetwalkers, New York City was gripped with the fear of white slavery.

New York County District Attorney Charles S. Whitman responded to the hysteria by launching an investigation in New York City. He hired George A. Miller, 33, to investigate the white-slave trade. Miller was a former government agent who had worked for the Office of Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior. Using the name Dick Morris, he posed as a saloon owner from Juneau, Alaska, in order to infiltrate the white slave trade. He felt the alias was necessary because he had been involved in several Federal court cases in New York the year before and many of the same people from the Tenderloin could be a party to this investigation.

At times he was accompanied by Mrs. Francis M. Foster, who used the name Madame Fuller. She claimed to be the manager of two expensive bordellos called “Frankie Fuller’s” in Seattle. In reality she was a 40-year old, dark-haired, bespectacled Radcliff graduate with three years of investigative experience with the children’s societies of Boston.

Miller and Foster stayed in suites at the Hotel Albany, where Miller became acquainted with a doorman named Steve. He told Steve he was in New York for a good time and asked where to find some of the “sporting resorts.” Steve took him to a place called Barow Wilkins café on Thirty-Fifth Street and introduced him to Alex Anderson. Miller told Anderson that he was from Alaska and that he and his madam were in New York looking for very young girls for their business in Seattle.

Anderson was willing to introduce him to someone who could help find “babies.”Around midnight April 13, 1910, Miller accompanied Anderson to a third-floor apartment at 348 West Forty-First Street. The name above the door bell read Belle Moore.

At this first meeting, Moore offered to sell Miller a little girl who looked to be about 11 years old. Miller refused. He had a niece around the same age as this child, so it bothered him a great deal. When he returned to the District Attorney’s office and related what he had seen, he was told to go back and get the child no matter what.

According to newspaper accounts, the child was gone when Miller got back to Moore’s flat. She told him the girl broke her leg and had gone to the hospital. Authorities searched the hospitals, but found no trace of the child. Court transcripts revealed the child’s name as Helen Hastings, and because they could not find her they feared she had been murdered.

Between April 13 and 27, Miller visited Belle Moore’s third-floor flat several times. On one of those occasions, he brought “Madam Frankie Fuller” with him. She was explicit in telling Moore what she was looking for in girls for the brothels and saloon in Seattle. They had to be under the age of 18 and weigh less than 100 pounds…girls that could bring $20-$25 a trick. She told Moore that girls in the west were just too old.

“I can get you babies,” Moore promised.

According to trial transcripts, Moore provided entertainment for the two undercover agents that evening. She brought in a man with a mandolin and one with a guitar to play music. Two girls appeared and began to dance. Belle Moore, herself, started “dancing with her skirts up over her knees and higher.”

During the trial Foster testified in her low voice, “I told her that I would pay her well for an innocent girl, if she could get me one, and that at any rate, I must have those who showed no trace of Negro blood.”

Racial language was plain in both Miller’s and Foster’s testimonies, as well as in the newspaper accounts.

When the “mulatto madam” began dragging her feet, Francis Foster entertained her at a luncheon at the Albany and later wrote her notes coaxing her to come up with the girls. “Be a good old sport now, Belle, and see what you can do for me,” one note read.

To be continued…

All posts are copyright 2012 Jane Ann Turzillo