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

Hot Springs madam goes to jail

Here is the conclusion to the story of Grace Goldstein, Alvin Karpis’s girlfriend.

Two years after Alvin Karpis was safely behind bars, the FBI began to build a case against his girlfriend, Grace Goldstein. They nabbed her in May 1938 at a Los Angeles hotel as she prepared to set sail for Honolulu. The charge was conspiracy for harboring Karpis. Seven others were also charged in the same crime, including three Hot Springs cops.

Indicted under her real name, Jewell Laverne Grayson, alias Mrs. Grace Goldstein, alias Mrs. Helen Wood and Mrs. Parker (the latter two names used when traveling with Karpis), she gave her home as Paris, Texas.

During the 12-day trial in October 1938, prosecutors tried to prove to the jury of 10 men and 2 women that Grace and the others had hidden Karpis from authorities in Hot Springs from June 1935 to May 1936. The government established that she operated “disorderly houses,” and it claimed that Karpis had used those houses as his headquarters. Prosecutors also tried to prove that the police were on her dole and, therefore, look the other way when Karpis was in town.

The newspapers reported that when she appeared in court, she was “smartly gowned in blue, her characteristic smile gone, but otherwise she was self-possessed.” Her previously bleached hair was now auburn.

The owner of the apartment building next door to one of Grace’s whorehouses testified that Chief Detective Herbert “Dutch” Akers came by the house every Monday around dusk. The witness, a widow, related how Grace hurried out to his car each time. After talking with him, she would run back into the house and grab her purse. Grace then rushed out to her own car, climbed behind the wheel and followed Akers. Later, she returned home by herself.

            The widow’s testimony was backed up by two of Grace’s girls, blond Jewel Greta Gilstrap and brunette Delia Mate Jeffries. Jewel and Delia also testified to overhearing telephone conversations between Grace and someone whom they believed was Police Chief Joseph Wakelin. After these phone calls, Grace dashed from the house to her car. When she returned home she told the girls she had been out with “the old man,” referring to Chief Wakelin.

The neighbor told the jury that her living room was just across the driveway from Grace’s bedroom, close enough to overhear conversations, and that she once heard Grace tell some of the girls that she paid off police.

Five days into the trial U. S. District Attorney Fred A. Isgrig asked for a conference with the judge and defense in chambers. Out of the jury’s earshot, he accused Grace of trying to intimidate government witnesses and he wanted her $15,000 bond revoked.  Isgrig based this on his claim that he did not get the testimony he expected from one of his own prosecution witnesses. He then asked the court’s permission to cross examine his witness. In the end the judge did revoke Grace’s bond, forcing her to move from a plush hotel room to a cold cell in the Pulaski County Jail.

 At one point during the trial, the judge directed verdicts of acquittal for three of the eight defendants, citing the government’s failure to establish that they had knowledge of a warrant for Karpis. Another co-conspirator pleaded guilty and was sentenced.

            Prosecutors brought close to 100 witnesses into the courtroom, mostly FBI. But the most memorable were the girls and certainly Grace herself.

On the stand Grace spoke in a clear, but soft voice. Her testimony took up most of one day. Under guidance from her attorneys, she admitted to running houses of prostitution since 1923. She apparently dropped the story about going to New York and getting married because on the stand she described herself as Karpis’s common-law wife. She told the jurors that he came to one of her houses of prostitution the first time in June 1935 and gave his name as Ed King. He agreed to pay her $200 a week “for her time.” She said she had spent approximately $20,000 of Karpis’s money.

Prosecutors zeroed in on questioning her about the former police officers as co-conspirators. Throughout her testimony, she maintained that there was no conspiracy to hide Karpis. Prosecutors hammered at her to try to get her to admit she paid Wakelin, Akers and Lt. Cecil Brock to keep Karpis under wraps.

“There was no agreement of any sort” she claimed and was adamant that she only knew Akers and Wakelin casually during 1935-36.

Lying further, she said once she found out who Karpis was, she “lived in grave fear,” and that fear was her reasoning for not turning him in to authorities.

“What did you pay police for running a house of prostitution?’

“Nothing. I simply paid a hotel license to the city and state.”

The prosecutor reminded her that she had told the FBI that Hot Springs police would tip her off if there was any outside interest in Karpis’s presence.

“No, I don’t remember anything like that.”

“Who did you split the $20,000 with?”

“I don’t know that I got $20,000,” she claimed this time and said she split it with no one. “I spent the money as fast as I got it.”

The trial came to a close when the defense rested with Grace as its only witness.

The jury deliberated less than two hours before delivering a guilty verdict. The judge immediately sentenced Grace and the former Hot Springs police officers to the maximum under the law of two years in a federal penitentiary.

That December Grace was back in court to face charges of violating the Mann Act. She was accused of transporting her niece from Blossom, Texas, to Hot Springs in 1935 for immoral purposes. The jury deliberated for 35 minutes on that case and found her guilty. Five years was tacked onto her first sentence.

Grace married Clarence Hollingworth in 1944. She died two years later of lung and heart disease in El Paso, Texas. She was 40 years old.

Hot Springs madam harbored public enemy no. 1

Acme Newspictures, 1936. The Cleveland Press Collection, courtesy of CSU Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections.

Hot Springs, Arkansas, was a lawless resort town in the 1920s and 30s and a favorite hangout of gangsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. No fewer than ten big-time illegal casinos and many smaller gambling parlors lined the streets, along with bath houses and night clubs. Several hotels offered prostitutes, one of them operated by Grace Goldstein, a plump, peroxide blond, who was a dear friend to the police chief and chief detective.

Born Jewell Laverne Grayson, she left her Paris, Texas, home for New Orleans while still a teenager. The Crescent City is where she perfected her trade as a prostitute and changed her name. After saving up, she opened her own small brothel. Her success didn’t sit well with the other madams so they paid the cops to harass her until she left town.

     In 1928 she moved to Hot Springs, rented out two floors of the Hatterie Hotel and hired girls with show-stopping faces and figures. A few years later, she opened a second bordello in a two-story house.

     Hot Springs is where she met Public Enemy No. 1, Alvin Karpis, the only member left of the Barker gang.  It was June 1935 when he first blew into town and stayed at Grace’s place. At the time, he was on the run from the Feds for two kidnappings.

     He always had a roll of cash and spent it lavishly, and Grace set her cap for him. Karpis called her a “big leaguer,” who ran the finest whorehouse in Hot Springs. He was impressed with her list of connections, too, which included the town mayor, local police, politicians and notable crooks.

     In November 1935, Karpis pulled a Wild West style train robbery in Garrettsville, Ohio, that didn’t net him a whole lot of money but did bring the postal authorities down on his neck. He made his escape from Ohio in a newly purchased private plane and landed back in Hot Springs.

     Fresh off the train robbery Karpis took Grace with him to see her brother, Leonard, in Texas where he unloaded a stash of guns used in the robbery.

     When they got back to Hot Springs, Grace rented them a secluded mountainside cottage near Lake Hamilton outside Hot Springs where the pair spent time fishing and target shooting. But Karpis felt like he had to stay on the move, so Grace rented them a house on a hillside that overlooked Lake Catherine.

     Postal authorities were getting hot, so Karpis took off for New Orleans. Before he left, he made a date with Grace to rendezvous in two weeks on a lonesome stretch of road between Hot Springs and Malvern. When the time came, Grace was there, but visibly upset. A half dozen FBI and postal agents had raided her place early one morning. They grilled her and threatened her with beatings and jail time. Grace held fast, divulging nothing. Later in the day, she went up to the Lake Catherine house. The Feds followed her. They figured Karpis was in residence, so after she left the house, they sprayed it with lead, exploding the windows and doors and nearly burning it down.

     Grace and Karpis decided that this was good time to take a vacation. They took off for Florida in Karpis’ new Terraplane coup then crossed over to Mississippi, visiting sites and acting like tourists the whole way. When the trip was over, the outlaw delivered her back to Hot Springs and left for New Orleans, where he was finally captured May 1, 1936.

     Grace was fodder for the newspapers as soon as Karpis was in custody. In just about every article, she related how the FBI had spirited her away for a 12-day period, moving her from place to place while they tracked down Karpis.

     When authorities first questioned her, she acted innocent about Karpis and claimed she didn’t know who he really was. She told them that he introduced himself as Ed Wood, a sportsman and gentleman of leisure. He took her to nightclubs and on trips. He liked to fly, so he chartered a plane and took her to the Max Baer-Joe Louis fight in New York in September 1935. It was there, she claimed, they married. She said the ceremony took place in a hotel but couldn’t remember the name, and she gave a couple of different dates.

     Grace professed to not know who he was until she saw a newspaper photo of him.

     She told reporters she was not sorry to be married to Public Enemy No. 1. “It was already done and there was nothing to do about it,” she said. “ I know I shouldn’t have fallen in love with him, but he was so kind hearted. All those boys are like that.”

     It was a happy marriage, she said. The two lived in luxury. They enjoyed shopping, although he would stay on the curb while she made her purchases. Karpis spent $9000 on her.  At Christmas he gave her more than $1000 to buy herself a present. She spent it on having a good time. She said he had a fondness for hats.

To be continued…