No. 643
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 29, 2024

Society Women Turn Burglars.

A Widow and Her Pretty Daughter Caught Thieving in Men’s Attire in Tecumseh, Mich.
April 13, 2015
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Via Newspapers.comPhantom stagecoaches are always fun (especially when they generate manic headlines.)  The “San Bernardino News,” December 7, 1914:Have you seen the phantom coach that dashes madly, silently, down the steep, rugged mountain trail near Pilot Rock? It is a weird story, this. It deals with the apparently supernatural. Possibly it isn't that at all, maybe it is simply some
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Strange Company - 2/28/2024
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HE DUEL IN ELLEN'S HONOR. Soapy Smith’s grandmotherOn Wednesday, August 9, 1820, an argument between 17-year-old, James Bowe Boisseau (1802-1820) and Robert C. Adams (unknown-1820) vying for the attention of 18-year-old Ellen Stimpson Peniston (1802-1860), took a terrible turn. The happy party in her honor took a tragic turn when the competition for Ellen’s affections ended in a deadly duel,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/10/2024
There’s nothing wrong with the MTA’s usual subway signage: the directions are clear, the design is simple. But when a contemporary sign happens to be stuck underneath original signage made with decorative tile and an unusual typeface—as it is inside the Sixth Avenue F and M station at 14th Street—the old-school sign wins hands-down. Subway.org […]
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Ephemeral New York - 2/26/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 Alice Hoyle last saw her sister, Lillie, the night of September 1, 1887, in the room they shared in Webster, Massachusetts. Lillie left to use the outhouse, and Alice fell asleep. Lillie never returned. The next morning, Alice went out, thinking Lillie had already left for work. That is the story Alice told the police— as the investigation progressed, she would change it several times.Read
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Murder By Gaslight - 2/24/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Surf Swimming at Hawaii, Sandwich Islands. | Amateur Photography.

Society Women Turn Burglars.

Society Women Burglars

A Widow and Her Pretty Daughter Caught Thieving in Men’s Attire in Tecumseh, Mich. [more]

Mrs. Alice Church, a comely widow, thirty-eight years of age, and Bessie Church her daughter, eighteen years of age, were arrested recently in Tecumseh, Mich. In the act of committing a burglary. They were dressed in men’s clothes.

The two women moved in the best society, were members of the church, active in charitable work and eminently respectable as to conduct. The women confess their guilt, stat that they have committed a score of burglaries and will gladly accept any punishment that is meted out to them. It was at first believe that they were insane, but that theory has been abandoned.

Mrs. Church and her daughter have live in Tecumseh several years. Both dressed well and the girl is not only unusually bright, but quite handsome. They numbered among their friends nearly all the best people in Tecumseh. They lived modestly and stated that their income came from the life insurance of the late Mr. Church. Mrs. Church was popular with the beaux of the town, but it was observed that she froze them with dignity when they became too demonstrative.

Early in the summer the home of a prominent family was entered one evening and some jewelry and wearing apparel were taken. No trace of the burglars could be discovered. About the time the incident was dropping out of the public mind another house was entered. Some money and jewelry was taken from this house, and, as before, the family were absent the evening of the occurrence. The station was watched and all the roads out of town guarded, but now burglars were arrested. The town police were puzzled.

The burglaries followed each other in quick succession during July and August. The whole town was excited. Strangers were eyed with suspicion and citizens lay in ambush night after night without accomplishing anything.

All the houses were entree in the same manner through the back door or a window opening on a porch. Occasionally groceries and food were taken. This led to the belief that the burglars were tramps. There was a secession of night work during September but early this month the burglaries resumed. The houses were entered usually during the absence of a family, but in many instances houses were robbed in which several men were sleeping.

Last week the home of the late Judge Stacey, occupied by Mrs. Stacy and her daughter, was broken into and robbed of goods valued at $500. A reward was offered and a score of amateur detectives set to work and beyond arresting a few trams who were clearly innocent nothing came of it.

Relatives then decided to take turns watching the house. About 1 o’clock the other morning one of the watchers observed what he supposed were two men approaching the house. He got a shotgun and waited. The burglars lifted a window and boldly entered. The man with the shotgun decided to wait until they entered the dining-room, when he could get a better light on the targets. The tow figures entered the dining-room, and as the watcher aimed the gun the light fell on the face of Widow Church. He could barely believe his eyes. It was Mrs. Church and her daughter dressed up in men’s clothes.

He lowered the gun, approached and arrested both. They screamed, but recovered their composure, and in the presence of Mrs. Stacy confess to all the burglaries.

The women had a preliminary examination, at which the whole town was present. They were held for trial. It is said that they stole to keep form starving, and that a false pride prevented them from telling their friends of their condition.


Reprinted from National Police Gazette, November 4, 1893.