Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“Chicago May,” Notorious Badger Game Girl - 1907

FULL TEXT: New York, July 27 – Judge Vernon M. Davis of the supreme court of New York was invited by the judges of the English criminal court to sit with them on the bench at the trial of Chicago May Churchill in London who has been convicted of the shooting of her erstwhile sweetheart Eddie Guerin, known to three nations as one of the most expert fleecers of the public that ever invaded their boundaries. Few American jurists have had such a courtesy extended to them.

In this country Judge Davis had hail companions of “Chicago May” Guerin before him in his court and it is expected that on his return here he will report his comparison of procedure in a form that may divest the cumbersome machinery of American law of its more complex features. He has investigated and highly commended the remarkable expedition of English cases, the rapidity of selecting jurymen and the judicial minds of the masters in the proceedings.

~ Their Victims Legion. ~

The victims of Chicago May and Guerin are legion throughout the United States England and France. The history of the two principals in the trial reads like fiction from a master pen. Born in New York city forty years ago, Mary Vechs found life in her father’s bakery on the East Side not to her liking and at an early age she became a concert hall singer. From this she drifted to the period where a frequent change of name and abode were convenient and twenty years ago the mention of May Churchill was enough to rouse the police of many cities.

The woman became an expert at the badger game and with various companions led a life of luxury America was soon an uncomfortable abiding place and she betoook herself to where with her beauty attractiveness and well bred bearing she had a host of admirers.

~ Lambs Club Episode. ~

Returning in prosperity to New York the woman’s audacity led her to wager that she could be served with liquor in the select Lambs’ Club exclusively for men. She won. In 1889 she wedded a well-to-do business man named Sharpe but became a close friend of Eddie Guerin two years later after trying to kill herself by drinking poison in Sixth avenue.

In the next two years the escapades of Chicago May and Guerin kept the police of cities busy.

In Paris they were arrested for robbing the American Express Company’s office safe of $25,000 in cash. The woman who was traveling with George Miller as his wife, was sent to for four years and Guerin was exiled for life on Devil’s Island. After her release she was heard of in Rio Janeiro, where a young English nobleman killed himself after falling in love with her dissipating his and learning of her history.

~ Escaped From Devils Island. ~

Then came Guerin’s sensational escape from Devil’s Island. Reports that both he and May Churchill had died in durance were circulated assiduously, but the woman had bribed Guerin’s guards and a dummy body had been buried as his. With a companion Guerin took to the fields and kept in while the pair hollowed out a rude canoe from a tree trunk and safely paddled 280 miles to the South American coast. Then Guerin comes to Now York where American associates cash and influence, so that when he returned to England he successfully fought efforts to extradite him.

~ Devotion to “Chicago May.” ~

For years Guerin had been unremitting in his devotion to “Chicago May,” but in London another woman attracted him and he turned from his former partner. Late last year Guerin and “Chicago May” met in London and Guerin received a bullet wound that nearly proved mortal. The woman treated the affair lightly while the man with her, Miller, then known as “Smith,” declared doggedly, “I was the one who fired the shot.”

Judge Davis has had an opportunity to see final act of the drama. His report is awaited with much interest as rise in life has been noteworthy. Beginning as an assistant district advanced until he was in 1902 elected to the supreme court bench.

At a dinner after the “Nan” Patterson trial, at which he presided, Judge Davis criticized the verdict of not guilty, expressing his belief that the chorus girl killed Caesar Young.

[“Davis Was Judge In Patterson Case - Invited to Bench in England and Makes Comparison of Methods.” The Washington Times (D.C.), Jul. 27, 1907, p. 12]


FULL TEXT: FOR many centuries artists have married their favorite models, playwrights have married actresses who interpreted their roles with special skill, and authors, like Maeterlinck, have married collaborators like Georgette Le Blanc, who were their inspiration. And so it has happened that Mr. Netley N. Lucas, criminologist and student of life in the underworld, has selected for his wife the most notorious woman criminal of Europe and America "Chicago May" Churchill.

As the artist who takes his favorite model for his bride will always have at hand his inspiration, so Mr. Lucas has provided himself with a living encyclopedia of criminal wisdom and experience which can scarcely be matched in the files of Scotland Yard in London, nor in the dossiers of the French Secret Police. In any problem which Mr. Lucas undertakes to solve, he will not have to bring to bear merely the theoretical knowledge of the police he will have at his elbow, at all times, the most highly skilled brain in the world of women criminals to work out the solution of his problem from her own experience. And while most criminologists must search police records for names, dates and circumstances of crimes which they wish to discuss Mr. Lucas will have always at hand a living, ready-reference library in the person of his versatile bride, who has known intimately the little and big criminals, and their exploits, for a quarter of a century.

"Chicago May's life-long experiences have been many, varied and interesting, and readers of these pages will recall a series of articles she wrote for these columns a few months ago.

"I have been arrested dozens and dozens of times, and I have served sentences in the jails and prisons of four different countries. I have had a life-long acquaintance with criminals, great and small, and the photographs, fingerprints and police records of “Chicago May” are in every police headquarters in the civilized world. It has been said that I have caused more trouble to the police of the great cities of the world than any other woman who ever lived and now, before I pass on to an accounting in the next world, I would like to be of some service, to mankind, in partial retribution, at least, for my misdeeds."

"Chicago May" wrote the foregoing as the introduction to her series of articles in these columns, entitled "Why Crime Does Not Pay." Under the microscopic study of her new husband, perhaps this notorious woman may be made to be of still greater service in revealing facts and phases of the criminal mind hitherto unsuspected by criminologists who have not had the unusual opportunity which Mr. Lucas now has of an exceptional specimen for study always at hand at all times; and his own wife.

It was precisely her undisputed eminence in the underworld that brought May and her fiance together.

Two years ago Lucas was in Toronto, Canada, pursuing certain investigations as to narcotic smuggling. "Chicago May," under some other name, was there also, for purposes as yet unrevealed. They met, in the King Edward Hotel.

She had it in mind to rob him, May admits, and he, of course, soon recognized her intentions. But his familiarity with underworld lingo and his obvious knowledge of criminal affairs convinced her that he was either a detective or a crook himself, and it did not take a woman of May's experience long to realize that whatever he might be, he was no policeman. On his part, Mr. Lucas recognized in May a real leading woman of the underworld though he did not identify her as the "Chicago May" of whom he had heard so often and in casual chats with her he gained a vast amount of material for his book, "Ladies of the Underworld," recently published. Also, he became interested in her along more conventional lines.

Shortly after this Mr. Lucas joined the staff of league of Nations investigators whose report on the international white slave traffic has just been made public and it was necessary for him to disappear. He lost track of May, and it was only when her series of articles appeared in these pages that he gained any clue to her whereabouts for May herself is no mean hand at disappearing. Incidentally, it was then that he discovered who she really was, and his interest, as a criminologist was greatly intensified.

As soon as the League of Nations report was made public Mr. Lucas came to the United States, and eventually was put in touch with May, who for many months had been "lying low" in the best of all hiding places, a big city. May, of course, has retired from business, so to speak, and is not wanted by the police of any place that she can think of, but by force of habit keeps her whereabouts unknown to all but one or two intimates.

And now Mr. Lucas is writing a book about May's life, and when that is finished they are to continue together their studies in crime.

May began her career thirty-five or forty years ago when she stole some money from her parents, in Ireland, and ran away, eventually landing with an uncle in Nebraska. After an elopement and short-lived romance with a cattle-rustler who later was hanged, May ran away again, this time to Chicago, where she became a pickpocket and "panel worker" a woman who lures men to a room fitted out with sliding doors through which confederates creep, to rob the victim.

After several clashes with the police, May made the mistake of drugging a too-important victim with knock-out drops, and found it advisable to leave Chicago. She came to New York, toward the end of the nineteenth century, and because of the impressive festoons of jewelry which represented the spoils of Chicago, was known as "Diamond May" and "Chicago May." She was soon one of the leading lights of the Tenderloin, and knew most of its prominent figures.

While she was the sweetheart of a millionaire, she married James M. Sharp, a member of a most respectable family. He committed suicide, it was said, when he learned of her true character.

Meantime May had made a trip or two to London, where she soon became well acquainted with the fast theatrical set as well as with the British underworld. She raised her standards of crime about this time, too, and instead of cleaning the pockets of casual pick-up acquaintances or dealing "knockout drops" to them, went in for blackmail on a bigger and better scale than had previously been known in England. As one New York paper of that day put it, with somewhat boastful patriotism:

"Her fascinations have made an earl, a knight, several astute barristers and a number -of well known ' Londoners easy victims of her blackmailing schemes."

But May considered her contact with British high society as entirely a business association, and she reserved the right to choose her friends from the aristocracy of the underworld. Thus she became the sweetheart of Eddie Guerin, an American, who was the leader of a band of international bank robbers. The Guerin gang was undoubtedly one of the most daring and skillful criminal organizations that ever existed. Its members wore silk hats and frock coats, were suave in manner and sufficiently educated to pass as professional men.

In 1902 May helped Eddie Guerin and his gang rob the American Express Company's Paris office. Just as the office was about to close for the day May slipped behind a counter and hid. When the porter had finished cleaning up May signalled Guerin and his pals, and then, when they had entered, stood lookout across the street. The proceeds of the robbery amounted to some $50,000.

One of the gang, "Dutch Gus" Miller, carelessly dropped a letter from his sweetheart, in gagging the bank porter, and through this clue was arrested. Because of Miller's arrest the French police were on the lookout for Eddie Guerin, and arrested him on a train as he and May were leaving Paris. May, however, escaped to London, as did "Kid" McManus, another member of the gang.

Guerin and Miller were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island, the famous French penal colony off the coast of South America. During his trial May came to Paris' to aid him and was arrested and tried for disposing of the proceeds of the bank robbery. She was convicted and sentenced to five years in French prisons.

May was pardoned, after three years, and once free, set ahout a plan which she and Guerin had concocted just before he was sent to Devil's Island. Only a pers6n with a touch of criminal genius wquM have considered an escape worth planning, for until this time not one prisoner had ever succeeded in getting away. The island was miles away from the mainland, where there was another penal colony. Both were heavily guarded. And even if a prisoner managed to elude his guards, he was almost certain to meet death in the surrounding jungle, either of disease or starvation or at the hands of the Indians and bush-negroes who lurked there.

As in all escapes, however, the main factor was money, and it was May's job to raise sufficient funds. There remained quite a lot of the American Express Company loot, safely cached in London, and by selling her jewelry, borrowing from criminal friends and robbing a few select victims May managed to gather together quite a fund. It was not enough, however, so she appealed to Pat Sheedy, a high-class "fence," or receiver of stolen goods, who specialized in stolen old masters and other works of art, and who maintained a place in the very highest ranks of art connoisseurs. Sheedy, who seems to 'have been under some obligation to Eddie Guerin, secured the rest of the escape fund, and agreed to have a yacht at a certain point off the coast of British Guiana at the appointed time.

May and Sheedy attended to the details of bribing guards, and eventually Eddie, with two other prisoners, set out from the island in a dug-out canoe, with very little food and water and one revolver. As Eddie told the story later, at the point of the revolver he forced his companions, Parisian Apaches, to paddle day and night until they reached Dutch Guiana, 200 miles away. He gave various explanations of the Apaches' deaths, but whatever the truth, they never left the jungle alive. Eddie missed connection with the Sheedy yacht, but got to Havana aboard a coasting schooner, and eventually, to the amazement of a score of bar-flies, staggered into a New York saloon more dead than alive.

For the next few years Eddie kept well under cover, but May was very much in the spotlight in England. Her association with Eddie had never been exactly to her liking, for he was of the old school of crooks, devoted to business and rather austere in his conduct so far as wine, women and song were concerned. It was not difficult for May, therefore, to prefer the company of lighter-minded youngsters once she had discharged her duty to Eddie. One of these was the American bank robber, Charles Smith.

When May learned that Eddie had re turned quietly to London and was looking for her she knew enough to expect trouble. She was terrorized when she heard that Guerin intended to ruin her beauty with a knife. Smith, however, was not so easily frightened, and when Eddie appeared as May and Smith were about to get out of a cab, Smith opened fire and wounded Guerin.

For this, Smith was given a life sentence and May fifteen years in an English prison. But he was released three years later, while May served ten. Early in 1917 she was deported to the United States, and a year later arrested for a robbery in New York but discharged. In describing her prison life in England, May wrote:

"Under the present system of gentle penalties, short sentences, quick parole, and the easy life and indulgence in the prisons of the United States, no misfortunes would have overtaken me. But prison life' abroad is quite a different story, and that is why the United States is regarded as a grand harvest field for criminals from all over the world.

"The first three years in Aylesbury Prison, England, were the worst, for I spent them on all fours, scrubbing stone floors. I have since been to beauty doctors but I shall carry those camel's knees of mine to the grave. They make me very modest about wearing short skirts. When I protested to the matron, she replied: 'If you are too delicate to scrub, you should not have come here."'

But the result of all that scrubbing and of other hard labor was that May learned the lesson that crime does not pay, and she has never forgotten it.

Mr. Lucas was impressed with the importance of criminology at an unusually early age, for when he was twelve years old he learned for the first time that his father had been murdered years before, he says. The elder Lucas had been found in the Seine with his skull crushed, and the police discovered that he had last been seen aboard a pleasure boat in the Seine with a woman companion. Mr. Lucas was able to track down the slayer, but when he came to the end of the trail, three years ago, the murderer was dead.

Meantime, as a ward of the Duke of Bedford, Lucas had been educated and had then turned naturally to the study of criminology. During most of his work for the League of Nations white slavery investigators he acted as doorkeeper in a brothel at Marseilles. But nothing he has yet observed in his first-hand study of crime has impressed him as has the story of "Chicago May's" underworld life, and with her as inspiration, as well as living reference library, he expects her biography will be his masterpiece.

[“Famous Criminologist Marries the Greatest Living Woman Thief,” The American Weekly (The San Francisco Examiner), Jan. 29, 1928, P. 8]













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