In the final installment of Mugshot March, we’ll examine a few long-forgotten characters who deserve to be remembered – not just for their luck, but for their personalities. Some of these stories are courtesy of OnlyInYourState.com.

 

Allow me to introduce Thomas Whitney, aka the Professor. Whitney was Omaha’s premier fortune teller, palm reader, clairvoyant, and astrologer. Despite his local fame, a customer complained about a reading. When Whitney shrugged it off, the customer decided to file a complaint with Omaha police. You really can’t blame Thomas Whitney for being annoyed. Someone didn’t like their reading so they went to the police?

1897. Thomas Whitney. Photo NE State Historical Society

 

The Professor was arrested for obtaining money under false pretenses. I don’t think I’d want to cross someone who could summon spirits to avenge him, but some fearless soul did. Whitney returned the money and served no time.

 

John Shead pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in 1914 in Bates County, Missouri. In June, he was sentenced to prison for the rest of his natural life.

Once imprisoned, John really did not like his new digs. In October 1917, he escaped over a wall, and appeared to be gone for good. Eventually he was picked up in San Francisco in March 1918 and returned to the Missouri State Penitentiary.

Even with a little break, Shead really wanted out. He escaped through the powerhouse gate by releasing coal cart in June of 1920. He was immediately caught and brought back.

For his next disappearing trick, Shead escaped in a box car from a warehouse December 5, 1928. This holiday lasted only 3 days before he was returned.

John Shead escaped once more, but the date wasn’t recorded. And he was returned to prison once again on November 6, 1949.

He was discharged in February, 1952 by the Cole County Circuit Court, 38 years after his conviction.

Shead was excellent at jailbreaking and you have to think he really enjoyed it. However, he was always caught and brought back. I like to think he spent the rest of his life plotting how to sneak back in to the prison.

 

Look into the wicked face of F.P. Robinson and prepare yourself for something shocking.

F.P. Robinson Photo NE State Historical Society

 

Robinson appeared in an Omaha saloon one afternoon and ordered a beer for 5¢. Robinson paid his tab with a Mexican dollar, which at the time, looked very similar to an American dollar. But the exchange rate of a Mexican dollar was only about 45¢. He should have received back 40¢ in change, but the saloonkeeper did not look closely and–assuming it was an American dollar–gave him back 95¢. Let’s hope Robinson enjoyed his beer and temporary illicit possession of 55¢ because his career as a criminal mastermind was destined to be short-lived: Omaha authorities arrested him for fraud.

(For reference, 55¢ in 1900 would be worth $17.22 today.)

 

Alv Lytle was indignant when he was charged with robbing a bank. He protested his innocence and he stuck to his story… as many other guilty criminals do. The judge didn’t buy it and he was convicted.

Alv Lytle. Photo NE State Historical Society

 

But! After Lytle served two years in the Nebraska Penitentiary, another man confessed to the robbery. Lytle was set free and given $2500 for false imprisonment.

 

Last, but not least, we have Albert Johnson who was sent up for Grand Larceny. I’ve written before about how the Victorians would often photograph prisoners in hats, which makes sense. A hat can alter a person’s appearance and in earlier times, it was the usual for men and women to wear hats in public. If a prisoner ever managed to escape, it made sense that they would be photographed in a way that would help them be recognized.

Men were also photographed with hair (including mustaches and beards) and after they were shaved, for the same reason. But, I learned something new today! The reason men were shaved and photographed again was not just for identification purposes. Apparently, there was a practical reason as well: lice was a problem in these facilities, and shaved heads and faces greatly diminished the risk of an outbreak.

Albert Johnson. (1885) Photo NE State Historical Society

 

Albert Johnson looks pretty different without hair doesn’t he? Seems like a wise policy! Hopefully, he thanked Nebraska law enforcement for relieving him of that dreadful mustache.

In the second-to-last installment of Mugshot March, we examine the case of Bert Martin.

Martin had been living in Ashland, Nebraska and boarding with a local family for only a short time before achieving notoriety. According to the Nebraska State Journal, he secured a team of horses from livery stable on the pretense of driving a short distance into the country. Instead, he headed for Nebraska City, eloping with the family’s eldest daughter in the process. Martin was not the sharpest criminal. When the livery stable missed the team, they easily tracked Martin down. Somehow, he managed to satisfy his debt to the livery, but the girl’s father was not so easily put off. He forcibly took Martin and his daughter to Wahoo, procured a license, and saw that they were legally married. After this romantic shotgun wedding, they returned home to Ashland.

Just a few weeks later, the sheriff appeared with a warrant for the arrest of Bert Martin, alias Bert Sherman, for stealing horses. Martin admitted his guilt, and was convicted and sentenced to 2 years at the Nebraska penitentiary. He arrived in October 1900,  but was told that with good behavior, he could be out by June 1902.  Prison intake forms reflect the baby-faced prisoner was 21 years old, stood 5’5 and weighed 154 pounds. Martin was temperate (didn’t drink alcohol), and had no religion. He gave his occupation as cook, and noted he had a wife and child.

Bert Martin, 1900. Photo NE State Historical Society

 

Things went merrily along for 11 months, until Martin’s cellmate dropped a bit of news on the guards. Bert Martin was actually a woman, and her name was Lena. She had confided in him that she had used her masculine appearance to get work as a cowboy–a job unavailable to women. This checks out, at least partially. Lena Martin was known to work with a horse trading outfit when she first arrived in Ashland.

I’m curious to know how this information was received by Ashland family with whom Martin had been living, because this was a big story.

But the press only covered the official reaction. The story was a huge embarrassment to prison officials. The casual glance the guards gave her when admitted, they protested, was not sufficient to reveal Martin’s “peculiarities”. Prison physician LW Edwards, who was present for Martin’s intake, was subjected to ongoing ridicule for not identifying Martin as a female. Dr. Edwards attempted to reclaim his dignity by protesting his examination was made only to rate prisoners’ physique for the work they were assigned.

Martin was moved to the women’s division, but this caused an outcry. Governor Savage was at a loss to know what to do. Mrs. Martin came to his rescue, with a plea to set her daughter free. She promised to take her home to Springview, Nebraska, where they would live in retirement. Savage eagerly commuted Martin’s sentence and she was released to her mother’s custody in February 1902.

Despite the coverage, little is known of Lena because the official records are based on falsehoods she told. She used at least two aliases, she was never a cook, and she didn’t have a child. I suspect she was younger than 21. It would be interesting to know what became of her.

Typically, when people talk about felons and criminals, they’re usually referring to men. Though certainly in the minority, there are plenty of female offenders as well, and they can be even more deadly than their male counterparts. These criminals all hail from the great state of Nebraska, and their photos were found at https://www.nebraskahistory.org.

Let’s examine the rap sheet, shall we?

 

A rare but deadly mother-son duo

 

When elderly farmer Eli Feasel disappeared in 1903, suspicion fell at once upon his housekeeper Nannie Hutchinson, and her 21-year-old son, Charles. They were questioned, but with no evidence of a crime, police had to set them free. After an uneventful winter, Feasel’s neighbor, Mr. Stanley, began to work the missing farmer’s land in the spring. As he worked the field one day, Stanley discovered a human hand was poking through the dirt. When authorities were summoned, the mystery of Feasel’s whereabouts was solved. The Hutchinsons were convicted of second-degree murder. Nannie got 10 years and Charles was sentenced to 12. They were both released in 1911.

Mary Shannon

 

In 1925, Mary Shannon was sent up to Nebraska State Prison for 2 years for mayhem. Most unfortunately, we don’t know what that entailed specifically, but mayhem was regarded as a felony and the legal definition at the time was “the criminal act of disabling, disfiguring, or cutting off or making useless one of the members (leg, arm, hand, foot, eye) of another either intentionally or in a fight, called maiming.”

Minnie Bradley

 

Minnie Bradley, age 27, lets the Omaha Police know she isn’t about to be made to look at the camera. The police note that Minnie was arrested for pickpocketing and her occupation was prostitution. They noted she was wearing a wig.

Mrs. H.C. Adams

 

Who would suspect the demure and petite Mrs. H. C. Adams of so much as passing a bad check? And yet, she was picked up by police in 1900 for blackmail. When asked her profession, she calmly replied that she was a prostitute. Apart from the other funny things about this particular picture, it’s bizarre that the police didn’t bother to get her first name.

Ruby Fox (L) and Myrtle Hetrick (R)

 

Ruby Fox and Myrtle Hetrick met while incarcerated at the State Reformatory for Women in York, Nebraska. Ruby was serving time for breaking and entering, while and Myrtle was there for vagrancy. They must have been thoroughly unreformed for Ruby and Myrtle engineered an escape and made it as far as Wyoming. When they were captured and returned to Nebraska, they were sentenced to one year at the Nebraska State Prison for their escape.

Goldie Williams, aka Meg Murphy

 

At 5’ tall and 110 pounds, Goldie Williams, alias Meg Murphy, was a petite woman. When Omaha Police took her mugshot in 1898, she said she lived in Chicago and gave her occupation as a prostitute. Williams sports an elaborate hat with satin ribbons and feathers. I couldn’t find what she was picked up for.

Red Nora

 

Nora Courier, better known as “Red Nora”, was arrested in March 1901 for horse theft. Back in the day, a horse thief was the most lowdown thing a person could. be. This perp was 22 and stood at 5’3. Red Nora just looks like trouble to me.