It’s the last day of Mugshot March! This calls for something spectacular, so this evening, I bring you the tale of Mrs. Margaret Rowan, founder of a cult, attempted murderer, and eventual prisoner at San Quentin penitentiary.

Wade and Rowan formerly belonged to the Seventh Day Adventist Church, but Mrs. Rowan soon created a problem. In 1925, she predicted the exact date on which the world would end. When that date passed, and people found the world was still intact, Rowan was excommunicated. Mrs. Rowan soon established herself in Los Angeles, with a couple of followers. The papers that refer to Mrs. Rowan as a cult leader are referencing the sect she established, not the Seventh Day Adventists.

The story begins in February 1927, when all Southern California police departments received a description of Mrs. Margaret Rowan, who they described as a prophetess or priestess. An automobile owned by Mrs. Rowan was found abandoned in a ditch off the highway near San Juan Capistrano, and Los Angeles authorities expressed the fear that she may be a fugitive, heading for the Mexican border. Mrs. Rowan was wanted in connection with an alleged murder plot, and a warrant had been sworn for her arrest.

 

Two of Rowan’s lieutenants and devoteés, Dr. J.H. Balzer and Miss Mary A. Wade, were accused of attempting to murder Dr. Burt E. Fullmer. Mrs. Rowan and Dr. Fullmer had a theological disagreement that turned deadly. Dr. Fullmer who had also broken off from the Seventh Day Adventists to start a reform-minded sect. Dr. Fullmer claimed the pair attempted to murder him after he had threatened to reveal some unsavory activities Mrs. Rowan had been conducting.

Around 10 p.m. one February evening, Dr. Fullmer received an anonymous phone call at his home in Los Angeles. A woman’s voice, which he later identified as that of Mrs. Rowan, said that a good friend of his needed to speak to him immediately. The caller implored Dr. Fullmer to come to a lonely auto camp in Van Nays. When he arrived at the cabin, a man and a woman leapt at him, beating his head with a piece of lead pipe and stabbed with a hypodermic needle.

Dr. Fullmer

Dr. Fullmer fought his way out of the cabin. Once outside, others at the camp saw what was happening and ran to Fullmer’s rescue. They forcibly detained Dr. Balzer and Miss Mary Wade, and the pair were arrested at the scene.

The initial police investigation turned up several ominous items in the cabin, such as a large piece of canvas, a rope, and a shovel. Dr. Balzer agreed to be interviewed and he told police, “We were driven to the limits of desperation by this man his persecution has been terrible we had no intention of harming him are only thought was to force him to retract the malicious untruths he has been circulating.”

 

The following day, police called on Dr. Fullmer. The injured man snorted in disgust when he was told Miss Wade and Dr. Balzer said they had not intended to hurt him. “They were planning to kill me,” he shouted. “What do you suppose they had that pick and canvas for, if it wasn’t to bury me?”

Witnesses at the scene corroborated Dr. Fullmer’s story. One man said he saw Balzer and Wade try to choke Dr. Fullmer, and then Miss Wade repeatedly jabbed at Dr. Fullmer’s arm with a hypodermic needle. With that, police had enough to charge Mrs. Rowan, Dr. Balzer, and Miss Wade with conspiracy to commit murder. Dr. Balzer and Miss Wade admitted to participating in the attack, but they claimed Mrs. Rowan was really at fault for convincing them to do it. Dr. Fullmer also told police that he believed Mrs. Margaret Rowan was involved.

But Mrs. Rowan was nowhere to be found. For nine days, police searched for her. And then, she limped into the police station on crutches and turned herself in. She explained to police that she’d had nothing to do with the attack of Dr. Fullmer. Far from it: in fact, Mrs. Rowan was the victim.

Ignoring the incredulity of the police officers, Mrs. Rowan told them that she, too, had received an urgent, mysterious summons to come to the auto camp. She stepped into the cabin, where she was jumped by a man and a woman. But somehow– she was a little vague on the details– she had gotten away from them and gotten into her car, and raced off into the night.

 

Mrs. Rowan drove for a long time, putting many miles between herself and her mysterious attackers. When she reached San Juan Capistrano on the Ocean Highway, her good luck ran out when her automobile stalled. Despite having fended off two attackers wielding deadly weapons, Mrs. Rowan sank into despair. She waded out into the ocean, she told the officers, and attempted suicide by drowning three times in a matter of minutes. Somehow she failed to end her life and strayed back to shore. “I slept in a field that night,” she said solemnly. “The next day, I begged for rides to Phoenix, Arizona. I borrowed the money to get back to San Bernardino.” Mrs. Rowan then called her son who lived nearby. He offered to take her to the police to turn herself in, and she accepted.

Police officers and reporters laughed merrily as they heard her story. No one believed a word of it, and despite their appreciation for her imaginative tale, Mrs. Rowan was placed under arrest and taken to county jail. She would be held there, with her followers, and bail was set for $2,500 each.

Mrs. Rowan, Dr. Balzer, and Miss Wade pleaded Not Guilty the following day, but they soon reconsidered. The trio had no realistic defense for their attempted murder of Dr. Fullmer. The following day, all three pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault, with intent to commit bodily harm.

Mrs. Rowan, Miss Wade, and Dr. Balzer were denied probation in July. Superior Judge Fletcher Bowron, citing the clear evidence of their intent to murder Fullmer that was found in the cabin refused to consider probation. Instead, Balzer and Wade were sentenced to serve from 1-10 years in San Quentin penitentiary, while Mrs. Rowan got 10.

 

 

I didn’t manage to find Dr. Balzer’s mugshot, but have a look at Miss Mary A. Wade and Mrs. Margaret Rowan. Do they look like a murderous cult member and prophetess to you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is part 2 of the very unusual McNeil Island mugshots from the 1890s-1906.

As you’ve seen, McNeil Island Penitentiary tended to photograph men in pairs, wearing their striped prisoner clothing, and with their name and prison number scribbled on the back.

But there were a few mugshots that did not fit this profile. Or they fit but there is something else that is unusual about them.

 

Of all the mugshots, only two were of women. Neither was photographed in stripes, and I wondered if they were really prisoners and not a spouse or an employee, but they had numbers so they must’ve been. And Maggie Snyder, featured here, does look like nothing but trouble:

Maggie Snyder #152-05

 

Florence Harley #182

 

Then, there are these two. Quite possibly the coolest looking but practically useless mugshots in the world.

Harry Allen 106-05
John Sedion #107-05

 

The only line-up photo

John Cole #1185 Wm Smith #1183 Nael Waterman #1132 Daniel While #1136 John Mamering #1134

 

These were definitely convicted men, but probably photographed before they were given clothing to wear. Ray Hon, on the right, has a truly frightened look on his face. The other man, on the left, should be trusted with nothing, ever.

John Slattery #140-05 Ray Hon #141-05

 

This was the only photo that listed the date on the back, and the prisoner did not have a number. Something about him makes him seem more like a patient than an inmate.

Joseph Breslin dated 10:25:06

The hat!

Name illegible #1427 Lee West #1243

 

Photographed alone, without stripes, but he did have a number.

 

Nee Ching #154-05

A cruel face…

These men were not identified by name or number.

Another cruel face, and a frightened one.

Richard Henn #1323 James Feney #1322

 

The last post mentioned the Legion to Indian term as well. I’m not sure what it means. By the way, the text beneath each picture is an exact transcription of what was written on the back of the photo. Stannestones was the other one-name-only prisoner, along with Mamick.

Stannestones (Indian) #1258 Legion to Indians; Daniel Dywood Also known as Disall #1257

 

The guy on the left is really good looking.

Walter Hoffman #1313 Paul Rodarek #1312

 

This fellow looks like he’s been in a fight or something

Walter Packwood #1601

 

If I’m able to look around some more, I would be interested to know what this guy did for a living. Hopefully he was a poet. He looks just like a character in a book.

Walter Stanley #160-05

 

This photo can only be described as creepy.

Wm Bigelow #1432 Charles Johnson #1583

 

I think William Moore might actually be wearing a pocket watch! I guess you can’t hide style.

William Moore #139-04 Will White #159-04

 

 

Mugshot March continues with a special double-header! Most people who follow this blog know of my great interest in mug shots, but these are special.

Near Steilacoom, Washington, on McNeil Island in the Puget Sound, a prison was opened in 1875. This was the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary, with space for 853 prisoners.

Image from gritcitymag.com

 

McNeil was initially a territorial correctional facility, and it was run by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons from 1904-1981. Washington State Department of Corrections took over then and managed the prison until it was permanently closed in 2011. Today, the island is home to the Special Commitment Center for “sexually violent predators.” As of 2017, there were 268 residents at the facility.

A cell at McNeil Island. Image from gritcitymag.com

During its 136 years of operation as a prison, McNeil had a lot of “star inmates”, including Vincent Hallinan, a presidential candidate; Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, famed depression-era gangster; Mickey Cohen, the 1930s L.A. gang leader; Robert Franklin Stroud, “The Birdman of Alcatraz”; and the infamous Charles Manson. During the second world war, 85 Americans of Japanese descent were confined there after they resisted the draft. They were later pardoned by President Truman in 1947.

Despite the colorful personalities, the prison was a desolate place.

 

Cells at McNeil Island. Image from gritcitymag.com

The facility took a number of unusual mugshots during the late 1890s until 1906. They are some of the most unusual prison photographs taken in the United States.

The inmates were mostly photographed in pairs, but it’s not clear why. Possibly to be more economical with the film? Something about seeing two people in the picture makes them seem more real.

Often they were notably physically opposite but in most cases their prisoner numbers were very close so I imagine it was based on when they were brought in. A lot of the older guys looked like they had been born in prison. You just can’t imagine them anywhere else.

With a few exceptions, they wear the striped clothing that marks them out as prisoners, but as you’ll see there’s some variance between their appearance. Facial hair, especially mustaches, were far more common circa 1900 than in 2020. The prisoners are obviously posed–– I mean to say, these are not candid photographs.

Most photos had the names and inmate numbers of the persons in the photograph scrawled on the back. Often the writing is too sloppy to be fully legible, but I did my best! I believe the basic charge for each prisoner is available. Sometime I’ll go back and look but for now, the pictures can be appreciated for themselves.

Here are some of the great ones:

Frank Sems #1264 and Dan Carolon #1274

 

Ah Tai #1456 Lao Fon #1470

 

These two are an exception in that they are not radically different looking. In fact, they look a lot alike!

Ed Hanson #1238 James Moriarity #1236

 

 

This fellow looks like an old blues song. And the poor shape the picture is in really gives it some atmosphere. Would be a good cover for a blues album.

Charles Savage #141-05

 

The guy on the left reminded me a little of Eric Cantor, the former House Majority Leader. Could this be due to an underlying Freudian belief that most people in Congress should probably be doing time?

E.B. Covant #1301 and Thomas Martin #1701

 

I have really wondered about the guy on the left. If you notice, most of these prisoners are a little unkempt. But he must have spent quite a bit of his time on his hair, right? That’s elaborate!

Edward Nolan #1101 Warren Lucas #1087

 

 

Have you ever seen a more impressive mustache? The guy on the right must have felt completely inadequate about his facial hair.

Frank Doan #1324 Wm Hams #1325

 

George Sanfour Marshall Vince. Neither had a number

 

 

H.J. Maple #1306 Wm. Evans #1307

 

Henry Wallers #1318 Horace Chase #1321

 

 

I recognize the fellow on the left, J.E. Mann has a turn of the century look, but it’s kind of also a Creedence Clearwater Revival kind of look, too. Or am I crazy? He looks more 1970s to me.

J.E. Mann #1298 Joe Campbell #1299

 

 

J.J. Donohue #1519 James McConnell #1518

 

Jose Ciede (the guy on the left) has a frightening face.

Jose Ciede #1598 James E Harley no number

 

I am very curious about the man on the left, who was one of only two prisoners identified by one name only: Mamick. Unless it is just the way the light caught his eye, Mamick appears to have a glass eye or one blue eye and one brown.

Mamick #1524 Richard Cleveland #1522

 

Martin Burns #1589 Ed Marshal #1590

Several men had the phase “Legion to Indians” written beneath their photos. I wasn’t able to figure it out with a quick Google search, but if I find out later, I’ll update this to explain.

Mason Higgins #1279 Legion to Indians Mike MacKison #1278 Legion to Indians

 

As promised this is a double-header, so check out The Convicts of McNeil Island Penitentiary Part 2 here!