Monday, January 12, 2009

Minnie Shouse and Henry Foster

Minnie Shouse was the leader of a Southside gang of robbers, and one of Chicago's first great female criminals. Her practice was to lure men into an alley in Hell's Half-Acre, running longways between Polk and Taylor between State and Plymouth. This dirty alley, always piled high with offal, became infamously known as Dead Man's Alley, an estimate of the likelihood of emerging from it alive. The middle of Dead Man's Alley would have been about here (pictured looking north from 9th St. above, and south from 9th below).

Shouse worked with a strongarm named Henry Foster, better known as the Black Bear, for his propensity to overwhelm his victims with his powerful grip. Shouse was arrested over 300 times in the early 1890s, but typically paid off the police to intimidate the victim, or else did it herself. The Tribune of Aug. 17, 1893, describes one such incident:
Officer Frank Kalb was dismissed from the police force by Chief Brennan yesterday. Kalb is charged with bribery. Minnie Shouse, a notorious woman whom the police have been desirous of lodging behind the bars, stole $42 and a revolver from Napoleon Barland of Kankakee County April 29. She was arrested and Barland appeared as prosecuting witness. The woman left the courtroom and the trial was postponed. At the next hearing, Kalb paid Barland $20 to leave the city and the case fell through.
Shouse finally went to prison in 1895. Later that year, Henry Foster was working alone to rob a man in Dead Man's Alley at 4:00 a.m. one morning when a local saloon-keeper, George W. Wells, ran out in an attempt to stop the crime. Foster shot Wells twice dead. The Black Bear was hanged in January, 1896.

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