Sunday, August 16, 2009

Leona Garrity's Brothel

In 1905, Mr. and Mrs. Lemuel E. Schlotter moved into a large home in the north shore village of Glencoe. He was a jeweler, and she appeared to be the scion of a wealthy family, though the family background was never fully clarified to the neighbors. Over the next year-and-a-half, the Schlotters and their 15-year old son, George, developed social ties among the moneyed clans of that suburb, and Mrs. Schlotter was well-known in the ladies’ clubs and community organizations. But on June 5, 1907, the truth finally came out. The Schlotter family wealth did not derive from Lemuel’s jewelry business, nor was it inherited from some patrician ancestor; it was the underworld that funded the big house on Green Bay Road. And Mrs. Schlotter was not a society woman, but a sex trafficker, with a vicious trade in young girls.

The spring of 1907 in Chicago portended a vigorous mayoral contest between the incumbent Democrat, Edward Dunne, and his Republican challenger, Fred Busse. Dunne’s administration was hopelessly corrupt, and the Tribune, the Daily News, and other Chicago broadsheets repeatedly hammered readers with stories of open vice conditions in the city. In February, a county grand jury returned a set of indictments against a wide range of underworld figures, including gambling king Mont Tennes and saloon-keeper and red-light district political figure, Andy Craig. The jury’s scathing pronouncements indicated that the police and politicians were doing little or nothing to “keep the lid on” vice in Chicago. Disorderly houses in the south side Levee district and west side slums advertised with partially or fully-nude women in the windows, handbooks offered sports gambling to women and children, and saloons remained open far past the city’s 1:00 a.m. “last call”.

John M. Collins, the Chief of Police, played dumb to reporters in an act that fooled no one:
There is exceedingly little gambling in Chicago now…as to saloons, there may be a few in the levee district where women come in, drink a glass of beer with a man, and perhaps do a little soliciting…If any saloons were keeping open after 1 o’clock my men would know it.
When public ire over vice conditions in the city bubbled over, Collins could always make a show of reassigning a few officers from this station to that one and busting a few high-profile resorts with newspapermen looking on until the uproar passed. But in the end, city Aldermen had almost full control over the appointment of police captains in their wards, and the political connections of some aldermen with the underworld meant that these periodic police “reforms” usually amounted to little.

However, Busse was running on a strong campaign to clean up the city and eliminate city hall corruption, and there was a palpable sense that public opinion was moving in his direction. In league with Mayor Dunne, Chief Collins ordered officers out to all the resorts in the skid row districts of Chicago. Get campaign contributions, he told them; if they won’t pay, make life difficult for them. And if you see any Fred Busse placards posted in or around your beat, make sure they find their way to the incinerator post haste.

Despite these desperate efforts, election day, April 4, 1907, saw Busse trounce Dunne, and after his inauguration, one of Mayor Busse’s first acts was to replace Chief Collins with his own man, George Shippy. In June, Chief Shippy ordered police into all of the city’s cheap brothels, looking for “white slaves”.

The concept of white slavery had been a bugbear for anti-crime and temperance groups since the 1890s, but the mid-1900s saw the concept gain widespread publicity. Black slavery, the rhetoric went, had disappeared with the Civil War, but now an even more vile form of human bondage was being practiced in the nation’s large cities. Teenage girls, some as young as 13, were being lured away from their homes by young men promising marriage or helpful girlfriends with news of profitable employment prospects. Once away from their families, the ingĂ©nues were taken to dance halls or saloons, frequently drugged, and then taken advantage of by their male companions. When these girls regained consciousness, they realized their honor and social reputations were gone, and with no way of going home, they submitted to a life of permanent prostitution. Houses of ill-repute throughout Chicago, it is said, were filled with these unwilling inmates, who though they saw scores of clients per week, had their wages garnished to an extreme degree by their keepers, never allowing them enough to pay for a train ticket home.

Or so the story went. No doubt some instances of white slavery existed, but in many other cases, it frequently turned out that the girls had left unhappy homes and willingly entered the sex trade. Prostitution, as much misery as it caused its purveyors, was better than the other options available to some women, including abusive family situations, impoverishment, imprisonment, or starvation. Nevertheless, as 1907 began, white slavery already had a hold on the popular imagination, and Chief Shippy’s investigations would propel it into a national obsession.

The most prominent white slave case in Chicago that year was the Mona Marshall case, which I have already discussed here. But another story that received similar coverage opened on June 5, when a grand jury handed down an indictment for harboring a 15-year old girl in a disreputable house against one Leona Garrity, the owner of record for the flophouse at 75 Peoria street (pictured above, now numbered 14 S. Peoria), and Bessie Lee, the keeper of the house. The near west side at that time (and for many decades after) was a skid row where thrills came cheap: gentlemen callers paid $0.50 for the privilege of time with Garrity’s girls.

That there were call flats on the west side surprised no one, even ones that housed young girls. What was surprising, and what made the her trial the talk of the town that summer, was that the true identity of Leona Garrity was none other than Mrs. Lemuel E. Schlotter, the society maven of Glencoe. Twice a week, Mrs. Schlotter would board the train into Chicago, slip into the west side, and collect her profits from Ms. Lee before returning to the north shore. Stories like these are irresistible in the press, because they implicitly ask: "could your next-door neighbor also be a sex trafficker?"

After the indictment was made public, the Schlotter family began receiving anonymous letters, undoubtedly from her neighbors, kindly suggesting that her continued presence in Glencoe was besmirching the village's good name. On June 21, 1907, Mrs. Schlotter (Garrity), out on bail, took the hint.
Mrs. Schlotter, who has been keeping up appearances in Glencoe while at the same time proprietor of the Peoria street resort, came to Chicago in the morning and sold the furniture of her suburban residence to a second hand dealer. Then she returned, discharged her Japanese servant, packed her own belongings, and departed.
It would be difficult to believe that Mrs. Schlotter’s dark secret was completely unknown to her husband, but regardless, the marriage appeared to be over, as Mr. Schlotter and their son, George, decamped for California while his wife remained in Chicago to face trial and possible imprisonment.

(Pictured: the Schlotter residence in suburban Glencoe)

Glencoe in those days was the residence of many of Illinois’ wealthiest families, as it still is today. The most serious crime most village residents had witnessed was speeding. The “hobby” of automobile driving was new at the time, and Sheridan Rd. north of Evanston was a popular place for drivers to prove the mettle of their machines, which could often reach speeds in excess of 20 mph – considered extremely dangerous in a world unaccustomed to motor vehicles. Glencoe residents erected the first speed bumps seen on Northern Illinois roads, and turned their operation into the town’s chief amusement, as described in an August, 1908 article:
Amid the gleeful cheers of hundreds of Glencoe residents, scores of automobilists yesterday jolted and jarred over the first of the “bumps” erected by order of the authorities of the suburb as a check to “scorching.” Then many of them were arrested and fines shaken out of their pocketbooks.

The first of the “bumps” completed was across Sheridan road at Central avenue [now Beach Rd., just south of Dundee Rd.], and here the crowds gathered at noon and spent the afternoon and evening enjoying the result of the jolting on the speeding autoists. Although the obstruction is only a few inches high, the effect was plainly apparent, and many automobile caps, goggles, and hairpins were gathered up by the Glencoeites as souvenirs.

It was a gala day in the suburb. As each automobile approached the “bump” the crowd cheered and asked the occupants how they liked the experience. Although severely jolted, the autoists took the jeering good naturedly and waved their hands to the spectators.
The story of Leona Garrity did not fit in this world. The trial of Ms. "Garrity" and Bessie Lee began on July 8, 1907. Clifford Roe, an assistant state’s attorney who made a career out of prosecuting white slave cases in Chicago, described the two women vividly:
Hers [Garrity's] was not a vicious face. Her eyes were large and they looked at one openly and almost frankly. In a public place she would have been taken for a quiet matron, with love for her neighbors and scorn for acts that were immoral. She was dressed in a tailor-made suit of blue; her hat was modestly trimmed. No one would take her for an outcast who buys and sells girls. Bessie Lee, who sat beside her, looked the part of a procuress. She was thin lipped, cold featured, with a complexion the color of a faded straw hat, and eyes that were black enough to spot the wings of a crow. She flashed them too as she almost couched in the big armchair given her by the bailiff. In her countenance was written the story of days spent in sorrow and nights in utter shame.
On July 13, the underage girl in question, 15-year old Miss Belle Winters, was scheduled to testify against her slavers. Her story, while plausible, was hardly an open-and-shut case of malfeasance. She told investigators that a few months earlier, she and a school friend had run away from her South Shore home near 71st and Greenwood Ave., and boarded a lake boat bound for Benton Harbor, Michigan. While on the boat, she was befriended by a young man who gave his name as Harry Mansfield. Mansfield, she said, had convinced her to return to Chicago with him, but then had delivered her, in return for payment from Bessie Lee, to Schlotter’s brothel, where she was a prisoner to her keepers, under threat of violence.

The fact that she admitted running away from home, and that neither “Harry Mansfield” nor the young friend Miss Winters claimed had accompanied her on the boat, were ever found, casts a shadow of fabulousness over the story, and indeed, at trial, Schlotter and Lee’s counsel claimed that Winters had entered employment willingly and prevaricated about her age.

But by July, the public was in no mood for excuses on the issue of white slavery, and Schlotter and Lee faced the imminent prospect of lock-up at Joliet. Likely it was Schlotter who decided to make one last attempt to silence the state's chief witness. During the trial, Belle Winters was under the protection and purview of a minder from the state’s attorney’s office – likely, they realized Miss Winters’ potential to again run away from home, as well as her precarious status as a witness against a wealthy and desperate defendant. The day before her testimony, Winters and her guardian, a Mrs. Amigh, made a visit to Marshall Field’s downtown. When Mrs. Amigh turned away for a moment, Belle disappeared, and before the two found each other, a man approached the young girl, telling her he was from the State’s Attorney’s office, and that she was needed at trial immediately.

She went with him, but before reaching court, he suggested they duck into a nearby saloon for a quick drink. Realizing this was highly suspicious behavior for court-appointed personnel, she pulled away from her would-be kidnapper and ran through the streets of Chicago, finally begging her way onto a street car headed towards her family home, where the police caught up with her.

The next day, Belle Winters testified in open court against “Leona Garrity” and Bessie Lee, and her words clinched the case. On July 17, the jury returned a verdict of guilty against both women, and after appeals were exhausted, Mrs. Schlotter was sentenced to serve 1-5 years at Joliet in May, 1908. Bessie Lee, who had always argued that she was merely a pawn in Mrs. Schlotter’s sex trafficking ring, had her sentence commuted, and in December of 1908, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the trial court verdict, making her a free woman.

I have found no record, in census or newspaper records, of Mrs. Schlotter or her family after the events of 1907. Her brothel on Peoria street was torn down in 1914 and replaced with a cheap lodging house for seasonal laborers and others with no other place to stay. Rates were 5-10c per night, with a 9c dinner available, and all guests were required to bathe before bed – a rare practice among such flops which was intended to prevent the spread of lice and disease. The house was the first of the Dawes Hotels, which later opened similar establishments in other cities, begun by Evanston resident and future U.S. Vice-President, Charles Dawes, in honor of his son, Rufus, who had drowned in a swimming accident in 1912.

The Dawes Hotel building continued serving the tough streets of the near west side into the 1970s, when it also housed an alcohol treatment center known as Haymarket House. As the neighborhood gentrified in the 1980s and 1990s, most of the old housing stock was removed, including the Dawes Hotel. On the site where Leona Garrity’s brothel once stood is today a condominium building (pictured at the top of this post).

Despite his initial attempts to find and prosecute white slavers, police Chief Shippy was ultimately no more successful in curbing vice in Chicago than his predecessor, Chief Collins. With his health fading, Shippy resigned his post in 1909. Nevertheless, the public clamor against vice was unstoppable, and the era of segregated vice (red light districts) ended in Chicago in the 1910s. Based largely on evidence introduced in white slave cases in Chicago – especially the Mona Marshall trial – the U.S. Congress passed the Mann Act (originally known as the White Slave Act) in 1910, which made it a federal crime to transport women across state lines for sexual purposes. Today the Mann Act is best known as a standard for prosecuting immoral – though not coercive – behavior, including African-American boxer Jack Johnson’s interracial affairs and marriage, and Charlie Chaplin’s supposed paternity of an out-of-wedlock child (and his left-wing politics).


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Anonymous said...

The selling of thousands of girls into prostitution is not made up, it is a reality, like black slavery and the holocaust. No girl between 13 and 19 years old walks into a brothel to be f* by 10 to 100 men a day for no pay, not being allowed to leave the place and see the sun or even phone or write to parents and friends. This is blaming the victim. Prostitutes had a life expectancy between 5 and 10 years, many did not even reach their 25th birthday, their job was not healthier than factory work because of the high suicide and syphilis rates. They were social outcasts denied of having a family. If people do not believe what girls in prostitution say, they should also not believe those who state they chose the profession themselves, they should not pick and chose what suits them. Too few decided to come forward because they were shunned by their families and society. Shame on mankind