True Crime Books by Jason Lucky Morrow

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Mug Shot Monday! Shoplifter Bertha, 68

Home | Mug Shot Monday | Mug Shot Monday! Shoplifter Bertha, 68

The following case has been a “repeater” for many years and is now in the penitentiary. She is sixty-eight years of age and has served sentences in the penitentiaries of Blackwell’s Island, Sing Sing, Jolie

Bertha, 68 year-old shoplifter, circa 1897, Chicago

Bertha, 68 year-old shoplifter, circa 1897, Chicago

t, and probably elsewhere. This is her third term in Joliet. She has also served several sentences in the Cook county jail. She is one of a gang of fourteen or more habitual thieves, some of whom own considerable real estate in Chicago, supposed to have been acquired from the profits of robberies. I first met Bertha while she was serving a jail sentence now more than a year ago.

When she was asked what brought her there she broke into tears and declared she couldn’t help it.” Six or eight months later she was under arrest again at the Harrison St. police station (Chicago) for her usual crime, shoplifting, and at which time I had a long talk with her in private.

“Bertha” came to America from a German village when she was sixteen years old, and on board the ocean ship she met a man whom three months later she married. He was a tinsmith by trade and only a few years older than herself. They lived sixteen years together when they separated, and he was later killed by a fall from the roof of a house he was working on.

She recalls as her first theft the stealing of a pocketful chestnuts when a young girl in her native village. It seems that a few minutes after the theft she was “conscience smitten” on passing one of the public statues of Christ, which she says are quite numerous in that part of the country. On looking at the statue’s face she felt its eyes pierce her with condemnation of her act, whereupon she threw away the nuts.

Excepting this act, she says she was a good girl while in Germany. The village she lived in in Germany was Roman Catholic, and here and there, at short intervals, were statues of Christ in the little public squares or open places.

Her mother died two years before she left Germany and her father was assassinated. She is one of a family of six sisters and three brothers.

She claims she was first introduced to systematic thieving by a female acquaintance in New York who had lots of nice things and seemed to have a “good time” by thieving in stores. Says she knows perfectly well that it is wrong to steal from anybody, but that if she didn’t “go down with the dogs she wouldn’t come in with the police,” or, in other words, the need of money and the influence of association.

She declares that she prays every night but hasn’t been to a church since her last time in the penitentiary. Says a church would fall on her because of her wickedness if she should enter one. She seemed greatly impressed with a priest who visits the jail because of his expression of sadness at seeing her return to jail. Says “his words pierced her like lightning.” She told the judge when he sentenced her that he could hang her if he chose. I have not the slightest doubt of her sincerity.

During my interview with her she frequently heaved a deep sigh and once exclaimed to herself, oh dear ! oh dear! She is a keen, robust and vigorous woman for her age, and evidently of a passionate disposition. She admits drinking freely at times, but denies having other vices.

She says that if she had her liberty and her choice she would return to her native village, where they have free homes for old people. The gang she has been operating with, range in their ages from eighteen to forty-five years, two sons of one of her sisters being engaged in selling the goods stolen. Claims she never stole from poor people. She is now in the Joliet penitentiary, and several of the other leaders of her gang have also recently been taken to the same place.

Source: Crime and Criminals, by John Sanderson Christison, Chicago Medical Book Co. 1898.
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