Joplin City Marshal Explains Suicides in Joplin

McManamy

In 1904, Joplin City Marshal John A. McManamy gave an interview regarding suicide cases in Joplin. In it, one can observe strains of gender, class, race, and economics that provides insight into the suicidal trends of the city.

McManamy claimed that the majority of would-be suicides in Joplin were women, often “women who have fallen from the highest plane of moral standing. As a rule they are not successful.  But as a rule also, this class of women, if they fail the first time, they try it again.” Very few African-Americans in Joplin attempted suicide, McManamy claimed, as “it is the rarest sort of thing that a negro ever wishes to end his own life and it is more rare still that they ever attempt to end it. Negro men are not the least prone to commit suicide and negro women seldom bother us in this manner.

According to the marshal, most suicide cases involved the use of carbolic acid, which caused an individual to “suffer the greatest of agonies before they finally shuffle. In the event they do not take enough of the poison to produce death, the suffering they undergo while recovering is fearful.”

Others chose to use morphine and cocaine. If the police found a morphine user before death claimed them, the officers would treat them for morphine poisoning by “pounding the party with wet towels, by rapping him hard knocks on the body, by rubbing the legs until they almost blister and in fact indulge in almost every kind of heroic treatment that will keep the would-be suicide awake, until the antidotes have time to neutralize the morphine.” McManamy noted that cocaine and arsenic suicide attempts also required “heroic treatment” as the would-be victim would often go into spasms while yelling, groaning, or crying. He disapproved of what he called “gun play,” but unhelpfully pointed out that cutting one’s wrists was the most effective way to end one’s life.

When asked what caused many of the would-be suicides in Joplin, McManamy declared, “Suicides usually follow debauches, or financial reverses. Debauches with the women and financial reverses with the men. These debauches may be brought about by many causes, disappointments in love being the most frequent.”

For the benefit of the paper’s readers, the marshal sternly pointed out “An attempt at suicide is poor business. Not over ten per cent of the attempts that are made are successful. The agonies, the sufferings, the tortures of the period following the attempt, with those who are not successful, make the game not worth the candle. Life may not hold out any hope to the would-be suicide, but there is seldom a life so devoid of hope, or so without light, that it is not better than the life of one who is frustrated in an effort to end all with one fell swoop.”

Source: Joplin News Herald

If you ever find yourself in need of help or in a time of crisis and need someone to talk to:

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
http://www.save.org/
http://www.afsp.org/

Cocaine Jimmy

When one thinks of cocaine, they may think of the 1980s, Nancy Reagan, and the War on Drugs. Cocaine, however, was in Joplin long before tv commercials showed eggs frying in a skillet while a voice somberly intoned, “This is your brain…This is your brain on drugs.”

Cocaine Jimmy aka Daniel Shannon

A sketch of Daniel "Cocaine Jimmy" Shannon

Perhaps the most infamous cocaine user in Joplin was Daniel “Cocaine Jimmy” Shannon. One day, Shannon was found passed out behind the House of Lords by members of the Joplin police department in what one physician thought was “the last stage of drug poisoning.” He was taken to the city jail to spend the night and was transferred the next day to the Jasper County Poor Farm in Carthage. One doctor remarked, “He can hardly survive this attack, and at the poor farm the drug will be taken away from him altogether. He is too far gone to be benefited by that treatment, and I am inclined to think that his days are numbered.”

Cocaine Jimmy granted an interview following his near fatal drug overdose. He told a reporter, “I have been a drug fiend for 18 years. The average life of the cocaine or morphine fiend is five years. I think the Lord must have let me live this long in order that I may be cured and live to do some good in this world.”

Jimmy, it turned out, had not always lived on the edge. As a young man, he attended the Chester Military Academy in Chester, Pennsylvania, and then attended a music conservatory in Philadelphia. This fact, the reporter noted, “many of the people of Joplin are ready to believe, for they have heard him play at the music stores. When under the influence of the deadly drug to which he is addicted and at just the right state, he has shown himself many times to be a brilliant performer upon the piano.”

According to Jimmy, his father was wealthy, and even played host to President James Buchanan at the family home in Pennsylvania. But after becoming addicted to cocaine, Jimmy left behind a career as a lawyer, and instead spent his time working on and off as a janitor at the Sergeant building at the corner of Fifth and Main. The reporter observed that Jimmy talked little of his past. One lawyer who doubted Jimmy’s former occupation as a lawyer was stunned when Jimmy began quoting sections from Blackstone’s law almost verbatim. In manners, he was always extraordinarily polite, always thanking anyone who helped him and making sure to say hello to others.

The paper remarked, “Those who knew Shannon in his brighter moments and could see what the man had been and what he might have been, will hope ‘Cocaine Jimmy’ himself that after all the Lord will see to it that he is cured; that he may live to accomplish something in this world.”

A few years later, Jimmy was still alive, and granted another interview to a Joplin reporter. Jimmy was described as a, “little, old appearing man, with a wrinkled face and a tinge of gray in his air, and although he is only 40 years old, his beard, when not closely shaven, is as white as snow.” His cheeks were hollow and there were “great hollows under his eyes.”

Although the moniker “Cocaine” was understandable, there was no explanation as to why he was called “Jimmy” when his given name was Daniel. His friends had pooled enough money to put Jimmy through an unspecified treatment program which seemed to be working until he suffered a painful bout of inflammatory rheumatism and relapsed.

Jimmy told the reporter he first used cocaine while receiving medical treatment at a hospital in the Dakotas. He used small amounts at first so that it was not readily apparent that he was using the drug. He “began the use of cocaine by dipping the needle in it when I wanted to take a ‘shot’ of morphine in order to keep the needle from hurting me. The desire for cocaine grew on me until I now use the two drugs equally mixed.”

He did not like practicing law, so his father set Jimmy up in the musical instrument business. He enjoyed teaching music and soon took “one of the prettiest little women there was” as his wife. Jimmy’s love of cocaine, however, was stronger and he began to abuse cocaine at a greater rate. He abandoned teaching, left his wife, and took all of his money out of the bank. Jimmy proclaimed, “There is not an hour in the day when I do not wish I could be cured of the terrible habit and straighten up and be a man.”

Jimmy told the reporter, “I cannot understand why any young man or young woman will begin the use of cocaine or morphine. My body from head to foot is a complete mass of scars which have been made by the hypodermic syringe.” The craving for the drug was so bad, he said, “there is nothing short of murder that will prevent him from getting it.” On average, he used fifty to seventy-five cents worth of cocaine per day. He then gave a lengthy description of the hellish existence of a cocaine user, described the multiple ways one could use the drug, and then sadly said, “My one ambition is to get enough money to take the cure and if I can get thoroughly cured of the habit I feel that I would never again touch a drop either of cocaine or morphine.”

Sadly, Daniel “Cocaine Jimmy” Shannon did not live much longer. He was discovered unconscious behind Ferguson’s Saloon by members of the Joplin Police Department who carried him to the Joplin City Jail. He was remembered for his daily plea of, “Give me a nickel.” Although he “was a well known character upon the streets, he never figured conspicuously in police court, and was but seldom arrested.” When arrested, it was for begging or for passing out on the street. In his obituary, it was noted that he “was an expert pianist and during his career in Joplin frequently was employed by proprietors of beer gardens and north resorts as a pianist.” Despite three desperate attempts to be cured of his habit, Jimmy died, and his body was held at the Joplin Undertaking Company until family members claimed the body. Where he was laid to rest is unknown, but one wonders if his ghost still lingers on the streets of Joplin, still looking for one last fix.

Source: Joplin Newspapers

Death of a Soiled Dove

Joplin’s North End was riddled with “immoral resorts” filled with young women.  Mamie Johnson was one of many who walked the streets of Joplin.  Her life tragically came to an end at the age of thirty-three after she abandoned her husband of four years and two children and took up the profession of a scarlet woman.  But her life as a lady of the night must have worn her down, for in the end Mamie’s life was cut short by her own hand.

Mamie, whose real name was allegedly Minerva Rickey, was the daughter of a “well-to-do” farmer from the Kansas City.  At a young age she eloped with John Gordon, a young farmer, and settled down.  After four years and two children, however, Mamie left her family and strolled into Joplin and a life of vice.  Shortly before her death, she had confided to an aunt who lived in Joplin that her husband had mistreated her.  The two had reportedly divorced.

One day life was too much for Mamie to bear and she overdosed on ten cent dose of morphine.  She was discovered in her room by Frank Wilsey, a laundryman for the Empire Steam Laundry, when he dropped off a bundle of clothes at her room.  Word quickly spread throughout Joplin’s tenderloin district and “many touching scenes were witnessed as the unfortunate creatures crowded about and gazed upon the face of their dead sister.” A letter was found in her room addressed to Bessie Blair.

The text of the letter read,

Joplin, Mo.  July, 27, 1898.

Dear Friend Bessie:

I will write this for you and leave it for you.  I may not get to talk to you or see you anymore.  But my bedroom suit you can have for that fine, but give my clothes to my aunt.  That is all I want, but would like for you to come as I want to send word home.  I would like for you to see them as soon as possible, for my clothes, my trunk, and things is all I ask of you to let them have.  Well, I am satisfied and hope you will be.  Tell them to go down to the wash woman’s and give up three dollars for clothes there.  I would like to have my aunt come as soon as you get this note.

Do not think nothing as you know what caused it.  You will not be out nothing as my folks will take care of me.  I suppose you will be satisfied when you see, anyway.  You have been a friend to me and not a friend.  And I hope when the girls see this they will take warning by me.  Bessie, it is hard to do, but I cannot help it.  I hope you will be satisfied with Minnie [Mamie's roommate] as she is a good girl, and will treat you right.  I send my love and best regards and hope you will not take a foolish idea like I have took.  Kiss them all for me.  Tell Pearl she is all right.  Time is drawing near and will have to close.

Good bye.
from your Mamie Gordon to my dear friend Bess, 1,000 kisses to all you I will go to hell tonight.

Interestingly, the letter was dictated by Mamie to her lover, Ernest Boruff, who testified at the coroner’s inquest that the two had quarreled a few weeks earlier after some of his clothes went missing.  They quarreled again after he wrote the letter for her and he subsequently left.  He claimed that he did not suspect Mamie had suicidal intent and swore that she “was not in the habit of using morphine.” Bessie Blair also testified at the coroner’s inquest and stated that Mamie had threatened suicide several times during the past month.

After Mamie Gordon’s funeral, the coroner’s jury issued the following verdict:

“We, the jury, find that Mamie Gordon came to her death form an overdose of drugs, taken by herself presumably with suicidal intent.”

W.M.  Whiteley, Coroner
Dave K.  Weir
Samuel Cox
A.C.  James
J.M.  Graham
Ed Trimble
A.  Malang

Life as a prostitute was not a happy one, and more likely than not, one that women simply fell into due to misfortune and bad circumstance.  At least some had addictions to cocaine or morphine, and as Mamie Gordon’s letter warned, one that could easily end in the death of a soiled dove.

Source:  Joplin Globe

Joplin By Gaslight

On a rainy spring night in 1878, Marshal L.C. Hamilton turned to a reporter from the Joplin Daily Herald and proclaimed, “If you want to see Joplin by gaslight, take a trip with me.” Not one to pass up a promising story, the reporter stepped under the officer’s umbrella, and together the two men set out into the darkness. “I’m going to raid the brothels,” Marshal Hamilton declared, “Many of the inmates are behind with fines and complaints are being made.” Together the two men visited several brothels over the course of the night, most of them “so filthy” that the Marshal and the reporter chose to stand outside on the steps, rather than go inside.

Despite the efforts of the “city dads” and the police, Joplin’s streets and sidewalks remained populated by prostitutes for years to come. In 1902, Josie Seber was arrested by Office Meanor for streetwalking. She pled not guilty to no avail. Judge Walden fined Josie ten dollars for streetwalking, but the jury decided the fine was too low and pushed the fine up to fifty dollars. Her counterpart, Etta Pitts, was fortunate in that she was only fined ten dollars, but because she was unable to pay the fine, was returned to her jail cell.

Section of Joplin's 1893 ordinance against prostitution

Joplin's 1893 ordinance against prostitution

As Joplin Police Matron Ellen Ayers would find out, many of Joplin’s prostitutes were addicted to cocaine, morphine, and alcohol. Flo Banks reportedly had a “police record as long as any woman in the city” but in 1902 she declared, “her intention of being good henceforth and forever.” A Globe reporter noted Flo was a longtime “cocaine fiend” but that soiled dove had sworn she had given up her addiction once and for all.

Prostitution was also a family affair for Flo Banks. She and her sister, Pearl Banks, ran a brothel at 629 and 631 Pearl Streets in Joplin. Although it was repeatedly raided by the Joplin police, Flo and Pearl continued their life of crime.  The rewards were simply greater than the risks.

Not all scarlet women came from impoverished backgrounds. Gertrude Rhodes, who was arrested by Officer Theodore Leslie and Officer Ben May for “beastly intoxication” claimed she was from a well-to-do Kalamazoo, Michigan, family. She had married a man whose “weakness was poverty.” They moved to Pittsburg, Kansas, and although her husband idolized her, she grew restless and angry at their poverty. Seeking an escape from her husband and young child, Gertrude Rhodes left her family and headed to Joplin, and within a few days “became scarlet.” After spending time in the Joplin city jail, Gertrude announced her intentions to return to her parents in Kalamazoo.  If she returned to Kalamazoo, only her parents know.

Other girls were more fortunate. Pearl Bobbett left home to travel to Pittsburg, Kansas, after she was promised a job. Upon her arrival, she found that the job required her to dance in a “hooche-kooche” show. Pearl told a Globe reporter, “I had no money or I should have come home at once. I only had $2 when I started. Afterwards they wouldn’t let me leave.” Joplin Police Officer Cy Chapman, who was dispatched to Pittsburg to escort the girl back home, “had to resort to force to get her away from” the show’s managers but not before she had been hit by the showmen with a stick on her neck, arms, and back.

Joplin's 1903 ordinance against prostitution

Joplin's 1903 ordinance against prostitution.

But many ended up like Annie “Black Annie” Stonewalk, an African-American prostitute in neighboring Galena, Kansas. Annie, who was arrested in early 1902 for disturbing the peace after a fight with fellow white prostitute Jose McClure, died a few years later in 1904. It was at the home of Mrs. James Burton, where the former street walker succumbed to a slow and painful death from consumption. The Joplin News Herald remarked, “She has been giving the officers much trouble since she arrived in Cherokee County four years ago from Alabama. Her life would have been shortened months sooner if it had not been for Mrs. Burton’s kindness.”

By no means sanctioned, prostitution existed outside the law but for occasional attempts to reign in its excesses.  Of the women who by intent or by desperation were drawn into the trade, little is known except when apprehended by the police or sought out by reporters who sought shocking or pitiful stories to draw in readers.  Never the less, any history of Joplin is incomplete without acknowledging their presence and their impact upon the city that Jack built.

Sources: Joplin News Herald, Joplin Globe, Joplin ordinances.

Joplin’s First Police Matron: Ellen Ayers

In the immediate years following 1900, Joplin continued to aggressively expand with more mines, more buildings, more wealth, and more vice. Back alley crap shoots, billiard halls, saloons, bars, and brothels were common sights. Just like mining towns in the American West, Joplin had its share of soiled doves. In 1904, a mix of Victorian morals, a steady number of prostitutes, and petty crime led to the public to demand that the Joplin Police Department hire a police matron.  A police matron, often an older woman, was placed in charge of female prisoners in the city jail.  The Joplin city council responded to the growing problem in the spring of 1904 when it unanimously passed an ordinance that required the city to hire a police matron.  The only hitch was that the hiring would have to wait until the next fiscal year as there was no money in the then city budget to pay the matron’s salary.

It was not until two years later, in 1906, that the city hired a police matron.  Over forty eager women applied for the position, but many were quickly turned aside for lack of skills, deportment, and experience deemed necessary for a qualified police matron. The field of candidates was narrowed down to three women: Mrs. Dona Daniels, matron of the city’s children’s home; Mrs. Agnes Keir, who oversaw Joplin’s chapter of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA); and Mrs. Ellen Ayers.  Mrs. Daniels refused the offered position.  Mrs. Keir had her admirers and fans amongst the members of the YWCA, who all threatened trouble to the city council should they attempt to steal her away.  Through the process of elimination, Mrs. Ellen Ayers was selected as the successful applicant.

Joplin's first police matron, Ellen Ayers

Pictured here, Ellen Ayers took on the role of police matron at the age of 64.

Described by both a local Joplin paper and the city council as highly qualified and trained for the position, Ellen Ayers’ appointment was closely followed by the newspapers.  She was described as a “kindly faced, white haired woman of 64 years,” originally from near Portsmouth, Ohio, and moved as a young child several times, first to Trenton, Missouri, and then to Pleasant Hill, and finally to Paola, Kansas.  The uncertainty of safety found in the border counties between Kansas and Missouri prior to the outbreak of the Civil War may have been the reason her family moved temporarily to Kansas City, only to return after the war ended.  During the war, Ellen Fields, as she had been christened by her parents, met Felix M. Ayers, whom she married in 1864.  A farmer and Union veteran from Kentucky, Felix was gave up his plow for the miner’s pick and moved his family to Joplin in search of a more prosperous life.  He worked as miner until his health failed him, which may have prompted his wife to take on the candidacy of a police matron.

Although she was selected sometime around the end of 1906, she had to wait several weeks due to the fact that the city, despite the passage of the ordinance two years earlier, was still not ready for its new police matron to assume her duties.  On November 27th, Mayor C.W. Lyon formally recommended that she begin her duties, which some hoped would allow the Joplin police to “much better work” at in “exercising influence to restrain wayward feet.” It was not until December 1, 1906, that Mrs. Ayers officially began her job looking after the female prisoners of Joplin’s city jail.  While she had a residence at 1922 Pearl Street, an office and private apartment were prepared for her on the second floor of the city building, which was shared by both the city’s police and fire department. Described as inexpensive but “substantial” the paper promised a certain amount of coziness for its inhabitant.  Adjoining her living area was a wooden door, built to conceal a barred one behind it which had a cement floored cell for female prisoners.

Floor plan for the second floor of the Joplin Police Station

Floor plan for the second floor of the Joplin Police station, which also served as the fire station and city hall.

Mrs. Ayers approached her job nervously, admitting that the work was new to her, but professed her resolute determination to do a good job.  While unaware of what was entirely expected of her, she told a reporter that she thought that “firmness and kindness” were the most essential elements of her job.  Likewise, it was thought that the new police matron would provide motherly reassurance to the wayward women of Joplin.  Mrs. Ayers was the mother of four children; the only surviving child, a daughter, was Mrs. Myrtle Gobar.  One of the duties assigned to the police matron was inspection of the food served to the women, and on her first go Ayers quickly rejected a breakfast for her first charge, Nettie Waters.  Declaring the meal inedible, the police matron demanded a new one.  Nettie may have appreciated the care, but unfortunately did not get to experience much more of it as she was ordered off to the State Industrial School for Girls in Chillicothe for a year.

One week and twenty-four women later, a reporter caught up with Mrs. Ayers to obtain her reaction to her new job.  It was a job, Mrs. Ayers said, that demanded constant attention and required her presence nearly twenty-four hours out of the day at the city jail.  With the exception of when she left on business or for meals, the police matron found herself always in the city building.  The most striking and shocking revelation for Mrs. Ayers, was the “depravity” of the women she encountered.  While ages varied, many of the women were jailed for prostitution and street walking.  Of their vices, the police matron complained that many were addicted to cigarettes and “coke.”  Coke in this sense was the local term for morphine and cocaine.  She estimated two-thirds of the women were addicted to either morphine, cocaine, or both.  The police matron experienced the needs of an addict in one of her first days when a new arrival grew terribly sick and demanded a physician.

“She awakened me with the most painful screams.  I went to the door, and she was crying loudly, and complained that she was very sick.  I immediately went down stairs to see about getting a physician but the officers informed me that it wasn’t a physician she wanted, but rather some morphine.”

Beyond the dark and depressing side of Joplin’s prostitution problem, she also encountered women who arrived at the jail for other reasons.  One was a young girl, perhaps 16 or 17, who to Mrs. Ayers dismay constantly smoked during her conversations with the police matron.  Another girl was Alma Richards.  Described as appearing to be 14 years old, despite being much older, and possessing “dark eyes,” the girl had been to the Missouri State School for the Deaf and Dumb in Fulton, and despite being ascribed those qualities, communicated to Ayers through writing.  By this communication, the matron explained, she learned that the girl refused to go home due to the presence of an abusive father, who reportedly brutally beat her after she broke a window.  Alma’s presence at the jail caused its own news, as the city did not want to release her, and the Industrial School at Chillicothe refused to take her as she was older than 18 and reportedly, “unmanageable.”  Alma Richards’ fate is unknown.

Joplin's city hall, police and fire station

This building served as Joplin's city hall, fire station and police station. Mrs. Ayers' office was likely along the left side of the building pictured here.

For three more years, Ellen Ayers performed the role of matron for the Joplin Police Department before leaving the position in 1909.  After a period of time, she was replaced two years later in 1911 by Vernie Goff who worked the job until 1914.

As for Ellen Ayers, at some point before 1920, her husband Felix passed away.  In 1920, she lived a widow with either a nephew or niece, but by 1930 had her own room in a boarding house at age 87.  Despite the trials and undoubted stresses of the position as Joplin’s first police matron, Ellen Ayers did not let the job overwhelm her and hopefully lived the next 20 years of her life knowing she made a valuable contribution to her community as the city’s first police matron.

Sources: 1880, 1920, 1930 United States Censuses, Joplin Daily Herald, 1918 History of the Joplin Police Department.