From 1921 to 1927, flapper bandits were all the rage in the media. Young women, wearing heels and flapper dresses, took up guns and began robbing individuals on the streets, holding up motorists and taxi drivers, and participating in store robberies. They were called girl bandits, sometimes the bobbed-haired bandits, and at first they were taken far less seriously than their male counterparts.
By 1924, the police in major cities across the United States were noticing a sharp increase in crimes among women. Mary Hamilton, New York’s first policewoman, said, “Cheap movies have glorified the girl bandit. There is many a girl today whose one ambition is to be queen of the underworld.”
10. A Spanking Would Have Set Her Straight
It was 1922 and the roaring ’20s were just getting started up. Women were suddenly feeling freer than they ever had felt before in the U.S. and jazz music was playing in all the clubs. Prohibition went into effect in 1920, but it hardly put a dent into the party spirit of the times.
Meanwhile, New York State was seeing something rather unusual happen. Young women started carrying guns and taking part in robberies. In one particular case, a young woman and a man hopped into a taxi in Syracuse, New York and ordered the driver to take them to Camillus.
The couple told the taxi driver to wait for them before they entered a small grocery store in Camillus, shot the grocer, and took all the money they could find. They ran back to the taxi and told the driver to take them straight back to Syracuse. However, the police were hot on their trail. Upon reaching Syracuse, the taxi was surrounded by several police cars.
Guns were drawn and shots were fired. As all the commotion was taking place, 22-year-old Myrtle Bates fired at the police with a repeating rifle and a revolver as her male companion managed to escape from the scene.
As soon as Myrtle’s partner was gone, Myrtle was captured and taken into custody. The police questioned her repeatedly about the identity of her partner, but she held fast and refused to give up his name.
Nearly all the New York State newspapers covered the story of the girl bandit and promptly stated that the young woman needed a good spanking to set her straight.
9. A Fool for Love
Katherine Zoberlein was only 17-years-old when she was incarcerated in the Tombs in 1921. She had fallen in love with the wrong sort of fellow and it brought about her downfall.
In her own words, she said, “I am here because my love for Michael was so great I could not refuse to do anything he asked of me. He asked me to help him rob people. I do not want to be bad. But I love Michael. He told me to do it. I would have done anything he asked. I think he loved my beauty.”
One night, as Katherine walked the streets with Michael following close behind her, a man approached her and she lured him to a doorway. Michael quickly came up behind the man, pointed a glass candy jar that was shaped like a gun at the man, and robbed him. The man gave up his money and escaped with little injury.
The police were able to locate Michael first. He was arrested and, while he was in interrogation, was quick to give up Katherine’s name and location. According to the police, he was just using Katherine and she clearly meant nothing to him.
8. Pregnant and in Love
Love was again the excuse for a robbery in 1923 when 19-year-old Violet Dickerson and her boyfriend raided a local store. One of the two shot the owner in the stomach and after they took what money they could find, they ran.
The police quickly captured Violet’s boyfriend, Charles Bates. He confessed to having been present at the robbery, but he insisted that it was Violet who shot the owner.
Eventually, police found and arrested Violet. She was charged with first degree murder, but she insisted that she did not shoot the gun. She was pregnant at the time and claimed that she had no choice but to stand by Charles’s side when he committed the crime. He had the tendency to become physically violent with her and had threatened to get rid of their baby if she refused to obey him.
By the time Violet went to court, her infant was four-months-old. Charles had already been found guilty of first degree murder and was sentenced to die. She was found not guilty by a jury of men and was given her freedom.
7. Brooklyn’s Bobbed-haired Bandit
Not all girl bandits were caught. In fact, the newspapers reported on so many unidentified girl bandits operating in the large cities during the ’20s that it is doubtful many were ever brought to justice. Just a quick gig here and there, and the girls were often onto something, or someone, new and exciting or they would hook up and settle down.
In 1924 there was a rather brazen bandit robbing stores in Brooklyn, New York. She and her male partner would walk into stores and rob them. The girl bandit would hold the gun while the guy raided the cash registers.
At one point, the couple burglarized a store that was across the street from an armory where 150 members of the police reserves were being drilled.
No one knew the identity of the bandits and, according to one report, there was more than one couple robbing stores in the area.
6. As Pretty as They Make Them
In the spring of 1921, a Chicago taxi driver picked up a young woman and her two male companions. The trio had the driver take them to an address on the South Side, but halfway to the destination, the trio asked the driver to pull over and let them out.
The young woman asked how much was owed for the ride and the driver told her it was $5.90. “You’re a robber,” she said, “but you’ve got the wrong number this time. We’re robbers, too.”
The young woman pulled a gun from her handbag and told the driver to step out of the car. She then made the driver hand over his cap and coat to one of her companions who slid into the driver’s seat. The woman then gave the taxi driver fifty cents and the trio left the man stranded beside the road.
In the words of the taxi driver, “She was as pretty as they make ‘em, but oh man! She knew how to handle that gat.”
5. Parisian Bandit Queen
The United States was not the only country having a problem with flapper bandits. In Paris, 1921, a flapper bandit by the name of Yvette Miffone was sentenced to 15 years of penal servitude for murder and robbery.
Yvette had been a top student at her school and when she graduated at the age of 16, she went to work in a bank. Her employers held her in high esteem until she met up with man named Degory.
Degory was the leader of a small band of criminals, and soon Yvette found herself taking part in a jewelry store heist. The shop owner’s wife was shot and the gang tried to get away, but were soon exchanging gunfire with the police.
Yvette hid behind a tree as the bullets flew, but when she saw her lover take a bullet, she picked up her revolver and shot a policeman. She, in turn, also took a bullet and spent nearly six months in the hospital recovering from the wound.
As soon as she recovered, she went to trial and faced the severe penalties for her actions.
4. The Con Game
Not all of the flapper bandits used a gun. Some used cons to gain access to the target’s cash. For example, in 1922 a “comely young woman” pretended to be a door-to-door saleswoman selling hosiery in Princeton, Illinois. When she found spinster Josephine Haynes, she must have known right away that she had found her perfect target.
She immediately went to work by becoming friends with the older woman during the next few visits. She discovered that the older woman owned a farm and had a very comfortable living.
The young woman managed to convince the spinster that there was treasure buried on Nebraska farm. She could have it dug up and brought to her for a fee of $1,000 to cover the expenses. The spinster agreed to the plan, took the money out of the bank, and put it in a drawer until the next visit.
When the young woman arrived for a final visit, the older woman stepped out of the room and when she returned she discovered that both the con artist and her money were gone.
The police were called in and searched in vain for the identity of the female bandit.
3. Blonde Flapper was a Man
In Brooklyn, New York, a blonde flapper girl, accompanied by a band of men, had committed a series of robberies. The band of robbers were captured in November, 1924 and the blonde flapper was identified as a man named Frank Burns. He wore a dress and carried his revolver in a beaded purse.
Similarly, in 1921, there was a suspected fake girl bandit robbing car drivers in Port Townsend. According to the rumors, an 18-year-old man was dressing like a woman in order to distract his victims and hide his true identity.
2. Stick ‘em Up
While it was not common, there were times when two flappers would work together to rob someone of their cash. Take, for instance, a case from 1922 when two young flappers robbed a man of $35.
Mr. Taylor of Los Angeles, California left a public dance hall to escort two young flappers to their homes. No doubt thinking he was a lucky fellow, the tables suddenly turned upon reaching a dark street corner.
One woman pulled out a pistol and pointed it at him. “Stick ‘em up, honey, and hold ‘em high.”
Mr. Taylor did as was requested and the other woman “caressingly removed” money from the man’s pocket. After the deed was done, they bade the man a fond goodnight and went on their merry way.
1. Did It Her Way
Described as demure and weighing less than 90 pounds, young Rebecca Rogers of Buda, Texas floored everyone when she decided to rob a bank back in 1926.
First, Rebecca made visits to the bank and asked if people had left the bank to witness a fire that had recently taken place. When she learned that they did indeed leave their posts at the bank, she hatched a plan.
She set fire to a building in town and returned to the bank to wait for everyone to leave. However, two bank employees, both large men, remained in the bank. Undeterred, Rebecca pulled out a gun and put both of the men into the safe. She walked out with $2,000 without having injured a single person. Of course, being such a small town, she was quickly identified and arrested. She was charged with arson and bank robbery.
Strangely enough, Rebecca did not actually need the money. After all, she was married to a lawyer, the very man who tried to defend her in court.
At her first trial, Rebecca was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. Her husband appealed and won a new trial, but the court was unable to provide a jury. During her third trial, her husband attempted to have her declared insane, but the jury failed to reach a decision on the matter.