Monday, December 11, 2006

Vivian Chase Bio

This is a picture (mug shot) of Vivian Chase taken in 1926; supposedly, she was much prettier. The circumstances of her arrest (she'd been drinking and participated in brawl) may have something to do with her looking so mean!!

When she was sixteen years old she left her home in Dade County, Missouri.  She married George Chase on April 1, 1921. The circumstances of her marriage are unknown; however, George Chase by this time was considerably older (30) and had begun to make a name for himself as a thief. {unfortunately there is no documentation about her home life. Nothing to determine if she ran away with George to escape a bad home or whether she was already on her own at the time. During the 20's it wouldn't have been unusual for a 16 y.o. girl to leave home to start working. But we just don't know}
Vivian Chase first gained notice as George’s wife. On December 23, 1923, George Chase was arrested for an altercation during which he was shot by Ella Keller. Ms. Keller stated that George and his companions attacked her because she had reported them to the police and that she had to shoot George in self-defense. After arresting George, the police went to his home where they found Vivian wearing six diamond rings. Since she could not explain possessing the rings, Vivian was arrested for “suspicion”. She was released after three days.
Vivian does not surface again for three years and when she does she is in the company of Charlie Mayes, also known as Pighead Hardman. {I can't find a definitive reference for George's death. He is believed to have been killed in a bank robbery soon after the Dec 1923 escapade) On February 15, 1926, Vivian, Mayes, Lee Flournoy and Flournoy’s wife were arrested after a free for all fight in a rooming house in Wichita, KS. During the arrest Vivian refused to talk. The investigation led investigators to her brother in law Charles Chase and allegations of involvement with the Joe Bratton liquor gang. { Charles' wife Grace was also arrested it is telling that Vivian maintained contact with them. She also used Grace's name from time to time as an alias.} On June 9, 1926, following a “drunken party and joy ride”, Flournoy and Mayes were fatally shot in a Picher, OK gun battle. Vivian Chase was with them. {this is the second man with whom Vivian has been involved who is shot down during a crime. It's interesting to note that we don't know if Vivian participated in Mayes' and Flournoy's crimes or whether she was just the girlfriend. }
The three of them had been under surveillance by Ottawa County Oklahoma officers for several days because the deputy sheriff informed the Sheriff of Montgomery County, KS that he had found the people who robbed the Cherryvale Bank on May 29, 1926. Vivian was placed in jail where she refused to talk to reporters.She was released on June 13, 1926, after insufficient evidence was found to charge her with a crime.
Once again the record goes silent on Vivian Chase. {It's unknown what she was doing with herself after Picher, OK. The money from the robbery was never recovered; but no one has ever said that she had it. She was known to live in style though. R.D. Morgan says that she worked at prostitution during this time in a well known road house; but she was never charged with the crime. Besides if she was comfortable making a living selling herself why steal?}
She resurfaces in June 1932. She is arrested with Jackie Forman and Enos Weeks for the robbery of the First National Bank in North Kansas City on April 9, 1932. She is held on $50,000 bond. It was a small robbery; no more than $1,500 was taken. Vivian was held at the Clay County Jail in Liberty, MO. She escaped after four months by sawing through the bars of her cell and lowering herself down with a rope made of bed sheets.{Conditions in County Jails were particulary grim during this period. It's surprising that she had sufficient bedding, but it would have been easier to bribe the guards to get more as was the custom (see Crucibles of Crime)}
After her escape from the Liberty County Jail, Vivian fled to St. Louis, MO. She became involved with Walter (Irish) O’Malley. On July 10, 1933, Vivian participated in the Kidnapping of banker August Luer. Vivian, O’Malley, Percy ‘Dice Box’ Fitzgerald drove to Mr. Luer’s home in Alton, IL. Vivian accompanied by O’Malley rang the doorbell and requested to use the phone. When she was let in and shown the phone’s location she cut the line. O’Malley wrestled August Luer to the floor and gagged his mouth. Mr. Luer was taken to a farm where he was hidden in a damp underground cellar while his captives tried to ransom him. Mr. Luer was not a well man and fearing that he would die before they were able to receive any ransom his kidnappers released him after 123 hours. Both Vivian and O’Malley fled from Illinois back to Missouri after the bungled kidnapping. O’Malley managed to elude capture for two years until he was apprehended in Kansas City on May 23, 1935. Vivian eluded capture.
In the early fall of 1935, Kansas City experienced a series of drug store robberies. The robbers were described as a man and a woman. The woman was further described as approximately 5 ft. 6 in. tall, slender, with hennaed hair. When victims were shown a photograph they identified Vivian as one of the robbers. On November 3, 1935, Vivian’s body was found in a parked car at St. Lukes Hospital in Kansas City, MO. She had been shot in the neck with the bullet exiting through her chest.
Newspapers speculated that she had been double crossed by an accomplice and was shot before she could him. She had a .22 caliber pistol on her with .45 caliber bullets in her handbag. She was shot with a .45 caliber gun. When she was found the coroner estimated that she had only been dead 2 hours or less leading to speculation that her killer drove her to the hospital while she was still alive expecting her to be found before her death.
She seemed destined for burial in a potter’s field. The owner of the funeral home she had been removed to received an anonymous call asking about the cost of providing her with a funeral. The next morning the funeral home received an envelope of money for the costs; also received were a blue dress and undergarments (her own) for Vivian to be buried in. Nine mourners outside of reporters and law officers attended her funeral. No one signed the guest book.
SOURCES
  • 1910 USA Census Missouri State Greene County
  • Marriage License Jackson County MO at Kansas City, MO
  • Kansas City Times December 26, 1923
  • Wichita Beacon February 16, 1926
  • Wichita Eagle February 17, 1926
  • Miami News Record June 10, 1926
  • Miami News Record June 13, 1926
  • Kansas City Times June 8, 1932
  • Startling Detective Magazine June 1936
  • R. D. Morgan: “Irish O’Malley & the Ozark Mountain Boys” (unpublished)
  • Kansas City Journal-Post November 4, 1935
  • Kansas City Times November 9, 1935

2 comments:

Terri Loving-Gibbard said...

I have a mugshot from Wichita Kansas of a Joe Bratton, bootlegger, dated 1/2/26. I'm trying to find out a little more about him and it looks like Vivian Chase was alleged to be involved in "the Joe Bratton liquor gang." Do you know anything more about him?

Marisa said...

I would love to see the picture. I don't know anything about Joe Bratton unfortunately. Do you know if that was an alias or if he used other names? If they were using his name in connection with a gang he must have been notorious in Wichita. The problem with these old articles is that frequently a newspaper writer would link someone with another more well known criminal even if there were no real connection. Do you have other names of Bratton's gang members? If so I can let you know if any were associated with the gangs Vivian was in.