Policewomen Break Up Theft Ring in 1919

The Tuesday Evening, February 18, 1919, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch detailed the arrest of two men and two women for the theft of numerous luxury items.  Aware that a shoplifting ring was working a couple of the local jewelry stores, the St. Louis Police Department assigned several undercover police women to follow the suspects.  Their work resulted in the arrests of the four conspirators.


Picture of Louise Pfeiffer from the February 18, 1919 St. Louis Post Dispatch

St. Louis Police arrested the main suspect on January 15, 1919.  She took a necklace from Sourenfeld’s Jewelry Store at 1003 Olive Street (a vacant lot today).  The woman, Mrs. Louise Pfeiffer, identified herself as “Mrs. Martin”.  She gave her address as 4926 Enright Avenue.  After a warrant was issued, detectives found out no one by that name lived at the address.  The police women were assigned to the case.

They quickly picked up on Mrs. Martin’s trail.  The female detectives followed her and another woman, Mrs. Alice Hayner.  After observing them steal for several weeks and following them home, the unidentified police women were able to obtain warrants for Mrs. Pfieffer’s residence, 4265A Manchester Avenue, and Mrs. Hayner’s residence in the 1100 block of Union Boulevard.


The Pfeiffer Apartment Above the Shops, 4261-67 Manchester Avenue – Courtesy of Geo St. Louis

Police found a sable coat worth $1,050 dollars ($25,000 today) at Mrs. Pfeiffer’s residence.  Police also found loaded dice and opium smoking equipment.  Mrs. Hayner had several pieces of stolen jewelry at her home.  Mrs. Hayner and her husband were also stealing electricity for their home.  The police took both husbands and wives into custody.

Both women tried to claim their husbands bought them the items.  However, Mr. Pfeiffer was a law school graduate, who never had a practice.  Instead, he liked “to frequent the billiard parlors in Downtown” St. Louis.  Mr. Hayner was a coffee salesman.

I don’t know if they served any time but the arrests and subsequent publicity cost both Mrs. Hayner and Mrs Pfeiffer their marriages.  When Mrs. Hayner fell off the second floor porch of her apartment on Eichelberger Street in 1945 after the bannister  gave way,  she was a 64 year old divorcee.

When Mr.  Pfeiffer dies in 1953, he is married to another lady and living in the Baden area.  What happened to Louise Pfeiffer is unknown.

While police women were rare before the modern era, they were effective.  William F. Hayes was killed in the line of duty in February 1919.  His widow, Nona Hayes, would become a successful police woman in her own right after his death.

 What surprised you most about this article?  Did you know police women played such an important roll in early 1900s?  You can leave a comment or ask a question about this post on my Facebook page or Twitter profile.

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