The Bobbed Haired Bandit: A True Story of Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York

The Bobbed Haired Bandit: A True Story of Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York

The Bobbed Haired Bandit: A True Story of Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York

The Bobbed Haired Bandit: A True Story of Crime and Celebrity in 1920s New York


Ripped straight from the headlines of the Jazz Age, The Bobbed Haired Bandit is a tale of flappers and fast cars, of sex and morality. In the spring of 1924, a poor, 19-year-old laundress from Brooklyn robbed a string of New York grocery stores with a "baby automatic," a fur coat, and a fashionable bobbed hairdo. Celia Cooney's crimes made national news, with the likes of Ring Lardner and Walter Lippman writing about her exploits for enthralled readers.

The Bobbed Haired Bandit brings to life a world of great wealth and poverty, of Prohibition and class conflict. With her husband Ed at her side, Celia raised herself from a life of drudgery to become a celebrity in her own pulp-fiction novel, a role she consciously cultivated. She also launched the largest manhunt in New York City's history, humiliating the police with daring crimes and taunting notes.

Sifting through conflicting accounts, Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson show how Celia's story was used to explain the world, to wage cultural battles, to further political interest, and above all, to sell newspapers. To progressives, she was an example of what happens when a community doesn't protect its children. To conservatives, she symbolized a permissive society that gave too much freedom to the young, poor, and female. These competing stories distill the tensions of the time.

In a gripping account that reads like a detective serial, Duncombe and Mattson have culled newspaper reports, court records, interviews with Celia's sons, and even popular songs and jokes to capture what William Randolph Hearst's newspaper called "the strangest, weirdest, most dramatic, most tragic, human interest story ever told."


Is a crime less reprehensible because it is a classic?
However that may be, the adventures of the original
bobbed-haired bandit are entitled to be ranked among
the minor masterpieces of outlawry, worth a thousand
hold-up pot-boilers.     —New York Herald-Tribune

“I want a magazine with detective stories in it,” Celia Cooney told the reporters. “The monotony is getting on my nerves. If you can’t get me one of those, get me one with real live stories in them — shooting and all the rest.” It was a long trip north from Jacksonville with nothing to do but look out the window at the rain and the crowds gathered along the tracks to catch a glimpse of them. Sometimes she waved her free hand, but usually she pulled down the shade.

Detectives Casey and Gray were nice. They hadn’t roughed her up when they smashed through the rooming house door two nights ago. Best of all: they didn’t give any lectures. “That was pretty tough about your baby dying last Saturday,” one of the detectives said almost tenderly. Celia’s usual quick smile and gay spirit disappeared whenever she thought about Katherine.

The Brooklyn detectives could afford to be nice. After all the press ridiculing the police department, it was they, William Casey and Frank Gray, who had finally pinched New York’s most famous gungirl. On the train they took off her cuffs, she found some cards, and they all played hearts. They even let Celia order the Pullman porter around: “Mose, you make up that upper birth for me,” she told him. Then they let her sleep.

Edward Cooney, Celia’s husband and partner in crime sat next to her, but he wasn’t saying much. “Sullen” is what the newspapers would call him. the detectives kept handcuffs on him, probably because he was a man, six feet tall, and built like a pugilist. Celia was small, just over five feet. She seemed bigger with her automatic.

It all seemed ages ago. Before the last botched holdup, before the getaway, before gettiners for more than half a century, Martin and Lyon were the first same-sex couple to be married under the California Supreme Court’s landmark ruling In re Marriage Cases. in addition to the joy that normally accompanies a wedding, Martin and Lyon’s ceremony was marked by the euphoria of injustice righted. Mayor Newsom declared, “Today, marriage as an institution has been strengthened.”

On January 20, 2009, in Washington, dc, on the steps of the United States Capitol building, Pastor Rick Warren opened the historic inauguration of the forty-fourth president, Barack Obama, with the words, “Almighty God, our father.” At that moment, amid the thick whirl of hope and virtue, on the side streets in the capital and cities across America, some of Obama’s most loyal supporters stood and waved flags of protest. Warren’s comments on same-sex marriage stirred the only noticeable disturbance in Obama’s transition into the White House. One month earlier, War-

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