The New Castle police department’s catalogue of arrests for the last weekend in July, 1934 – the weekend, incidentally, of John Dillinger’s death in Chicago – ran as follows: fighting 1; drunkenness 4; violating parking law 3; drunkenness and disorderly conduct 2; interfering with officer 1. Helen Carter’s case was the last on the list. The circumstances of her arrest are unknown but may have something to do with a man. Helen’s troubles usually did.
Helen married Jodie Carter in 1927, at the age of fifteen, and they set up home in an old shack on Bridge Street that Jodie set on fire one winter while trying to defrost a pipe. (It went up in flames again that spring, after sparks from a neighbour’s stove settled on the roof.)
In January, 1930, when she was seventeen, Helen was arrested for firing a pistol at a man called William Thompson, who had “made some proposals to her which she did not like.” Helen’s sister, Gertrude Jones, was working as a prostitute around that time (she had recently been arrested while entertaining a white customer in the bedroom of a disorderly house), so Thompson might have thought that Helen would also be open to proposals in that line. If so, it seems he was mistaken. Helen was fined $10 for shooting at him; Thompson was fined $20 for giving her cause to.
In the summer of that year, William Thompson and Helen were arrested again, this time for brawling in South Jefferson Street. Helen and a friend, Beatrice Jackson, were beating Thompson when the police arrived and arrested them all. This time, Helen couldn’t afford the $5 fine, and spent fifteen days in the county jail.
That sentence might have saved her life. A few days after she was sent away, a “New Castle negro character” called James Ossinger was arrested for carrying a four-inch blade with intent to harm. Ossinger confessed that he was looking for Helen because she had called him names, and he was prepared to kill her, and Helen’s friends told the police that he had bragged that he had cut up a woman in Cleveland for the same offence. He was fined $5 and turned loose. He never carried out his threat.
More man trouble came along in 1934, when Helen’s husband saw her talking to Otis Watt on Moravia street, which resulted in “a scrap in which a penknife, bricks, revolver and fists were displayed.” Both men were fined $10.
In 1942, after fifteen years of matrimony, Helen divorced Jodie, on grounds of desertion, cruel and barbarous treatment and indignities to person. A year later, she married Esco Owens, who had already been arrested for burglary (in 1925), for using insulting language to white women and assaulting a police officer (in 1931) and for beating his first wife (in 1933), and would go on to be imprisoned in 1952 for a shooting spree on State street in which he fired a rifle into two family homes, narrowly missing a baby and two young children, and nearly blew a police officer’s head off. He spent most of the few remaining years of his life in prison.
Helen died on February 1, 1961, at the age of forty-eight, after an extended illness.Sources: New Castle News (19 Nov 1925 “Arrest Trio Of Negroes For Theft of Metals”; 15 Sep 1928 “Four Arrested At Bridge Street Home”; 2 Jan 1930 “Attempt To Thaw Pipes Starts Fire”; 15 Jan 1930 “Shooting Occurs On Bridge Street”; 26 May 1930 “Sparks Set Fire To Roof Of Shack”; 28 July 1930 “Woman’s Screams Attract Officer”; 31 July 1930 “Knife Toter Is Fined $5”; 30 March 1931 “Officer Battles With Colored Man”; 13 March 1933 “Assaults Wife, Held”; 27 Aug 1934 “Knife, Bricks And Gun Figure In Fight”; 25 May 1942 “On Court House Hill”; 20 Jan 1943 “On Court House Hill”; 25 Aug 1952 “Shooting Spree Puts Esco Owens In Jail”; 3 Feb 1961 “Deaths Of The Day”)