Helen Carter, “Inter With Officer”, 22 July 1934

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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”)

6 Comments

  1. Kendall says

    She certainly burned with a white-hot flame for her shot, intense, and upright time on this planet. It sounds as though she kept her amour-propre in tact, despite her poor choice of men. I hope she died as proud as she lived. Thanks for this tribute.

  2. Ki2urera says

    I’m Curious As to how you came about this information… Esco Owens, who is mentioned in this story is my Great Uncle… Do you have any other information about him? .. I find all of this to be interesting and I love your blog 🙂

    • Hi. I’m glad you wrote. All the information that I have about Esco Owens comes from old issues of the New Castle News that I access on a site called Newspaperarchive.com. You could spend an hour or so reading about Esco’s exploits there. (It’s a pay site, but I think they currently have a special offer on membership.) In the meantime, here’s a front-page story about the shooting incident I mention in Helen Carter’s story:

      New Castle News, August 25, 1952

      Shooting Spree Puts Esco Owens In County Jail

      Esco Owens, 210 Green street, who reportedly staged a shooting spree at 6:15 p.m. Saturday in State street, during which he is alleged to have fired one shot at policeman Clark Davis, is held in Lawrence county jail.

      After his capture by police he was charged by acting chief of police Nick Cubellis with wantonly pointing and discharging firearms and playfully pointing firearms at policeman Clark Davis. Pending arraignment before Alderman J. C. Brice, he was committed to jail. The houses shot up were the homes of L. B. Williams. 610 State street, and Carl Cobbs, 610 State street.

      An auto accident early Saturday morning and a dispute over a girl were said to have precipitated the shooting spree.

      According to police, Mrs. Margaret Wells. Green street, drove a car in which Miss Florence Eggleston. West Falls street, was an occupant Friday morning. The car was involved in an accident. It later was driven to Grant and Sampson streets and word sent to Kenneth Cobbs to notify Mrs Wells’ husband, Norman, of the accident. Cobbs went to the car and found Owens and another man Cobbs did not know in the car with Miss Eggleston. An argument arose but Cobb removed Miss Eggleston, who appeared hurt, from the auto.
      Later Saturday Miss Eggleston is said to have gone to Kenneth Cobbs and told him Owens wanted to see him at the Grant street cafe. Kenneth went there. An argument ensued which cafe attachés stopped. Both left the cafe, Owens leaving first. Kenneth Cobbs went to his uncle’s home and conversed with Miss Criselda Gunther at 610 State street.

      Suddenly a shot rang out, and then another. Both bullets crashed through a screen door, the main door being open. One bullet struck a couch on which Miss Gunther and a baby were seated. Cobbs guided the Gunther girl and baby to the basement. He peered out and claims he saw Owens in a crouched position, holding a rifle. Another bullet was then fired into the kitchen, striking a refrigerator. Later two bullets were fired into the living room of the L.B. Williams home, 610 State street. Two small boys were in the Williams home.
      The residence of Cobbs and Williams is a double frame house.

      Calls for assistance were sent to police. Police Respond Lieut. Russo and policemen James and Pszenny responded, as did policemen Davis and Richards. The latter two arrived first. They went to the rear of the double house, Russo taking a position alongside it, and the other two policemen being deployed to help effect a capture of the shooter. While combing the weeds in the rear of the house toward the P.R.R. tracks, a bullet was fired, police claim, at Davis. He said that the bullet clipped off weeds which flew up, hitting him in the face. Davis reported he saw the feet of a man hidden beneath a P.R.R. coal car. Lieut. Russo and policeman Pszenny sped to Grant street in the hope of getting behind the man. Owens, however, had disappeared.

      Owens left the railroad tracks and hurried to the home of Mr and Mrs Karl Sweezy, 503 Grant street. She later told police she had seen Owens crawl from beneath the car and locked her screen door. However, he ran to the front door and entered the home. “Call the police I give up Here’s the gun,” he told Mrs Sweezy, who asked him if anyone had been “hurt”, and Owens allegedly replied “No”.

      Police took Owens into custody then to the police station. Three bullets were found when the gun was examined at the police station.

  3. Nathan Carter McKenzie says

    Hello sir…I’m very interested in your story about Helen carter..her first husband Jodie was my father. He died when I was young.12 years old..I didn’t get a chance to know him.I’m 56 now..and want to know more.you mentioned him in your first article. Is there any more information you can get me. He said I had a brother Robert. Never met him..want to know about him also..so in closing. Please help me if you can.anything is greatly appreciated..

    • Hi Nathan — thanks for getting in touch but, unfortunately, pretty much everything I could find out about your father is in the article. If Helen was able to divorce him in 1942 for desertion, he must have left her at least a year (and probably more) before. I suppose that your brother Robert could have been born any time in the 40s, in that case. Sorry I can’t tell you more.

      Here’s the full text of the biggest news story I found about Jodie. Hope you find it interesting:

      New Castle News, 27 August 1934

      Knife, Bricks and Gun Figure In Fight

      Three Colored Men Are Taken Into Custody Following Battle
      Otis Watt, Jodie Carter and Alvie Brooks, all colored, figured in a scrap in which a penknife, bricks, revolver and fists were displayed. The scrap occurred at Moravia and Lutton streets and the trio faced Mayor Maine in police court today. Alvie, possessor of the revolver, which he said he threw away, was held for further investigation. Watt and Carter were each fined $10.00, and costs.
      According to testimony, Watt was seen talking to Mrs Carter and someone whistled on Carter. A tussle ensued. Carter claims Watt drew a knife. He took a sock at Watts, broke away and heaved bricks at Watt. Brooks secured a revolver to join in Carter’s aid. Police arrived quickly and the trio was hauled to the city jail. Today in police court Mayor Mayne handed out the foregoing sentences.

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