Bernice O’Connor – Cigarette girl shooting
Bernice O’ Connor described as petite and comely shot and killed her ex-husband, Edward O’Connor. O’Connor had jimmied his way into her kitchen using a screwdriver on a small service door, shortly after 4:00 am, July 31, 1930. She jumped from her bed and grabbed a pistol just as he reached her bedroom door. She warned him to keep away and he replied, “I’m coming in and how!”
She told him that she would shoot him, and he sneered, “You don’t have the nerve!” So, she fired one shot that missed. He kept coming toward her, so she fired two more shots.
Edward O’Connor was a World War I veteran, and a master lather, who is someone in construction that builds the structure for stucco, plaster, and concrete. He was 31 at the time of his death, Bernice was 24.
Bernice O’Connor was a single mother with an eight-year-old daughter, Blossom, from a former marriage to Charles Fletcher. She was working as a cigarette girl at the Via Lago café, but had quit her job because her boss told her not to come back until her husband quit hanging around. Bernice decided the only way to get away from Edward was to move from Chicago to New York.
Bernice and Edward met in 1927, when she was 20 and he was 27. They were engaged in May and Married in June. In November 1928 they were divorced for abuse and drunkenness. Then again in June 1929 they were engaged again, married in July and divorced again March 1930. The reason for the second divorce was because Edward had made “violent love” to Bernice’s sister Adele. I’m not sure if that is a euphemism for rape or not.
At the coroner’s jury hearing, several witnesses testified that Edward had threatened to kill Bernice.
Bernice herself wearing a dull blue sports ensemble with hat and shoes to match testified using a quiet voice.
She testified, “Last night I didn’t work because my boss at Via Lago cafe said not to come back until I got rid of my husband, who had been hanging around. I left my little girl, she’s 8, with my sister, Mrs. Adele Yepp because she was asleep. I went home and went to bed.
“I heard a noise in the kitchen and went to see what it was. It was Eddie wiggling through the service door. I told him not to come in, but he kept coming.
“I was frightened by the way he looked at me. His eyes looked wild like a crazy man. I ran to the desk and got my gun that had been given to me when I worked in New York three years ago in a dangerous part of the city. I just meant to scare him. I didn’t mean to kill him.
“I thought to myself, ‘If something happens to me what will happen to the baby?’ I remember thinking I would shoot high so the bullets wouldn’t hit him. Then, I thought, ‘Now he’s going to come after me.’
He fell to the floor and for a minute I believed he was playing dead. I went over to him and then I knew. ‘Why, Eddie, you’re dead!’ I said out loud. I sat down to think what to do. I called my sister and the police. ”
Bernice then testified as to their relationship. Bernice and Edward quarreled the first week of their marriage when Bernice found $400 in Edward’s pocket. She searched his pockets to find out why he hadn’t come home the night before.
He never bought anything for Bernice no clothes etc. Bernice’s mother supported the little girl who’s father was Bernice’s former husband Charles Fletcher who she divorced.
“Eddie had a silver tongue and always talked me into coming back whenever I left him. After a little, I got to hate him.
“Eddie began to follow me wherever I moved. Once he threw a brick through the window. Another time he tried to attack my father with a butcher knife. On several occasions he gave me a black eye and a bloody nose, even after I divorced him. He learned somehow that I planned to go to New York and threatened before my landlord that he would kill me if I did. I just couldn’t stand it any longer.”
The coroner’s jury found that Bernice’s shooting of Edward was a justifiable homicide. However, the grand jury met the following week and indicted Bernice for murder.
Bernice was held without bail, until her attorneys, Emmet Byrne and Harold Levy, finally got her a bail hearing and the judge set bail at $40,000, which for a cigarette girl was the same as no bail.
A continuance is granted to give the District Attorney enough time to find Willy Wong, Bernice’s suitor who was with Bernice hours before the shooting. Willy has disappeared from his living quarters at the Pershing Hotel. Bernice’s sister, her husband Mr. Yepp, Bernice, and Willy Wong went for a drive. Willy dropped the Yepps off at their home and then took Bernice home to her apartment. Apparently, Willy Wong was never found because he isn’t mentioned in any of the court documents.
The trial finally begins in January 1932. Bernice shot Edward July 31, 1930 so she has been in jail for five months. Judge Phillip Sullivan was presiding, and Harry Ditchburne was the prosecutor. In his opening statement Ditchburne claimed that the shooting was a “cold and deliberate murder”
The defense put on it’s case with all of the witnesses from the Coroner’s jury with the exception of Bernice, who did not testify.
Judge Sullivan gave the jurors their instructions and they left to deliberate. The jurors went to lunch and came back with a “Not Guilty” verdict.
This story is disturbing in many ways, one of course is the domestic violence and the stalking, again showing that there is nothing new under the sun.
The second part that bothered me was the implied racism. Mr. Yepp and Willy Wong were repeatedly in the newspapers called the Chinese, as in “the two girls and the Chinese took a drive along Lake Shore Blvd.” I almost feel that Bernice’s case would never have gone to the grand jury except for the fact that she was dating an Asian man, and prejudice lifted its ugly head. The case seemed to be pretty much open and shut self-defense.
Bravo Bernice for protecting yourself and your daughter!