Violet Dickerson – Flapper Bandit
Violet Dickerson the Flapper Bandit told the reporters, “I met Bates two weeks ago. I met him at a soda fountain on Market Street. I have been in his company ever since — rather until the shooting. Immediately he seemed to have me under hypnotic control. He at once began to boast that he was my boss and could make me do anything. Up to the night of the shooting it was true he could exercise that power.” This was Violet’s excuse for participating in the robbery of Louis Hirsch’s Haberdashery that ended in the death of Louis on November 8, 1923.
Violet Dickerson, a 19-year-old, unmarried, pregnant brunette is described in all the newspapers as the “Flapper Bandit”. Her “pal” as the papers called him, Charles Bates was 31, and supposedly had a hypnotic power over Violet.
“Ever since I met Bates, we have been living on North 18th Street. Thursday evening Bates and I met George Howard, who is detained on a charge of being an accomplice of ours. At the 18th street house, the three of us were talking and during the conversation Bates and I mentioned the fact that we had no money.
‘Oh, you need money then? said Howard. ‘Well, I know where you can get some easy money. The job will be easy. I know a haberdasher, an old man who has a store on Market Street and he is always alone in the store. He keeps plenty of money about him.’
The robbery was planned. Howard gave Bates some money. We then went to an army and navy store. Bates selected a revolver. We next got in a taxi and went to have something to eat and again talked over the proposed robbery. “Violet told the police after her capture and arrest.
Charles was captured immediately after the robbery/shooting running down the street and confessed to the police. Violet wasn’t captured until the next day at the home of George Maxwell, a railroad inspector that she said was her fiancé. Maxwell’s home was in Brooklawn, NJ.
After her arrest, the police took Violet to the hospital where Mr. Hirsch was receiving medical care for a shot to the stomach and was not expected to recover. When he saw Violet, he whispered, “Yes, you’re the woman who shot me. I knew you when you were a little girl. You lived next door to us when we lived in West Philadelphia. I never thought you would be guilty of such a thing.”
Violet broke down sobbing. At the police station Violet confronted Charles and said that he had hypnotized her “so I felt he owned me body and soul.”
It turns out that Charles Bates, is really Charles Oeffinger. He also goes by the alias of Jack Martin. His confession was read to the jury.
Charles was described as undersized, small eyed, and with Spanish Sidelocks, (Elvis style sideburns) and was a “jazzer”.
Solomon Freedman identified Charles as the man that had purchased the gun and a box of 25 cartridges at his store. He testified that Charles told him that he and his wife lived in some lonesome place in NJ and he needed the gun for protection, he paid with a $10 bill.
Mrs. Hilda Gilbert testified that she was walking by the store with her mother-in-law when she saw two men inside the store wrestling. As she was directly in front of the door a man rushed out leaving Mr. Hirsch to weakly call for help. Charles started west up Market Street and turned, and Mrs. Gilbert saw a flash from his hand and heard the blast of the gun. Charles then turned again and kept running. Mrs. Gilbert was shown photographs of the front of Mr. Hirsch’s store and pointed out where everyone was when Mr. Hirsch was shot.
She also said that after Mr. Hirsch was shot, she saw a girl following Charles about six feet behind him.
Mrs. Eva Gilbert, the mother-in-law, was next on the stand and corroborated Hilda’s testimony that Charles had left the store, turned, and shot Mr. Hirsch. She also testified that a girl was following Charles down the street. Thirteen other witnesses told the same story. Charles attorney asked for a continuance in that Charles had just learned that his wife (not Violet) who lives in Ramsey, NJ had just given birth to a baby girl. The motion was denied.
As the sheriff’s deputy led Charles from the Courthouse, Harry Hirsch, who weighed about 220 pounds leapt from his seat and punched Charles in the jaw. The punch lifted him from his feat and hurled him about 10 feet. He was unconscious when the deputy reached him.
Violet is in a state of wild hysteria in her prison cell. Charles Oeffinger had been convicted of First-Degree Murder and sentenced to the Electric Chair. The jurors that were all men reached the verdict after deliberating a little more than two hours. Oeffinger was crying as they led him back to his cell. He refused to make a statement or to speak with reporters. A date for his execution would not be set until after his attorney had a chance to file an appeal.
“Will they give me the chair too?” She shouted out over and over until the prison doctor came and gave her a sedative.
Violet gives birth to a baby boy, Francis John, in the hospital at Moyamensing Prison. Back then the mothers got to keep the babies with them in prison. She kept her baby with her and nursed him on a schedule set by the prison matrons. Her trial had been continued until she gave birth, it was set for October.
Violet’s attorney petitioned the court for a continuance since Violet was still nursing her 4-month-old son. Judge McDevitt refused to continue Violet’s trial. The trial was set to begin October 16, 1924, almost a year since the robbery/murder occurred.
A jury was finally chosen for Violet the Flapper Bandit’s trial. 150 candidates were questioned. There are no women jurors as they were either excused or challenged. Violet brought the baby from prison with her to the court room. Her father Milton Dickerson and her stepsister Martha Frey sat near her during the proceedings.
When asked by reporters about the jury, Violet responded, “I am confident its members will be satisfied with the truth of my story that I am innocent of intent to rob or harm Mr. Hirsch.”
Harry Hirsch the son of Louis who was shot sat through the entire jury selection process which didn’t end until 9:30 at night. “I guess she’ll get the same as Oeffinger got. She is even worse than he is, and she ought to get more punishment that he does.”
A police detective testifies in court that Louis Hirsch told him on his death bed that Charles Oeffinger was the one that shot him. Violet brought the baby from prison again and it was watched over by a sheriff’s matron.
Violet takes the stand and is there for well over an hour. She testified that she had been held prisoner by Charles Oeffinger, who she knew as Charles Bates. She also said that she was afraid for her life because Oeffinger had threatened to plug her.
He terrorized her by telling her she was being watched and followed, and that on the night of the holdup he had beaten her, pushed a pistol against her side when she attempted to run away and had finally snatched the gun from her.
He then cursed her for being yellow and shot the Mr. Hirsch himself.
Following Violet’s testimony, Jennie Mathias an eyewitness took the stand. Jennie testified that she had seen Charles Oeffinger shoot Mr. Hirsch.
In the closing Violet’s attorney C. Stuart Patterson, Jr. plead for a “straight verdict of not guilty. Though she has sinned she has paid. I am here on this temple of justice to ask only a fair and just verdict.”
Charles F. Kelly, Jr. the prosecutor, severely criticized Flappers in general and Violet in particular. He further stated that by freeing Violet it would put a premium on murder.
Judge McDevitt then defined the different degrees of murder and asked the jurors to make their decision based on reason, not sentiment or prejudice. The jury was sent to deliberate at 5:15 pm. By 9:00 pm they still did not have a verdict. Judge McDevitt ordered the jurors to be locked up for the night and to continue deliberations at 10:00 am the next morning.
After deliberating for 17 hours, the jury comes back with a Not Guilty verdict for Violet.
The Court Crier asked the jury, “Gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”
The foreman of the jury, Mr. McCormack, replied, “We have.”
The Court Crier replied, “Gentlemen of the jury, do you find the defendant guilty of murder wherein she stands indicted, or not guilty?”
McCormack replied, “Not guilty.”
Violet made no sound but collapsed in her chair. She wept with joy! “Thank God! Thank God for my baby!” Violet Dickerson the Flapper Bandit, was now just Violet Dickerson!
Judge McDevitt appeared stunned by the verdict, Benjamin Hirsch, the son, was also stunned. “My father is dead and yet she goes free. There is no justice in that. Those men are not good citizens, to render such a verdict as that.”
Violet’s father Milton had leaned forward as McCormack announced the verdict and tears came to his eyes. His daughter, Violet’s stepsister, came over and hugged her father. “I feel better, Daddy, don’t you?”
“I’m certainly happy. The Lord was good to her today. She’ll never want for a home and love. I’ll take her and the child back with me.”
After the trial she was going back to live with her father in Salisbury, MD. Violet, Francis, her father, and stepsister left through a back corridor of the courthouse. That was all that I could find on Violet. I would like to assume that she and Francis lived happily ever after in Salisbury, MD with her family.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found Charles guilty and so Charles Oeffinger was led to the Electric Chair on April 7, 1925 at 7:00 and was dead eight minutes later. He still was blaming Violet for the shooting all the way to the electric chair. Unfortunately, his body was not claimed so it is buried in the prison cemetery.