Women Criminals: Lena Kleinschmidt

A mugshot of New York criminal Lena Kleinschmidt as appearing in the Pinkerton Photo Gallery, published prior to 1923.
A mugshot of New York criminal Lena Kleinschmidt as appearing in the Pinkerton Photo Gallery, published prior to 1923.

Sitting in a doctor's office waiting room can teach you a lot of things. I previously wrote a hub about my experiences in a doctor's waiting room but this time it's different. I was reading the New York Magazine, Second Annual Yesteryear Issue. It was full of many interesting New York characters including William M. Tweed (the boss of Tammany Hall), Edgar Allen Poe and his affair with Frances Osgood, and among others a short story about Lena Kleinschmidt.

I think the article about Lena Kleinschimdt caught my eye because it referred to her as the first, "Real Housewife of New Jersey". "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" being a TV reality show that follows 'real' housewives in upscale communities in New Jersey. So, you can see how this would interest me since Lena lived from 1835 to sometime after 1886.

NYC then
NYC then

Lena was known by other names at the time among them Black Lena and the Queen of Hackensack. Lena was born in Germany and immigrated to New York as a married woman. She was about 5 foot 5 inches and weighed 150 pounds according to police records. Various sources say she was not unattractive, which worked to her advantage in her chosen field...stealing! She was actually quite a character. She was very popular among the men and at first was popular with women too until they got to know her better or she started flirting with their husbands.

It seems women were really into stealing in the 19th Century, Lena was not alone. First off, Lena's friend Fredericka "Marm" Mandelbaum (at one time the most successful fence in the United States), was a well known fence, all the 'ladies' knew Marm and relied on her skills to keep them in business. Another well know thief of the time was Annie Reilly from Ireland. Trovegeneral.com says they were an elite group of criminals and included such names as Lena, Marm, Annie and Sophie Lyons, Kid Glove Rosie, Queen Liz, Big Mary and Old Mother Hubbard. Trove goes on to say, "these women would meet regularly to discuss their criminal escapades".

NYC now
NYC now | Source

I think one of the most interesting things about our dear Lena is, she didn't give up. While living in New York she was arrested several times. It seems her first arrest came when she was attempting to steal a piece of silk from McCreery & Co. on 11th Street and Broadway, . She was sentenced to five years in prison but was let out on $500 bail. She tried to jump bail but was re-arrested and was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison. It is said she was arrested several other times for larceny, I guess this last New York arrest made her think it was time to move to greener pastures.

When Lena got out of prison she set up house in Hackensack, N.J. Of course Lena set up house differently than most...she posed as a wealthy widow (seems her husband had disappeared from sight) and began hosting elaborate parties; which by the way Marm didn't like as she thought her former protégé was trying to steal her thunder, which by the way Lena was trying to do. The problem with elaborate parties is, someone has to pay for them. Not a problem for Lena, twice a week she went to NYC and picked up some things to help her pay for her new lifestyle. Remember she was a shoplifter and pickpocket by trade.

Source

It seems our Lena took on a lover in Hackensack. The problem with the lover? He was married. Jealous wives are not a good thing for jewel thieves to deal with. Jealous wife talked cheating husband into following Lena to NYC. He was happy to see she wasn't cheating on him (cheating husband demands faithfulness) but jealous wife still wanted proof of theivery. Jealous wife was not happy with the results of this little escapade so she went to the police. They decided to try to trap Lena at one of her dinner parties. Jealous wife pointed out an emerald ring Lena was wearing as one stolen from jealous wife. Lena reacted just a little too quickly and the police arrested her. This time Lena's quick hands did her in!

The public story of Lena ends here, so finally that her date of death has not been publicly recorded. So, our Real Housewife of New Jersey just disappears from sight.

Copyright Tillsontitan - All Rights Reserved

More by this Author


Comments 25 comments

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Till....Sounds like Lena was quite the colorful Femme Fatale....Hey, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to get by...eh? It's strange, but I never think of women from that era being "Bad Girls." The attitudes and appearances of people back then all appeared to be so very "proper."

This just reconfirms there are Trail Blazers for every century. Someone has to be the "original." Bless ole Lena's heart. She had what I call, "Moxy!!" Great hub as always GF.....UP ++


xstatic profile image

xstatic 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

Very interesting Hub. Lena was quite a character as were her lady friends. I love that one title "Queen of Hackensack."


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

xstatic I was so amazed to find so many women involved in crime...I thought they were busy trying to get the right to vote ;)


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I got a feeling Lena had more than 'Moxy'...I think she had everyone else's Moxy! Lena was definitely colorful, I just wish there was more written about her. Thanks for the vote of confidence.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Lena was not a particularly happy looking person, was she? Great hub and quite interesting. I really liked the approach you took to writing it.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

What an interesting woman! Not all frills and politeness back then was it?


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Billy...I guess mug shots don't do people justice ;)Glad you liked this hub.

I was surprised that there were so any women involved in crime Audrey!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, When I was reading, I suddenly thought of Moll Flanders, that wonderful book written by Daniel Defoe back in 1721. She was a thief, a 'strumpet' haha! and just about everything else too. I would imagine that it was written from knowledge of other women like that back then. Good old lena, at least she lived a colorful life! great hub as always, nell


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Good comparison Nell. She sure was colorful and didn't seem to care about anything. Thanks for stopping by.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Women seem to be dishonest by nature, don't they? I mean, how many get married for money? And shop lifting is rife in London right now. Look at prostitution. How many women do it becaue they are forced into it? Not as many as we hear, I bet. And we hear many times about pathological liars?

Ah, yes, men are such saints!

Bob


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Hmm, do we have a twisted point of view going on here Bob? Seems you are prone to the seedier side of women, what with men being saints and all it must be hard to figure women out ;)


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 years ago from UK and Mexico

Well...I don't mind being prone when a women is being seedy!

I must admit my first comment was a bit tongue in cheek...and no men can figure women out, evolution has made it that way

Bob


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

You don't think I took you seriously do you?


thelyricwriter profile image

thelyricwriter 4 years ago from West Virginia

Very interesting story on Lena. I say times back then were hard, especially for women. Stealing is wrong, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Always interesting learning about one's character in those days. Seems not much has changed:) Cool article Tillsontitan. Voted up, useful, and interesting.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Thanks lyricwriter, she caught my eye, especially when I read she moved to NJ after she got out of prison and started all over again!


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 4 years ago from California, United States of America

Very fascinating stuff. Criminal activity in that era and in that area is fascinating to me; it was somewhat rampant, as was poverty and many other problems. The other thing that fascinates me about it is that the country wasn't very old at that point; not even a hundred years old. Industrialization probably had something to do with the growing problems of that era. Interesting and fun piece, thanks!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

Great insight Nate! Lena wanted a better lifestyle and did whatever she thought she had to do get it. Thanks for reading and commenting.


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

In the true spirit of Bonnie and Clyde. Women were not adverse to stealing, I think because of lower levels of education then and the need to survive. So they take what is not theirs. A small but feisty lady, this!! You always write unique hubs about people we don't even know about!! Thanks, and I'm sharing!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York Author

I guess Michelle, because I am unusual I look for the unusual ;) Thanks for reading.


wetnosedogs profile image

wetnosedogs 3 years ago from Alabama

Well, that was a great read for you to find in the dr.s office waiting room.

Some women are just as daring as the guys.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York Author

I guess you never know where you'll find your 'muse' WND! I think some women are worse ;)


HEARTS-and-BONES profile image

HEARTS-and-BONES 3 years ago from Greenfield, MA

How interesting! Lena sounds like a brazen old broad. I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and meet her in her heyday. I bet she had wild tales to tell about her exploits! Thanks for this fun and interesting hub.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York Author

You're welcome Hearts-and-Bones...I guess Lena had moxie!


ytsenoh profile image

ytsenoh 3 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

So, there was a thief named "Old Mother Hubbard"...that's interesting. As far as Lena goes, I was hoping there was more to her story! It is interesting, too, what information we find that intrigues us while sitting in a waiting room! Good share.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York Author

True ytsenoh, you never know where you'll find new and interesting information!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working