Women Criminals: Lena Kleinschmidt
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.
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".
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.
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.
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