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Women Criminals: Lena Kleinschmidt

Updated on March 15, 2013
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

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    • tillsontitan profile image
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      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

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

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 4 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
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      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

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

    • HEARTS-and-BONES profile image

      Susan Norman 4 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
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      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

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

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 4 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
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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

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

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 5 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
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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

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

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 5 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
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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      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!

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 5 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
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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

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

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 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
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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      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 5 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
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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

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

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 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
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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      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!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 5 years ago from California

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

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 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.

    • tillsontitan profile image
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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      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.

    • tillsontitan profile image
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      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      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 ;)

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 5 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."

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 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 ++