Midwest Mugshots: Police Records in Nebraska Yield Arresting Images of 19th Century Criminals

As many of you know, I have a certain fascination with early mugshots, particularly those from the Victorian period. These photos give an insight into life in the 19th Century with striking and often haunting realism. I recently stumbled across a cache of American mugshots from the Nebraska State Historical Society. I wanted to share a few. This picture is Goldie Williams who was arrested for vagrancy on Jan. 29, 1898.

It is difficult to find much about these riveting suspects. However, Bertha Liebbeke (below) was known as “Fainting Bertha” and was apparently a pickpocket of some notoriety. She would pretend to faint into the arms of well-dressed men, who would then be relieved of watches, money, and anything else at hand.

The photos leave you wanting to know so much more. For example, the smiling image of George H. Ray belies the fact that he served 10 years for manslaughter in the late 1890s.

Likewise, I would really like to know more about why Nora Courier stole that horse in 1901. We only know that she was better known as “Red Nora” and “was 22 years old and stood 5 feet, 3 inches tall. She had slate blue eyes and a scar on the center of her forehead.”

We know a bit more about Ruby Fox, below.

The Historical Society discovered the following:

“Ruby Fox and Myrtle Hetrick met while incarcerated at the State Reformatory for Women in York, Nebraska. Ruby was serving time for breaking and entering and Myrtle for vagrancy. Unhappy with their treatment, Ruby and Myrtle engineered an escape. With the aid of an unnamed man, the two girls fled Nebraska in an automobile. Authorities in Casper, Wyoming, captured the fugitives.”

This Thelma and Louise couple was ultimately given a year in the Nebraska State Prison, which appears to have been at their request rather than return to the state reformatory. It is not clear what conditions led to their flight from that institution.

One mugshot also stood out and came with quite a tale. This is Frank Dinsmore and he was a notorious killer.

We have accounts of the crime as well as a published opinion. He was accused of not one but two murders.  Dinsmore was recently married when he moved into a boarding house with his wife, Lillian Dinsmore. He then fell in love with the wife of the owner, Fred Laue, and “seduced her.” He told her of a plot to kill both their spouses and make it look like a murder-suicide. He carried it out on the night of  December 4, 1899. According to the historical society, “Lillian Dinsmore’s brothers accused Dinsmore of using hypnotic powers on their vulnerable sister. After hearing the accusation, Mrs. Laue also claimed to be a victim of Dinsmore’s hypnotic influence.”

Dinsmore was sentenced to be hanged but the governor commuted the sentence to life. It is not known if he was also under the spell of hypnosis.

This and many other tales are awaiting you at the excellent Nebraska Historical Society website.



5 thoughts on “Midwest Mugshots: Police Records in Nebraska Yield Arresting Images of 19th Century Criminals”

  1. At the old “MONTANA STATE PRISON”, when you visit, you will get to see hundreds and hundreds of pictures of different convicts, and the background story on each one. The prison opened in 1871 and finally closed in 1979. The current facility was constructed between 1974 and 1979 in response to the continued degeneration of the original facility located in downtown Deer Lodge.

    One thing that you will notice as you get closer to looking at pictures to the year around 1900, information on the prisoners went up. And the more years that past, the more information on pictures / inmates went up. Understandable really because recordkeeping got better and telephones came into existence. The telegraph became far more wide-spread to your really small towns, right around 1880.

    “Throughout the prison’s history, the institution was plagued with constant overcrowding, insufficient funds, and antiquated facilities. The administration of Warden Frank Conley from 1890 to 1921 proved the exception to this rule. And changed all that.”

    “Warden Conley instituted extensive inmate labor projects that kept many inmates at work constructing the prison buildings and walls as well as providing various state and community services like road building, logging, and ranching, snow removal all over the town of Deer Lodge and the County.”

    (“If a prison Warden could be considered loved by inmates, it would be Warden Conley. The inmates over the years came to truly adore him. He was a firm believer in keeping an inmate busy.

    “Plenty of work, plenty of grub. My boys work hard, so they deserve to eat hearty chow.”
    Warden Conley said many times during his career. Over the years during his career, more than one inmate that had been in town or out on the range working one of the cattle herds and was late coming in and could’ve easily rode off and escaped.”

    “He would ride in, turn himself in. Because of how he was treated and fed. “Every steak needs to cover an inmate’s plate”, Warden Conley was quoted many times. During his time as Warden, only 7 escapes took place and 2 after being on the run for a long cold snowy week, rode back and turn themselves in at Warden Conley house.”)

    “After Conley left office, the prison experienced almost forty years of degeneration, mismanagement, and monetary restraints until an explosive riot in 1959 captured the attention of the nation. Led by Jerry Myles and Lee Smart, the riot maintained the prison under inmate control for thirty-six hours before the Montana National Guard stormed the institution to restore order.”

    “The facility was retired in September 1979, and the inmates were moved to the current prison. The Old Prison was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and is now a museum.”

    “Old Montana Prison is located in the Old Montana Prison Complex, which houses five unique museums inside its historic prison walls. The complex includes the Old Montana Prison, Powell County Museum, Frontier Montana Museum, Yesterday’s Playthings and the Montana Auto Museum. One fee covers all museums.”


  2. OMG, Darren! Write much?

    “the people are nothing but a great beast…

    I have learned to hold popular opinion of no value.”

    – Alexander Hamilton

    “[We gave you] a [restricted-vote] republic, if you can keep it.”

    – Ben Franklin

    You couldn’t. You lost to the madness of one man, one vote democracy.

    Turnout in 1788: 11.6%, by design.

    “The lunatics have taken over the asylum.”

    – Richard A. Rowland

    “The true reason (says Blackstone) of requiring any qualification, with regard to property in voters, is to exclude such persons, as are in so mean a situation, that they are esteemed to have no will of their own.”

    “If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote… But since that can hardly be expected, in persons of indigent fortunes, or such as are under the immediate dominion of others, all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other.”

    – Alexander Hamilton, The Farmer Refuted, 1775

  3. Are you prepared for the backlash coming your way for using a photo of a black woman ?

  4. Love the pics! Also, Darren’s post today should be required reading. My own estimate is 2 out of 3 people you meet. Read the post to find out what that means.

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