We’re all familiar with mug shots now, but in the late 19th and early 20th century they were a brand new tool to help identify criminals. The Nebraska State Penitentiary began taking mug shots of everyone arrested beginning in 1867, the same year Nebraska gained statehood. These vintage mug shots, exhibited by the Nebraska State Historical Society, and the fascinating stories that accompany them give a little glimpse into life more than 100 years ago.
1. Mrs. H.C. Adams
Mrs. Adams, of Palisade, Nebraska, was a prostitute who ran afoul of the law in 1900 when she was arrested for blackmail. It's funny how she looks like such a sophisticated, refined lady.
2. Minnie Bradley
This woman, also listed as a prostitute, was arrested for larceny from a person, which was the term typically used for pickpocketing. Minnie defiantly refused to look at the camera to have her picture taken.
3. Frank Carter
Carter was known as the "Omaha Sniper" 1926. He was only convicted of murdering two men, but before he was put to death in 1927 he confessed to killing a total of 45.
4. Herbert Cockran
This young man was apparently unruly while his mug shot was being taken - so much so that an officer had to put him in a headlock to give the photographer time to take the picture. This tailor from Fairmont was arrested for burglary.
5. Nora Courier
Nora Courier was known by her alias, Red Nora. In 1901, Nora was arrested in Omaha for stealing a horse.
6. Frank Dinsmore
Frank Dinsmore was at the center of a media storm in December 1899 when his wife and the owner of the boarding house in which the couple lived were both found murdered. Dinsmore denied his guilt even after he was sentenced to death. Then-governor Dietrich commuted his sentence to life in prison.
7. Charles Hutchinson
8. Nannie Hutchinson
Charles Hutchinson and his Mother, Nannie, were arrested in 1903 for suspicion of involvement in the disappearance of Nannie's employer, Eli Feasel. They were released due to lack of evidence of a crime, but several months later they proved their guilt by trying to cover their tracks. Charles rented a buggy for an evening, and when it was returned the owners noticed an awful smell in the cushions. A freshly-opened grave was later discovered on Feasel's farm. In it, telltale remains indicated that a body had recently been buried there. Footprints of a man and woman at the grave - paired with the stench in the buggy - proved that the Hutchinsons had both been there to move Feasel's body from the place they had originally buried it in the field. Both mother and son were found guilty of second degree murder.
8. Albert Johnson
When male inmates were booked, one picture was taken of the men as they would look on any day. Then, to cut down on lice in the facilities, their heads and faces were shaved and another picture was taken. This also helped to identify the men who could easily change their appearance with different hair styles and facial hair. Albert Johnson, pictured here, was sentenced in 1885 to 18 months in prison for Grand Larceny.
10. George Leonard
You'd never guess from this fellow's boyish good looks that he was a clever criminal. The bookkeeper, who lived in Omaha, was arrested for burglary in 1901.
11. Jim Ling
Ling's occupation is listed as "thief," which seems somehow refreshingly honest. He was arrested in 1898 for running an opium joint, which is also something that you probably wouldn't see on an inmate's booking information these days.
11. Alv Lytle
Like many men on trial, Alv Lytle insisted that he was innocent when charged with robbing a bank in Kearney County. After he had served two years for the crime, another man confessed and Lytle was set free. The state of Nebraska paid him $2500 for false imprisonment.
13. Bert Martin
Bert Martin's story starts out boring enough: he was arrested for stealing a horse in Keya Paha county. But after 11 months in prison, Martin's cellmate had some interesting news for prison officials: Bert Martin was actually a woman named Lena Martin. She had such a masculine appearance that she was able to pass for a man in order to get work as a cowboy. After the gender revelation, Martin was moved to the women's division.
14. James Pappas
Pappas owned a very well-insured general store in Deweese. He convinced a young male employee to set fire to the store so he could collect the insurance money. Pappas was arrested for arson and sentenced to five years in the Nebraska Penitentiary.
15. F.P. Robinson
This clever fellow paid for a beer in an Omaha saloon with a Mexican dollar. The Mexican bank note looked very similar to the American dollar but was only worth about 45 cents, so after paying for the 5 cent beer and getting 95 cents in change, Robinson was 50 cents and one beer richer...until he was arrested for fraud.
16. Jake Vohland
Vohland was arrested for stealing chickens in the midst of the Great Depression. Unfortunately for him, the chicken farm he chose to steal from had a sort of primitive burglar alarm: a mousetrap near the door of the chicken house would ring bells in the owners' kitchen and bedroom when the door was opened. Vohland insisted he was innocent, but a jury disagreed and he was sentenced to a year in prison.
17. Thomas Whitney
Thomas Whitney, better known as The Professor, was a well-known Omaha palm reader, clairvoyant, and astrologer. After a customer complained about a reading, The Professor was arrested for obtaining money under false pretenses. He served no time because he was allowed to go free after agreeing to return the money.
18. Goldie Williams
I LOVE Goldie's defiant expression in her mug shot, especially given that she was a tiny woman at just five feet tall and 110 pounds. She was arrested in 1898 for vagrancy.
These Victorian-era criminals all look so elegant compared to the people we typically see in contemporary mug shots. But crime is crime no matter what the era, and those who were found guilty served their time.