By J. L. Starkey
“Be crafty…and not too bold.”– Fagin, Oliver Twist
I was planning to write about the authors in my family for this week’s 52 Ancestors “craft” theme. But first, I rechecked a few DNA matches, hoping to pinpoint the ancestor I shared with one particularly frustrating match.
Thanks to Ancestry’s ThruLines (and a few updated family trees), I finally found the connection! Oh my…did I ever find the connection.
Careful what you wish for when you promise yourself that you’re just going to do that one thing.
The author ancestors project is now on hold in favor of my newly-discovered first cousin three times removed. Eugene Clairmont Fisher was crafty, all right. Very crafty.
Wait a minute – his name was actually Clairmont Eugene Fisher, wasn’t it? Oops, wrong again! It was actually William X. Fisher, right? No, that’s not correct either. It was actually Eugene Hall. Yes, it was definitely that.
Well, wasn’t it?
Cousin Eugene, Future Con Man
I wasn’t surprised to discover that Andrew Fisher is the ancestor I share with that mysterious DNA match. My third-great-grandfather has always been a source of frustration, so why would he stop now? He had a habit of flying under the radar, and until this week, I wasn’t sure who inherited that skill from him.
But now I know.
Andrew’s unique skill was inherited by his grandson Eugene Clairmont, the son of Jared and Mary Florence (Hardin) Fisher .
Andrew Fisher’s children were no strangers to wealth, and his son Jared was no exception to that rule. Eugene may have felt pressured to live up to his father’s example, and at first glance, he appeared to be on the right track. In 1907, he married Ellen Dildine, and the couple settled in Whitman County. Later, Eugene worked as a police officer while Ellen raised the couple’s four children .
But everything was not as it seemed. Actually, nothing was as it seemed.
Not one single thing.
Something didn’t add up with Eugene’s life story, and it all started with that article about the holdup. In 1905, Eugene was arrested when he and a gang of men held up a group of students in Palouse, Washington .
Jared Fisher paid $500 to bail his son out of jail, an amount equal to over fourteen thousand dollars today. The average annual income at that time was around $750 per year, which meant that Eugene’s father was a very wealthy man, indeed .
The story stuck in my mind, and it changed my perception of Eugene. He had a criminal record, and yet he was hired as a police officer? How did that happen? I decided to dig a little deeper to find answers.
That’s when I found the real Eugene, a man who would later be dubbed a modern Fagin for a string of crimes and cons spanning over three decades. He was a crafty one, that ancestor of mine, and his troubles began long before that 1905 arrest.
In 1901, thirteen-year-old Eugene faced arson charges when he attempted to “burn the house and family” of William Collard. Eugene was arrested, but his father was right there to bail him out, just as he would many times in the coming years . One witness insisted that while she knew little about the events, she “was positive [that] the defendant is a bad boy.”
She was correct, and her statement was eerily prophetic.
Eugene’s next run-in with the law warranted the “holdup” story, but he didn’t learn his lesson that time, either. In 1906, he was back in court, this time for assault with a deadly weapon. On 12 December, Eugene attacked a Japanese immigrant with a pickax “in self-defense,” or so he told the judge .
Once again, his father paid the $500 bond for Eugene’s release from jail. It was all just a misunderstanding, wasn’t it? “Young Fisher,” a reporter remarked, “is said to come from a good family…and the boy himself bears a good reputation.”
Eugene was barely nineteen years old when he married Ellen Dildine, so it was tempting to assume he was trying to turn his life around after a few rough years. He put his past behind him, became a policeman, supported his family, and fought for truth and justice in Spokane. The would-be delinquent was reformed! It was the perfect ending to Eugene’s story.
Oh, if only it had happened that way.
Fresh Start…or Maybe Not
If Eugene was hoping to start a new life by marrying Ellen, he went about it the wrong way, and he really should have known better. After all, this was not his first trip down the aisle.
On 21 June 1906, eighteen-year-old Eugene married his first wife, Estella May Smith. One year later, the couple divorced, and Eugene was ordered to wait at least six months before marrying again . But he was used to getting his own way, so he talked a lawyer into vouching for him when he married Ellen less than one month after his divorce from Estella was finalized. When officials learned of his actions, they rewarded him with yet another trip to jail, this time for contempt of court .
As usual, Eugene suffered no consequences for his actions, and his life returned to normal. He and Ellen settled down to raise a family and welcomed four children over the next eight years.
On 14 July 1914, Eugene was hired as a police officer in Spokane, just one month before the birth of his fourth child . He showed promise from the start, and five months later he received a reward for arresting a jewelry store robber .
It was going to happen this time, wasn’t it? Eugene’s life was finally turning a corner. Would he become successful, just like his father?
Nah. Not Eugene.
Before the end of his probationary period, Eugene found himself on the wrong side of the law once again. In April 1915, he was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of teenager Pearl Gilder, the daughter of a Spokane police officer . Eugene reportedly posed as a single man and took Pearl joyriding, though other reports stated that he “wronged” the young woman .
It seems unbelievable in 2019, but had Eugene been single when he committed this crime in 1915, he may not have been charged at all . In a paragraph entitled “All Right for Bachelor,” a reporter explained:
“…had Fisher been unmarried, he probably would not have been violating the statute…whereas such an act on the part of a married man would…constitute a contribution to her delinquency.”– Spokane Chronicle, 13 April 1915
Jared Fisher posted Eugene’s bail three days after he was arrested, and one month later, Eugene resigned from the police department and pleaded guilty as charged . He was fined $500 and costs, ordered to avoid contact with Pearl, and sent on his way .
As usual, his father paid the fines and court costs, and Eugene simply ignored the other part of the judge’s orders.
Soon after that, he disappeared.
So did Pearl Gilder.
A Con Man is Born
Eight months later, the law finally caught up with Eugene. On 19 January 1916, he and Pearl were arrested in Missoula, Montana. The owner of the home where “Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Hall” boarded never suspected that her tenants were fugitives from Spokane .
Pearl refused to testify against Eugene, and upon her return to Spokane, she was found guilty of delinquency and sentenced to confinement in a juvenile home until her twenty-first birthday .
Her would-be husband, however, faced far more serious charges. While Eugene awaited trial, a judge granted a divorce to Ellen Fisher, who demanded alimony and court costs from her con-man husband .
By spring of 1916, Eugene was in more trouble than ever before. He owed money to just about everyone, and he faced prison time for charges ranging from desertion to violation of the Mann Act.
Time was finally up for the con man. After fifteen years of getting away with everything, he would finally face justice.
Well, that is the way it happened – isn’t it?
Oh, if only.
Eugene wasn’t going down without a fight. He was used to getting what he wanted, and he could craft a pretty good story to get his own way. Just ask his next three wives: Edna, Edna, and Edna.
But that’s a story for another time. Stay tuned to learn how the modern-day Fagin was finally brought to justice!
Or was he?
- “United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HT-6SW3-GTP?cc=1325221&wc=9BQY-J4S%3A1030550101%2C1032470801%2C1032475001: 5 Aug 2014), Washington>Whitman>ED 92 Bethel, Palouse, and Turnbow Precincts>image 1 of 35; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: NARA, n.d.).
- “Idaho, County Marriages, 1864-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939Z-5J93-5Q?cc=1662500&wc=92ZZ-W3D%3A1042264701: 19 Jun 2014), 004533538>image 652 of 830; various county courthouses, Idaho. (See also: “Former Policeman’s Wife Asks for Divorce,” Spokane Chronicle, Spokane, Washington, 12 Feb 1916, p. 5, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- “County Cullings,” The Colfax Gazette, Colfax, Washington, 27 Jan 1905, p. 7, col. 2. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- 100 Years of U.S. Consumer Spending. U.S. Department of Labor, 2006, pp. 3–6, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov.
- “Boy Charged with Crime,” Tacoma Daily Ledger, Tacoma, Washington, 6 Jul 1901, p. 2, col. 6. Retrieved from genealogybank.com. (See also: “Crime Charged to Boy,” The Semi-Weekly Spokesman Review, Spokane, Washington, 4 Jul 1901, p. 4, col. 5. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- “Man From Japan May Die,” Spokane Chronicle, 13 Dec 1906, p. 3, col. 1. Retrieved from newspapers.com. (See also: “White Boy Fights With Japanese,” The San Francisco Call, 13 Dec 1906, p. 11, col. 5. Retrieved from California Digital Newspaper Collection, UCR Center for Bibliographical Studies and Research, https://cdnc.ucr.edu/.)
- Photo by W.O. Reed – Library of Congress PAN US GEOG – Washington no. 46 (E size) [P&P] REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZ62-121882 (b&w film copy neg.), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3424211.
- Washington State Archives, Olympia, Washington; Marriage Records, 1854-2013 for Eugene Clarmont Fisher, Whitman County, Marriage Returns 1906 Jan-Apr, digital image 65 of 67. Retrieved from Ancestry.com. Washington, Marriage Records, 1854-2013 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. (See also: “Superior Court Notes,” Pullman Herald, Pullman, Washington, 6 Jul 1907, p. 1, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- “Northwest Inland Notes,” Lewiston Evening Teller, Lewiston, Idaho, 17 Aug 1907, p. 5, col. 5. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Carlson and Fisher on Force,” The Semi-Weekly Spokesman Review, 15 Jul 1914, p. 6, col. 1. Retrieved from newspapers.com. (See also: “City in Brief,” Spokane Chronicle, 15 Jul 1914, p. 5, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- “City in Brief,” Spokane Chronicle, 5 Aug 1914, p. 5, col. 2. Retrieved from newspapers.com. (See also: “Is Rewarded for Hobson’s Arrest,” Spokane Chronicle, 25 Nov 1914, p. 2, col. 6. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- “United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9YBW-4XX?cc=1727033&wc=QZZC-475%3A133640901%2C139291201%2C139619601%2C1589091668: 24 Jun 2017), Washington>Spokane>Spokane Ward 5>ED 203> image 7 of 32; citing NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: NARA, n.d.).
- “Cop Accused in Girl’s Case,” The Semi-Weekly Spokesman Review, 11 Apr 1915, p. 8, col. 6. Retrieved from newspapers.com. (See also: “Policeman Fisher Behind the Bars,” The Semi-Weekly Spokesman Review, 12 Apr 1915, p. 6, col. 7. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- “Judge to Think Over Cop’s Case,” Spokane Chronicle, 13 Apr 1915, p. 14, col. 1. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Fisher Resigns Police Job,” The Semi-Weekly Spokesman Review, 12 May 1915, p. 7, col. 5. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Fisher Released on $500 Bail,” The Semi-Weekly Spokesman Review, 14 Apr 1915, p. 6, col. 1. Retrieved from newspapers.com. (See also: “Policeman Fisher Fined,” The Semi-Weekly Spokesman Review, 12 May 1915, p. 6, col. 6. Retrieved from newspapers.com.)
- Photo by Ian Sane – https://www.flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04/33223424501/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72961127.
- Photo by Carol M. Highsmith – Library of Congress Catalog: http://lccn.loc.gov/2011635388 Image download: https://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/highsm/17100/17195a.tifOriginal url: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.17195, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52198156.
- “Former Spokane Policeman and Girl Arrested,” Spokane Chronicle, 18 Jan 1916, p. 1, col. 7. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Sisters to Shield Victim of Fisher,” Spokane Chronicle, 21 Feb 1916, p. 2, col. 3. Retrieved from newspapers.com.
- “Former Policeman’s Wife Asks for Divorce,” Spokane Chronicle, 12 Feb 1916, p. 5, col. 4. Retrieved from newspapers.com.