[Sketch of Blackwell prisoners at ferry slip.]
With the ferry funnel visible in background, prisoners are taken from Black Maria at the East River 26th St. terminal for trip to Blackwell Island in above graphic pen sketch derived from 1867 illustration. Click to access full, unmodified NYPL copy. Use browser's "back" button to return.
Self As
[Sketch of women at Night Court.]
The above image of women at Night Court is derived from a larger 1910 illustration that accompanies a story entitled Sad Human Drama Played Nightly in Women's Court on photographer David Friedman's site devoted to 100-year-old NYT Sunday Magazines. Click above to access full, unmodified illustration copy on his site. Use browser "back" button to return.

The life and death of the woman known as Mary Bell -- aka Mary Goode (among other aliases including Mary Elliott and Lena Cuen; her actual name likely Mary Elizabeth Butler) -- reads like a Hollywood movie script. The opening scene of the "based-on-a-true-story" script could be set in 1916 NYC with a small group of disparate mourners gathered in the rain around an open, muddy grave as a plain pine coffin is lowered into the ground.


Below is the text of the Chicago-based The Day Book Dec. 8, 1916 pick-up of the story. Click above to access Library of Congress copy. Use browser's "back" button to return.







Below is text of Dec. 16, 1912 Honolulu newspaper item about Mary Goode's revelations concerning NYC's vice dens and the police protection racket. Click above to access Library of Congress copy. Use browser's "back" button to return.

As the burial service is intoned by the kindly priest who, we later learn, had sponsored her college education, the camera pans the other figures: a governor, a municipal magistrate, a top-raking uniformed police officer, a high society matron, a prison keeper, a newspaper reporter, current and former "fallen women," one of whom is holding a leash on an aged and pudgy fox terrier, the beloved pet Peggy.

As the cold December rain raps out a steady beat on the graveside canopy of black umbrellas, the camera zooms in close on each mourner in turn and we hear his or her thoughts in voice-overs recalling individual memories of Mary.

Collectively their narrated flashbacks unfold the tale of a feisty woman who goes from being a hooker herself to being a madam operating her own brothels, paying protection money to corrupt police rings but refusing to become part of a larger crime syndicate or "vice trust," being persecuted by crooked police for her fierce independence, and her then blowing the

Below is the text of the story about Mary Goode charges regarding a NYC "vice trust" that appeared in May 1913 issue in the Journal of the Switchmen's Union of North America (Pages 292-3). Click above for Google Books copy. Use browser's "back" button to return.




whistle on the whole rotten setup, giving testimony sending several to prison but being 24/7 hounded by vengeful police for doing so.

The memories' storyline shifts to Mrs. Mary Goode hiding from her persistent persecutors, emerging much later as Mrs. Mary Bell, truly reformed, no longer plying her old trade but now seeking to redeem herself by aiding women, caught up in it, to free themselves from its destructive grip.

The drama draws to a close as her self-sacrifice leads her to disregard her own health issues, bringing on a deadly case of pneumonia. She was only 45 years.

Dramatis Personae

In this example of "truth stranger than fiction," we are informed -- by no less an authority than the New York Times in its Dec. 1, 1916 obituary -- that there really was, in her upstate home community of Ford Edward near Lake George, "a kindly Catholic priest" Fr. Fitzgerald who oversaw her upbringing after she was orphaned at age 8, sending her off to schools. He "had her educated at a business college in Albany."

The El Paso Herald of Dec. 12, 1912 informed its readers that Mary Goode had banded together liked-minded independent "ladies of the night" into an association to appeal to high society matron Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont to give them of the protection of her prestige in their fight against the "vice trust" (crime syndicate) and its police allies. Mary picked Mrs. Belmont because of the latter's leading role in the women suffrage movement. Mrs. Belmont had her contact District Attorney Charles S. Whitman

The governor and the municipal magistrate in our theoretical film script would be, respectively, former DA Whitman and Judge Henry Groehl. Interestingly, Frederick J. Groehl, as an ADA under Whitman, worked with Mary Goode, following up on her investigative leads and readying her as a witness at hearings and trials that brought down the "vice trust." He too was later appointed magistrate by Mayor John Puroy Mitchel. Both Groehls would be appropriate at the graveside scene.

The attendance of the police officer would facilitate telling how Mary Goode was hounded by members of the force after testifying against corrupt policemen, how legitimate landlords and employers turned her away after visits from a few of NY's Not-So-Finest. The participation of the prison keeper would facilitate telling of Mary Bell's visits to the East River ferry terminal to offer help to discharged Blackwell's Island women inmates.

As for the presence of a newspaper reporter in the cemetery scene, he or she could serve to represent the entire press corps in general that covered her charges of systemic police corruption and the trials resulting therefrom. News interest in her story extended well beyond the New York City boundaries as the reproductions on this page illustrate.

As for NYC, the coverage was intense. The NYT itself carried more than a dozen of stories in which she figured (click dates to access on the NYT's excellent on-line archives). Consider that it was only one of many daily newspapers publishing in the city during the early 20th century.

  • December 12, 1912 -- PAID POLICE GRAFT THROUGH VICE TRUST; Remarkable Story Told at Curran Inquiry by a Woman at Bay Against Exactions.
  • December 13, 1912 -- WARNED BY POLICE NOT TO REVEAL GRAFT; Mrs. Goode Says Two Members of the Department Told Her She Would Be Hounded if She Did.
  • December 14, 1912 -- WHITMAN TAKES UP POLICE GRAFT CASES; Subpoenas Witnesses Knowing of Facts Revealed by Mrs. Goode to Curran Committee.
  • December 17, 1912 -- SUSPENDS POLICEMAN ON GRAFT CHARGE; Mrs. Goode's various name changes.
  • December 21, 1912 -- MRS. GODDE STANDS BY STORY.
  • December 22, 1912 -- MRS. GOODE TRAILED; FEARS THE POLICE.
  • December 24, 1913 -- INDICT 3 FOR GRAFT, AND GETTING HIGHER; The three leading characters in Mrs. Mary Goode's story of police graft were indicted yesterday by the Grand Jury. They were Patrolman John J. Skelly, Sol. Wolfe, a saloon keeper, and Emanuel Maas, a beer bottler.
  • January 2, 1913 -- WHITMAN HOPEFUL OF GRAFT INQUIRY; LOOKS FOR INDICTMENTS. Women Resort Keepers Have Agreed to Join Mrs. Goode In Telling of Police Extortion. Detectives Trace Associations of Dubelier and Maier, Who Sought to Discredit Mrs. Goode's Story.
  • January 19, 1913 -- POLICE PURSUING MRS. GOODE AGAIN
    Reports reached the District Attorney's office yesterday that the police, undeterred by their failure to punish George A. Sipp for telling of police extortion, were hunting for evidence which would enable them to begin proceedings against Mrs. Mary Goode on the charge of having violated the white slave law.
  • February 14, 1913 -- WALSH IN BED TELLS GRAND JURY OF GRAFT; Whitman's Case Against Sweeney Completed by Examination in Captain's Home.
  • December 1, 1916 -- MARY GOODE'S WORK REVEALED BY DEATH; Police Accuser of Four Years Ago Became Mary Bell, Night Court Rescuer of Women. GAVE LIFE AIDING ANOTHER High Character of Her Later Efforts to Atone Attested by Priest and Magistrate.
  • December 2, 1916 -- MANY STOP TO WEEP AT MRS. BELL'S BIER; Flowers Banked About Body of Woman Who Turned to Help Those She Had Wronged.
  • December 3, 1916 -- MARY GOODE LAID TO REST

Since some "true event-based" film script writers, like some journalists, may follow the motto of "never letting the facts stand in the way of a good story," the mourners' graveside remembrances of Mary Bell/Mary Goode/Mary Butler might well serve as the vehicle for unveiling her biography. Only a stickler for historical accuracy might rule out such an approach, noting that just the funeral director accompanied her coffin to Calvary Cemetery, Queens, after the requiem mass in the Catholic Church of the Holy Innocents on 37th St. Manhattan, where she had been a communicant in the last few years of her life.

Although some to whom she had been a benefactor were among the 200 or so people who attended the mass, most had simply read about her. None but he went with her remains to the burial. Perhaps the movie opening scene could be rewritten and instead be set inside the church, with the dramatis personae engaged in recalling their memories of her as the solemn rites proceed. Perhaps even one of her female friends could be shown hiding the terrier Peggy inside a bulky coat.

-- NYCHS webmaster

NOTE OF APPRECIATION: We gratefully acknowledge and thank history researcher Jorge Santiago for calling this story to our attention.

To NYCHS home page.