"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, April 6, 2015

Alice Clement of the Chicago P.D.

"I'd rather pinch a crook than eat. It's the best game in the world."
~Alice Clement Faubel

While researching my earlier post about private detective Cora Strayer, I was delighted to find that a very similar woman was living and working in Chicago at precisely the same time. Sadly, like Strayer, this once well-known figure is virtually forgotten today.

Meet Alice Clement, the Windy City's first female police detective.

As is the case with Strayer, we know frustratingly little of Clement's early life. She was born Alice Bush in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1878. In 1895, she married a Leonard Clement, but the union eventually went sour, and she divorced him in 1914 on the grounds of "desertion and intemperance." In 1918, she wed a barber named Albert Faubel. The bride, a vocal advocate for women's rights, arranged for the ceremony to be performed by a female pastor.

Chicago Tribune, August 6, 1913. Clement is second from the left.

According to newspaper reports, Clement began working for the Chicago police force in 1909, patrolling department stores in search of pickpockets.  In 1913, she became a detective. Unfortunately, she left no record of what inspired her to take this highly unusual career move, but she soon made her mark on the force--and in the local newspapers. Clement was an ardent feminist who slept with a gun under her pillow and fearlessly tackled the most obstreperous wrongdoers. She was also a petite, attractive lady who loved stylish clothes and flashy jewelry--all of which she wore on duty--and never hesitated to use the power of her femininity. The press found the combination irresistible, hailing her as a combination of "fur, heels, and jujitsu." For some years, the papers were full of highly-colored accounts of her exploits, turning her into a Chicago household word, famed for her vigorous campaigns against "mashers." She was the equivalent of a muckraking journalist, focusing attention on social issues that had special relevance to women, such as sexual harassment, prostitution, divorce, and female suffrage. Newspapers across the country cemented her fame when they carried a serialized--and, alas, probably largely fictional--account of her adventures, written in the most purple prose of the day.

In 1916, the "Chicago Tribune" carried a front-page story describing what happened when "Officer 3428" encountered a teamster who was beating his horse:

When the brute, a Joseph Kournake, ignored Clement's order to stop abusing the animal, she gave him "a half-dozen swift slaps in the face" and hustled him into a police wagon. "Gee," Kournake later moaned, "that dame packs an awful kick in her left."

In 1919, Clement even wrote, produced, and starred in a movie where, naturally, she played herself. In "Dregs of the City," she was a police detective who rescues a naive country girl from "one of the more unhallowed of the south side cabarets," full of "countless devotees of hashish, bhang and opium." (Unfortunately, no copy has survived.)

Variety, September 1919

Some stills from "Dregs of the City, via Chicago Magazine

A typical tribute, emphasizing both her toughness and her sex appeal, appeared in the New York "Evening Telegram" on May 21, 1922:

Chicago's champion Sherlock Holmes wears petticoats, lace stockings, high-heeled slippers and pearl necklaces. She's forty-three years old and looks thirty. She is a grandmother, but looks like a sister of her youngest daughter. She sleeps with a gun under her pillow every night, travels with a set of shackles and handcuffs in her dainty overnight bag, has grappled with the desperate criminals of the Middle West, and has a reputation that a Canadian Royal Mounted Policeman would envy--she always "gets her man--or woman."

Mrs. Alice Clement Faubel, chicly arrayed in a modish Paris gown, her French slippers clicking sharply on the hardwood floor, and lace stockings disclosing shapely ankles, strolled into the office of Commissioner Carleton Simon, of the Narcotic Bureau. A straightening of bow ties, slicking down of patent leather hair on the part of the male population of the office and disdainful sniffs on the part of the feminine end occurred.

Seemingly unconscious of the disturbance, she passed into Commissioner Simon's office, and smilingly announced:

"I've come to take Stella Myers back to Chicago."

Even the Commissioner gasped. Stella Myers had eluded the police of virtually every city in the south, she had almost outwitted the cleverest man on New York's uniformed force. She had a reputation for desperate methods. Yet here was a smiling woman who expected to ride back to Chicago with her with no trouble.

"She's desperate," he gasped.

"I've come prepared," his dainty vis-a-vis answered, and, reaching down, she drew from her overnight bag a wicked looking gun, a pair of ankle bracelets, likewise a couple of wrist holders--the kind that lock.

"These go on her, and we don't sleep until I've locked her up in Chicago," she calmly answered. And then we knew why Alice Clement Faubel has the reputation of being the cleverest woman detective and policewoman in this broad and long country.

Of course she has quite a start on the average policewoman. She was the first of her kind, being appointed thirteen years ago, when a pair of trousers and burly back, to say nothing of swelling biceps and a nasty punch, were considered necessary adjuncts for a "cop." Chicago learned different first. The rest of the world has learned now, too.

Likewise Alice Clement (the Faubel has been added since then) was the first feminine Sherlock Holmes. An ability to remember faces and women's intuition carried out past the nth degree were responsible for her appointment. She cleaned Chicago of fake clairvoyants in record time, wiped out the school for thieves, where numerous Bill Sykeses taught scores of Oliver Twists how to accumulate other people's money and belongings, and has a reputation for having brought hundreds of girls back on the straight and narrow path after they have tried out the primrose road, only to find roses withering overnight.

"Why does a girl go wrong?" we asked Mrs. Faubel, as she sat in the apartment of a friend after a wearying day in court.

"Nine times out of ten it's her mother's fault," she answered firmly. "This sounds heartless, but it's a fact. For every ten girls that I have found living outside of the law nine of them have drifted into that way because mothers have been either too indifferent or too finicky to tell them what they're up against before they start out in life.

"Mothers in America today aren't retaining the confidence of their daughters. What else can you expect, then? Many mothers, especially the foreign born, are driving their girls from home because they take all their earnings and won't let them feel a certain amount of independence which every girl these days has a right to feel.

"Girls go wrong because they want pretty clothes and jewelry. "The easiest way" is no myth. You find it on every side. The girl who succumbs to it doesn't have to come from a lowly family. I have had them in the families of judges of the high courts, well-to-do manufacturers and business men.

"Prohibition, too, is driving women out of the paths of rectitude. Women wouldn't be seen going into saloons in the old days when saloons were open. Now they don't care where they go to get drink. Crime among women has increased since prohibition. Illicit drink is the cause. One sip of the moonshine or homebrew and a woman doesn't care what she does."

Mrs. Faubel has had years of experience in detecting shoplifters in the large department stores in Chicago. Women are more prone to shoplifting than men, she says, and women are not above teaching their children to aid in the "profession."

"Women will resort to the cleverest tricks in shoplifting," she recounts. "There was a placid looking woman of forty-five who had a rubber hand made for herself. Her other hand, kept under her long cape, would reach up on the counter and filch things off, dropping them into a bag concealed under her cape. In that way she made it appear her hands always were above board.

"We had a school for pickpockets in Chicago where the average age of the student was eight years. Children would stay out of school first to play hookey. Then they would see a chance to pick up some money and older thieves int he business world would send them out to pick pockets and bring in the money. Their average earnings were $18 to $20 a day. I cleaned out the gang of them."

Mrs. Faubel says she always works on the theory of giving the first offender a chance.

"Particularly with those children," she said, "they don't realize what they're doing. I have talked to them and shown them the error of their ways. If they fall after that, why, I can't help them. A girl who goes astray always should receive a helping hand.

"Ninety per cent of the girls who go astray are from small communities. Generally their parents will not allow them to have any money of their own, even if they go out and earn it. Independence is throttled and the girl goes out to make her own way. She will write home that she has a good job and is living with a girl friend.

"The hard part of it is when I go out to find her and see just what her job is--she is entertaining some man. It never would have happened if her mother had retained her trust and confidence."

Mrs. Faubel has made more than a thousand arrests this year. She has found a number of women aiding in stick-ups. She has been to every point of the country after missing girls. She has combed Chicago for them in answer to pleas from mothers in small communities in the middle West.

Stella Myers, whom she sought in New York, is wanted in Chicago for bond forfeiture and grand larceny. She is wanted in several mid-Western cities.

"The most fun I have had in my career, and I love it," said Mrs. Faubel, "was cleaning out the clairvoyants in Chicago. Incidentally, it was the most dangerous thing I ever did. It made me resort to a different disguise every day.

"By the way, I never wear the same costume twice in my detective duty, because I don't want to become known.

"I had my fortune told more than 300 times to get the goods on the fortune tellers. The most exciting was the case of Mona Allen. A rich widow, who had come to Chicago, was using up her estate at the rate of thousands of dollars a day.

"One day a $4,000 diamond ring disappeared, then some bonds, a large sum of money. I shadowed her. This particular day she was carrying a large turkey down the street.

"I contrived to get to the clairvoyant's home first and stood in the lobby. When she rang the bell and the servant saw who it was and opened the door, I slid in and into the clairvoyant's room.

"A pistol was stuck against my chest. I had my gun in my hand and dealt a blow to the hand that was holding the pistol. Then I rushed to the back door and unlocked it. There I had a trusty sergeant waiting for me. We made the arrest.

"We found that the woman had been made to believe her husband was calling her from the spirit land and demanded various gifts. The 'husband,' by the way, was merely the husband of the clairvoyant, who stood in the closet and called out at the right time.

"Don't I get frightened? Oh, no! I sleep with my gun under my pillow. I love my work and try to keep myself up to the highest point of efficiency. You say I don't look like a grandmother, but I am. It's by making companions of my daughters that I have managed to keep so young."

On one occasion, however, she was outwitted by her own daughter. ("Chicago Tribune," December 29, 1918):

Mrs. Alice Clement Faubel is Chicago's best known policewoman. Part of her daily work, a good part of it, is to keep lovelorn young couples from rushing into hasty marriages. She is the Nemesis of elopers. Scores of young folk are single today only because Mrs. Faubel tracked them down before they could get to the minister.

Ruth Clement is Mrs. Faubel's 20 year old daughter. Ruth wanted to get married. She and Charles C. Marrow, son of a former mayor of Parsons, Kansas, had it all arranged. But Marrow is in service, int he naval aviation corps at Penascola, Fla. Mrs. Faubel insisted there be no marriage until he was released.

Marrow came up to Chicago to spend the holidays near Ruth. Most everybody connected with the business of marrying people around Chicago knows Mrs. Faubel, so there seemed no chance for an elopement by Ruth and Charley. Mrs. Faubel felt perfectly safe.

Well, the "Tribune" chuckled, the young couple quietly got a license, "dodged the judges," and married at the home of a neighborhood minister. When Alice discovered the truth, she threatened to arrest her new son-in-law herself and send him back to his station. Happily, though, her fury gradually cooled, and, we are told, "everybody was having a good time around the Christmas tree at the Faubel home last night."

Clement was riding high until the Chicago police force got a new superintendent, Charles Fitzmorris. Unlike her previous bosses, Fitzmorris openly deprecated Clement's flamboyance and headline-grabbing ways. Fairly or not, he appears to have regarded her as a showboating lightweight, all style and little substance. He was particularly annoyed by "Dregs of the City." When Chicago's movie censor board banned any showings of the film, Fitzmorris piled on, growling that the picture "tended to give strangers false impressions of the city's dregs." Clement shot back that the women on the censor board "are catty. They think they've given me a black eye, but they haven't. I'll show it anyway."

Exhibitor's Herald, 1919

And she did. Clement got a three-month furlough, and displayed the film as part of a lecture tour, which was a smashing success.

Chicago Examiner, January 11, 1915

Osage County Herald, February 11, 1915

She did have her setbacks. In 1915, a man she had arrested for being a "masher" in a movie theater was acquitted at his trial. His defense was that he was the victim of a sting operation. He claimed that Clement had deliberately "annoyed" him by leaning closely against him and brushing her foot against his. After three minutes of deliberation, the jury decided they believed him. ("What should you expect from a jury of men?" the policewoman snorted.) Two years later, Judge William Gemmill dismissed a case against another "masher" Clement had arrested, asserting his belief that Clement was deliberately setting out to "entrap" innocent men by initiating flirtations with them. The judge accused the detective of going into theaters "for the sole purpose of finding a man who will rub knees with her." Clement was so outraged by the accusation that she threatened to file a defamation suit against him. "I will not rest until I have received a public apology from Judge Gemmill," she declared...I was put here to guard the girls of Chicago and I intend to do my part."

I do not know if she went through with the lawsuit, but there is no evidence Clement ever did get her apology. Clement dismissed all criticism of her methods, vowing to continue her efforts on behalf of girls who "disappear into the whirlpool and [are] never heard of afterward."

East Liverpool Review, May 17, 1917

Daily Atlas, June 1, 1917

Unfortunately, Clement found herself being sucked into a whirlpool, as well. By the mid-1920s, the press was tiring of her, and her exploits began to disappear from the newspapers. Her flamboyance and yen for publicity may have antagonized some of her colleagues in the police force. In 1926, she was demoted from the detective bureau to the West Chicago police station. It was roughly the equivalent of being sent to Siberia. We do not know for certain why this was done. It has been assumed that this was done at the instigation of her enemies in the force, but her failing health may have been the real reason she was given a more low-key job.

For many years, she had kept a secret that was unknown to anyone outside her immediate family: She was a diabetic, and the illness was rapidly taking its toll. Not long after being sent to the West Chicago station, she was forced to take a sick leave. It proved to be permanent. She simply quietly wasted away until she died on the day after Christmas, 1926. She was only 48. Despite her striking role in Chicago police history, she was quickly forgotten by everyone except her husband and three daughters. Her descendants still treasure one of her few remaining legacies: an album full of yellowed newspaper clippings and photographs chronicling a time when Alice Clement was Queen of the Gumshoes and Terror of the Mashers.

[Note: Although Clement and Cora Strayer were contemporaries, and must have crossed paths at some point, surprisingly I have yet to find any record indicating that Chicago's two most memorable early lady detectives ever met. Oh, to be a fly on the wall if those two were ever in the same room together...]


  1. What an interesting woman. I tend to dislike showboats, but she certainly did a lot of good, even if one boils down the puffed-up newspaper accounts. She died too young, and probably didn't spare herself. I't seems fitting that her children were all girls.

    I like the new police chief's statement about Clement's movie, that it "tended to give strangers false impressions of the city's dregs." How can one have the wrong idea of dregs?

  2. Hi, great blog. I'd like to receive updates on a regular basis. Let me know how. Also, whenever you have a moment, come to Colltales.com for a visit. Best

  3. Again, there's no clear way to subscribe to this blog. Or maybe I'm missing something. Let me know how to follow it. Colltales

    1. There's a "follow by e-mail" link on the sidebar. Or you can follow any blog via one of the feed reading sites, such as feedly.com. Does that help?

  4. Where can I get information on this painting?

    1. Which painting? The one on my blog's header?

  5. Hey there—Alice is my great-great-grandmother! Thank you for collecting this information and sharing it with the world. :)

  6. Alice was my great grandmother. I have several of the original newspaper stories mentioned above that were passed down to me.


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