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Kimberly Powell

Wanted! Family History in Wanted Posters

By September 4, 2012

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Kaufman wanted poster from the JustaJoy heirloom exchangeI spent almost an hour at the JustAJoy.com booth at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference this past week, learning about their unique heirloom exchange service, and exploring the wide variety of items they broker which contain family history information. One of the neatest collections, in my opinion, was a large stack of wanted posters, obtained by Joy at an antiques show and soon to be available for browsing and/or sale on JustAJoy.com.

The wanted posters, dating from 1904, covered crimes and criminals in cities across the midwest and east coast of the United States. Most included photographs of the wanted criminals, along with detailed physical descriptions, and an accounting of their crime(s). This particular wanted poster for the "Kaufman Murderers" in Chicago describes two men "wanted for the murder of Mrs. Hattie Kaufman in this city on the night of Dec. 2, 1911."

GEORGE RABENAU, alias "Towhead," 21 years, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches, 145 pounds (looks heavier), big head, light hair, blue eyes. When last seen was smooth shaven and was poorly dressed; wore a black and white checked silk cap, light brown suit, blue shirt and black shoes; no overcoat. He walks in a sort of swagger fashion and usually has his hands in his pants pockets. Has worked on boats at St. Louis in the winter time. May have in his possession some yellow-covered coupon books, four inches long and one and one-fourth inches wide, with "Rhodes, 476-478 E. 31st Street, Wm. Sullivan, Prop." on cover and "Rhodes 5c" on coupons inside.

Description of the murderers in the Kaufman case on a wanted poster from JustAJoy.comJOHN STACEY, 24 years, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches, 165 pounds, solid build, dark brown hair, blue eyes; hands are hard and solid from handling mortar and finger nails were scratched; has marks on body received in fights. When last seen was wearing a cap with peak like a yachting cap, blue suit and soft shirt; may be wearing a light gray military overcoat. He is a bricklayer. Was born in South Africa and learned the trade there.

Whether or not the wanted poster played a role, George and John were arrested in Los Angeles on 6 January 1912 and eventually convicted of the crime, along with William Channell and Fred Boneham. Interestingly, the story didn't end there, as relatives of the convicted murders joined with the husband and children of the slain Mrs. Hattie Kaufman, in bringing suit against the saloonkeepers and owners of four saloons under the dramshop act of Illinois, charging that the crime was "due to the intoxication of the murderers."

A list of alleged items stolen by Abe and Maud Braverman, from a Wanted Poster at JustAJoy.com.

Names and physical descriptions were not the only interesting history included among the wanted posters. A wanted poster for Abe Braverman and Maud Braverman (alias Maud Webber), charged with grand larceny, lists the complete contents of a trunk the couple allegedly stole from Frank Bird Transfer Co. on 23 July 1904 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sixty-eight items, ranging from a "seal and astrakhan cape" to a "silver berry spoon" were itemized along with their respective values. Several of the wanted posters also took the physical descriptions beyond hair and eye color with bertillon measurements, a system of eleven standard measurements developed by French police clerk Alphonse Bertillon to describe an individual by the measurements of certain bony parts to help police get past physical disguises.

The stack of wanted posters I was browsing will soon be available online from JustAJoy.com, which helps subscribers locate and purchase family heritage items listed by a number of antique dealers and individuals. Even if you choose not to purchase an item, most of the family history information from each item is also transcribed and made available online to subscribers--even after the item itself has sold. An annual subscription fee of $20 includes browsing of all listings, both current and archived, along with email alerts when new items are posted containing your family surnames.

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