The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, January 16, 1924 and April 21, 1924
You - dirty - fish - peddling - bums
leave - this - innocent - girl - alone - and - get - the - right - ones - which - is -nobody - else - but - us -
also - ask - Bohaks (sp) - manager - did - I - ruin - his - cash - register - also - will - visit - him - again - as - I - broke - a - pefectly (sp)- good - automatic - on - it
we - defy - you - fellows - to - catch - us
the bobbed - haired bandit and companion
20-years-old and pregnant, Celia Cooney (nee Roth, aliases Cecile Cherisa and Celia Sheehan, born on the east side in 1904), the Brooklyn Bobbed-Haired Bandit, and her husband Edward, 25, pulled off roughly a dozen successful robberies in early 1924, between January and their arrest on April 21st. The couple used the same method invariably, with Celia, usually sporting a sealskin coat over a beaded dress, coming in first and asking a question of the shop keeper, and Edward coming in shortly after with
a gun drawn in each hand. Victims of the pair claimed the woman was calm and collected while she pointed her baby automatic at them and told them to “stick ‘em up.” The couple would then rifle through the cash register and leave, taking only cash. Edward would borrow various vehicles from his work for getaway cars. Over 150 officers were called in to work the case, while the Mayor claimed that there was no such thing as a “bobbed haired bandit” - she was a figment of the media’s imagination. In March one of their drugstore robberies took place while a policeman’s ball was in full swing right across the street. At almost every scene Celia would drop another jeering note for the police, one read:
“I’ll kill you off one by one if you start out after me. So long boys; don’t forget you will hear from me during the week.”
And another read:
“I regret that I have not had the opportunity of giving you anything to do for the last few days. I have been taking a little vacation. However, I am now back on the job and you will hear from me regularly. I understand there is a new inspector assigned to Brooklyn. It doesn’t make any difference to me. Also I hear that the police have orders to shoot and kill me on sight. That’s all right but the police will not be the only ones to shoot.”
Celia’s landlady, who rented a room to the couple from April 1923 until September the same year, told papers Celia was “hard boiled”, a “wicked woman” and a “filthy tenant” who was “Bad, bad, bad!”. She claimed that Celia would “run around the house nearly naked and barefooted - go to the door that way - and such swearing I never heard in my life. She wasn’t a woman at all, at all - she was a she devil.”
Celia’s employer at a laundry said that she “was short and slender and dark complexioned. She was always prompt in getting to work and a good worker. She went out to lunch and noon and never chummed with any of the other girls, so far as I noticed. Finding out that she is the bobbed-haired bandit is some surprise to me - a knockout.”
Edward’s mother claimed that Edward, a welder for an auto repair shop by profession, would come to her house every morning for coffee before work and while there “We talked about the bobbed-haired bandit and he joked about her and said she was ‘pretty slick’.” Then one day Edward told his mother that he and Celia had to “go away for a time” but they’d be back to vindicate themselves.
Their final robbery, that of a Nabisco office that abutted the property where Edward’s mother lived, went awry when the money Edward expected to be out on a desk, where it usually was, was unexpectedly locked away. Edward had seen, through the back windows of his mother’s home, the money sitting out every week in large stacks on a desk when he stopped by his mother’s home before work. After ordering all the employees to line up against the wall, he and Cecilia turned to look for the cash and couldn’t find it. He lost his head when one of the employees tried to grab Celia’s gun and shot the man, Celia dropped a notebook and they fled without any money. This was the only time the couple ever physically hurt a victim.
Detectives claimed this was another major blunder: they committed this crime in the neighborhood in which they lived. Previous to this, all crimes had been in other jurisdictions.
The couple went on the lam, leading the police on a chase through 13 states before their capture by the detectives in Jacksonville, Florida after Edward sent a telegraph home to his mother, asking for money to bury the baby, a girl named Katherine who lived only 10 days. A short standoff ended when Celia promised the detectives she wouldn’t shoot if they wouldn’t. She claimed that Edward wanted to shoot her and himself rather than be taken into captivity but she told with a smile that “we couldn’t quit that way.” Both claimed that they were the one who had shot the clerk at Nabisco, and both claimed they were the mastermind behind the crimes. Thousands stood in Penn Street Station to finally catch a glimpse of the Bobbed-Haired Bandit.
The couple received sentences of 10 to 20 years, the maximum sentence, in and were released after 7 years, the minimum, in 1931. Celia told the judge that she didn’t want her baby to be born in squalor when she pleaded guilty. The state claimed the couple committed at least 15 crimes while the couple admitted to 10. Celia served her sentence at Auburn Prison and Edward at Sing Sing. While in jail Edward lost part of an arm when working a license plate printing machine and received a $12,000 settlement. During the suit against the State, where Celia testified on Edward’s behalf, the couple saw each other for the only time during their 7 year imprisonment. Celia’s brother Owen was shot while robbing a jewelry shop in 1927. After their release the couple had two sons, but Edward died of tuberculosis in 1936. As a single mother, Celia raised their sons in Queens and had to take welfare benefits, but for the rest of her life she stayed on the right side of the law. Celia passed away in Florida in 1992.
A few interesting sidenotes:
A lot of transgender ladies were brought in on suspicion that the bandit could not possibly be a “real” woman.
F Scott Fitzgerald claimed his wife Zelda was stopped and questioned one night by police who suspected she might be the bandit.
Some psychologists posited that Celia’s pregnant state may have been the driving force behind her robberies - because her hormones were out of whack.
In September 1924 a New York producer introduced a burlesque show called the Bobbed-Hair Bandits, which featured “18 of New York’s most beautiful girls” - what, if anything, this show had to do with bandits the notice didn’t really explain, although it claimed there were beautiful costumes!