Dottie Got a Gun

Dorothy Perkins

The tragic story of Dorothy Perkins, at one time the youngest woman ever to be charged with murder in New York, is a cautionary tale for young ladies who are attracted to bad men — particularly older bad men. In the interest of gender neutrality, young men can also learn from her case.
It’s also a really great example of what happens when more than one eyewitness describes a crime.
If anyone should have been lying dead on the floor of that crowded Greenwich Village house on Valentine’s Day 1925, it probably should have been either Mickey Connors or Dorothy’s father, Rudolph.
Instead, the dead man was Thomas (Tommy) Edwin Templeton, a veteran of the Great War and an apparently pretty decent guy who was only trying court 17-year-old Dorothy, who ended up fatally shooting him.
Dorothy’s father served with Tommy, 26, in the New York Guard’s Ninth Coast Artillery as a supply sergeant. During the war, Tommy had risen to the the rank of sergeant and continued his military service in the reserves while working as a brakeman on the Pennsylvania Railroad. He came from a reputable old New York family; his brother served in the New Jersey State Assembly. His prospects were bright, which made him in Rudolph’s mind a good suitor for Dorothy.
On the other hand, 35-year-old Mickey Connors was an truck driver and spouse-abusing divorced felon when he became acquainted with Dorothy. His ex-wife was serving a term for felony forgery. Dorothy was 15 at the time they met.
Dorothy was attracted to Connors, even though she knew he was married. Whether she knew of his past as a criminal is not known, but even if she did, it made no difference.
Perhaps it was her father’s relentless pressure for Dorothy to agree to Tommy’s courtship that turned her off from him, perhaps it was something else: when she was arrested for Tommy’s murder, the press made no secret that Connors had “ruined” Dorothy, and there were claims that she even had a child by him.
Connors and Dorothy apparently met in June 1924 when he wed the mother of one of Dorothy’s girlfriends. After that marriage, Connors moved away from Greenwich Village, but kept in contact with Dorothy on the sly. Meanwhile,
“The Perkinses felt easier at this,” wrote one reporter, referring to Connors’s move. “Tommy Templeton was calling at the Jane Street house more frequently now…and Rudolph felt and said that his young comrade-in-arms was the man for Dorothy. And Dorothy did not seem to dislike Tommy. Rather, she seemed indifferent to him. Rudolph though she might come to love Tommy, if Mikey Connors stayed out of the way.”
But Connors did not stay out of the way.
On February 13, 1925, the Ninth Battery held a review at a nearby armory followed by a dance. Tommy gave two tickets to the event to Dorothy, assuming she would invite a girlfriend.
“The regiment paraded, marched in review past the colonel, countermarched, formed batteries, manned the big guns,” reads an article in the American Weekly magazine. “Telescope under his arm, Sergeant Templeton sprang up the ladder to the gun-pointing platform…As he stood there above the gun, his eyes wandered to the balcony filled with the guests of the regiment, seeking Dorothy. He found her — and Mickey Connors. Side-by-side they sat.”
Dorothy watched the drill but skipped the dance, although Connors opted to stay. Confronted by both Rudolph Perkins and Tommy Templeton, Connors disclaimed any intentions of any sort toward Dorothy.
The crisis of this morality play came the next night at the party celebrating Rudolph’s 47th birthday. Tommy was invited, Connors was obviously not. His presence was not needed, however, for there to be trouble.
Just what happened that night — aside from Tommy dying — remains a bit of a mystery because of the numerous versions of the shooting that witnesses recounted during Dorothy’s 15 minutes of infamy.
“Dad was in the hall waiting for him when Tommy got to the house,” Dorothy told police later. “I was dancing in front, but I heard them and came out. And then Dad shouted that he never wanted me to speak to Mickey again.”
Rudolph once again promoted Tommy to his daughter.
“Why do you want a bum like Connors when you can have a nice fellow like Tommy?” he asked.
Dorothy testified that she wasn’t interested in Connors any more, and that their encounter the previous night was really just a chance meeting.
“I told him I didn’t want to hear anything about it,” she said. “He slapped me in my face. I ran to my room, trying to think. It looked like trouble — everyone was drinking.”
People at the party said they assumed she was going to the room to get away from her drunken father.
What no one knew was that Dorothy was heading to her room to fetch a .22-caliber revolver which she had stolen from an aunt in Connecticut. The Perkinses did not know their daughter had a gun, but Tommy had apparently seen her with it at least once before, according a witness at her trial.
Joseph Harssel, a soldier in Tommy’s regiment testified that after a double-date at a local movie theater, Dorothy opened her bag and displayed the gun.
“Templeton asked her what she carried the gun for,” Harssel testified. “She said she was a ‘blonde-haired bandit.’ Then…she said ‘I am carrying the gun with me for protection in case someone approaches me on my way home.'”
At Dorothy’s arraignment, the family minister testified to what he had been told by the family in the aftermath of the shooting. The Rev. Truman A. Kilborne of the Greenwich Presbyterian Church said that after Dorothy heard that her father threatened to shoot Connors, she retrieved the gun from her dresser, fearing that Rudolph had found it and was going to use it. She returned to the house with the revolver hidden in her sleeve, Kilborne said.
“Someone told her father that she had a revolver and he attempted to take it away from her,” The New York Times quoted the minister as saying. “She resisted and in the struggle for its possession the revolver went off. Templeton, who was standing nearby, pitched forward, his heart pierced by the bullet.”
Previously, at the grand jury hearing, Harry Brown, a friend of Tommy’s, testified to a wholly different version of events — one in which Mickey Connors made an unwelcome appearance at the party.
“Things were going all right until somebody said something about another fellow being downstairs to see Dorothy,” he said later. “Tommy left the room for a while and walked into the hall.
“When he came back, Dorothy was standing near me when Tommy said, ‘That mutt is downstairs. He’s got a rod, and he’s too yellow to use it.”
According to Brown, Dorothy ran down stairs and came back with the pistol, saying “I’ll show you whether or not my friend is yellow.”
Brown said Dorothy then fired two rounds and “Tommy dropped dead to the floor.” He claimed to have grabbed Dorothy and locked her in her bedroom awaiting the police.
It was Brown’s testimony that led to the murder charge.
In her interview with the American Weekly, Dorothy said the shooting occurred before she ever left the house. She slipped the gun into the sleeve of her coat and tried to leave.
“I thought I would get out of the house and give it to somebody to keep for me,” she said two months before her trial. “But dad stopped me. He struggled with me. He tried to hit me. Then the gun slipped down the loose sleeve of the coat. I grabbed for it. It went off.
“I saw Tommy staggering. He said something. Mother says he said: ‘She’s got me now, Mrs. Perkins!'”
Aside from Tommy being dead by a gunshot wound, the only other fact in evidence was that the bullet went through Rudolph’s coat and eyeglass case on its way to Tommy’s heart.
“I held Tommy in my arms until they said he was dead,” Dorothy continued. “Then I — I don’t know — I guess I ran.”
Prior to Dorothy’s trial, Rudolph tried to take the blame.
“I saw the glint of the revolver in her coat sleeve,” he said. “I grabbed for it — and she got a grip on it, too. Tommy was behind me, trying to stop the fuss. Then there was a shot. Tommy staggered, and Dorothy began to scream. Maybe I did it. “Both of us grabbed the gun. No one will ever know who pulled the trigger — Dorothy or I. But it was an accident.”
When she was on the stand, Dorothy said she took the pistol from her aunt because Tommy promised to teach her how to shoot.
She testified at her trial that she fought with her father, grabbed the pistol — without explaining why — and left the house.
Dorothy said she was walking around for about an hour, cooling off. She returned home, assuming her father had relaxed as well. It was not the case.
“The minute I came in the door, Dad began again,” Dorothy continued in her confession. “As I came up he called me a name and said he’d kill me. He stopped me and took hold of my hands and my mother grabbed him.”
She told police that she did not remember what happened after that moment, and stuck with that story during her trial.

Q — Do you remember whether the gun was in your hand?
A — No, I don’t.
Q — Do you remember if it was your finger that pulled the trigger?
A — No.
Q — Did you shoot that gun?
A — Not that I remember.
Q — Do you love Tommy?
A — Yes.
Q — Do you still cherish his memory?
A — I do.

She claimed on the stand that her standoffish treatment of Tommy was an attempt to make “him jealous by flirting with someone else.”
On June 17, 1925, the jury rejected the state’s case that the shooting was murder and convicted Dorothy of manslaughter.
A week later she was sentenced.
“I wish to say that I feel very sorry for you,” said the judge. “It is too be regretted that a young woman like you should find herself in the position you occupy today.”
The judge, identified only as McIntyre, appeared to be preparing to lower the boom on Dorothy.
“You did a heinous wrong,” he said. “You have led a very bad life for a young woman. You led from a very early life a meretricious relation with a man whom I regard as a beast and a boor. I do not know whether the information imparted to me is correct or not, but I am told that the child at your aunt’s house is your child.”
McIntyre’s claim hit Dorothy like a punch in the gut and she reportedly staggered back into her seat. He then said if she disclaimed the allegation, he would believe her. He once again said he had sympathy for Dorothy, but that he could not overlook the fact that a serious crime had been committed. He berated her for bringing the pistol to New York and for claiming she was a blonde-haired bandit.
“You are a girl, it is true, but women are not exculpated because of their sex,” McIntyre went on. “When a woman is bad she is vicious and worse than a man many, many times over. There is too much of it. Women seem to feel that they may do that which they please and get away with it.”
With that tongue-lashing, McIntyre sentenced Dorothy to 5-to-15 years in the women’s prison at Auburn.
Dorothy Perkins ended up serving four years of the sentence, during which time she was trained as a stenographer. She was released in January 1929 for good behavior and The New York Times reported that she had a job waiting for her when she got out.
Mickey Connors served a few months in the Tombs for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Unhappily Ever After

Josephine Terranova

The story of Josephine Terranova reads like a combination of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Cinderella, with a conclusion that falls somewhere in between the fates of those two heroines.
By 1906, Josephine’s uncle had been raping her since she was 12 years old, but the Sicilian immigrant who lived with her aunt and uncle in a quiet Bronx neighborhood was so innocent (and possibly simple-minded) she did not know what he was doing was wrong until she told her new husband about it.
One might expect sympathy on the part of Giuseppe Terranova toward his wife’s victimization, but that’s not how the carpenter reacted. In response to Josephine’s revelation which he felt should have come before — not after — their marriage, Terranova declared that he had been given damaged goods and thus an offense had been committed against him; he threw her out of his house and declared their marriage null and void.
“Josephine,” he told her less than a month after their marriage, “You are no longer my wife. This is no longer your home.”
After Giuseppe left her, 17-year-old Josephine “believing that by blood alone came atonement for her sinful ignorance” (as one female reporter wrote), stabbed her uncle, Gaetano Riggio, and aunt/godmother Conchetta to death.
Josephine’s story begins at the end of the 19th Century when she came over from Sicily with her mother as an 8-year-old child. Unable to care for her daughter, her mother asked her sister and brother-in-law to take in their niece. They agreed.
Having dropped her youngest child off in what she imagined would be a safe, enriching environment, Josephine’s widowed mother disappeared into the throng of Italian immigrants and eventually returned to the Old Country where it is assumed that she fell ill and died. Regardless, Josephine never heard from her or her sisters again.
It should have been ideal for Josephine; the Riggios were quite well off, thanks to Gaetano’s successful bakery. The childless couple owned their own home in the Williamsbridge section of the Bronx — while not exactly a wide-open green space, the neighborhood was upscale and airy for the time.
Instead of a dream-come-true, living with the Riggios was nothing more than a nightmare for the naive young girl who quickly learned she was not to be treated as daughter, but as a servant/slave.
“They never sent me to school and they did not let me go to church,” she told a reporter in the Tombs while awaiting her murder trial. “All I could do was to work in the store. I was not allowed to have any girl- or boyfriends. My aunt told me that she was my godmother and that I must do her bidding. I believed she could do no wrong.”
Not only did the couple treat Josephine like Cinderella before the royal ball, the Riggios apparently delighted in tormenting their young charge.
“You can never be happy,” Conchetta once told her. “You are the devil’s child.” Conchetta was reciting the old Sicilian wives’ tale that any baby born on Good Friday was cursed by God.
The foul treatment would only get worse. Four years after she arrived in the Riggio home, Josephine was led by her godmother into a cold room where her uncle awaited.
“She told me to obey him and she left the room,” Josephine said. “I was frightened, but there was no place to go. My mother and sisters were in the Old Country and I did not know any good nuns to whom I might appeal. I had never been to confession and I did not know the wrong. For three years I lived this way.”
At her trial Josephine said that the told her godmother immediately after the first sexual assault, but received no sympathy.
“It was horrible. I told my aunt right away at first,” Josephine told the all-male jury. “But she only said, ‘Oh that is nothing. Little girls must do as they are told.'”
In addition to being sexually assaulted, Josephine told of being beaten, fed just scraps and leftovers, and forced to sleep in an unheated part of the house.
“I did not get enough to eat. I was not often allowed to go out. They always followed me,” she testified. “I could not talk to the men in the bake shop. They would not let me talk in English. I was obliged to get out of bed at 3 o’clock to begin the work. I never got to sleep until after 12 o’clock at night. I did all the housework for 10, 11 and 16 boarders up to the time I was married.”
When Giuseppe Terranova first saw the young beauty in the bakery, the young man who had grown up in a village less than five miles from Josephine’s Sicilian home fell in love.
At first Josephine rebuffed the building contractor’s advances, following the instructions of her abuser/uncle, who also denied Terranova’s requests to court the young woman. Eventually, however, Riggio changed his mind.
“Then just before Christmas Giuseppe came to my uncle’s house. He told my uncle he wanted to marry me,” she said. “They did not let me say one word to him. Giuseppe bought me all the pretty things for my wedding. Oh, I loved him.”
In January 1906, Giuseppe and Josephine, she wearing the velvet purple gown and new shoes Giuseppe purchased for the occasion, were married in a civil ceremony at the New York City Hall.
Josephine also wanted a church wedding and told her relatives that she wanted to go to confession beforehand. Gaetano, fearing that his secret was about to be revealed, tried to dissuade her.
“Don’t you confess. The priest will teach you bad things,” he said. Then putting a white shawl over his head and shoulders, he called to Josephine. “Come here, Josephine, and I’ll confess you.”
But Margarita Furnio, Giuseppe’s sister, was not satisfied and took her future sister-in-law to the local parish priest. Gaetano followed at a distance, Margarita testified later.
She told how the priest, after taking Josephine’s confession, refused to give the girl Communion.
“He said that he would not give her the Communion,” Margarita said. “Because she had no religion and did not know who God was.”
n.b., To be fair to the priest, Josephine did not meet the Catholic Church's canons regarding receipt of communion.
However, Josephine received her church wedding; she remained in the Riggio home until that day. On the night before her wedding, Gaetano raped her one last time.
The marriage was unhappy from the start, but not because Giuseppe and Josephine were incompatible. Soon after Josephine moved into the home Giuseppe prepared for them, Gaetano began dropping hints that there was something amiss with Josephine’s purity.
“I was very happy,” she said during her testimony. “He loved me and I loved him. Then in three weeks we went to pay our visit to my uncle and aunt. My uncle looked at me and said to my husband: ‘This girl is not virtuous. She was born on Good Friday and she cannot be a good girl. You will not live with this girl more than one more week. When you get home you remind her of what I have said and make her explain.'”
It was when the newlyweds returned home that Giuseppe demanded to know what Gaetano meant and Josephine told him everything.
For ten days after Giuseppe stormed from the home Josephine did not eat and rarely slept, her sister-in-law testified.
Her despair, combined with the lack of nourishment, caused her to begin to hear voices urging her to kill her aunt and uncle, Josephine told jurors. She said the voices assured her that once they were dead her “disgrace” would be cleansed from her.
“Josephine, tomorrow you must go,” she said the voice told her.
She told the court that she doubted whether it was the voice of God, and to make sure she made the Sign of the Cross and asked: “Is that God’s voice?”
The answer came: “You must go. It is God’s voice.”
She purchased a pistol and a stiletto and went back to house in the Bronx.
“Good evening. How are you?” Gaetano said when she appeared in his store. “Come upstairs with me. I know why you come.”
The rapist and victim climbed the stairs to where the Riggios had their apartment above the bakery.
Dominic Ciccio, an employee at the Riggio bakery, takes up the tale:

I heard cries of “Help!” I ran upstairs and went into the room. Josephine was crouching. She had a pistol in her hands. She was pointing it at her aunt. Riggio, the uncle, stood over her, and was holding the arm which held the pistol and was trying to drag her away. The pistol went off twice. Josephine must have fired it because she held it.
I closed in quick and got the pistol. Then Josephine ran out of the room. I held the boss up. He was hurt and there was blood on his clothes. He staggered and said, ‘I am dying.’ A baker came in and he held up the boss’s wife. I did not see any blood on her but she was hurt.

In dramatic fashion the New York Times reported the killings:

Husband and wife fell to the floor. Josephine Terranova threw the knife between them, gathered her shawl about her shoulders and left the house. The household knew in a moment what had happened, and every Italian felt that the Sicilian had taken what was hers. Not a hand was raised to stop her; not a man followed her.

Gaetano and Conchetta were rushed to Fordham Hospital where doctors hoped to be able to save the life of Conchetta, but were sure Gaetano’s cause was hopeless. He was stabbed twice in the stomach, while she was stabbed through the back, slicing her kidney.
The gunshots were wide of the mark.
Meanwhile, New York’s finest were out searching for Josephine. She was not at her home, and Giuseppe’s relatives had already disowned her. Ever the caring husband, Giuseppe led police to believe she had committed suicide.
Two days after the murder detectives learned that Josephine had relatives in Brooklyn and began a stakeout of their home. She was arrested there. Gaetano, suffering miserably with a gut wound, died two hours before the arrest, and Conchetta followed the morning after.
“I am glad I did it,” Josephine said. “I do not believe that God or the law will hold me to blame for what I have done.”
Josephine was right — at least about the law: A jury made up mostly of men with daughters and sisters acquitted her of Conchetta’s murder after a brief trial. The prosecution announced that it would not bother to try her for killing her uncle.
Two days after her acquittal for her godmother’s murder, Josephine was served with divorce papers by Giuseppe. The petition listed “fraud” as the reason for the divorce. It was granted, and Josephine Terranova — her 15 minutes of infamy over — became just another name in the dusty newspaper morgues of New York City.
One Boston newspaper reported that she entered a convent, but this cannot be confirmed. Regardless, it’s probably a safe bet that although the escaped the gallows where Tess died, unlike Cinderella, she did not live happily ever after.