Canon City – Convict #6606 and the Mysterious J.J. Moore

April 15, 2019 at 9:06 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Who was J.J. Moore?  While his name is obscure today, newspaper reports from early 1915 connect him to Jack Boyle’s most famous literary creation.  The February 6, 1915 edition of Colorado’s The Loveland Daily Herald even identified Moore as “the Blackie of magazine and convict fame.”  It went on to mention Moore’s 1914 stint in Canon City Penitentiary (at the same time Jack Boyle was incarcerated there), as well as his servitude on the Fall River road gang.  Since Boyle later claimed that he had based Boston Blackie on a real-life underworld figure, is it possible that inmate J.J. Moore was his inspiration for the character?

Based on the Herald’s information, the idea is certainly tempting.  And subsequent news items paint Moore as quite the dubious character.  The Herald reported that, shortly after Moore’s release from the state’s custody, writer Rufus Steele accused him of “going back to his old habits.”  Scant days later, The San Francisco Chronicle revealed that Moore had repaid Steele with “two black eyes, sundry other bruises, and another dent in his reputation.”  Then, in early March the Dayton Daily News reported that Moore had been taken into custody at the order of Federal District Attorney Francis M. Wilson, and would be “arraigned on Monday on a charge of violating the Mann white slave act.”  Quite the rough customer, indeed.

However, no matter how appealing the words of The Loveland Daily Herald may make the hypothesis that J.J. Moore was the “real” Boston Blackie, there’s one major flaw in the theory.  A February 21, 1915 item in The Kansas City Star makes short work of the idea, with the comment that “J.J. Moore is the author of the Boston Blackie stories … under the pen name of ‘Convict 6606’.”  The San Francisco Chronicle was even more to the point in their February 11, 1915 issue, stating “The J.J. Moore referred to … is John A. Boyle or Jack Boyle, formerly a newspaper man …” 

So J.J. Moore was not Boston Blackie, but Jack Boyle.  How Boyle came to be living in Colorado under an assumed name is unknown, but hardly surprising.  When he had been arrested for forgery in Utah half a decade earlier professing the name W.R. Ellis, the July 7, 1910 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune identified him as “J.A. Boyle, alias at least a dozen other names …”  In fact, most printed references to Boyle circa 1914 – 15 primarily refer to him as Moore (suggesting that he may have actually served his time in Canon City Penitentiary under the false name).  Even while his initial Boston Blackie stories were appearing in The American Magazine, newspapers were identifying him in the manner of the final paragraph in the following piece from The Wichita Weekly Eagle (June 5, 1914):

Wichita Eagle 6-5-14

Regardless of what alias he was employing, this report from the Weekly Eagle provides a couple of major pieces to the puzzle of Jack Boyle’s early life.  Not only does it document how he is purported to have overcome his opium addiction (no mean feat), but it also establishes when he entered the confines of Canon City Penitentiary.  If the June 1914 article’s contention that he “was sent from Denver eight months ago” is accurate, then Jack Boyle started his sentence with the state of Colorado around October 1913.  And Boston Blackie was conceived within those prison walls sometime during that eight-month period.  What Jack was up to in the years between his August 1911 release from San Quentin and his Denver arrest in October 1913 is still anyone’s guess, but little by little the gaps in his life are narrowing.

 JBF – 4/15/19


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San Quentin – Convict # 24700

September 26, 2017 at 10:21 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

As previously mentioned here, details regarding Jack Boyle’s life between the years 1908 and 1914 are largely a blank.  However, a huge piece of that puzzle has recently come to light, due in no small part to the wonderful folks at the California State Archives.  Thanks to their kind assistance, we can now establish when Jack was incarcerated in the San Quentin penitentiary, and on what charges he was convicted.  Despite what some have contended, he was not San Quentin’s Convict No. 6606, and he was not there for participating in an armed robbery.

Jack Boyle’s San Quentin mugshot circa Dec. 1910

According to prison records, 29 year-old, 6 foot 5/8 inch, 175 pound John “Jack” Boyle was received at San Quentin on December 17, 1910, just in time for the Christmas holidays.  Once a noted reporter under the byline J.A. Boyle, inside San Quentin’s walls his identity became Convict # 24700, imprisoned for violation of Section 476.  For those of us not immediately conversant with the California Penal Code, it’s worth noting that Section 476 covers the passing of worthless checks and related acts of forgery.  So despite the tale of armed robbery Jack spun in his 1914 memoir “A Modern Opium Eater,” his stint in San Quentin resulted from his penchant for cashing hot checks.

The veracity of the robbery story itself is suspect, particularly as a re-worked version of it surfaced quite a short time later in one of Jack’s literary efforts — a work of fiction for The Sunlight Magazine titled “The Human Tiger.”  It makes more sense that his stint in San Quentin was for the lesser offense of forgery, given that his term in the infamous California penitentiary was fairly brief.  The prison’s internal records quote conflicting release dates for Jack, but confirm that he served ten months at the most.  He was back on the streets no later than October 17, 1911.

And at that point, he dropped from public view again for another three years.  But his 1911 discharge from the California prison system firmly establishes one thing — Jack Boyle did not write the first Boston Blackie stories in San Quentin.  It would be almost another three years before Blackie would make his debut in The American Magazine, by which time Jack was an inmate of another prison.  In 1914 he was serving a stretch as Convict No. 6606 in the Canon City penitentiary near Denver, Colorado (on yet another forgery conviction).  So Canon City was the birthplace of Boston Blackie.

JBF  9/26/17


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The Riddle of the Bogus Boyle – Revisited!

March 7, 2016 at 10:02 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Last year, I published an entry on April 27, 2015 titled “The Riddle of the Bogus Boyle,” in which I presented an item from the magazine The Writer.  It spoke of an impostor who stole the identities of both Jack Boyle and fellow author Courtney Ryley Cooper in the early 1920s, bilking money from publishers and movie producers through the imposture.  At the time, I pointed out that the physical description of this literary hoaxer sounded suspiciously like the man who impersonated author Rufus Steele in Denver, Colorado around 1914, a one-time crony of Jack Boyle before the pair had a violent falling out.  While my comments were only educated speculation, further information has come to light which warrants giving the incident a second look.  The May 22, 1920 edition of The Los Angeles Herald included an item titled “Cooper Disowns Double in $800 Film MixUp,” detailing how the infamous impostor collected $800.00 from two Los Angeles film producers for stories he contracted to write as Courtney Ryley Cooper.  The article offers these enlightening comments from the real Mr. Cooper:

“Judging from the description of the gentleman, he is the person whom I exposed in Denver several years ago while he was masquerading under the name of Rufus Steele, the San Francisco author, claiming incidentally that he wrote under the name of Jack Boyle.  At that time he stated that his real name was William Steele and that he lived somewhere in Oklahoma  …  The funny part of it is he cannot write a line.  And the worst of it is that he doesn’t give poor Jack Boyle a chance.  Boyle’s a real flesh and blood person — but he’s only a nom de plume whenever Steele’s impersonations — if this is Steele — get up steam and start working.”

Still not proof positive that it was William F. “Rufus” Steele who stole the identities of Boyle and Courtney Ryley Cooper ninety-five years ago, but it certainly sounds as though Cooper believed it to be so.  And I can’t help but agree with him.

JBF  3/7/16


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The First Mrs. Boyle

May 25, 2015 at 12:12 PM (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Violet Boyle

So much of Jack Boyle’s life is shrouded in obscurity, half-truth and exaggeration, it is hardly surprising that details about his first marriage are difficult to pin down.  His wife’s name was Violet — or Charlotte — or Trixie — or perhaps something else altogether.  Just when and where the couple tied the knot is equally questionable.  Here is what can be gleaned from contemporary newspaper accounts and other records of the time:

Shortly after his release from Canon City Penitentiary in late 1914, Boyle took up with a woman calling herself Violet Wilson.  She was reputed to have been a reporter for an unspecified Denver, Colorado newspaper, and to also have gone by the name Trixie Dean.  When Boyle left Denver in February 1915, Violet went with him, and at the time of the pair’s arrest in Kansas City, Missouri a few weeks later, newspaper accounts described her as Jack’s wife.  The man who paroled Boyle, Warden Thomas Tynan, expressed surprise in hearing of his former inmate’s marriage, saying that no mention of this had been made to him when Boyle requested permission to move out of state to accept a reporting job.  But from their 1915 arrival in Kansas City to their abrupt departure in 1917, Jack and Violet lived there as husband and wife.

The same can be said when the couple resettled in Baraboo, Wisconsin, and Jack’s 1918 draft registration card listed Violet Boyle as his nearest relative.  This tallies with Variety‘s October 8, 1924 article which later reported that Boyle and Violet had been married in Crown Point, Indiana on March 25, 1918.  While this would mean that previous references to to the couple as man and wife were erroneous (perhaps referring to a common law marriage, rather than a civil ceremony) the Variety article would at least seem to put the mystery of the Boyles’ wedding date to rest.  Except that the marriage records held in Crown Point indicate that the couple were wed in 1919.  So there is no simple answer to  the question of when Jack was first married.

Regardless, the union did not last long.  By mid 1921, reports began appearing in various newspapers that the couple were separated, and that Violet had filed for divorce in the State of Colorado.  However, many of these reports now called the soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Boyle by the name Charlotte (Violet’s middle name).  Still later items circa 1923 stated that Violet went to Hollywood in hopes of becoming an actress, citing drama training she received during her youth in Norway.  She even hoped to land roles in the movie adaptations of some her ex-husband’s stories.

Today, a review of various genealogy websites reveals that Violet began life as Hanna Charlotte Petersen.  Born in Trondheim, Norway in 1883, she immigrated to the U.S. in 1903.  How she came to take the names Trixie Dean or Violet Wilson is unclear, but she is known to have returned to Colorado after her mid 1920s stint in Hollywood.  She remained there at least through 1954, but is reported to have died in Los Angeles on April 1, 1971.  She outlived Jack by more than 40 years and, in light of their rather tumultuous split, appears to have had a final laugh at his expense.  In June of 1932, literary agent Larry Giffin of New York published notices seeking the administrator of Jack Boyle’s estate, to obtain permission to print one of the author’s stories.  A few days later, an item appeared in The Portland Oregonian stating that Giffin’s search had ended, having located Boyle’s widow in Denver.  Since Jack’s wife at the time of his death, Elsie, never lived in Colorado, it sounds as though Violet was still finding ways to derive a bit of income from her ex-husband’s work, even four years after his death.

JBF 5/25/15

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