Special thanks to Laurel Hill tour guide and author Tom Keels for providing us with this wonderful written account of the life and crimes of Mabel Tinley – featured on our True Tales from the Tombs tour on October 12th.
OVERTURE: A SPANISH SEDUCTRESS
Mabel’s first and briefest reincarnation was as music hall hopeful Lasca Vega. She probably borrowed the name from Lasca, and Other Stories, a potboiler of the period by Mary F. Nixon (several of Nixon’s stories mention a Vega River). Mabel/Lasca and her infant son lived in modest quarters at 225 East Fourteenth Street, on the edge of what was then New York’s theatrical district. According to the New York Times, Lasca’s stage career was “brief, and not particularly brilliant.” She had a leading role in one “burlesque” (a farce rather than a girlie show) which closed soon after opening night.
ACT I: STRUTTIN’ WITH THE SWELLS
Weary of life upon the wicked stage, Mabel dyed her brown hair blonde, bought a fancy wardrobe on credit, rented an elegant carriage, and had herself driven uptown to the Windsor Hotel. The elegant hostelry at Fifth Avenue and 46th Street was delighted to welcome Mrs. Louise Vermeule, a visiting Denver heiress. Mrs. Vermeule, her small son, and her maid quickly settled into one of the Windsor’s finest suites. They remained there until the manager’s complaints over her unpaid bill grew too insistent. One day, the Vermeule retinue vanished, leaving behind trunks of expensive clothes. Luckily, New York was a city of many hotels and many department stores. Louise simply charged a new wardrobe at another emporium, and directed her carriage to another hotel.
Seeking a steady revenue stream, Louise fell in with a notorious swindler named Henry P. Crosher. The patent medicine salesman was an expert at the sight-draft scam. Sight drafts were bills of exchange that represented money owed by one party to another. Payable on demand, they could serve as a transferable third-party check. Like letters of credit, they were heavily used by travelers in the days before credit cards and e-payments.
For instance, Denver visitor Louise Vermeule might buy a fur wrap at Lord & Taylor for $75. To pay, she would tender a sight draft for $100, drawn on Henry P. Crosher at 168 Greenwich Street. Mrs. Vermeule would leave Lord & Taylor with a new fur wrap and $25 in cash. Lord & Taylor would present the sight draft to Mr. Crosher at his Greenwich Street office, where he would endorse it and promise to pay it in three days. But when the store messenger returned three days later to collect on the draft, he would find an empty office at 168 Greenwich Street. And Mrs. Vermeule would no longer be at the address she had given the Lord & Taylor clerk.
Vermeule and Crosher played this scam dozens of times, ripping off New York retailers for thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise. On other occasions, Louise would circulate forged sight drafts in the name of R.W. Roelofs of Cripple Creek, Colorado. One wonders what her husband thought when he was suddenly confronted with hundreds of dollars of debts from New York City, all bearing an unknown woman’s name in an all-too-familiar hand.
After a year or two of successful swindling, the police had gathered enough evidence to take action against the two con artists. On Dec. 22, 1898, Louise Vermeule was arrested at the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights in the presence of her four-year-old boy and her maid. She had been staying there in a luxurious suite that cost $60 a week. The police detectives charged her with grand larceny and obtaining money by false representations. The New York Times reporter covering the arrest described Louise as “a strikingly handsome woman of petite build, almost a blond in complexion, but with sharp black eyes.”
When Louise asked her son to kiss her, young Richard replied, “No, mamma. You’re going away now and you’ll be gone a long time and I won’t kiss you.” This rejection may have upset Louise, but not nearly as much as the fact that the detectives planned to transport her across the Brooklyn Bridge back to Manhattan in a public trolley rather than a private cab…
Enjoying the story? Mabel is just one of the many stories buried in Laurel Hill, and autumn is the perfect time to come here and listen to as many as you can. We suggest beginning with our Mischief Night Mysteries, or any of the wonderful programs on our complete fall lineup. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow to read part 3!