By Maggie Van Ostrand
On a sunny afternoon in October 1901 at the bustling Fourth National Bank of Nashville, Tennessee, Spencer McHenry looked up from his work and saw a beautiful woman in fashionable and expensive-looking clothes standing at his teller’s window. Smiling fetchingly, she slid a $500 stack of Bank of Montana notes across the marble counter toward him, and she politely asked if he’d be kind enough to exchange the small bills for large ones. The woman’s name was Annie Rogers.
Little did Annie suspect that bank employees were on the lookout for notes stolen in the Great Northern Train Robbery the previous July. The alert McHenry, who found loyalty to his employer to be more in his character than succumbing to the charms of a beautiful woman, reported his findings to J.T. Howell, the head cashier. Mr. Howell called the police and bank president, Samuel J. Keith. Howell and Keith invited Annie Rogers to accompany them into an office, whereupon they told her the bills were stolen.
Faster than a 911 response, detectives Jack Dwyer and Austin Dickens arrived at the bank to question Annie, who denied signing the bills. She insisted that, if the bills had been stolen, she surely didn’t know a thing about it.
Pressured by the detectives, Annie finally said a “little blonde man named Charley had given [the bills] to her” in Louisiana. The pair had traveled together for about two weeks from Omaha, Nebraska to Louisiana where Charley continued on to New Orleans and Annie to Shreveport. Annie insisted that the $500 was hers, that she had earned it. Dwyer and Dickens would have none of that and took her off to police headquarters to be further questioned by their Lieutenant Marshall.
Annie didn’t even give name, rank and serial number. She gave only one of her names, neglecting to tell the dicks that she was also known as Delia Moore or Maude Williams. Other than that, she uttered only the same words about the fictional Charley and repeating that she didn’t know the bills were stolen. This “non-denial denial” caught the attention of Justice Hiram Vaughn, who issued a warrant charging Annie with attempting to pass forged National Banknotes.
Annie’s arrest was called “one of the most important captures in recent years…” by the Nashville American, which described her as “somewhat good looking, not beautiful but not ugly.” If they printed something like that today, Annie would probably hire a celebrity lawyer and sue their pants off for calling her “not beautiful.” The American went on to say “She was slender, with a heavy head of dark brown hair, a dark complexion, and high cheekbones. Her most noticeable features were two gold teeth on the left side and her piercing black eyes … [which] fairly danced as she spoke.”
The same day the American story came out, the Nashville Banner sent a reporter to interview Annie, who cheerfully greeted him as he entered her cell, led by Detective Dwyer. Annie called Dwyer “Happy Jack” and told the reporter he was one of her favorites. It was reported that Annie laughed, smiled, and flirted with her visitor throughout the interview. She regretted, she said, that she hadn’t brushed her hair properly.
The next day, Annie appeared before Justice Vaughn for a preliminary hearing, wearing a black suit, and a black hat adorned with ostrich feathers. The Banner reported that “a deep frown gathered her brow and her piercing black eyes danced defiantly in answer to the stares of the onlookers.”
According to Wayne Kindred’s article in a 1995 issue of Old West, the following conversation occurred:
Justice Vaughn asked her if she had heard the warrant read.
“I heard one read yesterday. I don’t know whether it is the same one or not,” she answered.
He told her that it was the same warrant and asked if she wished to plead guilty or not guilty.
“Guilty of what?” she angrily replied. “Of taking those bills to the bank” I took them bills to the bank. Yes, I did that.”
After Justice Vaughn explained the charges again, Annie entered a plea of not guilty. Vaughn then set her bail at $10,000 and asked her if she wanted to make a statement.
“Nothing, but that I came by those bills honestly, and I don’t see why I should be treated this way. I had used some of the bills before, and I thought they were all right.”
The hearing must have seriously scared Annie because, by the next day, she was closer to telling the truth, or so it seemed: her real name was Della Moore, she was 26, and she was born in Tarrant County, Texas.
She left home in 1893 and worked as a prostitute in Mena, Arkansas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio (at the bawdy house of Fannie Porter). Between Ft. Worth and San Antonio, she had married a farmer named Lewis Walker but left him because “he was just a poor farmer” and their life on the farm was altogether “too tame” for her.
She left Fannie Porter’s house for Colorado, Idaho, and Montana in late 1900 with Bob Nevils, Will Casey, and Lillie Davis (another graduate of Fannie Porter’s “college of soft knocks”). Annie claimed not to have asked either Nevils or Casey what they did for a living. “They were just good fellows,” she said. Nevils gave her five $20 gold pieces on their return to Ft. Worth where they separated.
Annie split her time between her mother’s Ft. Worth home and Fannie Porter’s house of ill repute in San Antonio. She then left for Mena, Arkansas where she remained until September 1901. Fannie Porter got word to her that Nevils had come back to San Antonio and wanted Annie to take another trip. Annie responded to the message with a telegram: “Will wait till parties come.” Nevils shortly thereafter came to Arkansas to get her.
According to the Kindred article, their first stop was Shreveport, Louisiana where they remained for nearly a week, playing cards and patronizing saloons. Nevils had plenty of money and gave Annie a bunch of $10 bills before they left Shreveport for Jackson, Mississippi where they did “nothing but having a good time.”
They took the day coach to Memphis, Tennessee and let the good times continue to roll. Annie guessed they spent around $400 having fun and she especially enjoyed Nevils buying expensive dresses and hats for her. By the time they left Memphis for Nashville on October 10th where they headed straight for Linck’s Hotel, Annie had Bank of Montana notes for about $400. She must have been a very good companion because Nevils gave her at least another hundred. Perhaps Annie was Mae West’s inspiration when she said: “When I’m good I’m very, very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.”
As Annie’s story unfolded, she admitted spending most of her time at the Lincke Hotel in their room, while Nevils preferred hanging around saloons until the wee hours. Then, Annie said, she began to have misgivings. The more money Nevils gave her, the more suspicious she got. She was also afraid he might take the money back and dump her. A shrewd move by Annie was that she changed the money he had given her into larger bills so they could be more easily hidden from him, and repaired to the Fourth National Bank to accomplish this, where she was arrested.
At the completion of this second statement, cops ran to the Linck and found that Nevils, registered under the name R.J. Whalen, had escaped due to the length of time it took Annie to tell her (false) story. She had given him enough time to make his escape. He had checked out the day before taking the train to Birmingham, Alabama, thence on to Mobile, where the cops lost his trail.
An incarcerated Annie Rogers might have been daydreaming of her boring days back on Lewis Walker’s farm. Even that dull life would be better than a dreary jail. On April 21, 1902, she appeared before Judge W.M. Hart asking for a bail reduction. Her former employer, Madame Fannie Porter, who well deserved her kind-though-soiled reputation, offered to put up the money.