Pretty Things and A Good Right Hook

In 1922, Myrtle Belden was a rural mail carrier around Yorkville, Illinois. A single woman in her late twenties, she cared about her position and, seemingly, did a good job.

For whatever reason, the cashier of the Farmer’s State Bank in Yorkville, a man named Clarence Beecher, had allegedly been saying some bad things about her. Myrtle, described as a ‘robust’ woman, took grand exception to these remarks.

On April 6, she had enough and confronted Beecher outside of the bank. Their conversation quickly turned into a full-fledged fist fight. Unfortunately for Beecher, Myrtle was much more “robust” than him, outweighing him by nearly fifty pounds and completely outclassed him as a fighter.

For the next few minutes, Myrtle proceeded to beat Beecher up one side and down the other, culminating with her knocking him through the large window in the front of the bank. Satisfied that he had learned his lesson, she left.

Myrtle spent the next several hours making sure her deliveries were made on time, while Beecher was busy telling everyone that he and Myrtle were just having a little sparring match, and he hadn’t really just gotten his ass kicked by the mail lady.

Myrtle wasn’t looking for trouble. She was just a hard-working young woman trying to make a living. But she was also powerful, confident. When trouble came her way, she took care of it.

Throughout the 19th and through much of the 20th Centuries, women were often thought of as demure creatures that needed to be sheltered and protected. They could be strong and confident, just as long as they did so within their sphere of influence. This was a term used to classify tasks and jobs as male and female appropriate, with men earning the paycheck and protecting the family, while women raised the children and took care of the home.

These societal norms allowed this idea to seep into the collective social consciousness of the nation, lending support to the notion that a woman is helpless in the face of an attacker, and that they’ll have to depend on a man to fight for them.

A man was there as protector, a strong defensive presence that fought for the home while the woman nurtured it. Like an old Hollywood movie, if a woman ever got into trouble, a strapping, handsome, manly man would stride out and take care of the bad guy.

In reality, just like today, women didn’t always have a man around to protect them from the bad people of the world. Sometimes they were unmarried or there weren’t any men around to help. They had to rely on themselves if any trouble came their way.

Some women, like Myrtle Belden, had no trouble with that whatsoever.

   It was just a few days after Christmas when a man walked into Alexander McBain’s grocery store wearing a mask and carrying a revolver. Pointing the gun at McBain, he demanded that the store owner give him all of the money he had.

McBain had opened his store in Moline, Illinois in about 1907. He had been successful, and had been able to support his wife and children off the money that he made there. Standing behind the counter, McBain looked at the gun leveled at him and decided to comply with the robber’s demands.

Quickly, yet carefully, he gathered up the $50 that he had made that day. As he started to hand it over, the robber snatched it out of his hand and began to walk toward the door, keeping his gun trained on the grocer.

As he was about to leave, the door to the store suddenly opened and a man named Louis Snodgrass walked in.

Moving fast, the robber swung his gun around and jammed it into Louis’ ribs, making him gasp. The robber demanded Louis turn around and face away from him. Louis complied.

Almost leisurely, the robber walked out the door and down the street. McBain checked on Snodgrass and then called the police.

The police interviewed the two men, taking down the robber’s description. Other officers performed a thorough search of the surrounding neighborhood, but couldn’t find their suspect.

They were positive that this hadn’t been the first time the robber had struck, and were positive that just a few nights before, the robber had already tried to rob someone else.

   Hazel Anderson was walking home alone on the night of December 26, 1920. It had been cold that month, jumping back and forth over the zero-degree mark.

Just after 10 p.m. on Sunday evening, she was walking toward her home through a residential neighborhood in Moline, Illinois. Hazel’s footsteps thudded rhythmically as she made her way along through the dark streets, echoing faintly off the silent houses.

The late hour and the quiet winter night might have been enough to unnerve anyone, but Hazel had been born and raised in the city. She knew the area she was in, and wasn’t worried about having any trouble. Not only that, Hazel had done this countless times before and  had been just fine.

As she walked along, bundled up warmly against the cold night, Hazel was a little surprised when a man walked up to her. People lived in this area, so it wasn’t necessarily unusual to see someone, so she probably didn’t think too much of it.

Still, she was alone and potentially vulnerable. Hazel felt herself stiffen a little bit. The guy was probably just like her and heading home. Still, she didn’t know him, and you just never knew, did you?

Instead of passing by her, he stopped in front of her, staring hard.

“Give me your purse!” he demanded.

Hazel stared just as hard back at him. She had just worked a full shift in the offices of the Deere Harvester Company. She was tired and her feet hurt. She may not have much money, but what she did have, she had earned every cent of. Not only that, it was just too damn cold for this nonsense.

“No,” she said flatly.

The would-be robber, was not expecting this. A young girl alone on the streets was supposed to do exactly what he said. She was supposed to shake and cry, then do exactly as she was told. Well, at least that’s how it had all worked out in his imagination a few moments before.

A little irritated now, he demanded the purse again. Hazel gave the same answer.

“No.”

That made the man angry. It’s really, really cold, and he just wants to get this done. Didn’t this girl know how this was supposed to work? What was the matter with her? If she didn’t know, then he was going to have to teach her.

The robber reached into his pocket and took out a pistol with one hand, and grabbed Hazel’s arm with the other. Putting the muzzle of the gun in her face, he commanded her to give up her money.

Although she was a little more anxious now, Hazel again refused. There was no way she was going to give into this clown.

Tightening her grip on the purse, Hazel began shouting for help as loudly as she could. Her screams pierced the still night like tiny explosions as she began to struggle to free herself from the robber.

Making her free hand into a tight fist, Hazel began to punch the robber in the face and head as hard as she could. He raised his gun arm and tried his best to ward off her onslaught. As he did, Hazel felt his grip on her arm loosen and she was able to break away.

Without thinking, she ran onto the porch of the nearest house she saw. The robber ran after her, quickly catching up. Immediately Hazel started to struggle again, grabbing onto her purse with both hands as the he tried his best to pry it away.

Inside the house, Minnie Brown had heard the commotion. She had heard Hazel calling for help, and could hear her struggling with her attacker. She wanted to help, but she wasn’t a prize fighter, and she wasn’t about to take any chances.

Quickly as she could, she took out a revolver that was in the house, then went out to the front porch where all the noise was coming from.

There, she saw Hazel struggling with the robber for possession of the purse. Minnie didn’t hesitate. She immediately pointed the revolver at the robber and told him to move out of the way or she would shoot.

By this point, the robber had to be frustrated. Nothing had gone according to his plan.

As if the girl with the purse wasn’t bad enough, now there was this strange woman with a gun pointed at him, threatening to shoot him if he didn’t let go! Didn’t they know that he was the robber? They should be doing what they were told, not holding him at gunpoint!

No, now it was his turn to be defiant. He’d show them. This lady wouldn’t shoot him. She didn’t have the nerve.

That’s when Minnie Brown pulled the trigger.

While Minnie didn’t want to take the chance of hitting Hazel, she didn’t really want to shoot the robber, either. She just wanted to scare the man off, not kill him. So, instead of aiming, Minnie just fired in his general direction without taking aim.

The robber must have just about had a heart attack when the revolver roared, the muzzle flash searing his vision. As if this night couldn’t have gotten any worse! The younger woman had been bad enough, but now he had another woman shooting at him.

The robber let go of Hazel and ran off the porch, ducking his head a little and hunching his shoulders in an effort to not get shot. Suddenly he turned, raised his own pistol, and fired back at the house.

Like Minnie, he wasn’t necessarily aiming his shots. He just wanted to get away now, far away from these awful women. Enough was enough. Let them keep the purse. The woman had missed him, and he wasn’t going to give her enough time to correct that.

The robber ran out into the street, keeping to the ruts carved into the snow by passing cars. As Minnie and Hazel watched, the man was joined by a second, larger man about a block away. Together, the two men ran off into the night.

Going inside, Hazel and Minnie called the police. About five minutes later, two patrolmen were at the house. Despite a thorough search of the neighborhood, they didn’t catch the robbers. But Hazel had her money, and had probably taught the robber a hard lesson that he likely wouldn’t forget any time soon.

   A few nights later, another young woman, Helen Depue, was walking home from her job at the Moline Plow Company. She worked there as a clerk, and was no doubt just wanting to get home. About a block away from her family home on 6th Ave, she noticed a man in a long overcoat and cap walking in her direction.

Like Hazel Anderson, Helen was no doubt familiar with the neighborhood. She lived there, and felt safe there. While it wouldn’t have been unusual to see an unfamiliar man around, it was still something to take notice of.

Helen didn’t recognize him, she was alone, and she had to walk right past him to get home.

As their paths crossed underneath a bright street lamp, her heart jumped in her chest a little as the man stopped and demanded Helen to give him her purse. Helen’s attitude flipped like a switch.

Where she had been quietly cautious and observant before, she now bristled with anger. The pent-up tension that she must have felt as she and this stranger approached each other on a mostly dark street suddenly found release.

“NO!” Helen screamed at the robber.

At the same time, her grip tightened on the bundle of shoes she was carrying as she swung them in an arc toward the man’s head.

The blow hit the robber hard, knocking him off-balance. He staggered, but quickly found his footing. But the blow had been enough. Turning, he ran off into the night, shoes slapping against the frozen pavement.

Helen didn’t waste any time, either. She went straight home and told her family about what had happened. They immediately called the police. By the time the authorities arrived, however, the robber was long gone.

Neither of the robbers were ever caught, nor was the apparent accomplice that had met up with Hazel Anderson’s attacker. While authorities at the time thought that Hazel Anderson’s attacker was responsible for the grocery store robbery, they concluded that the attack on Depue wasn’t connected at all.

   The men who had attacked Hazel Anderson and Helen Depue had obviously thought they were going to get their way. These young women were simply going to comply with their demands and give them what they wanted.

They were wrong.

The women they had attacked were neither weak, nor helpless. They may have been caught in a vulnerable moment, but they were more than equal to the challenge of the situation that they had found themselves in.

These women were all the dashing heroines of their own story. They may have liked flowers and pretty things, but they also packed a devastating right hook.

 

Sources

Girl and Woman Rout Bandit in Daring Battle. The Davenport Democrat and Leader, 12/27/20

Brave Women Frustrate Plan of Holdup Man. The Rock Island Argus, 12/27/1920

Gets $50 In Holdup of a Moline Store. The Daily Times, 12/28/1920

Girl Fights Off Thief on Moline Street. The Daily Times, 12/29/1920

Alexander McBain, Moline Grocer for 25 Years, Is Dead. The Dispatch, 4/11/1932

US Census Records

US Immigration Records

1921 City Directory, Moline, Illinois,

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