Chicago May Her Story. [Signed by the author and her defense attorney who wrote the foreword]
“A pioneer in women’s rights in a world of crooks…”
Superb Association Copy. Autobiographical memoir of Irish-American woman criminal May Churchill Sharpe, born Mary Anne Duignan (1871–1929), better known as “Chicago May” or “The Queen of Crooks.”
“She was a woman who, the [Chicago] Tribune reported breathlessly, was the ‘Queen of the Underworld,’ ‘the world’s cleverest woman crook’ and ‘a pioneer in women’s rights in a world of crooks.’”¹
This copy is signed by Chicago May herself, dated by her in the year of its publication, and also signed by her defense attorney, Philadelphia lawyer Henry John Nelson. Nelson wrote the book’s foreword and in this copy modestly annotated the text in pencil.
Chicago May was infamously married to Dal Churchill—allegedly a member of the Dalton Gang—who was lynched for train robbery and she later partnered with European Continental criminal Eddie Guerin, noted as the only man to ever escape from Devil’s Island. “Chicago May engineered his escape from the monstrous French Penal Colony and she tells here, for the first time, how she put over this unique and seemingly impossible feat.” (from the dust jacket)
Attorney Nelson’s rubber stamp business address appears on the endpaper below his and May’s autographs. The presence of Nelson’s stamp suggests he owned this copy and made these annotations. A proofreader’s mark—a circled period—following his autograph matches corrections seen in the book (e.g. on the endpaper, on p221, and on p176) further supports he owned this copy. One annotated pencil correction on page 169 indicates these corrections were made for a planned second printing, again further arguing for Nelson being the proofreader of his copy.
Nelson’s describes the book in this way:
This is a cold-blooded recital of fact, a plain, unvarnished statement from a client to a lawyer. It is a history of the life of a notorious woman criminal. It was dictated by her to my stenographer, and has not been polished up for public consumption. The story stands as given. When I represented “Chicago May” the first time, I did not know her by that name… She had no money and had been arrested on a false charge. She was discharged. My treatment of her any that time caused her to return to me for professional advice. In the course of a conversation, one day, Mrs. Sharpe said she would “go straight” for the rest of her life if she could make a living honestly. This autobiography is one of her attempts to go straight. (p)
May’s life of international life of crime included prostitution, grand larceny, conspiracy, and attempted murder. Over the course of three of the introductory chapters she describes her “education” in crime: “The Chicago School of Crime,” “The New York College of Crime,” and “London University.” Other chapter headings include “Typical Blackmail,” “The Paris Robbery,” “Devil’s Island,” “Dope,” “The Guerin Shooting,” “Aylesbury Prison,” “My Second Deportation,” “The Procurer,” and “Criminal Jargon.”
An infamous Irish expatriate female criminal, “Chicago May” would die less than one year after the publication of this first edition, dying on the day she was supposed to marry fellow criminal Charley Smith.
Description: Chicago May Her Story. [Signed by the author and her defense attorney who wrote the foreword]
New York: The Macaulay Company, (1928). Frontis., , 11–336pp. First Edition. 8vo. Publisher’s orange-yellow cloth with red lettering; top edge tinted. Signed on the front endpaper by the author and by author of the foreword with the rubber stamp of the latter below. Several pencil corrections throughout. Neatly trimmed remnants of dust jacket laid in. Some staining and creasing to spine and one corner bumped; some rubbing to edges of text block and toning to endpapers; very good.
1. Chicago May: Globe-trotting celebrity crook - Chicago Tribune accessed online.