Saturday, October 25, 2014

Naughty Pictures Bring Worse Charge then Burglary

Probably not the Shaws,
but you never know (I've cropped out
the racy bits, sorry).
A North Dakota couple, Elmer and Emma Shaw, were arrested in 1917 on suspicion of burglary and in searching through their possessions, the police found photos of the couples. Now they were really in trouble. I haven’t been able to find any information on the couple’s arrest, or for that matter much information about them in general. I might have written this up earlier were it not for an error on the part of a compositor.[1]

The earliest reference I can find to this story is in the Bismark Tribune of October 9, 1907, but I didn’t find that one due to a typographical error (which I’ll explain in detail soon, since I keep harping on it). The article which actually came to my attention was in the Ward County Independent, of Minot, North Dakota, on October 25, 1917, and was titled “A Revolting Pair,”[2] referring to the Shaws.

I’m going to guess that the reason that I can’t find the Shaws is that they certainly moved about a bit, and seemed to live a life on the margins, committing theft and posing for pornography. And it was that second that really got them in hot water, because the photos were the evidence North Dakota used to convict them of sodomy.

This paragraph uses rude language. Now that I’ve got you primed, there’s a common misconception that “sodomy” refers solely to anal intercourse, or in keeping with the warning on this paragraph, butt-fucking. Not so. I remember a letter to the editor of the Orange County Register during the Monica Lewinsky scandal the referred to Ms. Lewinsky as a “sodomite.” Surely she didn’t fuck President Clinton up the ass! Fuck no! She blew him. Blowjobs are sodomy. So is cunnilingus (I’m going with “muff diving” as the preferred obscene[3] term in this paragraph).

The Bismark Tribune reported on October 9, 1917 that
Picture postcards for which the defendants posed convicted Elmer and Ellen Shaw, husband and wife, of solomy in district court yesterday, and the couple were sentenced to a year in the Bismarck penitentiary.
Solomy? What the hell is that? Yeah, it’s a typo. I would have found that article had the compositor not fucked it up.[4] Well, we can make a guess at what they were doing in those pictures: oral or anal sex (even the presence of it might have been enough). But it wasn’t what they were arrested for;
The pair were arrested on charges of receiving stolen good, and amongst a collection of jewelry and trinkets which had been extracted from local hotels found in their trunks were discover the damning picture postcards. Shaw is suspected of having perpetrated numerous burglaries which have been reported in Bismarck during the last two months. A complete outfit answering the description given by a Bismark woman who apprehended the burglar in the act of rifling her desk was found in Shaw’s description. The wife, donning male garb, had accompanied her husband about the country, riding with him on freight trains and sharing his I. W. W. companions. Upon completion of their present sentence, they will be arraigned for receiving stolen goods, and Shaw probably will be charged with burglary.
The “I.W.W.” cited in the article refers to the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical (often anarchist) labor union. Maybe Mr. Shaw was one of those radical, free-love anarchists. It seems he certainly was willing to pilfer items. That, and pose for dirty photographs. The Ward County Independent takes it article from the Parshall Leader, which establishes that the Shaws lived in Parshall, North Dakota.
Parshall Leader: It is astounding to those who knew Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Shaw when they resided here to learn that they were convicted of numerous burglaries at Bismarck and each given a year in the penitentiary. In unearthing the stolen stuff officers found the pair had been guilty of the most revolting posing for obscene post cards, and it was on the charge of sodomy they were convicted. On completion of their sentence they will then have to stand trial for burglaries committed. The pair resided here but a short time and none thought them capable of such acts. A life sentence would be too short for beasts of the kind.
I have the idea that the Leader and the Independent isn’t called them “beasts of the kind” because they stole jewelry, but instead because they posed for sexually explicit photographs, or for having consensual sexual activity between members of a married couple.

The “obscene post cards” weren’t actual post cards, since the postal regulations certainly would have prohibited sending these things through the mails (even wrapped up, actually), but were photographs printed on card stock, and they were presumably not for the Shaw’s private enjoyment (as might be with someone’s naked selfies today), but instead that Mr. Shaw might sell to those who were interested in “seeing a little more of” Mrs. Shaw.[5]

Not long after, in their December 5, 1917 edition, the Bismark Tribune listed the Shaws among those for whom motions of dismissal had been made.
in the case of Elmer Shaw and Mrs. Elmer Shaw, charged with receiving stolen property, the defendants now being in the state penitentiary serving a conviction on a more serious charge
That “more serious charge” being that they had sex with each other, as the charges listed never mention “production of obscene materials.” A man and woman had consensual sex and spent a year in prison for it. Those laws fell by the wayside, eventually, though the (infamous) Bowers v. Hardwick involved a sodomy law that applied to opposite-sex couples as well as same-sex couples that was left standing after the 1986 Supreme Court decision. Bowers was overturned in Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Today, while the Shaws still would have been in trouble for stealing things, at least their naughty pictures wouldn’t cause them any trouble. “Excuse me, officer, but those are personal.

  1. Damn compositors! They make my life difficult.  ↩
  2. Given the number of items I’ve written about anarchists recently (as in here, here, and here), I should note that the Shaws were not described as revolting in the sense of “fomenting armed rebellion,” rather that the editor viewed them as “causing revulsion.” Although, given Mr. Shaw’s membership in the I.W.W., you never know.  ↩
  3. Let’s get one thing fucking clear: these terms are obscenities, that is to say, vulgarities related to sex and bodily functions. I was disappointed to recently read an opinion piece by a noted legal scholar in which he described the word “fuck” as a profanity. Profanities are vulgarities of a goddamn religious nature. It is, however, completely up to you how you want to characterize a phrase like “holy fuck!” Something that will piss everyone off, I’m sure.  ↩
  4. Yeah, “sodomy” is one of my standard searches in newspaper archives.  ↩
  5. Or as the line in the Monty Python sketch “Candid Photography” goes, “Could be, could be taken on holiday. Could be yes - swimming costumes. Know what I mean. Candid photography. Know what I mean, nudge nudge.”  ↩

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