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10 October 2008

Whatever happened to ... Frances Carrick (1890 -?).

Fred G. Thompson was born in Columbus, Ohio. At age thirteen, his father kicked him out, and he went to Chicago, started living as female and took a job as a chambermaid. Later Frances used her high soprano voice and became a singer in a cabaret.

'Once I tried to be a boy and put on male clothing. The men would not believe me and told me to go home and put on proper clothes and not try to masquerade around.'

In 1912 Frances married Frank Carrick, a chauffeur, in Crown Point, Indiana. The two of them were arrested on suspicion that there was something amiss in their relationship, but they were able to produce a valid marriage license and so were let go.

Frances as Fred later married a female, Marie Clark, and they attempted farming on five acres outside Chicago, but the task was beyond her. She also dressed as a man whilst helping her family during the big floods in Ohio in 1913. Frank, Frances as Frances and Marie ended up all living together.

In 1923, a Richard Tesmer was shot and killed by a woman assailant in a brown dress, with a male companion, while putting his car away. His wife was able to get a view of the woman’s face from the discharge of the pistol. She declared that it was a grin that she would know anywhere. The police after trying several female suspects, some of whom had been identified by Mrs Tesmer, ran out of clues, and then they got a tip to check out a 'female impersonator'.

When arrested in the middle of the night, Frances dressed in a frock to be taken to be identified by Mrs Tesmer and then to the police station. She was examined by a male and a female physician, and then moved to the men’s ward. The police searched her apartment and arrested her husband. But they could not find a single brown dress. The neighbors refused to believe that Frances was a man, or that she would use a gun. The only odd thing about her was that she needed to shave. Frank, who had a drug habit, cracked after two days, but rambled on about nonsense. He was transferred to the Psychopathic Hospital. Frances gave interviews to female visitors who wanted her opinions on being a woman. The newspapers ran photographs of her as male and as female.

She was charged as ‘Fred Thompson’ and was not allowed to appear at the trial in proper female clothing. The widow identified her as the bandit, but the defense counsel was able to concentrate on the fact that the widow described the assailant's eyes as 'blue' while the defendant's were gray. Her major defense was her performance under cross examination when she broke down and cried while insisting that she had been at home on the night in question, sick from drinking cheap moonshine. The judge addressed her as ‘lady’. Her husband took the stand to testify for the defense, but had to stand down following the State’s objection that a husband cannot testify for his wife. The jury acquitted her after two hours. Frances was surrounded by women who embraced her.

With her new notoriety, she was engaged to appear in vaudeville as 'the Smiling Bandit Queen'. But the police stopped the show. She applied for an injunction, this time appearing in court in proper female attire. The application was denied.

The Tesmer murder was never solved.

*Not Fred Thompson the Republican Senator, nor the rower nor the silent movie actor.
  • C. J. Bulliet. Venus Castina: Famous Female Impersonators Celestial and Human. New York: Covici 308 pp 1928. New York: Bonanza Books. 1956: 234-8.
  • C.J.S. Thompson. The Mysteries of Sex: Women Who Posed as Men and Men Who Impersonated Women London: Hutchinson. 1938. New York: Causeway Books 256 pp 8 plates1974. New York: Dorset Press, 1993: chp XXVI.
  • Jonathan Ned Katz. Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. 1983, Carrol & Graf Publishers, Inc. 1994: 407-8.
  • Michael Lesy. Murder City: The Bloody History of Chicago in the Twenties. New York: W.W. Norton 2006: 157-167.

Both the defense and the prosecution cases appear rather flimsy. The crime was committed with a male companion, but there was no co-defendant. It is very difficult to identify someone by the discharge of a pistol. See the alternate opening on the American Gangster DVD for an example. There is no way that anyone could identify colours by such a light. Also what was the supposed motive?

What an amazing legal precedent that was never reused. The State of Illinois recognized the marriage of Frank and Frances.

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