Jarman was born to Julius and Amelia Berendt,
the youngest of eight children, in Sioux City, Iowa. She married
and had two children with a man called Leroy Jarman. When Jarman
left the family, she moved to Chicago, Illinois and worked in odd
jobs until she met George Dale. Dale supported her, although
Jarman later claimed that she did not know Dale did it by robbery.
On August 4, 1933, Dale, Jarman and Leo Minneci
tried to rob a clothing store in Chicago's far West Side. In a
struggle with the shop owner, Gustav Hoeh, Jarman clawed at him,
but then Dale shot him.
When the robbers drove away, several witnesses
noted the license plate. That led police to Minneci, who blamed
the other two, who were soon arrested. Dale blamed Minneci for the
robbery. Jarman said that she did not know which one did it. She
claimed she was in the back room looking for clothes.
However, witnesses described how Jarman and
Dale had entered the store and claimed she had threatened the
clerk. Press made her a major player in all of Dale's crimes,
dubbed her “the Blond Tigress” and compared her to Bonnie Parker
(of Bonnie and Clyde).
Jarman was not tried for robberies but for
complicity in Hoeh's murder. Her defense attorney was A. Jefferson
Schultze. The prosecuting attorney, Wilbur Crowley, called for the
George Dale was sentenced to die in the
electric chair. As his last wish, he wrote a love letter to
Jarman. Minneci and Jarman were sentenced to jail, Jarman for 199
years, one of the longest criminal sentences ever imposed at the
time. Her children were sent to live with her older sister and her
husband, Hattie and Joe Stocker, in Sioux City, Iowa.
For the next seven years, Jarman was a model
prisoner. In 1940, according to her family, she heard that her son
was about to run away, and concerned about her children, escaped
the prison on August 8, 1940. She apparently went to Sioux City,
Iowa, confirmed that her children were all right and then went
underground. She was put into the FBI's Most Wanted list, but was
Over the next thirty-five years, Jarman
maintained surreptitious contact with her family through
classified ads. In 1975, she arranged a secret meeting with her
brother and sister-in-law, Otto and Dorothy Berendt, and her son,
Leroy, who was in his fifties at the time. During this meeting,
which the family disclosed decades later, Leroy tried to persuade
Jarman to give herself up. She refused, though she said she was
not worried about capture, believing the authorities had long
since stopped looking for her. Communications with her family
through newspaper ads tapered off in the mid-1990s. Attempts by
relatives to have her officially pardoned failed. Although she
remains officially a fugitive, it is likely that she is dead and
that her death was recorded under whatever alias she was using. As
of 2012, if she were still alive, she would be 108 years old.
During the month of August,
232 defendants received long jail terms and two cop killers in
unrelated cases were sentenced to death in one week. A third man
was condemned later that month.
“Technicalities were pushed
aside,” wrote The Edwardsville (Ill.) Intelligencer
during the almost-unprecedented sessions. “In few cases have jury
deliberations been more than a few hours, and in virtually every
trial a guilty verdict has been returned.”
At the end of the month came
the climactic trial that ended with a death sentence for one man
and 199-year sentences for his two accomplices for the murder of a
In a city where traditional
law enforcement had nearly broken down, the murder of 71-year-old
Gustav Hoeh stood out only because one of the three defendants on
trial had been dubbed “The Blonde Tigress” by the press.
The Blonde Tigress was
30-year-old Eleanor Jarman described as “cold as a block of ice”
by police. She picked up her moniker because she was a vicious
armed robber who travelled with a blackjack and revolver in her
purse and was unafraid to use either.
Although Jarman appeared in
contemporary news accounts to be an attractive, petite young
woman, her victims said there was nothing gentle about her.
According to the popular press at the time, Jarman was fond of
pounding her victims on the head with either her blackjack or the
butt of a pistol.
But violent women are
nothing new. What makes Jarman’s story even more interesting is
the fact that she escaped from the Joliet reformatory for women in
1940 and has not been heard from since. Born in the first decade
of the 20th century, it’s extremely unlikely that Jarman is still
alive, despite coming from a family that reportedly has a
reputation for being long-lived.
Where she went and what ever
became of Eleanor Jarman remains a mystery.
The saga of the Blonde
Tigress began earlier in August 1933 when Jarman, her lover George
Dale, and a third man, Leo Minneci, were headed to a Chicago Cubs
game and decided to stop off on the way to rob Hoeh’s clothing
store. The robbery went bad and Dale shot Hoeh.
According to testimony,
while Hoeh lay dying, Jarman kicked him in the face. Arrested
shortly after the murder, the trio denied planning to kill Hoeh,
and Jarman asserted in her brief trial that she was completely
unaware that Dale and Minneci were going to rob Hoeh’s store.
Dale, however, said Jarman carried the murder weapon in her
Whil Jarman and her cohorts
waited for their day in court, a parade of hold-up victims passed
through their cellblocks and more than 50 identified the Blonde
Tigress as robbing them.
She testified there were so
many robberies that no particular hold-up stood out in her memory.
“It was fun and it was an
easy way to get swell clothes and anything you wanted,” she told
the jury at her trial.
Jarman came to Chicago from
Sioux City, Iowa, after leaving her husband of six years whom she
said was a “drunken lout.” She took her two children to Chicago
where she ran a “beer flat” until beer was legalized as
Prohibition was relaxed. With Dale and Minneci, she began to take
up armed robbery.
At trial, Jarman’s only
defense was that she didn’t know her companions planned the
robbery of Hoeh’s store and that she didn’t fire the fatal shots.
Her story was that she was elsewhere in the store — looking at
neckties — when Dale shot Hoeh. Other testimony at the trial
contradicts this, however. She was reportedly beating and
“clawing” Hoeh when he was struck by the bullet and kicked him
while he was down.
With so many victims willing
to testify that the trio was responsible for sticking them up,
it’s unlikely that Jarman didn’t know what Dale and Minneci were
going to do when they entered that store.
In the swift justice of
Chicago, Jarman was quickly convicted and the court sentenced her
to a 199-year prison term. She was the first woman in Illinois to
receive such a long sentence. The 199-year term was given to
ensure that Jarman never get parole. Under state law at the time,
prisoners were eligible for parole after serving one-third of
their sentence. With a nearly sentence nearly 2 centuries long,
she would not have been even eligible for release until she was 95
Minneci also received a
199-year term, but served a term of around 20 years before being
released in the 1950s. Dale was sentenced to death and died in the
electric chair April 20, 1934. One of Dale’s last acts was to
write a love letter to Jarmon.
Jarmon was serving her term
in Joliet and was known as “an industrious, obedient, and model
woman in almost every respect,” according to warden Helen Hazard
when she and another stick up artist, Mary Foster, disappeared
from a cottage on prison grounds. Foster, a bank robber, was
serving a 1-to-10 year stretch and was located in Massachusetts a
few months later.
The pair had been scrubbing
floors when they jimmied the cottage lock, stole dresses from the
closet (the cabin belonged to a staff member) and scaled a 10-foot
fence around the reformatory. They had a one-hour head start on
jailers and Jarman hasn’t been seen since.
Actually, that’s not quite
accurate. Over the years some people learned her real identity —
mostly family members — and they protected her from authorities.
Generally, they believed her claims that she was innocent of
“Jarman has served 7 years
in jail for being with the wrong people at the wrong time,” her
grandchildren wrote in a 1993 clemency petition to Gov. Jim Edgar.
“She is and will in whatever time remains for her be an remain a
good and completely rehabilitated citizen.”
Survivors of Gustav Hoeh,
however, were unconvinced.
“In one respect I could
understand their feeling,” said Hoeh’s grandson, Kenneth Hoeh. “I
just as soon they leave alone what was left forgotten.”
Another grandson was equally
“It was a vicious crime. As
I understand the details, she played an active part,” Dan Hoeh
told The Chicago Tribune. “Even if it had been a minor
role, she would get no mercy from me.”
After his father, LeRoy died
in 1993, her grandson, Doug Jarman, began a campaign to clear his
In numerous interviews, he
said that a letter she sent during her incarceration, as well as
conversations with people who knew her before her arrest,
convinced him that she was innocent.
“‘I’m goig to be here the
rest of my life. I’m never going to be with you,’” Doug Jarman
quoted her as writing. “‘I always want you to know that I was
Shortly after her escape,
according to a Jarman family legend, she appeared in Sioux City
where her two sons, LaVerne and LeRoy, were living. She had
received a letter days before that her sons were threatening to
run away from their custodians. According to Hazard that was the
reason she escaped.
After telling her boys to
behave, she disappeared for 35 years, communicating through
classified ads, but apparently “afraid of rejection” by her
family. In 1975 she arranged for a meeting with her brother, Otto
Berendt, and they went to a lake outside Sioux City to talk.
“She was relaxed and looked
pretty good,” Berendt’s widow told The Chicago Tribune in
1993. “All she wanted to know was if her boys were OK. We told her
they were grown men and doing good for themselves.”
LeRoy, who also saw his
mother that night, pleaded with her to surface and straighten out
her situation. To do so would have required her to return to
Illinois, which she apparently declined to do despite her
assumption that police had stopped looking for her years before.
By the mid-1990s, contact
with Jarman through the newspapers tapered off and Doug Jarman
began to attempt to locate his grandmother in midwest nursing
homes. However, patient privacy rules made that extremely
Publically, her fate remains
The Tigress File
By John O'Brien -
June 27, 1993
Eleanor Jarman was known as the "Blond Tigress," the most
dangerous female outlaw alive. She escaped from prison in 1940 and
has eluded police ever since. Her family thinks she may still be
alive and wants to clear her name.
than 50 years, Eleanor Berendt Jarman has been a wanted woman, an
escaped killer who has been lost in time and mystery.
grandchildren, who say longevity runs in the family, believe she
might still be alive, living a fugitive's life at age 92. In a
most unusual undertaking, they have asked Gov. Jim Edgar to grant
their grandmother executive clemency. Alive or dead.
was the notorious "Blond Tigress" of the 1930s, as newspapers
gleefully dubbed her. She was convicted with two accomplices of
murdering a Chicago clothier during a holdup on their way to a
condemned her as the most dangerous female outlaw alive. Newspaper
photos were doctored to show her head pasted on the neck of a
marauding jungle cat.
while serving a 199-year prison sentence in the state reformatory
for women at Dwight, Jarman donned a polka dot dress and scaled a
prison wall. Since then, her whereabouts have been a mystery, to
the law at least.
It was not
until 1975 that anyone saw her again. Then she emerged from the
shadows of a bus station in Sioux City, Iowa, immediately asked
relatives about "my boys," two adult sons then in their 50s, and
later met with one of them before leaving that same night. Raised
in foster homes after she went to jail, the sons had settled in
their native Sioux City.
disappeared again and may or may not have kept in touch with
family members since, a subject the family steps gingerly around.
That was 18
fugitive apprehension squads have never heard of Ella Jarman, the
FBI stopped looking for her in the 1950s and post offices around
the country pulled her wanted poster from public display when
stamps sold for pennies.
"I want to
bring her out (of hiding) more than anybody else," said Doug
Jarman, 45, the grandson and Sioux City businessman who believes
she may be alive. He is leading the drive for clemency, aided by
Chicago lawyer David P. Schippers. They hope to have her prison
term commuted to time served.
"A lot of
Ella's grandchildren and great-grandchildren would like to see her
and touch her and know they have a grandmother who is alive,"
Jarman said. "I want her to sit on my lap so we can talk."
now goes to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, which will make
its recommendation to Edgar. Diane Ford, counsel to the governor,
said Friday that Edgar and will decide whether to commute Jarman's
sentence after the review board submits its findings to him, which
might not be until fall.
acknowledged that the case is a novel one, for which no apparent
precedent is known. If Jarman is alive but chooses not to
surrender or make known her whereabouts, she and the board might
be able to exchange information by sworn affidavit, Ford said.
Jarman's behavior over the years will be a point of close
scrutiny, she said.
never found Ella Jarman, but that's not to say the family has been
totally in the dark about her life since the escape.
As it turns
out, Jarman kept in touch in a way that didn't jeopardize her need
for secrecy. If the method was a bit hokey, it was also
reminiscent of an old-time movie thriller.
Doug Jarman, his father, LeRoy Jarman, and grandmother talked via
classified, coded ads they placed in newspapers. It was a simple
way to reach out with assurance the message would be delivered,
effectively and inexpensively.
The ads, the
grandson said, began appearing in the Kansas City Star and other
newspapers after his grandmother's secret visit to Sioux City in
1975, where she related that she had never remarried after her
escape and worked in restaurants to support herself.
frequency of the messages isn't known. But simple phrases, such as
"Let's Have Coffee," meant something to them, and no one else,
Jarman said, adding he believes he knows the secret pseudonym his
grandmother went by in the ads.
Jarman would welcome a reunion with family members remains
unknown. Only a few of the people she knew are still around, among
them a 98-year-old brother, Otto Berendt. He is in a nursing home.
Jarman, 71, a retired Sioux City real estate broker and
firefighter, died March 1. A brother, LaVerne Jarman, 67, is a
recluse in Florida.
youngsters, aged 8 and 11, in Chicago in 1933 when the law went
looking for their mother. Before her arrest for murder, she
managed to get them back to Iowa.
Jarman's death proved to be the catalyst for the family campaign
now under way.
Doug Jarman wants clemency for his grandmother, he acknowledged
that his father opposed the idea, right up to his death, for fear
publicity might expose the family to ridicule, tarnish their
businesses and lead to possible arrest.
Two of Doug
Jarman's uncles on his mother's side, both police officers, had
vowed to capture her and collect a reward. The amount or existence
of a reward has also been obscured by time.
elder Jarman often spoke of the mother he barely knew.
"My dad led
me to believe she is alive," Jarman, who operates a volume used
car business in Sioux City, told the Tribune. "That's what I am
relying on. I honestly, sincerely, seriously believe she is alive.
that if anything happened to her, the people she was with, her
friends, would contact this family. There has been no contact."
also learned from his father that, as a woman on the lam, Ella
Jarman worked as a restaurant "hostess" and avoided any connection
to crime. Restaurant work enabled her to get paid in cash and not
leave a Social Security paper trail.
authorities 60 years ago insisted Ella Jarman was a one-woman
crime wave, "the moll" for a boyfriend who was put to death in
Cook County's electric chair for the same murder she was
family has long questioned that portrayal. Such an image, the
family says, was a product of an overzealous and a
members see it, Jarman may have been a victim of circumstances.
Deserted by her husband in 1930, she found herself a single mother
with two boys to care for in the depths of the Depression. From
Sioux City, she traveled to Chicago looking for work. Instead, she
found a sweetheart and a murder rap.
She was the
daughter of immigrant German parents; a determined and sinewy
gray-eyed woman who weighed no more than 110 pounds and spoke her
mind. Before arriving in Chicago, she had washed laundry and
worked as a waitress. The waitress job was in a rough-and-tumble
cafe near the Sioux City stockyards.
the family Jarman left behind had disclaimed knowledge of her,
much less any public interest in her whereabouts. To do otherwise,
some relatives said, invited police and FBI interrogation. Such
questioning had gone on at their jobs, schools and neighborhoods
years ago, they said, and was intended to embarrass the family, to
prompt someone to say what authorities wanted to hear. It never
At the time
of her prison escape, Ella Jarman was 39 years old. She had served
7 years of a 199-year sentence imposed on her as an accomplice to
the 1933 fatal shooting of North Side clothier Gustav Hoeh.
said Jarman pummeled and clawed Hoeh as her boyfriend, George
Dale, first struggled and then shot the shopkeeper in a holdup.
convicted of actually pulling the trigger, was executed for Hoeh's
murder the following year in the Cook County electric chair. One
of his last acts was to send a letter to Jarman declaring his
suspect, Leo Minneci, also was sentenced to 199 years in prison.
He was paroled in 1957.
Jarman had carried the murder gun in her purse. All three suspects
were implicated in a total of 37 holdups in the city during the
summer of 1933. None of the trio, however, was actually convicted
of any crime other than Hoeh's murder.
murder case, the petition to Edgar said, Jarman was "completely
unaware" that any law was about to be broken.
It said she
and her two companions were driving to Wrigley Field to see a Cubs
game. The men had stopped to buy shirts and Jarman had walked to
the back of the clothing shop to look at neckties for her sons.
The sound of a scuffle and a shot were her first indications
anything was wrong.
served 7 years in jail for being with the wrong people at the
wrong time," Schippers, the Jarman family attorney, observed in
the governor's petition.
been effectively in exile, away from her family," he said. "She is
and will in whatever time remains for her be and remain a good and
completely rehabilitated citizen."
Jarman's escape from prison, Dwight warden Helen Hazard disclosed
a possible motive: Jarman's concern for her sons.
before the escape, Hazard said, Jarman got a letter from a
relative back in Sioux City informing her that her boys had run
away or were threatening to do so.
a family story handed down over the years, Jarman came to Sioux
City after her escape to check on her sons. Satisfied they were
behaving, she departed the city, never to return until 1975.
No one knows
why she stayed away 35 years. Doug Jarman says his father told him
the reason was a "fear of rejection."
Berendt, the wife of Ella's brother Otto, was among the last to
see Ella Jarman, during the 1975 visit to Sioux City. Dorothy is
93, a year older than Ella.
interview at her Sioux City home, Dorothy Berendt told of
accompanying her husband to the 1975 meeting with Jarman; then
driving out to talk at a small lake.
looking around the bus station for her because that is where she
said on the phone she would be," Berendt said of her
"A voice in
the shadows said, `Are you looking for somebody?' I said I was,
and the voice replied, `Could be me you are looking for."'
Ella Jarman stepped forward.
relaxed and looked pretty good," Berendt said of her
sister-in-law. "Still the same woman I had known. We got in the
car and Otto drove out to Isaac Walton (lake) to talk. All she
wanted to know was if her boys were OK. We told her they were
grown men, and doing good for themselves."
lakeside chat a police car appeared, its driver looking over the
trio, the only people around. Otto and Dorothy Berendt stiffened
but Ella Jarman "didn't blink an eye."
`Relax. The police stopped looking for me years ago.' "
Ella ate dinner at a drugstore and then met with her son, LeRoy
Jarman. Doug Jarman, quoting his father, told what happened next.
"Dad told me
he said, `Mother, let's get in my car right now, go to Illinois
and straighten this out.' "
said that when she refused, his father, then 53, wept openly.
Again quoting his father, he said Ella Jarman told her son, "I
have a lot of friends where I am at. They know the true story."
was not one for long goodbyes, and did not want anyone to
accompany her on her way out of town. Their last view was of Ella
walking rapidly in the direction of the Greyhound bus station.
think she wanted us to know what bus she was taking or where it
was going," Dorothy Berendt said.