Being a cop brings you into daily contact with all sorts of individuals, from bums to bank presidents. A very few will become lifelong friends, most will be but a fleeting contact resulting from an accident or crime, and some will become regulars in your police life. Stella Jefferson was most definitely of the latter category.
Stella was a prostitute, a street whore, who worked the fringes of the Rush Street neighborhood. If a trick couldn’t connect with a high priced girl on Rush Street, or if he couldn’t afford the going price, Stella offered bargain rates and she worked the main streets westbound from the nightclub area. Division Street from LaSalle to Clark was where she could be found most evenings.
She was not an attractive woman by any stretch of the imagination. Tall, thin, kind of gangly in appearance, she just barely had a shape to her. She was living proof of Micky Gilley’s country song: “The Girls all Get Prettier at Closing Time.” But Stella was a hard working girl who seldom took a night off and she provided an honest service at a reasonable price. To my knowledge, she never acquired any consumer complaints… well maybe just once, but I’ll get to that later.
Cops don’t bring home many stories because of the nature of their work, but I talked often of Stella and some of her friends. Many evenings, they were the only honest people I came into in an entire tour of duty. Especially Stella. I talked of her frequently at the dinner table, perhaps too frequently —we had no children at the time. One night my wife stopped me short, set down her fork, looked across the table and said, “Don’t bring her home to dinner.” Well, while that never actually occurred to me, she would have made for an interesting evening of conversation.
I first arrested Stella as a recruit, riding with my Field Training Officer. Looking back on it, most likely he thought it would be an easy arrest and a good learning experience for me. He was correct on all counts. The police played a smoke and mirrors game with prostitutes back in the olden days. There was a city ordinance prohibiting “known prostitutes” from loitering on the street, 192-6 if I recall correctly. The beat officers would make an arrest, book the prostitute and house her for the night. In the morning the charge would be dismissed in court and the best part was the arresting officer was not required to appear. The next night she would be back on the street and more often than not the charade would be repeated. At the end of the month, the department could report on the hundreds of arrests that had been made, all without undo strain on manpower and overtime.
We spotted Stella working Division Street near Clark and motioned her over to the squad.
“Get in Stella,” said my partner motioning to the back seat.
“Oh office! I hardly made any money tonight!”
“Get in Stella!”
Reluctantly Stella opened the door to the squad and climbed into the back seat.
“You know the drill,” said my partner as he handed her a clipboard with an Arrest Report.
“Do you have a pen?” grumbled Stella. Much to my amazement she began to fill in her own Arrest Report complete with her Identification Record (IR) number and the first four digits of the seven digit sequential Central Booking Number. By the time we got to the station, the paperwork was done, except for the last three digits of the CB number—no Case Report was required in the early days.
“Now you can’t do this with every whore,” warned my partner. “Stella is okay, but if you don’t know the broad, call a wagon for transport.”
Imagine my surprise when a day later I got a copy of her arrest record. It was 12 pages long. Stella was the most prolific whore in the city!
Once I began to work with a regular partner, we refined the process even further. On the midnight shift, we would arrest Stella by appointment. It gave her a chance to make some money and after the bars had closed we would meet her at a pre-arranged time and place and she would just hop into the squad without any fuss. If we happened to get a late assignment and missed our appointment time with Stella, the following night she would greet us with a litany of how long she waited before she went home.
A new captain was assigned to our watch from an administrative unit at headquarters. Stella’s fame had spread far and wide and at roll call he asked the first unit to arrest Stella to bring her to his office so he could meet her. Of course we made it our business to bring Stella in that night and introduce her to the Captain.
“I hear you are the queen of prostitutes,” said the Captain.
“I ain’t no prostitute!” exclaimed Stella stretching her lanky body to its full height.
“Y-y-you’re n-n-not?” stammered the Captain. “Then what are you?”
“I’se a sportin’ woman!” she said proudly.
Quiet conversation with Stella revealed that she had a teen daughter for whom she had established a college fund. She claimed to own an apartment building and we believed her. Although uneducated, she worked hard long hours, did not drink or use drugs and obviously had a keen sense that gave her a talent for getting along with her customers and the police. In short, she was every bit the successful business woman in her own unique way.
Customer complaints from the “johns” or “tricks” were few and far between, unless they were robbed in some secluded place, and even then they would seldom admit to the police that they had been patronizing a prostitute. Most frequent consumer complaints came regularly from sailors from Great Lakes Naval Training Center in town for a week-end of R & R. It took the form of the girl failing to perform one or more of the agreed upon acts for which they had already paid. They would haul the prostitute out into the street and flag down a passing squad and proceed to explain the contractual terms and the lack of performance thereof.
We would put the young man on the hood of the squad for a search, tell him he was under arrest for patronizing a prostitute and even cuff him for effect. Once the wailing—and sometimes tears— subsided we allowed ourselves to be talked into releasing all parties concerned and sending them off in different directions.
Late one night we received an assignment of a battery victim, now at the Henrotin Hospital. As my partner and I walked into the waiting room we saw Stella sitting along the far wall.
“I demands to have my pussy examined!” she shouted as she leapt from her chair.
“What?” we asked incredulously.
“That man says I have razor blades in my pussy!” she said motioning to the ER examining rooms. “I do not! And I wants to be examined.”
“Sit down Stella and let us figure out what’s going on here,” we said as we headed into the Emergency Room proper. Doctor Whitney greeted us with an exasperated expression on his face.
“This young man,” he said motioning to a curtained cubicle, “had an incomplete circumcision as a baby. Tonight, was his first time and when he forced it, he tore a small portion of the foreskin. It’s bleeding pretty good and he’s probably going to need a urology followup—maybe even corrective surgery. But it’s nothing she did. So unless you’re going to arrest him for patronizing a prostitute, you’ve got nothing to report. And get her out of my hospital—I am not going to look into that whore’s ‘pussy!'”
Doctor Whitney was usually not short with us, but we recognized his frustration with the overall situation so we stifled the puns and punch lines that we were dying to use. Stella was a bit of a problem, but she was savvy enough to finally accept the medical explanation for the debacle and we eventually talked her out of the ER and gave her a ride to the subway with orders to take the rest of the night off and go home. She had left no doubt that she valued her reputation.
It was one of the last times I saw Stella. I was promoted to detective and transferred to another area. My partner told me that Stella remained active for a few more years but looked to be in declining health, possibly suffering from any number of sexually transmitted diseases. She eventually disappeared from the street. I felt sorry for her and her daughter. Stella was an honest working woman, a victim perhaps, of her hazardous occupation.