Stella Jefferson, a story of a sportin’ woman

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.


19 Comments on “Stella Jefferson, a story of a sportin’ woman”

  1. Dave says:

    Another great story. Well told as usual, Jim. Thanks for a good laugh and a bit of reflection on the meaning of the phrase “strength of character”.

  2. Phil Haskett says:

    Reminds me of an old song Jim…”Stella by Starlight”. I would also assume that her IR sheet was surpassed by “Mail Box Marilyn”!?

    PS: No pat down of her before her entry into the back seat of the squad?

    • jimpadar says:

      Stella (not her real name) would have definitely looked better by starlight—on a cloudy night. Her IR sheet was much longer than Mailbox Marilyn’s.

      Pat downs of female prisoners by male officers were limited to “outer clothing.” The street walkers of the day did not wear “outer clothing” so the only alternative was to call a wagon or request a female officer for a search and there were no female officers on the street back in the day. Saw a few hookers a couple of months ago around Damen and North after midnight… they’re still dressing the same.

      Stella and a few others were exceptions… I guess you could call them trustee arrests.All others went into the wagon and directly to the nearest female lockup.

      • Phil says:

        I had the distinct pleasure of working with one of the earliest female Police Officers to hit the streets. She was from the Central District Lock-up, and was truly a professional when it came to working the district. She was an asset to the working police, and backed me up on every call. Recalling an early arrest in the 70’s, a drug dealer super fly, attempted to bribe me after a street stop for traffic violations. Turned out he was holding Cocaine, much cash, and a loaded revolver. During the struggle, my partner was able to assist me in the cuffing and arrest of the offender. She also vigilantly observed the passenger from the vehicle, photographing the incident from the sidewalk. She immediately approached him, took the camera from his hands, and inspected it for contraband. (cocaine) Unfortunately the film inside was ruined being exposed to sun light! He too hit the slammer!

      • jimpadar says:

        Thanks for adding your story. Nothing takes the place of a good partner!

  3. Gene says:

    [edited] Stella Jefferson or was it [SW]? [SW] saved Eddie Croke’s life on a sting operation involving robbers ripping off whores and their customers. Made for an interesting story as [SW] had free rein of the streets when Croke was working.

    • jimpadar says:

      Yep, you guessed right. “Stella” was SW. She was basically a good woman, hard working never gave the police a hard time. We always let her “finish her shift” before we arrested her. If LS is who I think it is, there is no doubt he deserved a punch in the face. Had the urge several times myself. 🙂

  4. Rich says:

    Stella Jefferson,what a character. There was one copper who treated her like shit and she punched him out on Wells street. L.S. took a punch to the jaw and fell to the ground,looking up at the Starry sky.
    I believe she lived over on Scott street and indeed would fill out her own arrest report. She knew her IR number too.

  5. Jim what is your position on prostition? I think I know the answer but maybe I am wrong. Also, I understand that you don’t have the time to meet all your fans, but maybe you should have a contest, The winner would be the individual who wrote the best essay on why Jim would have a lot of fun buying me a beer. One prize would be awarded to former officers. One prize would be awarded to civilians like me who is known as the most pro police lawyer in Chicago, if not the world!

    • Phil says:

      “Being a cop brings you into daily contact with all sorts of individuals, from bums to bank presidents.”

      “Bums to Bank Presidents”? Aren’t some here in Chicago “One and the Same”?
      And for the most part, police officers would switch the profession of bank presidents to lawyers.

      I’m certainly not indicating that being you Michael.

  6. John says:

    Jim, when I was in 002 tac, we’d get detailed every now and then to Rush / Division on a Saturday night. Working it one Sat. night and this older woman comes up to my partner and I and flips out one breast and shoots us a toothless grin. One of the 018 “Pickpocket Team” guys says that was “Mailbox Mary.” I had heard about her and heard the same stuff that she was putting a kid or 2 through college whoring out there in 018…

    • jimpadar says:

      Mail Box Marilyn was another legend in her own time. She carried a bunch of self addressed stamped envelopes and after each trick or two she would put the money in an envelope and mail it to herself. To my knowledge she never gave the police a hard time. I heard she was quick to pop a boob with little or no encouragement but I can’t say that I ever had the “pleasure.”

  7. Barry Felcher says:

    SW has to be Starry Washington. I remember her well and the night she punched Larry. Mail Box Marilyn is one I never heard of. Remind me some time to tell you about Milk Shake Marry

    • jimpadar says:

      Milk Shake Mary… now that’s a new one on me. You DO know your street people! Milk Shake Mary, let’s put her on the agenda for our next lunch.

  8. Bill says:

    Just started reading your stories and they bring back great memories. My guess is the Captain that wanted to talk to “Starry” was a tall guy we called “Slatts”. Hope you continue writing. I loved those days.

    • jimpadar says:

      We called him Colonel Klink… probably not the same guy.

      Thanks for reading.

      • Bill says:

        Col. Klink was Captain Conrad. He was later made Deputy of Area 6 or a Street Deputy.
        I believe I saw Teddy Nykasa in that photo of you guys in Area 4. Keep writing Jim. Wish I could relive that part of my life.

      • jimpadar says:

        You’re batting .500. Colonel Klink was indeed Captain Conrad, but Teddy Nykasa is not in the photo.

        Thanks for reading and commenting!

  9. Bob McCracken says:

    L.S. (world famous reporter deserves a screenplay) As annoying as he was, he was fun to watch and listen to make a fool of himself both in person and on the radio. When I was in A/5 and i met his ex-wife I found her to be a Female saint Job to have to put up with that fire fan

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