The notorious Pinky Blitz
Maurice “Pinky” Blitz first appeared in Kansas City newspapers in November, 1892, when he and an accomplice, “Slim” Smith, were indicted for fraudulent voting in the 1892 elections. The charge was that he had voted three times for Congressman John C. Tarsney, under his own name and those of two other individuals. He had surely been a “repeater” in city and state elections also, but U.S. election laws provided for a penalty only when federal offices were involved.
Neither of the “Artful Dodgers,” as the Star christened them, was to be found, their disappearance coinciding with a Citizens’ Committee looking into accusations that the Recorder of Votes, C.S. Owsley, had prevented more than 2,000 voters from voting on Election Day. A later newspaper report, appearing in the Kansas City Gazette, claimed that Owsley kept on his voter rolls “more than ten thousand names of dead men and of persons who have left the city” who could be enlisted to vote as Kansas City’s political bosses desired: “The proper place for the man Owsley […] is the penitentiary” was the opinion.
Toward the end of the year, a group of Kansas City and Jackson County citizens – “every one of them a taxpayer and an advocate of honest elections,” according to the Chicago Tribune, tried to remove Owsley by having the office of Recorder of Votes for the city declared unconstitutional by the Missouri legislature. That failing, an appeal was made to the Missouri Supreme Court. The Star reported that leaders of the “push,” the Star’s preferred name for the Democratic political machine at City Hall, were urging prominent Democrats to write to the Court’s judges on his behalf. Several of them, the paper alleged, “refused to become parties to such a proceeding.” Owsley, however, remained in office until 1895; he never faced prosecution.
In December, 1895, Pinky arrived in the city from Chicago escorted by a U.S. Deputy Marshal and was arraigned in federal court. His bond was paid by Joe Shannon, “market master and head of the Ninth ward ‘push,’” the Star reported. Shannon’s faction operated in the North Bottoms, Jim Pendergast’s in slums overlooking the West Bottoms.
William Rockhill Nelson’s Star regularly attacked the “push,” so the paper took an interest in Pinky’s case and that of Alderman ‘Andy’ Foley, saloon keeper and “push” associate, who was also suspected of election fraud. When their case finally came up for trial six months later, Thomas Crittenden, former Democratic governor of Missouri, represented them, requesting a continuance on the grounds that several witnesses prepared to swear to Blitz’s innocence, including Ed Findlay, chief operator of the city’s illegal “policy” gambling business, were out of town, “visiting in Chicago,” the Star reported.
Pinky got a six month continuance, so it was nearly a year after the elections before his case was heard. In the meantime he was arrested for assault, after a woman was attacked on a cable car by a group of toughs, including Pinky, returning from the horseraces. They “amused themselves,” the Star reported, “by abusing Mrs. Green, because she recently had one of their number arrested,” one of them striking the woman “a severe blow, badly cutting her eye.” Pinky was released when the victim said he had not been part of the assault; readers would likely surmise that Pinky’s pals in the “push” had persuaded her to exonerate Pinky.
In November, “Pinky” Blitz, “pickpocket and general utility man to the ‘push,’ as the Star described him, appeared in federal District court before Judge John Philips, charged with voting under three names in different precincts, including the name of an unknown and unseen individual who was on record as living at 410 Main Street, which happened to be the address of Alderman Foley’s saloon.
Foley was the principal witness for the defense. He testified he had never seen Pinky vote, although another witness, a precinct challenger, had been present and objected to Blitz’s voting. He testified that Foley had told him that “he knew the man and that it was all right and Blitz voted.” An election clerk at the polling place also testified he had not seen Pinky vote; the clerk was a bartender in Foley’s saloon. An election judge in the Second Ward testified he’d seen Pinky cast a vote under two different names in the same polling place.
It took the jury fifteen minutes to decide Pinky was guilty of three counts of voter fraud; “his face paled,” the paper reported, “then turned red and tears stood in his eyes but he showed no other sign of excitement. […] The lower strata of the ‘push’ is dismayed at Blitz’s sentence,” the Star gloated, “but it has come to the conclusion that the methods it has been accustomed to use in justice’s and other courts do not win in the federal courts.”
Pinky’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial, offering the “usual allegations,” as the Star put it, as well as a claim of jury misconduct. The attorney admitted he hadn’t discovered any misconduct yet but if anything turned up he would introduce it. Judge Philips agreed to wait two weeks before sentencing. When the time expired, he refused to consider a new trial.
In a courtroom “crowded to the doors,” according to the Star, thirty-seven affidavits were produced by the defense attesting that Blitz had not been the person who cast the illegal ballots in question, but Philips voiced skepticism about their validity in light of “the facility with which testimony may be manufactured by parties smarting under defeat.” Little Pinky “cut but a small figure” at the time, but now, said the judge, judging from the number of affidavits “everybody seems to have known him” and been prepared to swear to his innocence.
The most remarkable aspect of the case, said the judge, is that Andy Foley was challenger at a precinct where Blitz voted, and a witness for the defense, and that two of Foley’s bartenders were also election officials, all three of them solemnly swearing they didn’t see Blitz at all on voting day. He suggested that the two names under which Pinky had voted were fictitious: “No one has sworn that either Alego or Willard was at the polls, yet the books show they voted. Where are they?” asked the judge. At this point, the Star reported, “all eyes were turned upon Recorder of Voters Owsley, who betrayed no sign that the words of the judge had aught to do with him.”
The next day, Maurice “Pinky” Blitz – “vote repeater” in the lingo of Tammany Hall -- was sentenced to two years and two days in the state penitentiary. Spectators in the crowded courtroom “leaned forward,” the Star said, “to hear if Blitz was about to betray the members of the ‘push’ who were responsible for his following the advice ‘to vote early and often.’” But Pinky, described in a Times report only as “diminutive,” remained loyally silent beyond asking “in a tremulous voice which barely rose above a whisper,” for clemency on account of his mother. Commented the Star, Philips was less severe in his sentence because he regarded Pinky as only “a passive tool in the hands of those who have exerted corrupt influence at elections in this city for many years.” The paper also noted that no members of the “push” were present in the courtroom to hear the sentence.
Noting that Pinky was only one of many illegal voters, dead and alive, at the disposal of the “push,” an unnamed citizen told the Star that a few more such convictions, especially of the “real offenders – the men who influence men like Blitz to do such things,” might bring fraudulent voting, ballot box stuffing and repeating to an end. A Star editorial predicted that the power of the “push” would be weakened “if it came to be understood that it had no friends among executive or judicial functionaries to stand between it and the just penalty of its misdeeds.” Both predictions were unduly optimistic about the future of Kansas City machine politics.
Pinky was led off to the state penitentiary in Jefferson City in early December in the company of such noteworthies as John Mood, “notorious letter box thief,” and a gang of post office robbers. According to the Star, little Pinky was surprised his pals in the “push” had not secured his release but was “subdued in spirit. He will probably be put to work in one of the shoe shops at the penitentiary, and will have the advantage of possessing a trade when he is released.” A few days later attorney Crittenden made a last ditch effort to spring Pinky by proposing an appeal to the Supreme Court on the basis of flaws in the indictment, during which process Pinky would be out on bond. Philips refused to consider bond and since the appeal would take longer than Pinky’s two year term, it appeared the jailbird was out of luck: “It is thought,” commented the Star, “that the ‘push’ will now abandon the case as hopeless.”
Tucked away in the state pen, little Pinky Blitz became a national symbol of political corruption. When former Senator John Ingalls, a Republican, visited Kansas City to give a talk, the most enthusiastic applause he received, according to the Star, came when he commented that Kansas City’s government was “not immaculate,” adding that Pinky Blitz was a “poor, infirm, inferior and degraded criminal in the employ of others in the detestable work he did. ‘Pinky’ Blitz has been well-disposed of. […] But the duty of the people of Kansas City will not be accomplished until the men who furnished counsel and bail for him have been laid bare to public gaze.” A Republican paper in Philadelphia, the Press, thought that Pinky would make an appropriate member of the new Cleveland administration.
Pinky remained a minor news item in Kansas City papers for years to come. In May of 1894 he was reported by the warden of the state penitentiary to be “a pretty good boy,” who enjoyed working with horses at the stable and was keeping sober. As to the idea that he might learn a craft such as shoemaking, the warden pointed out that the state didn’t allow the warden to contract prisoners, so Pinky was prevented from learning a trade.
Later the same year, Pinky returned to Kansas City, having served only nine months of his sentence thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s shortening the sentence at the behest of “push” attorneys. The Star greeted his return with a mocking welcome to “Colonel Blitz […] that magnetic statesman and prince of good fellows […].” The paper professed puzzlement over the fact that Pinky’s friends “did all their work anonymously; not one them who paid the attorneys to intercede in his behalf has allowed his name to appear in connection with the benevolent transaction […].” It predicted Pinky would soon return to his old ways: “It was Mr. Blitz’s boast that he could vote more times on a given day than any other gentleman in Mr. Foley’s saloon.” But Pinky appeared to be reformed, at least partially: in the 1894 elections he voted only once, according to the Star. He was quoted as saying he wanted a drink “real bad,” but couldn’t get one on election day, and he praised Ed Findlay, boss of the policy gambling racket: “Dey say he ain’t on de square in politics,” the paper quoted Pinky as saying. “But he’s onter his job in politics, now ain’t he? A man’s got ter be on ter his job in politics, ain’t he?”
After 1894, Pinky’s name cropped up occasionally in the papers, usually in connection with some nefarious activity: in 1895 an assault on a cable car conductor over a card game, though charges were dismissed; in 1897 an assault on passersby with a dead duck; in 1901, robbery of a stockman, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison, though he did not actually go to prison for over a year. In the latter case, it was thought Missouri governor Alexander Dockery might commute Pinky’s sentence after he had served two years, probably at the urging of Kansas City’s “push,” but a later story in a Lawrence, Kansas, paper reported that Dockery had decided against the commutation.
Regardless, Pinky must have got out early somehow, since he was said to have been a member of a gang that had robbed a bank in Oregon in 1906, a crime that led to the murder of the son of a Kansas City businessman. It was speculated that the young man was killed because he knew too much about the robbery.
In 1907, Pinky was arrested by police in Florida, according to the Star, but there is no indication he was tried for or even involved in the Oregon robbery. In 1911 he was arrested in a gambling raid on a pool hall at 606 Walnut Street in Kansas City. Pinky and a pal, Rolla Noble, “police characters and pickpockets of national reputation,” were loaded into the police wagon but by the time the wagon was unloaded at the police station the two had disappeared: “It was a case of now they’re in the wagon; now they’re gone,” the Star reported. Pinky and Rolla turned up the next day, saying they’d been mistaken for spectators and told by the policemen to “beat it.”
Pinky remained a synonym for corrupt city politics for years to come. The Kansas City “push” continued to fix elections: “The lesson of ‘Pinky’ Blitz is already forgotten,” editorialized the Star about illegal registrations by the “push” in the 1894 elections, and as late as 1916, people were still recalling little Pinky Blitz. In that year the Gazette Globe of Kansas City, Kansas, commented that Kansas City, Missouri, hadn’t “improved her municipal politics in twenty-five years. The Pinky Blitz methods of carrying an election in the old days were tame when compared with the doings of last Tuesday. But it is a long road that has no turning.”
It would be almost twenty-five years before the road reached a turning, with the downfall in 1939 of the last of the old time bosses of the Kansas City “push,” Tom Pendergast.
October 26, 2014