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History

November 18, 2012

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: The tragic suicide of Harvey Crouse in Terre Haute

TERRE HAUTE — The suicide of 33-year old Harvey Crouse in Terre Haute early Friday morning, May 17, 1901, was tragic but of little historical significance.

Crouse chose to take his own life when he mistakenly believed that he had killed his girlfriend.

Though the stimulus was not uncommon, the incident received abundant publicity because it occurred at 122 N. Second St., the former residence of U.S. Sen. Daniel W. Voorhees, transformed into an elegant brothel in the heart of Terre Haute’s notorious “Red Light District.”

At the time of Crouse's death, nefarious activity in that section of the city was near its zenith.

The 1900 census identifies no less than 15 houses of ill fame in the single block north of the site of Crouse’s death, including the names of the keepers and their “sporting” occupants:

• 203 N. Second St. — Jennie Blakeley, keeper; Vada Kellems and Lucinda Thompson.

• 206 N. Second St. — Nellie Conser, keeper; Josie Betz, Rose Bell, Effie Farney, Mami Phipps and Clara Bishop.

• 209 N. Second St. — May Nicewarner, head of household; and Mattie Cottrell.

• 210 N. Second St. — Sarah Abbott, keeper; Daisy Hines, Lulla Harris and Flora Gibson.

• 212 N. Second St. — Mary Haslett, keeper; Mora Maddey and Bettie Rigdon.

• 213 N. Second St. — Sadie Leahigh, keeper; Etta Chester, Rebecca A. Butler and Anna M. Burger.

• 218 N. Second St. — Bessie Griffin, keeper, and Myrtle E. Cass.

• 219 N. Second St. — Nancy Arnold, keeper; Fannie Aaron, Maude Bridwell and Nell Mortimer.

• 220 N. Second St. — Maude Brown, head of household; Beatrice Spence, Grace Spence, Cora Kinder and Allis Anthony.

• 221 N. Second St. — Ella May Pfeif, keeper; Lizzie Marshall and Icis Cox.

• 222 N. Second St. — Lillian and Kittie Foster.

• 224 N. Second Sr. — Fay Wooley, keeper; Eva Stevens and Minnie Allen.

• 226 N. Second St. — Nora Bell.

• 228 N. Second St. — Belle Story, head of household, and Emma Armstrong.

• 231 N. Second St. — Minnie Elgin, head of household, and Marie Ryan.

There were many more within a four-block area. Scrutiny by Dr. Cassius M. Smick, Vigo County deputy coroner, and reporters for the Terre Haute Gazette disclosed abundant details about the two shootings.

Crouse, a native of Leavenworth, Kan., had been living in Terre Haute for about a year. He worked at Paul Kuhn’s livery stable and as a foreman for the Terre Haute Transfer Co. until a few weeks before May 17. Meanwhile, he had a part-time job driving a wagon for Julius Ermisch Cleaners.

He also maintained a room at Jenny Tweedy’s house at 521 Mulberry St.

For several months,  Crouse had been enamored by Lee “Cockey” Taylor, a 25-year old prostitute from Indianapolis who relocated to Terre Haute on Dec. 8, 1900, and succeeded Jennie Reynolds as landlady at 122 N. Second St. in late April.

Crouse may have helped Taylor acquire an ownership interest in the business so that she no longer would be a “working girl.” Once she took over the brothel, he was a frequent visitor. He went to the house Thursday evening, May 16, and stayed all night.

There was no time for sleep. Three other “inmates” of Ms. Taylor’s resort – Helen Allen, May James and “Dudey” Deams — entertained customers intermittently throughout the night. All occupants played cards and drank beer, though Crouse rarely drank alcoholic beverages.

At about 5 a.m., one of the girls suggested that the group go for a boat ride on the Wabash River. Crouse and Taylor joined them and the party rented a skiff at the foot of the Vandalia Railroad bridge.

The group trekked a few hundred yards north when Taylor extracted an envelope from one of her stockings, kissed it and dramatically threw it into the river. Crouse, who was manning the oars, demanded to know the contents of the envelope.

Taylor told him that it was a note from her mother but Crouse refused to believe her, accusing her of having another boyfriend. He rowed back to the spot where the envelope was floating, plucked it from the water and started to read it. But Taylor snatched it from him, showed him the signature and concealed the epistle in her blouse.

Then she slapped him in the face and called him a name.

Enraged, Crouse responded by hitting her in the face with considerable force. For several minutes he tried to overturn the boat and told Taylor he would kill her before he would allow her to go with another man. He finally settled down and was very quiet as the group returned to the dock.

As they approached the house, Taylor told Allen in a whisper to go to her room and remove Crouse’s revolver from a drawer. However, Crouse anticipated the move, pushed Allen aside and got the pistol. When Taylor got into the house Crouse held her at gunpoint until one of the other girls encouraged her to run from him.

He followed her and, when Taylor got outside, Crouse fired two shots at her. Taylor collapsed and laid motionless on the lawn. He picked her up, wiped blood off her face and laid her back down. He then walked slowly back into the house and, a minute later, a shot was heard. Crouse was found dead on the floor of the parlor.

Taylor sustained only a flesh wound above her right eye. She insisted that the mysterious letter really was from her mother, a resident of Cincinnati. She acknowledged tantalizing Crouse's jealous instincts by tossing the note into the river.

Crouse had no record for trouble and those who knew him said he was quiet and polite. He was a frequent customer of the Occidental Barber Shop at Third and Wabash.

The investigation suggested Crouse had a brother who worked for the post office in St. Joseph, Mo.

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