Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Killing at Liverpool Liz's Place

            Liverpool Liz was no beauty, but she was a smart business woman. In a time when it was not only unusual, but illegal for women to serve drinks in a bar, she owned one of the more successful and memorable bars in Portland – the Senate Saloon. Stewart Holbrook, Portland’s famous low-brow historian, included Liz, along with Mary Cook and Nancy Boggs, as one of Portland’s Three Sirens. Although Holbrook is not a very reliable source, Liz was one of the more memorable characters from turn of the twentieth century Portland. When she died in 1913 at the age of sixty, she was a wealthy woman. Her saloon and dancehall, which provided more intimate entertainment upstairs, was a well known North End landmark.
            Her real name was Elizabeth Young, married name Hutchinson, but she was better known as Lizzie Smith or just Liverpool Liz. She was born in Wales around 1853 and came to Portland around 1890. By 1892 the Oregonian said she was well known in the Police Court after a series of arrests for disorderly conduct, a Victorian euphemism for prostitution. A few years later the Senate Saloon, more commonly referred to as Liverpool Liz’s place, at the corner of NW 2nd and Davis, was one of the most popular hangouts for sailors and working men of all kinds. The Grain Fleet, which carried wheat between Portland and Liverpool, England made regular trips and brought a large number of British sailors to town. They always felt right at home at Liverpool Liz’s place.
            In the nineteenth century Portland was renowned as a “wide open” town where a man could get a drink, a game or a woman any time. The reputation made Portland, especially the North End dangerous. A man, or a woman, carrying cash was liable to be drugged and robbed. Crimps, sailor’s boardinghouse men who made their living by supplying sailors to the ships in the harbor, voluntarily or not, prowled the neighborhood and men were regularly tricked or kidnapped into service. Liverpool Liz had the reputation of being honest, whether that reputation was deserved or not is up in the air. Sailors or loggers who came to town with their pay in their pocket could turn it over to Liz. She would lock it up with the owner’s name on it in her big safe, a painting of Niagara Falls on the door. There might not be anything left of the cash when the man was ready to ship out, but he could count on getting good value for it in drugs, drink or women.
Liverpool Liz was known as an art lover and her bar was decorated with pictures like the Spider Girl.

            Not everyone would agree that Liverpool Liz was an honest saloon keeper. In 1903 Joseph Gilmore of Oak Point, WA claimed that he had been drugged in the Senate saloon and robbed of $25 [more than $600 in 2013]. He demanded that the city License Committee pull Liverpool Liz’s liquor license. Liz laughed off the charges, claiming that Gilmore never had $25 all at one time in his life. Her connection with Larry Sullivan, the crimp and political boss of the North End, protected her from any action by the city. Liz had relationships with several dishonest saloon keepers, most notably Bob Patterson, who was run out of town more than once, and Harry Bush, who went to jail for assaulting Liz and taking a shot at her in a dispute over her failed Bicycle Park in North Portland. Crimes of all kinds occurred at Liverpool Liz’s place on a fairly regular basis. One of the worst occurred on March 25, 1905.
            That evening Nora Stone, Blanche Thompkins and May O’Brien, prostitutes who lived and worked at Liverpool Liz’s place went out to dinner with Joseph Moeller, an old friend of Stone’s. Nora Stone, sister of the famous catcher of the Portland Browns baseball team Danny Shea, had worked off and on as a prostitute in the North End for about fourteen years. She was married to Fred Stone, a local fireman who was notorious for drunkenness and domestic violence. In April, 1905 she brought charges against her husband for beating her and he was held in the Multnomah County jail while she moved into the upstairs portion of the Senate saloon. Blanche Thompkins, an old friend of Stone’s had been working for Liverpool Liz for some time.
            Moeller, who had known Nora Stone for years, said she was a very quarrelsome woman and she had been in a bad mood that night when they dined in a French restaurant on 6th street. During dinner harsh words were exchanged between the three women and Stone struck both Thompkins and O’Brien. At one point Moeller told Stone to shut her mouth and stop quarrelling. She told Thompkins that she would get even when they got home.
            Blanche Thompkins, a California native claimed to be the daughter of the chief justice of the California Supreme Court. She had spent several years in the Oregon State Insane Asylum in Salem before coming to Portland and beginning to work as a prostitute for Liverpool Liz. She claimed that in 1904 Pittsburg millionaire Walter Henry Thompkins had met and married her while on a visit to Portland. Walter Thompkins had gone on to China after visiting Portland and Blanche Thompkins’ stories were unverified. The Oregonian said that Blanche Thompkins was obviously well educated and showed no signs of insanity.
            When they returned to their rooms above the Senate saloon, Nora Stone began the quarrel again. She came into Thompkins’ room, struck her and grabbed her by the hair. Blanche was holding a lighted oil lamp in her hand when Stone grabbed her hair. She said it was an accident that the lamp fell from her hand and spilled burning oil over her and Stone. Thompkins quickly put out the flames on her dress and ran from the house. A few minutes later Fred Tenant, who worked as a bartender downstairs, ran upstairs and found Nora Stone engulfed in flames. He threw a heavy quilt over the woman, but she had been severely burned. She died a couple of weeks later at Good Samaritan Hospital.
            Blanche Thompkins, who was probably an alcoholic, went out drinking after the quarrel. She returned to her room about 10 p.m. and was arrested for assault. When Stone died the charges against Blanche were changed to second degree murder. At her trial Thompkins said that Stone’s death had been an accident. Several witnesses, including Moeller, O’Brien and Liverpool Liz herself gave testimony that backed up Thompkins’ story and she was acquitted.


Blogger Ken Goldstein said...

A good time is always had at Liz's Place. Just be careful with those oil lamps!

7:57 AM  
Blogger Charlie Seiga said...

In Charlie Seiga's Killer the Liverpool club scene appears strongly, this is a true life crime book,depicting murders that actually happened in and around the city centre and other serious crimes.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Kylie Willison said...

I'm researching a woman named Elizabeth Smith aka Liverpool Liz who was a prostitute in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia from about 1858 to 1874 when she disappeared, believed drowned. I'm looking to see if there is a connection between the Ballarat Liverpool Liz and the Portland one.


3:48 AM  
Blogger jd chandler said...


Interesting idea, buit I think Portland's Liverpool Liz is a little too young. I think she was born in 1853. If you want to email me direct and let me know how I can help I will.

3:00 PM  

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