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Mugshot from the Wichita Police Department
|Died||November 2, 1935
Kansas City, Missouri
|Spouse(s)||George Chase (1921-?)|
Vivian Davis Chase (c. 1902 – November 2, 1935) was a Midwestern gangster of the 1920s and 1930s.
During the Midwest crime wave of the 1930s, Chase was a notorious criminal. She kept her origins a well-guarded secret, as she once threatened to kill a lover if he ever disclosed her family’s location. Researchers interested in her case have most often been led to dead ends in the difficult search for Chase's origin. The historical record for Chase only begins in 1920, when the January 1920 United States Census reported eighteen-year-old Vivian Davis was living single in Kansas City, Missouri at 706 E. 14th Street. Her occupation was listed as waitress in a restaurant and her parents were listed as natives to Missouri, although she was not living with them. Another solid historical document discovered for Chase is her marriage certificate with George M. Chase. On April 1, 1921, 19-year-old Vivian Davis married George M. Chase also of Kansas City, Mo. Chase has often been confused with Vivian Grace Davis of Springfield, Missouri, who died on February 5, 1920, or with Albert and Sarah Davis, but it has been proven that they are not the same person.
Arrests, escapes and notoriety
Chase first gained notice as George’s wife on December 23, 1923, when he was arrested for an altercation during which he was shot by Ella Keller. Keller stated that George and his companions attacked her because she had reported them to the police and that she had to shoot George in self-defense. After arresting George, the police went to his home, where they found Chase wearing six diamond rings. Chase was arrested for suspicion when she could not explain her possession of the multiple rings. She was released after three days when further evidence could not be found against her.
Chase did not surface in public records again until three years later, when she was in the company of Charlie Mayes, also known as Pighead Hardman. On February 15, 1926, Chase, Mayes, and Lee Flournoy and his wife were arrested after a free-for-all fight in a rooming house in Wichita, Kansas. During the arrest, Chase refused to talk. The investigation led investigators to her brother-in-law Charles Chase and allegations of involvement with the Joe Bratton liquor gang. On June 9, 1926, following a “drunken party and joy ride”, Flournoy and Mayes were fatally shot in a gun battle in Picher, Oklahoma during which Chase was present. The three of them had been under surveillance by Ottawa County, Oklahoma officers for several days because the deputy sheriff had informed the Sheriff of Montgomery County, Kansas that he had found the suspects who robbed the Cherryvale Bank on May 29, 1926. Chase was placed in jail, where she refused to face reporters. She was released on June 13, 1926, after insufficient evidence was found to charge her with a crime.
The record once again went silent on Chase until she resurfaced in June 1932. She was arrested with Jackie Forman and Enos Weeks for the robbery of the First National Bank in North Kansas City on April 9, 1932. She was held on $50,000 bond. It was a small robbery; no more than $1,500 was taken. Chase was held at the Clay County Jail in Liberty, Missouri and escaped after four months by sawing through the bars of her cell and lowering herself down with a rope made of bed sheets.
After her escape from the Liberty jail, Chase fled to St. Louis, Missouri, where she became involved with Walter (Irish) O'Malley. On July 10, 1933, she participated in the kidnapping of banker August Luer. Chase, O'Malley, and Percy ‘Dice Box’ Fitzgerald drove to Mr. Luer's home in Alton, Illinois. Chase, accompanied by O'Malley, rang the doorbell and requested to use the phone. When she was let in and shown the phone’s location, she cut the line. O'Malley wrestled August Luer to the floor and gagged his mouth. Luer was taken to a farm where he was hidden in a damp underground cellar while his captors tried to collect a ransom for him. Luer was not a well man, and fearing that he would die before they were able to receive any ransom, his kidnappers released him after 123 hours. Both Chase and O’Malley fled from Illinois back to Missouri after the bungled kidnapping. Chase eluded capture, but O’Malley only managed to do so for two years until he was apprehended in Kansas City on May 23, 1935.
In the early fall of 1935, Kansas City, Missouri experienced a series of drug store robberies. The robbers were described as a man and a woman. The woman was further described as approximately 5 ft. 6 in. tall, slender, with hennaed hair. When victims were shown a photograph, they identified Chase as the female robber.
Death and afterward
On November 3, 1935, Chase's body was found in a parked car at Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, MO. She had been shot in the neck with a .45 caliber gun, the bullet exiting through her chest. When she was found, the coroner estimated that she had only been dead 2 hours or less, leading to speculation that her killer drove her to the hospital while she was still alive, expecting her to be found before her death. She had a .22 caliber pistol on her person, with .45 caliber bullets in her handbag. Newspapers speculated that she had been double-crossed by an accomplice and was shot before she could shoot her assailant.
Chase seemed destined for burial in a potter's field. The owner of the funeral home to where she had been removed received an anonymous call asking about funeral costs. The next morning, the funeral home received an envelope of money for the costs, as well as a blue dress and undergarments (her own) for Chase to be buried in. Nine mourners outside of reporters and law enforcement officers attended her funeral. No-one signed the guest book.
- FBI File 7-88-249. 1934.
- "Marriage Certificate". Missouri State.
- "Certificate of Death" (PDF). Missouri State Board of Health.
- Kansas City Times, December 26, 1923
- Wichita Beacon, February 16, 1926
- Wichita Eagle, February 17, 1926
- Miami News Record, June 10, 1926
- Miami News Record, June 13, 1926
- Kansas City Times, June 8, 1932
- R. D. Morgan: “Irish O’Malley & the Ozark Mountain Boys” (unpublished)
- Kansas City Journal-Post, November 4, 1935
- "Gun Woman Is Buried". Kansas City Times. November 9, 1935.