Mugshot from the Wichita Police Department
|Died||November 2, 1935
Kansas City, Missouri
|Spouse(s)||George Chase (1921-?)|
Vivian Chase (c. 1902 – November 2, 1935) was a Midwestern gangster of the 1920s and 1930s.
Vivian Chase, although virtually unknown today, was a notorious criminal during the Midwest crime wave of the 1930s. Her origins were a well guarded secret (she once threatening to kill a paramour if he ever breathed a word about her family’s location). More than one researcher has been led to a dead end when trying to find her parents or birthplace. It has been proven that the Vivian Grace Davis born in Springfield, MO to Albert and Sarah Davis is NOT the same person. That Vivian Davis died on February 5, 1920. The historical record for Vivian Chase begins in 1920. In January 1920 the US Census an eighteen-year-old Vivian Davis is found in Kansas City, MO she is single, rooming at 706 E. 14th Street. Her occupation is listed as waitress in a restaurant. Her parents are listed as being born in Missouri but she is not living with them. Another solid historical document for Vivian is her marriage certificate with George M. Chase. On April 1, 1921, a 19-year-old Vivian Davis of Kansas City, Mo married George M. Chase also of Kansas City, Mo.
Arrests, escapes and notoriety
Vivian Chase first gained notice as George’s wife on December 23, 1923, when George Chase was arrested for an altercation during which he was shot by Ella Keller. Ms. 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 Vivian wearing six diamond rings. Since she could not explain possessing the rings, Vivian was arrested for suspicion. She was released after three days when further evidence could not be found against her.
Vivian did not surface again for three years, when she was in the company of Charlie Mayes, also known as Pighead Hardman. On February 15, 1926, Vivian, Mayes, Lee Flournoy and Flournoy’s wife were arrested after a free-for-all fight in a rooming house in Wichita, Kansas. During the arrest, Vivian 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 . Vivian Chase was with them. The three of them had been under surveillance by Ottawa County, Oklahoma officers for several days because the deputy sheriff informed the Sheriff of Montgomery County, Kansas that he had found the people who robbed the Cherryvale Bank on May 29, 1926. Vivian was placed in jail, where she refused to talk to reporters. She was released on June 13, 1926, after insufficient evidence was found to charge her with a crime.
Once again the record went silent on Vivian 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. Vivian 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, Vivian fled to St. Louis, Missouri, where she became involved with Walter (Irish) O'Malley. On July 10, 1933, Vivian participated in the kidnapping of banker August Luer. Vivian, O'Malley, and Percy ‘Dice Box’ Fitzgerald drove to Mr. Luer's home in Alton, Illinois. Vivian, 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. Mr. 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. Mr. 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 Vivian and O’Malley fled from Illinois back to Missouri after the bungled kidnapping. O’Malley managed to elude capture for two years until he was apprehended in Kansas City on May 23, 1935. Vivian eluded capture.
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 Vivian as female robber.
Death and afterward
On November 3, 1935, Vivian’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.
Vivian 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; also received were a blue dress and undergarments (her own) for Vivian 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.
- "Certificate of Death" (PDF). Missouri State Board of Health.
- "Marriage Certificate". Missouri State.
- 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.