Fact versus Fiction

The story of Jacob M. Cohen II who allegedly stole jewelry from his father’s store, pawned it, and ran away to St. Louis generated some discussion among some of my readers.  I had speculated that he did it in the aftermath of the death of  his brother Munroe (or Monroe, as it is sometimes spelled in various accounts).  The discussions have caused me to go back and try to piece together the facts and to create a timeline.

The first news story about Munroe’s death was published on March 23, 1903, a Monday.  It said that Monroe died on Saturday, which would have been March 21, but that the accident that led to his death occurred on Thursday, which would have been March 19.  The second news story, dated March 24, said his body was returned to Washington for the funeral, which was to take place the next day, March 25, 1903.

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3

The Kingston Daily Freeman, Volume 01, March 23 1903, Page 3

The first news story I found about Jacob’s alleged crime was dated March 27, 1903, and said that “several days ago” Jacob had disappeared from his home and that his father thereafter discovered that jewelry was missing from his store.  The police had thought that Jacob would return for Monroe’s funeral, but he had not done so.  I inferred from this that Jacob had disappeared sometime after his brother died or at least after his accident on March 19, since “several” ordinarily means more than two but not more than seven.  If it had been more than a week, I would think that the newspaper would have said “over a week,” not “several days.”  Also, if the police thought Jacob would return for his brother’s funeral, they must have had reason to think that Jacob knew that his brother had died. Thus, I do not think that Monroe’s accident was precipitated by Jacob’s disappearance, as one skeptical reader suggested.  It seems possible, however, that Jacob’s disappearance was precipitated by his brother’s accident and death, as I speculated.

Jacob Cohen son of Hart 1903 arrested


(“Son’s Alleged Dishonesty” Date: Friday, March 27, 1903, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC)   Page: 15)

I had forgotten to post one other article about the Jacob story in my post yesterday.  In this article, dated October 5, 1903, a few more details of Jacob’s activities were provided.  Jacob admitted stealing the jewelry, pawning it in Washington, spending the money in Baltimore, and then traveling to St. Louis, New Orleans, and Indian Territory before returning to St. Louis, where he was arrested.  He had gotten a job in a dairy in St. Louis and was there a week when he was arrested.  There had been a hearing in St. Louis, and Jacob was unable to provide the security needed for his release and thus was in the custody of a marshal to be returned to Washington.  One reader speculated that he had never actually stolen the jewelry, but had simply run away; the reader wondered whether his parents had created the story of the stolen jewelry to get the assistance of the police in locating their son.  It seems that Jacob’s admission is inconsistent with that speculation, but anything is possible.

Jacob confession pt 1

Jacob confession pt 2

(“Admits the Crime,” Monday, October 5, 1903, Evening Star (Washington (DC), DC), page: 11)


The final story, posted yesterday and dated October 20, 1903, detailed Jacob’s arrest and the items allegedly stolen.  One reader pointed out that in the final sentence of that article it states “it is thought” that Jacob’s parents would not press charges against him when he was returned to the city.  That would explain why I could not find any further reports of a trial or sentence in the case.  To me, this is also consistent with my speculation that Jacob acted out of grief or upset in the aftermath of his brother’s death.

Jacob son of Hart arrested in St Louis


(“Charged with Grand Larceny,” October 20, 1903, Washington Evening Star, p. 11)

Do I know for sure? Of course not.  Certainly most people do not engage in criminal behavior while grieving.  Maybe Jacob just wanted to run away and needed the money to do so.  Maybe he was angry with his parents for reasons completely unrelated to Monroe’s death.  Maybe he just was being a rebellious teenager.  Maybe he was crying out for attention.  Who knows?  The facts suggest he reconciled with and lived with his parents for years after this incident and was not in any other trouble.  I find it unlikely that these two incidents—Monroe’s death and Jacob’s disappearance—were not related.

What do you think?



2 thoughts on “Fact versus Fiction

  1. When two events occur at or about the same time they may or may not be related. I see no reason to believe he stole, pawned, spent and fled out of grief.


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