The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn

Like other working-class girls in 1920s Brooklyn, Celia Cooney had big dreams.

Celia (at right and below) was a 20-year-old newlywed who toiled in a laundry. She and her husband, Ed, shared a furnished room on Madison Street in a neighborhood then called Bedford, today’s Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Celia and Ed were very much in love. But like many young couples, they had a hard time saving money. Ed didn’t make much as a welder, and Celia enjoyed nice things, like the sealskin fur coat Ed bought for her.

So when Celia found out she was pregnant, the Cooneys decided they needed to shore up their finances. How? By committing armed robbery.

That’s the genesis of the “Bobbed-Haired Bandit,” as Celia was dubbed by the press. Together the couple (below, in their wedding photo) would stage holdups of Brooklyn groceries and drugstores and become Roaring Twenties tabloid icons.

Their first robbery was at a Roulston’s, a grocery chain in Park Slope. On the evening of January 5, the two drove to the store on Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street.

Wearing her fur coat, Celia went in first and asked for a dozen eggs, according to the 2005 book, The Bobbed-Hair Bandit, by Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson.

As the clerk readied her purchase, Ed entered the store. Celia pulled an automatic out of her pocket, pointed it at the clerk, and yelled, ‘Stick ’em up, quick!’ just as the bad guys in the detective stories and pulpy novels she devoured would say.

Ed then whipped out a gun in each hand and cleaned out the cash register. The two took off with more than $600.

The next day, the brazen heist made by a slight, five-foot woman and her male partner ended up in the Brooklyn Eagle, with the headline “Woman With a Gun.”

Celia and Ed went on to commit several more robberies. The newspapers giddily wrote up each hit, making much of Celia’s bobbed hair—a daring style popular with flappers and other women who saw themselves as modern and liberated. Ed was dubbed her “tall male companion.”

After the first robbery, the couple immediately rented a two-story frame house at 1099 Pacific Street. They bought pricey furniture, and Celia made her husband a special dinner of porterhouse steak, states The Bobbed-Hair Bandit.

But they quickly spent their loot…and had to commit more robberies to keep up their new higher-end lifestyle.

With so much tabloid exposure, the police were under pressure to capture the “girl robber.” That led cops to arrest and charge a 23-year-old bobbed-haired Brooklyn actress named Helen Quigley for the crimes.

Angry that the police had arrested an innocent young woman, Celia left a note for them after she and Ed robbed a Clinton Hill drugstore.

The note was addressed to the “dirty fish-peddling bums” and ordered them to let Helen Quigley go—which eventually the police did.

Celia and Ed’s stick-up spree finally ended in early spring, after a warehouse worker at the National Biscuit Company on Pacific Street was wounded during a holdup.

“Panicked, the couple fled, leaving behind $8,000 in an open safe,” wrote the New York Times in 2015. “A warehouse employee recognized Ed from the neighborhood, and the couple was soon identified.”

By then, they had taken off for Florida, where Celia gave birth to her daughter on April 12, who sadly died days later.

After the couple was arrested and brought back to New York (above, mobbed by crowds at Penn Station), they pleaded guilty and landed 10 to 20 years in prison.

Paroled after seven years, the couple went on to have two sons. (Finally free and reunited with their lawyer, above.)

Ed died of tuberculosis in 1936. As for Celia, she reportedly was a “dutiful and selfless mother, working to support her boys, one of whom became a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church,” continued the Times.

“It was not until a few years before she died in 1992 that her middle-aged sons learned about the Bobbed Hair Bandit.”

[Top photo: Wikipedia; second image: blog, Fishwrap; third image: Brooklyn Eagle; fourth image: Library of Congress; fifth image: Buffalo Commercial; sixth image: author collection; seventh image: New York Daily News; eighth image: Getty Images]

Tags: , , , , , ,

21 Responses to “The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn”

  1. snufflegrinbooks Says:

    Thanks, Ephemeral, very interesting. A very Bonnie & Clyde story. Were there other instances of male/female, husband/wife gangsters, does anyone know ?

  2. keenanpatrick424 Says:

    I have never understood the appeal and celebration of armed robbers especially the subset of criminal couples (Bonnie and Clyde,The Honeymoon Killers)). Is Ephemeral N.Y.wistful for this hideous behavior? Are you pininig for a reprise of this greedy and violent anti social behavior? In this era of identity politics and political correctness would a transgender bipolar couple of people of color terrorizing and shooting at working people and wounding innocent bystanders satisfy your voyeuristic perversion?

    • Mike Says:

      Jeez. Relax. Take a deep breath

      • keenanpatrick424 Says:

        Mike- How relaxed would you be if during a robbery you were on the floor blind folded ,hog-tied a knee in your back and a 45 jammed against the back of your skull. Instead of romanticizing violent gun wielding punks, have some empathy for the victms.
        ENY How about a little known N.Y.C. story about a couple of con artists who took off a bank or a Wall St. firm instead of a couple who violently preyed on their own kind.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Like all posts on ENY, this one simply tells a little-known story from New York’s past…there’s no pining or agenda behind it.

    • Drew Says:

      Sheesh, my grandfather was shot and killed in a hold up in 1991 and I don’t find this the least bit celebratory or offensive in any way. Do you know why? Because it happened 95 years ago. It’s history. Also, your snipes at trans and bipolar folks suggest you should have some empathy too.

    • Mike Says:

      I think this is not actocating or condoning such behavior but it does shed a light on how some folks went to drastic measures to make ends meet

  3. Tommy Dulski Says:

    Great little story, I had never heard of this couple before.

  4. Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk Says:

    In the early 1960s me and my girlfriend stole from stores, mostly in Newark NJ, nothing big just small pocket items. It ended when I was nabbed pilfering a package of sandwich meat I stuffed in my pocket, looked mighty tasty at the time, and showed my career of being a stickup-man quickly came to a close….Anyway, nice story.

  5. Shayne Davidson Says:

    Crime is part of history. In this case, the woman reformed and led an honest life after she was released from prison. Interesting story!

  6. VirginiaB Says:

    What a story–and great illustrations. While they were certainly criminals, I’d hardly call them Bonnie and Clyde. I’d love to know more about her turn-around after prison. Is there a book about this? I’ve read some great books based on your blog. Thanks!

  7. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Glad to hear it! It’s a fascinating story I loved researching.

  8. New top story on Hacker News: The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn – News about world Says:

    […] The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn 3 by smacktoward | 0 comments on Hacker News. […]

  9. New top story on Hacker News: The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn – Latest news Says:

    […] The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn 3 by smacktoward | 0 comments on Hacker News. […]

  10. New top story on Hacker News: The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn – Outside The Know Says:

    […] The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn 3 by smacktoward | 0 comments on Hacker News. […]

  11. The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn | My Tech Blog Says:

    […] Source: […]

  12. John T Says:

    Very interesting story!
    What year was this from? The article states the 1920s, and January 5th, but not the year.

  13. Catt's True Crime Corner The Bobbed Haired Bandit Says:

    […] We Forgot the Bobbed Haired Bandit – Lauren Young – Atlas Obscura The “bobbed-hair bandit” on the run in Brooklyn – Ephemeral New York Female Criminals podcast – “The Bobbed Haired Bandit”: […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: