First HPD female detective Bacher, fired by Chief McPhail

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final part of a series by retired Park Place Ranger Sgt. M. D. Beale Jr. on Eva Jane Bacher, HPD’s first policewoman.

There’s no report available from Detective Eva Jane Bacher before Sept. 1, 1917 or after April 1918.  She was terminated with several other officers on or about April 15, 1929.  So, there’s a lot of things about her that have to be inferred.

The first is when she actually went to work for HPD. Badge and Gun editor Tom Kennedy’s book on the history of the Houston Police Department states in a picture caption that she was a matron before she became the first policewoman. No time frame is given.

A Policewoman’s Routine

Sept. 1,1917 is the earliest date on her daily work reports that we have.  However, the Camp Logan Riot happened Aug. 23, 1917, and she makes no mention of the riot in any of her reports.

The first notation of being in Federal Court was on Sept. 24, 1917, in the case of the Walker woman’s trial for keeping a disorderly house.  The below comment about a shoplifter in her report makes one think she started earlier.

Sept. 24th, 1917.

Attended Federal Court from 10 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. in case of the Walker woman on

trial for keeping a disorderly house. I had one as a shoplifter over a year ago. 

Bacher had several federal cases dealing with bootlegging, prostitution and Mann Act violations.

Her concern for others is shown by the not unusual act of kindness when she took seven-year-old Katie Milano home with her for three days while her mother was in jail on this charge before turning her over to Child Welfare.

She was in Federal Court again on Oct. 13, then Dec. 12 and 14 on the Milano case.  On Dec. 29 she met with Federal Court Judge Jackson on the Milano case.  On Feb. 1, 1918, she was back in Federal Court talking to Mr. Green regarding Mrs. Milano.

They went to the county jail where Mrs. Milano was incarcerated and interviewed her.  Mr. Green didn’t think Mrs. Milano could be released on the information available and the man arrested with Milano wouldn’t give them the information needed to release her. Mr. Milano was given custody of Katie to take back home with him.

On Feb. 6, however, Bacher writes:

“Mrs. Milano was released from the county jail on a Federal charge and went back to Arma, Kansas, with her husband and little daughter, Katie.  I asked Mr. Green, U. S. Attorney, to dismiss the charge against her and let her go back home with the little girl and her husband – she proved to be a very deserving woman from the good work she did in the county jail ward for the insane.  The man in this case signed up with the U. S. Army.”

On Feb. 16 she was back in Federal Court on the Jim Goss bootlegging case.

No HPD Women, Horses

When Walter E. Montieth was elected mayor of Houston he appointed Charles W. McPhail to be the Superintendent of Police [aka Chief].  McPhail is reported by the Houston newspapers as stating that “policing was a man’s job and women have no place in it.”  He didn’t like the horses, either and proceeded to get rid of both women and horses.

Eva Jane was gone, the mounted officers were walking beats downtown, and the horses were sold at auction.  History shows, of course, that both women and horses have been back for a good while now.

There was a McPhail law firm in Houston then and Chief McPhail had a brother working there. Bachor mentions a Mr. McPhail several times in her reports as working with her on several instances with those “wayward girls” back in 1917 and 1918.  She doesn’t mention which McPhail it was. Once, on Jan. 18, 1918, she uses the term “officer McPhail” as being her co-worker. The rest of the time it’s Mr. McPhail.

I wonder if this is the same McPhail that fired her nine years later.

Eva Jane was the only female detective on the force.  She was fired “for the good of the service,” the old catchphrase from which there was no appeal.  Not that it would have done any good to appeal to the “Rubber Stamp” city civil service commission of the time.

Timing couldn’t have been worse.  In October of 1929 the world financial systems crashed and the Great Depression began.

A key question is why wasn’t she demoted like most of the men?  Was it really the new chief’s misogynistic views?  She was well known in the xity, so maybe she wasn’t pro-Montieth enough to keep her job. Or maybe she backed incumbent Mayor Oscar F. Holcombe too strongly.

Oscar got his job back in the next election two years later but that was too late for Eva Jane Bacher. One wonders why she didn’t return to HPD after Oscar returned?  [The Holcombe home is currently owned and used by Houston Hospice.

Dance Halls and Prostitutes

The second thing that I think can be inferred is that she had become too much of a threat to the current power structure in at least a couple of ways.  Maybe more.

It is evident from her reports that she was much like today’s HPD female officers and administrators – she was a hard worker. As we all know from experience, that can be unpopular with the powers that be for any number of reasons. But this was an age where “conflicts of interest” were common everyday things.

In just the 12 years from 1917 to 1929 Eva Jane Bacher had developed into a strong vocal supporter at the local, national and probably the international levels in three volatile arenas – policing, the Progressive Movement which favored the elimination of all vices through legislative action, and the Women’s Rights movement.

She did exactly what she was hired to do.  She was hired to try to do something about all of the “wayward girls” that had moved into the city as a result of the soldiers stationed at Camp Logan.

One might reasonably infer that there was a lot of money involved in the vice going on, especially bootlegging and prostitution.  Some of it had to be finding its way into the pockets of the politicians. But she never mentions anything like that in her reports.

Such as this one:

Nov 20, 1917

I attended a meeting of the Board of Censors at the Council Chamber, City Hall, in regard to dance hall ordinances. I was appointed on the committee from the Police Department, to help see that all laws and regulations are enforced by the proprietors of dance halls.

Reported for duty 8:30 A.M. to 12:00 P.M.

She did work the dance halls and the hookers very hard, and her reports show that by 1918 she knew the owners and customers intimately.  She did what she could for the women involved, including getting them heath care for their VD problems and finding safe places for them to stay.

She was key in getting health services included in the city jail facility with follow-ups for female inmates.

Her efforts were well enough known to get her into the papers.

Eva Jane’s National Reputation

We do know that she made the national papers because a syndicated columnist, Jack Carberry, NEA staff correspondent, wrote an article about her opinions of the then current jazz dances.  The cutout of the article is dated on Sept. 20, no year given, and is located from Houston.  The Red Scare of the 1920s is probably the main reason the article was written and published.

Exactly what year this article was written is very difficult to determine. But it references the Bolsheviks and their revolution.  She strongly implied that the Reds were responsible for the degenerate jazz dances and that she thought the shimmy style dances were an attempt to corrupt the morals of U. S. citizens.

How much of the political slant was Jack Carberry’s and how much was Eva Jane’s can’t be determined at this point in time.  But Carberry was based in Denver, Colorado, while his editor in chief was in Dallas.  So, she was well enough known outside of Houston to rate national political copy.  One might reasonably infer from this that she was really well known in Houston.

In June of 1924 she applied for a passport. She stated that she intended to enter Canada via Montreal on or about the 3rd or 4th of July.  She left Le Havre, France, aboard the grand passenger liner SS France on Aug. 14 and arrived back in New York about Aug. 23. Bacher gave her address as 1621 Kensington, Houston, Texas.  We have no information to indicate the purpose of this overseas trip.

In the book, Houston Blue by Tom Kennedy and Mitchel P. Roth, page 84, has the following:

“In 1925 the Vice Investigating Squad was composed of three employees including H. Radke, Eva J. Bacher and E. Berner.  According to the department, their duties were ‘various and their hours irregular’ with their targets ‘covering all classes of men and women.’  

“A snapshot of their work can be found in their arrest report for 1925 that reported the arrests of 430 women and 394 men.  Shoplifting, juvenile crime, and controlling the spread of sexually transmitted diseases took up much of their time, and liquor cases counted for only twenty-three arrests.”

 [Footnote indicates this came from the 1925 Annual Police Report, Thomas C Goodson, Superintendent of Police, Vice Investigation typescript, 1925 HPD archives].         

There’s also one line on page 77 in the first paragraph that says:

“Another woman, Juvenile Officer Ferdie Trichelle, also served.” There is no additional information about her service at all.  Somebody needs to research her, too.

Doing Her Job Well

HPD records show this entry: June 9, 1925, round trip tickets and full pay for Emil Berner and Mrs. Eva J. Bacher were requested by the Chief of Police for them to go to Fort Worth and testify in a criminal case there.

The below is a telegram requesting Eva Jane’s presence in an interstate case.  It’s interesting to note that the Chicago PD sent an Inspector to Houston PD to prep for a trial in December in Jefferson, Ohio.  Not sure if this is 1921 or 1927.

The text of the Western Union telegram, date illegible: 

From:  Chicago, Illinois

To:  Chief of Police Houston Texas

INSPECTOR LEAFY WILL CALL AT YOUR OFFICE THURSDAY NEXT TO ARRANGE PRESENCE AT JEFFERSON OHIO MONDAY MORNING DECEMBER FIFTH YOUR POLICE WOMAN MRS. E. J. BACHER TO TESTIFY IN E. C. AND LILLIAN MERRY CASE.  THANK YOU TO ARRANGE LEAFY TO SEE MRS. BACHER AND OBLIGE.

(It should be noted here that Dec. 5, 1921 and 1927 were both Mondays).

There are some notations I can’t find right now that indicate that Bacher was involved in investigating some Pulman car thefts and was scheduled to testify out of state.  This may pertain to the case mentioned in the telegram.

The 1929 City of Houston telephone directory gives this HPD historic figure’s address as 1621 Kensington and her occupation as Policewoman and later as 1610 Crawford with no occupation notation appearing in the directory.

In 1932 Eva Jane’s listed as living at 3514 Burlington Ave. with no occupation notation.

In 1935 the directory gave her address as 1406 Vermont Ave. and her occupation is given as detective.

The 1940 directory and federal census form states that she was living at the Rice Hotel.  She gave her occupation as House detective for a dry goods company.  Somewhere in my research I think I ran across the information that she worked for Foley’s Department Store, so that would fit.

In July 1950 she returned from Bremen, Germany, to the Port of Houston on the freighter SS Thompson Lykes, along with give other passengers. There was no indication of the purpose of this trip, but she was about 71 years old at that time.

At some point in time, she “retired” and moved to San Antonio with her son, Col. Robert M. Bacher, U. S. Army, Retired, and his wife.  They had no children.  Eva Jane seems to have lived with them until she passed away on May 5, 1961, at the age of 84.  She was buried in Houston at the Forrest Park Cemetery by Akers Funeral Home. She rests there today.

Her12-plus years of work on the original “Morals Squad” were an excellent example of how a smart, determined and forceful woman can make a good and significant impact on a community.

Detective Eva Jane Bacher certainly deserves some recognition for her efforts.  Maybe we can see what we can do about that in the not-too-distant future.