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Wild Women Of The West: Patricia Cherrington & Opal Long

Sisters in Crime.

September 24, 2019

An eerie quiet hung in the air as Patricia Cherrington and her companion, Pat Riley, pulled into the driveway of the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, on Sunday, April 22, 1934.  Patricia slowly got out of the car and scanned the area for anything suspicious looking. The thirty-one-year-old woman was dressed in a grey skirt and jacket that was a bit too tight. Her dark, neatly coiffed hair framed a pleasant, but pale face.  The bold, red lipstick applied generously over her mouth accentuated her worried expression. Riley, a beefy man with sausage-like fingers, stepped out the driver’s side of the vehicle and gently closed the door. He drew on the lit cigarette clenched in his teeth and blew the smoke out through his nose.  He and Patricia exchanged an apprehensive look. Somewhere in the far distance a pair of dogs could be heard barking.  The caretaker of the lodge owned the yelping animals and their familiar sound seemed to ease the tension.  Patricia almost smiled but the dull pain in her abdomen stopped her. Riley noticed she was hurting and was on his way to help her into the house when machine gun fire erupted all around them.

Glass shattered and tires exploded as multiple bullets from Tommy guns let loose from the nearby woods.  Patricia dropped to the ground along with Riley. Muzzle flashes from the automatic weapons inside the house lit up the dark trees surrounding the lodge.  A barrage of bullets blasted through the maples and chunks of wood rained down on armed federal agents as they converged on the scene. John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and several other members of Dillinger’s gang shot at the agents, hitting one or two before they could make it to the steps of the hideout.

Blanketed in a cloud of thick gun smoke, Riley jerked open the passenger’s side door and quickly helped Patricia into the seat.  Bullets zinged past them and she screamed when one of them grazed the skin under her right eye. Shell fragments hit her arm hard and fractured it.  As Riley started the car and threw it into gear, federal agents fired tear gas grenades into the lodge. Dillinger and his men continued shooting. Riley laid his foot on the gas paddle and turned the wheel of the vehicle.  The car spun like a top and landed in the direction that led away from the gun battle. Tires screeched as the vehicle sped away and disappeared into the night.

According to the April 23, 1934, edition of the El Paso, Texas newspaper the El Paso Herald Post, Patricia and Riley weren’t the only ones associated with Dillinger who escaped from the resort.  Dillinger and his right-hand man, Hamilton both got away. Among the dead were one federal officer and a civil conversation corporation employee who was working in the area when law enforcement raided the lodge.  Patricia and Riley quickly made their way to St. Paul, Minnesota, the rendezvous point for Dillinger and his gang members.

Most of Patricia Cherrington’s adult life was spent in the company of criminal offenders.  She and her sister Opal Long craved the excitement of being around desperados. “Men like John Dillinger,” she told a parole board in 1935, “were a good piece of company.”

Patricia was born in McClure County, Arkansas on September 26, 1903.  Her parents William and Goldie Long were farmers. They relocated to Texas in 1905 and had two other children – Opal “Bernice” born in 1906 and William Jr. born the following year. According to information Patricia shared with a prison social worker in 1935 about her childhood, she enjoyed school and was an excellent student.  She graduated the eighth grade at the age of eleven and attended two years of high school. She claimed to have gone on from there to attend the University of Oklahoma and the University of Philadelphia.

By the time she turned fifteen she had married a man in Tulsa, Oklahoma and had a baby.  Her daughter Beverly June Young was born on June 8, 1921. Patricia adored her child but did not like being a wife.  She had aspirations of being on stage. She was an ambitious singer and dancer and believed she would have an opportunity to work in the field living either in New York or Chicago.  In 1922 she left her husband and Oklahoma and headed east.

The road to fortune and fame wasn’t as easy as Patricia had anticipated.  She eventually found employment as a waitress in Chicago. While searching for a job she had to leave her daughter at a sitter’s home.  Betty Naetz Minor had a stable home and a young son and was happy to watch Beverly until Patricia was settled. That day would be a long time coming.

The first steady job entertaining Patricia acquired was dancing in chorus lines at various Chicago theatres and speakeasies.  Her stage name was Pat Riley and some weeks she made as much as $75 dancing. Almost half of her earnings went to Betty for taking care of her little girl.  Patricia’s poor health kept her from going far with her talent. She’d had a difficult time giving birth to Beverly. The procedure the doctors used to deliver the child left her with debilitating scars.  In addition to that, her stomach ached continually due to a bad gallbladder.

In spite of her physical ailments she suffered with she was known to many as vivacious and spontaneous. She attracted men who thrived on danger and excitement but only committed to relationships with men that had money and plans to attain more.  In December 1931 Patricia met a man who fit those qualifications. His name was Arthur Cherrington. He was an amiable trumpet player and cab driver who never lacked for cash. Cherrington was on parole for armed robbery when he and Patricia were introduced by a mutual friend Evelyn “Billie” Freschette.  Billie was a struggling actress and the woman who would become Dillinger’s lover and confidante. Cherrington was twenty-eight and had been in trouble with the law off and on from the time he was eleven. He and Patricia shared a common interest in music, art, and poetry. He presented himself to Patricia as an upstanding citizen.  He had been trying to earn a living legitimately but when cab drivers in the city decided to go on strike, he lost his income. Stealing money was his way of solving his debt problems. Patricia didn’t object. In January 1932 the couple moved in together.

Between May 31 and June 6, 1932, Cherrington and his associates robbed three postal stations in Chicago.  Patricia was with Cherrington when authorities apprehended the criminals in Michigan City, Indiana on June 14, 1932.  She was sent back to Chicago for questioning and released the following morning. Cherrington and his accomplices were indicted and pled guilty to their crimes.  Each was sentenced to fifteen years in the U.S. Penitentiary. Before Cherrington left to serve time at Leavenworth Prison he and Patricia were married.

In order to support herself and her daughter, whom she regularly visited, Patricia returned to the chorus line.  After six months of working nearly nonstop her gallbladder failed and she had surgery. Until she could get back on her feet again, she moved in with Cherrington’s brother and his wife.  Patricia wrote her husband often, but she had no intention of being faithful to him. She liked having a man around to visit with and enjoy life. So did her sister Opal. The two spent some time at a speakeasy shortly after Patricia recovered from her operation.  It was while they were out enjoying the night life that they met Dillinger for the first time. Both women were impressed with the felon. Patricia would later comment to prison officials that she thought he was “charming” and that “he treated every girl like a lady.”

Patricia and Opal decided to share a place at the Marshall Hotel in the spring of 1933.  The establishment was a popular meeting spot for members of the underworld. The sister became friends with a number of men residing at the hotel who worked for Dillinger.  Patricia and Opal were well liked. Patricia was outgoing and reckless. Opal was a bit more reserved but not by much. She was a plump lady with red hair who wore thick eye glasses.  She had a gift for caretaking, and that was the role she assumed when she became romantically involved with Russell Clark, one of Dillinger’s henchmen. Patricia took up with another of the gang members named Harry Copeland.  Their relationship was short lived, however. Copeland was arrested and sent to prison in October 1933 for second degree burglary.

In between visits to Copeland at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, Indiana, Patricia embarked on a romance with Red Hamilton.  Opal married Russell Clark. Patricia refused to commit to anyone and regarded her daughter as the only true constant in her life. Beverly was never permitted to be around the Dillinger gang.  Patricia kept her little girl from even knowing about her association with the outlaws until she was well into her teens. Both Opal and Betty Minor, the child care provider, offered to adopt Beverly but Patricia wouldn’t entertain the idea.  She deeply loved her child and wanted to keep her.

Although Patricia and Opal did not physically participate in the October 23, 1933, robbery of the Central National Bank of Greencastle, Indiana, they did help hide Dillinger and his men from the police and directly benefitted from the seventy-four thousand dollars stolen.  The ladies were compensated monetarily for their assistance. It wasn’t until after the robbery of the American Bank and Trust Company in Racine, Wisconsin, on November 20, 1933, that Patricia and Opal were questioned by police about what they knew about Dillinger and his men.  One of Dillinger’s men, captured at the scene of the crime, told law enforcement about the sisters, and the pair were then sought for interrogation. Before the authorities could track them down and interview them, both left the area heading in different directions. Opal went to Tucson, Arizona, with Russell Clark, and Patricia traveled to Detroit to look after Hamilton.  Hamilton had been shot in the groin during the holdup of the bank in Indiana. Opal was arrested at the Congress Hotel in Tucson on January 1934. Opal’s husband, Dillinger and two other prominent members of his gang and their girlfriends, including Dillinger’s love interest Billie were also arrested. All were returned to Chicago. The men were jailed and the women were questioned and then released.

By March 1934 Dillinger had escaped custody from an Indiana jail and was planning to rob the Securities National Bank at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with Red Hamilton.  Hamilton’s health had been fully restored by this time thanks in large part to Patricia’s care. In the days leading up to the robbery and a few days after the crime took place, Patricia and Opal traveled around the Midwest.  They hoped to shake any police that could possibly be following them to their destination, Dillinger’s gang’s hideout at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin.

On March 6, 1934, Dillinger and his men stole forty-nine thousand, five hundred dollars from the Securities National Bank.  On March 13 the desperados robbed a second bank in Sioux Falls, making off with fifty-two thousand dollars. Dillinger and his men converged at the lodge on April 20, 1934.  Patricia escaped the F.B.I. raid; her lover Red Hamilton didn’t do as well. Dillinger, who shot his way to freedom at Little Bohemia, managed to get word to Patricia informing her that Hamilton was seriously injured.  She never saw Hamilton again. He died from multiple gunshot wounds and Dillinger and another associate buried him in a shallow grave.

From April 20 to May 31, 1934, Patricia and Opal tried to keep a low profile.  The sisters were in Detroit when Patricia decided she desperately needed to see her daughter.  She wanted to give her some money and pay the sitter for her watching her. On their way to visit Beverly, Opal had a car accident.  No one was hurt, but the car needed to be repaired before they could continue on. With no money to fix the vehicle, Opal decided to pawn her ring.  Fearing the accident and the trip to the pawn shop might have attracted attention from the law, they returned to Detroit. Patricia sent funds to her daughter using a source she thought could be trusted to keep their whereabouts secret.  Unbeknownst to the sisters, the source was an informant for the federal government.

On June 1, 1934 Patricia and Opal were tucked inside a room at the Chateau Hotel waiting, for what they didn’t know.  Federal agents were told where the sisters were staying and in the early afternoon the authorities charged into their living quarters and arrested the pair.  Both women were placed in solitary confinement at the Bridewell Prison in Cooke County, Illinois, to await a trial. Patricia was suffering with a hernia at the time of her arrest and was refused medical attention unless she told police everything she knew about Dillinger and his operation.  Patricia wouldn’t talk. Neither would Opal.

On July 6, 1934, Patricia pled guilty to federal harboring charges.  She was sentenced to two years in prison and served her time at the U.S. Detention Farm in Milan, Michigan.  Opal Long pled guilty to all charges as well, but, because she displayed remorse over her crimes, she was given a six-month sentence at the Minneapolis Workhouse.  Opal missed her niece terribly while she was incarcerated and wrote her several letters. Patricia missed Beverly too, and in late December 1934 she wrote a Christmas message to her daughter.  The message reflected a sincerely, contrite heart and the desire to be a better mother. The editor of the Madison, Wisconsin, newspaper the Wisconsin State Journal received a copy of the touching letter and contacted Patricia through the warden at the prison.  He asked her if he could reprint the message. According to the December 23, 1934, edition of the Wisconsin State Journal, Patricia agreed but added, “Don’t crucify the kid by revealing her identity.”

“My Dear Little Girl,” Patricia’s letter to Beverly began.  “Received your darling letter, dear, and it was mighty precious to me, and my love and happiness attend you wherever you go, and may you never want for friends.

“You have already entered your teens; a whole life is ahead of you.  You will soon no longer be a child, but a young lady. With young womanhood comes the first real test of what life means.  Joys and sorrows will be yours and I want to arm you against the things you will have to endure. The pain of disappointment will come to you many times.  Learn to fortify yourself against it by thinking pure and happy thoughts.

“Remember that the men and women who accomplish things in this world today are those who laugh in the face of adversity and vow not to be beaten.

“Learn to smile at yourself and soon others will smile with you, and happiness will come from the most unexpected sources.  Be a carrier or joy, bubble over with happiness, and force your mind to dwell on wholesome things.

“Remember, sweetheart that your body is a temple erected by Mother Nature wherein worshippers come to pray, before the shrine of humanity.  If you keep your body clean both inside and out, impure worshippers cannot remain long, for the impure things in life come only when our minds and bodies offer no resistance to them.

“Remember always that there once lived in Nazareth a Holy Man who showed by his example the possibilities of cleanly living and pure thinking.  Read the life of Jesus. View him as a man and emulate his example as far as you are able. He said, ‘Do unto others as you would have that they should do unto you.’

“I want you to know that a life of service is the happiest one to lead.  Serve others joyously and your reward will be great. Carry with you the message of charity and brotherly love.  Love everybody. Keep hate out of your soul. It has soured the lips of many who should have been the constant bearers of messages of joy.

“Take exercise, breathe good air, bathe often and keep your mind busy.

“Fortunately, you are living in the ‘age of women’, therefore I may say to you – amount to something.  Vow to be more than a parlor ornament, vow to do something that will place your name among the annals of the blessed.

“You possess talents far above those possessed by the average little girl, develop them, and let your light shine as a beacon to guide others into the path of action.  Dream of good things to come and vow to be ready to receive them when they do come.

“Be just, be generous, be kind to those around you, so that when dark days come you will have plenty of friends to help you bear your trouble.

“Your mother loves you dearly, and I am ambitious for you, and will help you as far as you will let me.  Come to me with whatever you do.

“May God bless my little girl, and keep her strong in body, mind and spirit and make you ever ready to take advantage your divine attributes.

Mother may be away from you for a while and I want to know you will always be the same obedient daughter I have taught you to be.  Keep this letter and when in doubt read it over again.

“I love you, daughter of mine, always.  Your Mother.”

Patricia was released from prison in late 1936 and returned to Chicago to work as a waitress.  She was rearrested on suspicion of theft on April 21, 1938. According to the April 22, 1934, edition of the Wisconsin State Journal, “Chicago police seized Mrs. Cherrington at a hotel in the heart of the city.  She was in the company of two known thieves and charged with stealing. Mrs. Cherrington said she knew nothing about the crime she was accused of and pleaded for her release.”

All charges against Patricia were dropped after a full investigation was completed.

Patricia Cherrington died on May 1, 1949.  According to the May 6, 1949, edition of the Logansport, Indiana, newspaper the Logansport Press no one who attended her funeral wanted to reveal their identity.  “About fifty determinedly anonymous friends turned up today to pay final respects to a one-time Dillinger gang moll,” the article began.  “Patricia Cherrington was found dead in her North Clark Street hotel room. A coroner’s physician estimated she had died of natural causes five days before.

After newspapers reported her body had been taken to the county morgue, a sister, Mrs. Opal Long-Kosmal, claimed the body.

“Today’s brief services at a near North Side funeral home were read by a minister who left by a side door,” the newspaper article read.  “Immediately afterward, Mrs. Long-Kosmal told newsmen, “I don’t think the minister cares to have his name revealed.”

The mourners felt the same way.  None of those attending would identify himself, and the guest register at the funeral home had been removed.

Miss Cherrington once served two years in prison for harboring Dillinger gang member John Hamilton, a Dillinger lieutenant.”

Patricia was buried in an unmarked grave in Wunders Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.  She was forty-five years old when she died.

Reporters for the Logansport Press believe Opal gave a false last name when she was interviewed at her sister’s funeral.  Opal died of heart failure on July 31, 1969, in Chicago. She was sixty-three years old when she passed.

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