Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Curious Case of Georgia Riddle

Georgia Riddle, age 11
While trolling eBay for items relating to Omaha history, I came across the sale of a photo from press archives of a young woman named Georgia Riddle. I didn't pay much attention to the picture, but the description "1952 Press Photo Georgia Lena Riddle Expelled From Omaha School By School Board" caught my attention.

Now what would a young lady - a school girl, really - do to get expelled by the school board in 1952? Did she show a bit too much ankle? Perhaps she said "damn" and the unforgivable curse was enough to send her to reformatory school?

My curiosity was piqued so I did a bit of research in the story. There wasn't a lot to go on, but it was an interesting story even with little meat to go on.

The facts of the case are this:

Kermit Riddle, his wife, daughter and young son had moved from Kentucky to East Omaha sometime in 1951, living at 2511 N. 23rd Street, today the site of the Omaha Correctional Center. Around the same time, Clinton Jones had also moved from Kentucky to East Omaha, whom the Riddles had "slightly known," boarding with the Riddles since March, 1952.

Kermit Riddle with his son and wife
In September, 1952, their 12 year old daughter Georgia Riddle married Clinton Jones, aged 31, before Justice of the Peace Charles A. Thomas in Lake Manawa, Iowa. Her mother told the Omaha World-Herald that the two "begged and begged for three weeks to let them get married." Mrs. Riddle finally relented, providing they continue to live with the Riddle family. "We thought [Clinton] was a nice guy and had confidence in him." Charles Jones said that the couple had brought a marriage license with them, issued at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse, giving her age as 14, which was the minimum age at which a girl could be married in Iowa and that she had the required consent of her parents. Both parents were witnesses for the ceremony.

In December, 1952, Georgia and Clinton had moved out, only taking some of their clothing and a copy of the marriage license from the three-room Riddle home and her parents had not seen them since. It was later reported that they were headed to Albany, Kentucky.

Pershing School, East Omaha (1960s)
Georgia's birth certificate showed she had been born April 29, 1940 in Parnell, Kentucky. The principal of Pershing School said she was in the 7th grade and her records showed passing marks. When he learned that she was married, he and other members of the school board decided she could no longer continue going to classes. "We did not think she would be a good influence on the other children," he reported.

Little can be reported from this point. The Omaha World-Herald reported that in May, 1956, Georgia Riddle petitioned the court for an annulment, which was granted on December 1, 1956. In June, 1957, a Georgia Riddle, age 19, was listed as having married to a Dennis Pyle, aged 28. Is this the same Georgia Riddle? In 1957, she would have been 17. It is not impossible that a 17 might be construed as a 19. Or she may simply have lied about her age.

From there, Georgia Riddle-Pyle falls off the map. A November, 1957 note in the World-Herald on residents who received income tax refunds for 1956 still lists her as living at 2511 N. 23rd Street in East Omaha, but the record grows cold from that point.

Did Georgia finish high school? Did she live happily ever after? Did Georgia and Dennis move out of town?
Unfortunately, she goes from being a Pyle back to a riddle.


Omaha World-Herald, September 23, 1952
Omaha World-Herald, December 7, 1952
Omaha World-Herald, December 9, 1952
Omaha World-Herald, May 17, 1956
Omaha World-Herald, December 1, 1956
Omaha World-Herald, June 11, 1957
Omaha World-Herald, November 15, 1957

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Marriage and Divorce of Jose and Mariel Masters

Jose Masters and Mariel Russell
from the Central High O-Book (1931)

A few weeks ago, there was a post on the Facebook post in the “Omaha History Club” page about Central High principal Joseph G. Masters seeking to annul his son’s secret marriage to high school sweet heart Mariel Russell. At age 19, Mr. Masters contended that his son’s education came first, and that Jose's education would be "handicapped" by marriage. A restraining order was issued to prevent the young couple from living together while the Judge deliberated.

Joseph G. Masters
Father of Jose
This story intrigued me – mostly because it involved legendary Central High School principal Joseph G. Masters who served from 1915 through 1939.  Research revealed that what should have been a story of two young lovers who lived happily ever after became an ugly divorce that commanded national attention, worthy of today’s coverage of celebrities.

the Masters house
327 N. 37th Street today
Jose Masters was born in 1913, two years before his father became principal of Central High. The family lived at 327 N. 37th Street, moving there at some point between 1918 and 1924. The neighborhood, a block from grand Gold Coast homes on 38th Street, was developed not long after the turn of the century, with many houses dating from the 1910s. The Masters family were socially active, and seemed to be a close family with four children, travelling together and enjoying 'roughing it,' as they took an annual monthlong road trip in Colorado and Wyoming, living in a tent.
August 3, 1926 (Omaha World-Herald) article on the family's annual
monthlong roadtrip, where they "scorn to seek the protection of any roof
but their tent and car, regardless of weather, during their jaunts."

the Russell neighborhood at 38th and Cuming in 1983
(the houses were razed in the 1980s for the Salvation Army chapel)
Jose displayed a musical talent, playing violin at various recitals and events. He attended Yates Elementary and began at Central High School in 1928 or 1929. Mariel Russell was the daughter of William and Florence Russell of 3718 Cuming Street. It is easy to imagine Jose walking the four blocks to her Queen Anne home, or the couple walking among the Gold Coast homes or around the Duchesne campus. Both Jose and Mariel graduated in 1931.

On April 13, 1932, the two 19 year-olds married in Papillion. The young couple continued to live at their respective homes. [1]
Jose, then a freshman at Omaha Municipal University told his parents of the wedding on Friday, May 13, 1932. On Monday, May 16, Joseph Masters began court proceedings to annul the marriage. The petition for annulment charged that Mrs. Russell “’connived’ to bring about the marriage by giving her consent.” "We've met [Mariel] and we like her. But we want our son to finish his education," said Mr. Masters. "I am in the position to realize the value of education more than other persons ordinarily would," he said. "We want more than anything else for Jose to get a good education and not be handicapped as he will by marriage. [2]
Judge Herbert Rhoades (1936)
At the conclusion of a lengthy hearing on Friday afternoon, May 20, 1932, Judge Herbert Rhoades said "Now, if I were you kids, I'd stay apart. I'm not so sure right now you are legally married." [3] The World-Herald reported that Judge Rhoades did not know the couple shared a kiss in his office a few minutes earlier. The issue revolved around whether the failure to obtain parents' consent when one of the parties' age was misrepresented was argued at great length. Clarence Walsh, attorney for Jose's parents, argued that the matter was one of "cold law," for the welfare of society. Richard O'Connor, attorney for the couple, argued that the law was "merely directory, not mandatory." Since the proceedings began, Jose had refused to return to his parents home, staying with a friend, while Mariel had returned to her parents home at 3718 Cuming.[4]
A restraining order was issued to prevent the young couple from living together, and deputy sheriffs along with Joseph Masters went to find Jose and Mariel to enforce the order. After several hours of search, the couple announced through their attorneys that they would accept the order. They stood hand-in-hand at the office of attorney Milton Abrahams as the court order was read. Afterward, Mariel went back to her parents home and Jose agreed to return to his parents, though apparently he continued to live at the home of a friend. [5]

The following Monday, the court heard the petition of Jose's attorney to overturn the restraining order, prohibiting him from living with Mariel. [6] Judge Rhoades modified the restraining order so that Jose and Mariel could see and speak to each other. Milton Abrahams, one of their attorneys had protested the restraining order, saying it "prohibited them from doing everything but [breathe]." On the witness stand, Jose had said his father had wished the couple happiness when initially told about the wedding, but the next morning had urged annulment. If the couple would not seek it themselves, Joseph would start the action. [7]

The case continued into June as Jose and Mariel lived apart while attorneys prepared their arguments. Jose would not say with whom he was living, though Judge Rhoades did not compel him to answer. When questioned by their attorney Richard O'Connor, both said they did not want the marriage annulled. Mariel said she was earning $8 to $10 a week as a movie cashier, and Jose said he had "a chance for a job" once the term ended at Municipal university. [8]
On June 15, 1932, Judge Rhoades refused to grant
the annulment sought by Joseph G. Masters

On June 15, Judge Rhoades reached a decision, refusing to grant an annulment of Jose and Mariel's April wedding. The effect of the ruling is that girls over the age of 16 and boys over the age of 18 can be legally married "if they can get by the county judge or license clerk," as Judge Rhoades summed up his decision. If persons over 16 and 18 misrepresent their age without the knowledge of the license clerk, the marriage cannot be annulled without the consent of one or two of the parties. It had been on this ground that Judge Rhoades dismissed the action, brought by Joseph Masters without the consent of his son. [9]

The couple were legally married. "I'm your wife - it's true - and now we can be very happy," said Mariel at their home at 2552 Fowler when they received the news of Rhoades decision. Mariel went to the piano and began playing "Happy Days Are Here Again." "What's my dad going to do about it now. I hope he'll leave us alone," said Jose.  Mr. Masters did not plan to appeal to the supreme court, though he believed the decision could be overturned. [10]

In September, O'Connor and Abrahams petitioned the Court, contending that Joseph Masters should pay their fees of $350. There is no report on whether Mr. Masters paid their costs or not. [11] 
2552 Fowler - home of the young couple
The following April, Jose and Mariel celebrated their first anniversary with a dinner for a few friends at their home at 2552 Fowler Avenue. Joseph Masters was not present, and Jose said that a reconciliation with his father was not likely. He had had no word from them nor had he seen them since the trial the previous summer. [12]
On Saturday, April 29, 1933, Jose and Mariel welcomed a daughter, Jacqueline Jill, born at Immanuel Hospital. During this time, Jose was earning a living playing in orchestras. [13] 

Sadly, this article can not conclude "They lived happily ever after." On December 8, 1934, Mariel filed for divorce in district court, citing cruelty and nonsupport. What finally caused her to seek a divorce was not spelled out in her petition, but Jose moved back to the home of his parents while Mariel lived with her mother and worked part-time. Jose admitted there could be no reconciliation, saying "What would be the use?" when asked if he would oppose the suit. Told that the charge was non-support, Jose said "She can't prove that." [14]

The Court ordered Jose to pay $5/week to his estranged wife to care for the 19-month old baby, and an additional $1.50/week to Mariel so she could afford carefare to visit Jacqueline, who was in the care of friends at 3339 Meredith Street. He was also to pay $25 in attorneys fees. Mariel requested sufficient alimony so she could quit her job and care for the baby herself, saying "the baby is getting good material care but not the good spiritual care I could give it." She testified that Jose was making $21/week playing in an orchestra, and paying $7/week room and board, $1/week for laundry, and $2-$3/week in other expenses. When Jose argued that Mariel had left him, Judge Rhoades cut him off saying he only wanted to hear testimony regarding finances. Mariel was earning $10.50/week playing the piano for gymnasium classes in grade schools. [15]

The proceedings continued to intensify. In January, 1935, Jose filed a petition in court requesting Mariel "make definite and specific the charges" in her divorce petition. He asked what specific acts committed by him constituted the "extreme cruelty" charged in the petition, and that Mariel elaborate on the non-support charge. [16]

In February, Mariel was awarded a default divorce degree from Jose Masters. The decree found that both parents were fit to have custody of Jacqueline Jill, but provided that Jose would have custody and provide support for the child, but she would be kept in a neutral home. Mariel was awarded no alimony, but Jose was required to pay $50 for her attorney fees The parties agreed to the terms before the hearing. [17]

Jaqueline Jill Masters
Again, this may have been the end of the saga, but the story took a new, dramatic turn when Jose left Omaha with little Jacqueline Jill. On Sunday, March 10, Jose picked up the baby from Mrs. F.L. Lauritsen, who had been caring for the child. When Mariel went to see the baby, she was told that Jose had taken her. Mrs. Lauritsen had a letter for Mariel from Jose, reading "I am leaving Omaha today and taking Jacqueline with me. The future is uncertain but please rest assured I will do everything for Jacqueline that I can. If the decree gave me full custody, I would bring her back." [18]

Mariel had previously complained that she had not been treated well at the Lauritsens when she had visited the baby. Her attorney said that Jose had failed to find a new home in which to keep the child. Because of this, Mariel was petitioning for full custody. Notice of this action had been served to Jose on Saturday, March 10, in the morning, while Jose was playing with a dance band in East Omaha. It was because of this, it was believed he had left town with his daughter the next day. [19]
King Features Syndicated column about
the young couple which ran in newspapers
around the nation in 1936.

Jose could not be located, and his parents did not even know where he had gone. "He did not tell us a thing," said Joseph Masters. "We are, of course, terribly sorry that he felt he had to leave but we are sure that things will work out alright for both him and the child." Mariel, however, was "frantic with worry over the child," and went to court to modify the divorce decree, giving her full custody of the child. While Jose's attorney knew he had left Omaha, he did not know where himself, saying "I don't know what they can do about it, though. The baby is his child. The court granted him custody. He was being hounded to death by his former wife and juvenile court investigators so I presume he took [Jacqueline Jill] on the lam." Joseph Masters said Jose had little money with him when he left, and had possibly fled to Canada where an uncle lived. [20] "As soon as Jose and the baby are found, action will be started to return to force the return of the youngster to her mother," said George Truman, Mariel's attorney. [21]
On the morning of Tuesday, April 30, a writ of habeas corpus was issued in connection with Mariel's efforts to regain custody of her baby. The writ was dismissed Tuesday afternoon. The writ had been issued after a woman called Mariel at the store she worked at, claiming she had seen Jose and Jacqueline enter the home of his father. Mr. and Mrs. Masters appeared in court that afternoon, denying this; however, Mrs. Masters told the court she had received letters from Jose from Olean, New York and East Smethport, Pennsylvania asking his violin be sent to him, "as he expected to obtain work on a farm there." [22]

Representatives from the World-Herald interviewed Jose at his grandmother's farm in Pennsylvania, where he had been since March. He had been working at the farm, about four miles from Smethport, and intended to remain there, saying the baby was well cared for. District Court Judge Rhoades had awarded custody of the baby to Mariel, saying "He is playing hide-and-seek with the court now, but sooner or later there will be a reckoning. . . I wonder if Jose realizes the sorrow he is causing." Mariel's attorney asked the County Attorney to file a charge of child stealing against Jose. [23]

Meanwhile, Jose continued to practice his music, "scor[ing] a great hit" at the McKean County Courthouse, accompanying a singer at a benefit performance for the Pennsylvania Child Welfare Committee. Masters also announced he would teach violin, banjo, and piano. [24]

March 15, 1936 Omaha World-Herald photo
of Jacqueline Jill Masters (age 3) and Jose
The following March, Mariel obtained a court order demanding that Mrs. Jane Ware, Jose's paternal grandmother, produce the baby at Smethport by 2 pm, on Thursday, March 12, 1936, where her custody would be determined. Max Fromkin, attorney for Mariel, said that her latest move for custody of the child had been financed by an Omaha businessman whose identity had not been revealed. (The mystery benefactor was later revealed to Mr. and Mrs. Morton Lipsey, who had interested themselves in the Masters case in connection with general social relief work.*) Mariel had taken a bus to Smethport on Monday, March 9, where she immediately filed the motion. Her Omaha attorneys intimated that the Pennsylvania court is bound, when the child is produced, to abide by the custody order of the Douglas County Court and turn the child over to her mother.  That evening, Mariel held her child for the first time in over a year when the child was brought to the hotel she was staying at. A custody hearing was scheduled for the following day. [25]

[* Morton Lipsey, an Omaha grocer, ran an unsuccessful campaign for city commissioner in 1936. A 'Morton Lipsey-for-Commissioner Club' was formed, with Max Fromkin as club Secretary. (January 17, 1936 Omaha World-Herald.) Lipsey died on September 27, 1940, and Max Fromkin was one of his pallbearers. (Sept 29, 1940 OWH).]

Final custody would remain undecided as the case was continued indefinitely until depositions on behalf of the mother could be obtained from witnesses in Omaha. Before continuing the case, Judge of the common pleas court in Smethport, PA received testimony from Judge Charles Hubbard of McKean County, PA that in his opinion the child would receive proper care in its present surroundings. Mariel planned to leave for Omaha to await resumption of the hearing, and attorney Max Fromkin began assembling depositions to prove that Mariel was qualified to have custody of the child. [26]

Again, the case took another strange turn as Jacqueline was taken from the home of Jane Ware in Smethport, PA. Three men appeared at her home, without the mother, saying they understood Jose played the piano and they wanted to speak to him about playing in their orchestra. Jane invited them into her home to leave a note for Jose who was not home at the time. A few moments later, Mariel Masters appeared at the door, and while the men held Jane Ware, she took the child and with the three men, sped away. Description of Mariel Masters and the child was immediately broadcast throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. The car was tracked to Jamestown, New York. Mrs. Russell, Mariel's mother, knew she had gone to Smethport, but was unaware of this plan. Max Fromkin, Mariel's attorney, was also surprised by this development. He had forwarded affidavits of her fitness to have custody to the Pennsylvania courts and was awaiting further word from the courts. He had advised orderly legal procedure to regain custody, though he contended Mrs. Masters had the right to take the child wherever she wished. Mr. and Mrs. Morton Lipsey, who had helped her get to Pennsylvania in March, said "he is no longer interested in the case." [27]

Jose did not again attempt to regain custody of Jacqueline.

Happier times: Mariel and Lyle Johnson
on their wedding day, 1937.
Mariel did return to Omaha, living with her now-widowed mother, at 3517 Jackson. The newspaper reported that she made several calls to the police, reporting a party sitting in a parked car near their home and later reporting a man walking up and down the street in the shadows across the street. Both times, the car and unknown man were gone when the police arrived. [28]

The saga largely seemed to end here, at least in the pages of the World-Herald. In February, 1937, the World-Herald reported she was to be married on Easter Sunday to 25 year old Lyle C. Johnson, Jr. of Omaha. In September, she again filed for divorce, citing cruelty and incompatibility. She was granted a temporary alimony of $20/month. The decree was granted on October 8, 1937 with an alimony of $100, after testifying that Lyle had beaten and choked her on several occasions. She resumed the name Mariel Russell Masters. [29]

She made her third trip to the altar on June 13, 1939 in Blair, marrying Minneapolis grocer salesman Julian T. Johnson. She returned to Nebraska from Minneapolis, where she had been working several months, to be married. Jacqueline was living with Mrs. Russell at 3110 Cass Street. [30]

Jose returned to college at Ohio State University, where he was elected to the membership of a musical fraternity and Phi Delta Kappa honors fraternity. Initially, his grandmother Jane Ware went to Columbus, Ohio to keep an apartment for him, but decided to go back to school herself. She enrolled in night courses, studying philosophy, psychology, current events, and eastern history. Jose received his Bachelor of Arts from Ohio State University in 1939. [31]

Jacqueline Boyko
Sadly, Jacqueline Jill Masters did not have a "happily ever after life" after the turmoil of her earlier years. As the World-Herald reported, "the final pages were added to her brief but hectic life with her murder. . . in Minneapolis, Minnesota" in February, 1952. She was married in 1951, and welcomed a daughter named Roxanne in about November, 1951. A babysitter came to the house, but hearing no answer to the doorbell alerted Jacqueline's mother. They found her on the floor beside a bed, with a bullet in her right temple.

The 18 year-old mother was buried on Valentine's Day, 1952. Her 22 year-old husband, John Boyko, was captured near Del Rio, Texas and charged with first-degree murder. John Boyko claimed she had been shot as he struggled with her over a gun during an argument. Police reported the couple had been at odds because he had been unable to hold a job, and she was working afternoons in the office of a freight hauling company. John Boyko was sentenced to life imprisonment for her murder. He was released from prison on parole on November 14, 1969. [32]

Jose and Mariel's story was widely reported at the time, in newspapers around the nation with all the sensationalism of the times. I could not find whether Mariel and Julian Johnson had other children, but I did find that Jose eventually went to Corpus Christi, Texas, playing lead viola in the symphony orchestra, piano in a swing band, and director of the Miller High School orchestra. Jose also remarried, but I was unable to find anything else about him or his wife. I did find an obituary listing, without any details for Jose Masters of Arlington, Texas, born August 28, 1912 and who died on March 5, 1999 at age 86. This certainly fits the time period of our Jose Masters. It is unknown whether he remained in contact with his granddaughter Roxanne Boyko.

After their tumultuous divorce and the pain of losing their daughter in such tragic circumstances, I can only hope that both Mariel and her husband and Jose and his wife were able to lead the lives they wanted and surround themselves with loved ones.

Jose Masters following his interest in music in a 1956
newspaper clipping from the Corpus Christi Caller Times


[1] May 16, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[2] May 16, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[3] May 21, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[4] May 21, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[5] May 17, 1932, Omaha World-Herald and May 24, 1932 Omaha World-Herald
[6] May 23, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[7] May 24, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[8] June 4, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[9] June 15, 1932, Omaha World-Herald and June 16, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[10] June 15, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[11] September 16, 1932, Omaha World-Herald
[12] April 21, 1933, Omaha World-Herald
[13] April 30, 1933, Omaha World-Herald and December 8, 1934, Omaha World-Herald

[14] December 8, 1934, Omaha World-Herald
[15] December 11, 1934, Omaha World-Herald
[16] January 5, 1935, Omaha World-Herald
[17] February 6, 1935, Omaha World-Herald and March 11, 1935, Omaha World-Herald
[18] March 11, 1935, Omaha World-Herald
[19] March 11, 1935, Omaha World-Herald and March 12, 1935, Omaha World-Herald
[20] March 11, 1935, Omaha World-Herald
[21] March 12, 1935, Omaha World-Herald
[22] May 1, 1935, Omaha World-Herald
[23] May 2, 1935, Omaha World-Herald
[24] May 3, 1935, Omaha World-Herald
[25] March 11, 1936, March 13, 1936, and March 15, 1936 Omaha World-Herald
[26] March 11, 1936, Omaha World-Herald
[27] May 11, 1936, Omaha World-Herald
[28] May 17, 1936, Omaha World-Herald
[29] September 14, 1937, September 18, 1937, September 24, 1937, and October 8, 1937, Omaha World-Herald
[30] June 15, 1939, Omaha World-Herald
[31] March 3, 1938 and March 13, 1938, and June 11, 1939 Omaha World-Herald
[32] February 18, 1952, Omaha World-Herald and March 31, 1952 Winona Republican-Herald

and http://www.leagle.com/decision/1971614184NW2d430_1599/BOYKO#.