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The People v. Mero

OPINION FILED OCTOBER 25, 1954

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, DEFENDANT IN ERROR,

v.

HELEN MERO, PLAINTIFF IN ERROR.



WRIT OF ERROR to the Criminal Court of Cook County; the Hon. HENRY L. BURMAN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE HERSHEY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied December 20, 1954.

On March 27, 1953, three indictments were returned in the criminal court of Cook County against the plaintiff in error, Helen Mero, who is hereinafter referred to as the defendant. Each indictment involved the confidence game. The first charged the defendant with having obtained $1700 from Ida Collins on August 28, 1952, and will be referred to herein as the Collins case. The second charged the defendant with obtaining $10,033 from Grace Littleford on May 5, 1952, and will be referred to as the Littleford case. The third charged the defendant with attempting to obtain $3000 from Bertha Gueldenzoph on October 8, 1952, and will be referred to as the Gueldenzoph case.

The defendant waived a jury in each case, and a trial was had before the court. She was found guilty in the Collins case and sentenced to a term of not less than two nor more than three years in the Illinois State Reformatory for Women. She was found not guilty in the Littleford case. She was found guilty in the Gueldenzoph case and was sentenced to a term of not less than one year nor more than one year and a day in the Illinois State Reformatory for Women. It was adjudged that the two sentences were to run concurrently.

During the trial of the Collins case, the parties agreed to consolidate the three cases and try them together. It was stipulated that the evidence in the Collins case could be received and stand for evidence in the Littleford case, and it was further stipulated that the evidence in the Collins case could be received and stand for evidence in the Gueldenzoph case.

The defendant prosecutes writs of error to this court seeking to have said judgments of conviction set aside. The two causes, No. 33298 (Collins case) and No. 33299 (Gueldenzoph case), have been consolidated for review by this court.

As regards the Collins case, which we shall consider first, the defendant contends: (1) The State did not establish the guilt of the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, and there was no proper identification. (2) The alibi evidence of the accused stands unchallenged and undisputed, and the manifest weight of the evidence was against the finding of the court. (3) The State failed to prove criminal intent on the part of the defendant, and the attempted proof of similar offense against Miss Gueldenzoph was inadmissible because the defendant was found not guilty in the Littleford case. (4) There was no proof of corpus delicti beyond a reasonable doubt.

Three witnesses testified for the prosecution in the Collins case; namely, the complaining witness, Ida Collins, police officer Joseph L. Cook, and Grace H. Littleford.

Ida Collins, a sixty-five year old married woman, testified to the following: On August 28, 1952, at around 10:30 A.M. she was seated at a counter in a Woolworth store, at which time the defendant approached her, saying she had just settled a claim for $42,000 as a result of her daughter having been hurt in an accident and asking Mrs. Collins what she ought to do with the money. Mrs. Collins suggested that she put it in a bank, but the defendant said she was afraid to do so since her husband was a gambler. The defendant then told her of having met a woman that morning who had found a bag containing $6500. She said she told the woman to keep the money, but she said she did not want to. While they were thus talking, the defendant saw this woman and called her over. She told her that she had mentioned to Mrs. Collins about her finding the money, and the woman said "you shouldn't have told her anything about it." She then asked the defendant if she still had the settlement money in her purse, and after the defendant replied that she did, the other woman said she had put the $6500 in her boss's desk upstairs where she worked and that she would go ask him what to do with it. She left, and upon returning said "I got a big surprise for you two. * * * My boss told me we can divide the money equally because I saved his daughter's life from drowning and he gave me a lifetime job." She asked the defendant for the money to "show her boss in good faith," and the defendant gave her the purse she was carrying without disclosing its contents. The woman left, but returned saying she had good news as the boss said they should divide it three ways. She then asked Mrs. Collins how much money she had, and Mrs. Collins replied that she had $1700 in the bank. She asked her if she could get it out, and Mrs. Collins answered that she could, as she had her bank book with her. The defendant and Mrs. Collins then went to the bank together, and Mrs. Collins withdrew the $1700, after being told by the defendant to get it in ten dollar bills. They returned to an appointed place to meet the other woman. The latter, after asking Mrs. Collins if she had the money, told her to give it to the defendant. Mrs. Collins then gave the money to the defendant, who in turn gave it to the other woman. She told Mrs. Collins to go talk to her boss at the Lincoln Building and that he would give her part of her share. Whereupon she left the defendant and the other woman to go to the office to which they directed her. She went to the building, but after being unable to find the boss, returned to where she had left the other two, only to find they had gone. She said "then it dawned on me my money is gone." She reported the matter to the police.

About two weeks later she identified the defendant among three other women at a police showup. She said she had seen the picture of the defendant in the newspaper, and upon recognizing her went to the police and the showup followed.

Police officer Joseph L. Cook, who was the lieutenant in charge of the confidence game detail at the detective bureau, testified regarding the identification of the defendant made by Mrs. Collins at the police showup, which was in operation when Mrs. Collins came in. As she entered, she took one look at the women in the room, pointed at the defendant, said "that's the woman that took my money" and fainted.

Grace Littleford, 68 years of age, testified to the following incident, which she said occurred on May 5, 1952: At around 11:30 A.M., as she had just come from lunch at a drug store, she was stopped by a woman, who patted her on the back, said she looked like an honest woman, and then proceeded to tell her about receiving $10,000 from a bus company for an injury to her nine-year-old daughter. While in the company of this woman, the latter pointed to the defendant and said "there she is," and the defendant walked to where they were. The defendant said "did you tell this woman I had found some money?" and the woman answered "yes, shouldn't I have told her?" The defendant replied "Well, I will have to go back to my boss and ask him what to do because you have told it to someone else, and if someone else knows it, it isn't well." The defendant left, but returned in about five or ten minutes and said the boss counted $9600 in the bag and said it must be divided in three instead of two. The defendant told the other woman to see the boss. The other woman left, the defendant and Mrs. Littleford staying together, and returned in about ten minutes. She said to the defendant: "I went up to your boss and he showed me a picture of a little girl, the daughter that you had saved from an accident and for that reason you were to have a position with him for life." As the two women then escorted Mrs. Littleford down the street, the defendant told her that her boss said she must show she has finances so that she could repay any of the money he was going to divide among the three. After making arrangements to meet the defendant later on the same corner, the other woman and Mrs. Littleford took a taxi to go to various banks where Mrs. Littleford had money deposited. They went to several banks, and she withdrew amounts totaling $10,033. Upon returning to the same corner, the defendant rushed up to her and said "Oh, I just wondered if you were going to come back in time. My boss is very busy. * * * I will take the money up to him." She gave the defendant the money. The defendant left, and when she returned told Mrs. Littleford to go see the boss, a Mr. Allen of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, but to wait a few minutes as he then had a customer. She left them and went to the office as directed, but was unable to find the boss. She returned to the corner, but discovering that they had gone, went to her home in Downers Grove and called the police.

Mrs. Littleford stated that she next saw the defendant on October 9, 1952, at a police showup. There were seven women in the line, she thought, and she asked the defendant to stand out so that she could examine her. Since the defendant had a babushka on her head when she saw her previously, she was permitted to tie a babushka on the defendant's head. As she was thus examining her, the defendant said "Please lady, don't say I am the one." When she said this, Mrs. Littleford said she recognized her.

Upon cross-examination Mrs. Littleford was asked whether she did not identify a policewoman at another showup, and she said she did not identify the policewoman, but said the latter was as near the height and the size of the ...


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