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Della Stokes

By the time she was 20 years old, Della Stokes had used at least five different aliases. In Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Indianapolis, Indiana, she was known as Madge Raymond. In Calumet, Michigan, and Superior, Wisconsin, she went by the name Louise Phillips. At other times and in other places, she was known as Dorothy Wellington or Jean Winters. When she came to Minneapolis, she checked into the Elroy Hotel as Kate Arnold. She was murdered on October 8, 1915, but it wasn’t until three days later that the police learned her real name.

Della was a petite woman with a dark complexion and bleached hair. She had a scar on her left hip from an operation that repaired a hip injury but which left her with a slight limp. She told anyone who cared to listen that she was the wife of a wealthy rancher in Texas but only had $5.00 to deposit when she opened a bank account in Minneapolis.

The Minneapolis Tribune called Della a “woman of the underworld,” and strongly hinted, though never said outright, that she was a prostitute. She was, they reported, “doomed to an early death from disease.” No doubt Frank Stabbe thought that she was a prostitute when he went to her hotel room at one o’clock in the morning. Instead, he discovered that Della was a con artist and a thief. She stole his wallet containing $10.00, and out of revenge, he killed her.

A witness who heard signs of a struggle coming from Della’s room climbed up and looked through the transom. He saw, and later testified, that he had seen Frank Stabbe (alias Frank Bell) hit Della, but he didn’t intervene because he didn’t think that their fight was serious. After the police had tracked Stabbe to Chicago and arrested him, he admitted that he had beaten Della but denied having killed her. The jury who heard his case wasn’t convinced, and Frank Stabbe was sentenced to life in prison.

Normally Della’s death wouldn’t have received much attention, but it happened to come at a time when a downtown business association was working to spruce up the city’s image. The focus of their attention was Bridge Square, the community of flophouses and saloons on Washington Avenue, near Nicollet and Hennepin Avenues where Della died. Like Della, the association believed in the value of an occasional name change, and so Bridge Square was reborn as The Gateway.

While the Gateway Improvement Association recognized the importance of migratory laborers to Minnesota’s farming and lumbering economies, its members also wished that the men were less conspicuous. Della’s death, coming when it did, called unwanted attention to the varieties of vice that flourished near the railroad depot, the city’s entry point. A few of the association’s members accused police of turning a blind eye to crime, and the police responded by raiding several hotels and saloons. Owners were charged with operating disorderly houses, women “inmates” were charged with selling liquor illegally and violating the Mann Act, and their male visitors were charged with vagrancy. The effects of the raids were short-lived, and The Gateway continued to be home to untold numbers of migratory laborers and homeless men whose value to the state’s economy steadily diminished--until the early 1960s when 13 blocks of hotels and saloons were razed displacing 3,500 people.

By retracing Della’s steps, the coroner eventually located Della’s family in Texas. They were either unwilling or unable to have her body sent home and instructed him to bury her in Minneapolis. A week after she died, Della’s obituary ran in the Minneapolis Journal grandly announcing that she would “lie in state” at Lindquist’s Undertaking Parlor. On October 19, 1915, Della was buried in an unmarked grave in the paupers’ section of Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery.


Next Article -> Benjamin Wood -- February 2007