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Maggie O'Connell

Contributed by Reuben Feld

In the 1880s Watertown had the dubious honor of being known as the hometown of one Maggie O'Connell, known in and around Watertown and beyond the state line for petty thievery and general nuisance. Her penchant for travel kept her from being a great problem at any one community.


In 1886, after being suspected, accused, and convicted of the number of minor crimes, she was arrested for entering a number of houses and stealing bundles of clothing in Rockford Illinois. At the time of her arrest, she gave her name as Miller, admitting she was from Watertown, and claimed to have been jailed in Oregon, Dixon and Freeport for similar offenses. She displayed typical Maggie O'Connell behavior as she rode to jail in the patrol wagon, singing a ribald song at the top of her voice.


Less than a month later she was arrested at Madison for stealing female garments. The Chief of Police questioned her but quickly released her because, he said, she "seemed a little off."


As the complaining parties did not want to prosecute, and seeing Maggie had a railroad ticket to Watertown, it was assumed that was where she would go upon her release. Not so! An hour or so after leaving the police station at Madison, word came that she was it is a saloon endeavoring to obtain liquor. So she was again incarcerated and then, in the morning, put on the train to Watertown


The next few months saw Maggie being committed to a series of jails from which she was always released quickly because of her yelling, screaming, and cursing at the top of her voice. At one point she was committed to a mental institution in Kankakee, Illinois, where she was to be cured of mental disturbances caused, the experts said, by her terrible experience at the Newhall House fire in Milwaukee some years previous.


But, according to the Watertown Republican, "... the tendency to make life miserable for jailer and fellow-prisoners by her screams was not eradicated. In fact, it is believed that these traits precipitated her release."


She soon turned up in jail in Chicago where under the alias of Maggie Crowley and was quickly released. Within a week, she was arrested in Milwaukee for stealing a $250 mink coat (which she insisted was hers), released, and returned to Watertown where she was again for arrested for burglary.


On April 25, 1887 she was sentenced to one year in Waupun. From there she was transferred to the Northern Hospital for the insane and nine years later to the Jefferson County Asylum where, it is presumed, she died.