(by Student #27 AMH 2010 1115)
I’m going to put all the research I’ve done in chronological order from when I started researching to now, and what conclusions I’ve drawn along the way. The very first thing I did was type “Nona Lesher” into google and immediately found an article about her jail time. A clipping from the Oakland Tribune had an article on her reason for getting locked up, which happened to be that she wrote a bad check. I found it astonishing that someone went to jail for this when it is done on the daily in America today. The article’s title was “May Avoid Jail”. This got me wondering, how and why would she avoid jail, even though I already knew she unfortunately ended up going to jail. I also wondered why she wrote the bad check in the first place, was it to provide food for her family? Only more research would tell. Apparently, if a parole officer by the name of Ed. H. Whyte plead on her behalf it could have given her the chance she needed to be let off the hook. The article then went on to call her “wig girl” which seemed like an odd nickname, and also made it aware to me that she was known popularly before her arrest. I figured I’d get into the whole wig girl thing after I was finished with this article, so onward we go. The article then stated that she had served a term in San Quentin prison for receiving stolen goods, so she had already been in prison once before. Nona wrote a bad check for $22.50 at a stationary store downtown and tried to pay it to Miss Kitty LaFargue. She was arrested on August 27th. Her lawyer, J. J. Corglat, was the one who requested the parole officer
take the stand on her behalf. His testimony stated that although her record was bad, it was the responsibility of her marriage to Harvey Lesher because of his influence over her when she was only 15 years old. This young age allowed for her to commit such a crime at the still very young age of 19 years old. He continued by saying she never had a real chance to make good because her husband was in a gang of racketeers in Los Angeles and he had previously served time in San Quentin for murder and robbery, and that was her only influence. Since her time in San Quentin, Whyte had believed that she was trying to make good by helping to support her elderly mother.
Whyte also believed that Nona was telling the truth in that she had no other way to get money except for cashing the bad check. This testimony by Whyte caused the judge to prolong the investigation on the crime, and take an additional week to discuss the case. Later in the investigation None stated that Harvey had forced her to cash bad checks because he was involved with bad company. This is where her infamous name of “wig lady” comes about..
Harvey would force her to wear wigs of different colors to make identification difficult when she would go out to cash her bad checks. I found it incredibly interesting that she almost became famous from this, there is a photo of her holding up two wigs, one wig in each hand, and a caption reading : “Her Hair of More than One Hue” as if she was an act in some sort of freak show circus. After she went to prison for that charge, she decided she wanted nothing to do with the gang Harvey was a part of, even though they made attempts to get her to return.
All of this talk about a criminal ex husband got me interested in how the things he did could have really effected her, so I decided to learn more about his crimes. The National Registry of Exonerations allowed me to find out that Harvey was sent to prison in 1928 along with two males by the names of Mike Garvey and Phil Rohan for the slaying of A. R. Miles. Miles was an
apparent druggist in Los Angeles and the slaying was done in a holdup in 1927. They were released in 1930 because there was an investigation that discredited much of the testimony against them. The key witness and testimony for the crime was a ten year old boy whose testimony was deemed “the honest romancing of a child” and it was considered that he was not even present at the crime scene during the time the crime took place. Writing bad checks is one thing, but murder is a whole other level, even though they ended up getting pardoned for it. This led me to start questioning the emotional toll that her clearly controlling husband would have played on her. The parole officer, Whyte, was right in his judgement that she should have been given a chance considering she was still developing at the ripe age of 15 when she was married off to a man involved in a dangerous gang. All she knew was crime, and she was even forced into it via her “wig lady” nickname. Harvey had some sort of control over her because he would make her commit crimes for his own benefit, also he was a couple years short of ten years older than her which proves the marriage was probably not Nona’s choice.
Referencing back to the photo of Nona holding the wigs, I imagine it must be quite
difficult to feel as though you did something wrong if you are asked to pose with wigs for a photo that then became almost a poster of a famous person with a nice little caption to go along with it. The fame coming from that poster probably aided in her choice to perform the same task that got her thrown into jail in the first place. Not only was she asked to pose with wigs, making her crime seem less of a crime and more of entertainment, but she is smiling in the photo. This proves she did not think what she did was that bad, which is another reason why she did it again. I believe it was a good thing that she did not get let off the hook, because if she did, she would probably always think that writing bad checks was no big deal and continue doing it until she
eventually got caught again. Also, on Newspaperarchive.com, there is a photo of Nona sitting on a chair posing for a photo with her legs crossed portraying herself as an innocent adolescent.
This is yet another photo of her going out to the public that shows her as a happy young girl instead of someone who did something wrong, further proving that she was given good publicity for her criminal actions. This publicity could have influenced her to write more bad checks if she thought that she would get some more photos of herself in the newspaper showcasing her latest bad check to really set her “wig lady” nickname in stone.
Overall, I found my research on Nona Lesher extremely interesting because I definitely was not expecting to uncover that she had her own nickname based off of her crimes. I was pleased to realize that her crime was not one of those stomach churning crimes, like murder for example. Nona was a young girl that got swooped up by an older guy and taken into a marriage at the age any other girl would be attending sophomore year of high school. Her relations with her husband and his gang are the primary source of her bad behavior considering he is the one who forced her to go out in those wigs and encouraged her to write bad checks time and time again. Although she did try to get away from the gang life, her troubles came with her into her new life and she ended up writing another bad check, landing her in jail once again. Hopefully that last time taught her a lesson and she finally grew out of that old nickname that the newspapers gave her.