Behind Every Gangster is a Good Moll

Jean Harlow in Public Enemy.
Jean Harlow in Public Enemy.
You’ve heard the saying “Behind every man is a good woman”, yes? Well, the same holds true for gangsters. To be sure, the famous gangsters of the Dirty Thirties, like Bugsy Siegel, John Dillinger, Al Capone, Clyde Barrow, and Pretty Boy Floyd were killers and thieves (among other unsavory things) but did that stop their women from loving them and staying by their sides? Not these ladies! In fact, they even helped their men commit their crimes, cementing themselves in the public consciousness forever. These women took “lovin’ the bad boy” way too far, so you have to ask yourself: what was in it for them? I’m guessing money and the excitement of notoriety, at least for some, so check ’em out, and you be the judge!

Virginia Hill aka The Flamingo, Bugsy Siegel’s squeeze,  was called the “queen of the gangster’s molls” by none other than Time Magazine, and had no qualms about using her sexuality to get what she wanted. Brazenly unashamed of this fact, in a time when being overtly sexual was not the norm, got her plenty of attention, and may even have gotten her killed. Virginia was a dancer at the World’s Fair, where it’s thought that she first fell in with mobsters. She was beautiful and knew it and had attitude to match, which may have been why she could hold her own so well with some of the most notorious criminals of the ’30s. It definitely takes a certain kind of woman to stay with a man who had no fewer than three women at his beck and call at any given time. Luckily for her, after a fight with Siegel, she climbed aboard a plane bound for Paris, after which Siegel was killed in their home. Was she tipped off to get outta Dodge? We may never know, but what we do know, is that Virginia used her brains and her looks to give as good as she got from the criminals she ran with. Imagine what would have happened had she used her powers for good?

Now we’ll move on to Mae Capone, who really needs no introduction.  Beautiful and mysterious, Mae, also known as “Josephine” to her friends, married the notorious Al Capone in 1918, a month after giving birth to their first son. If you need a refresher on your mob trivia, Al Capone started out his career in crime with small gangs like The Bowery Boys, eventually movin’ on up to the Five Points Gang and beyond. Seriously, name a crime, and Al Capone probably did it: murder, bribery, bootlegging, gambling, prostitution, and of course, who can forget the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre? What did a beautiful woman like Mae see in a guy like Al? We may never know, and of course, she’s not talkin’.

Bonnie Parker: Bein’ a moll leads to a short and violent life!
Bein’ a moll leads to a short and violent life!
I might as well close this out with a, ahem, bang, so let’s move on to the notorious (and rather scary) Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow’s partner in love and crime. Bonnie was married when she met Clyde, and the next four years were quite a whirlwind for the daughter of a bricklayer and a seamstress, from Rowena, Texas. Bonnie was also probably the most hands on gal pal of the bunch. During her time with the Barrow Gang, Bonnie helped Clyde rob, and possibly kill, their way through a 21-month crime spree that left at least 13 people dead. The Barrow Gang is also thought to have been involved in the deaths of up to nine police officers. Without Bonnie, who knows how famous Clyde Barrow would be? After all, she certainly provided sex appeal. Young, attractive, and unmarried, they were the “superstars” of crime, which is very tragic, as so much senseless killing punctuated their relationship. What motivated this lovely young woman, who, in her 1929 diary, speaks of her love of movies, and her loneliness, to witness and participate in so many heinous crimes? Was Clyde Barrow that irresistible, or did her impatience with the pace of life in her hometown make her long for something exciting, and once she was in, find she just couldn’t stop? Perhaps predictably, the young couple were killed in Louisiana in 1934, ambushed by four Texas officers and two Louisiana officers, ending their short but brutal reign of terror.

What do you think makes a woman fall in love with a criminal, especially a violent one?


Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all of Kristin Centorcelli’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. marc nash

    Hi there, great piece. I think it must be some combination of power, thrill, security (being protected better than any protection racket), material wealth and as you say the sexual charge behind it all. But times have moved on. Molls still exist and I think are even more fascinating because they have more awareness and knowledge of what crime actually means.

  2. Kristin Centorcelli

    @ marc nash Thank you!! I agree with you on this one, totally 😀

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