The Pimping Professor

Senor Jose Hidalgo had accomplished more by age 29 than most men do in a lifetime. In his native Guatemala he’d earned a doctor of laws degree, then gone on to represent his country as a counsel to Japan. Resigning his position he’d gone to San Francisco, published a book on the history of aviation, and by 1910 had become an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of California, Berkeley.

Jose Hidalgo

His courtly manners and his polished appearance, coupled with a bit of Latin charm, made him one of the more popular professors on the Berkley campus, especially amongst the female student body. Many of the coeds signed up for private Spanish language tutoring at Hidalgo’s offices in the Westbank building.

His Latin American heritage also made him an advisor of sorts to the small contingent of foreign student from Central American who were studying at Berkley, among them Juan Posados, son of Zenon Posados, the coffee king of Guatemala. The two shared an interest in aviation, and Hildago took Posados, a sophomore, under his wing. As Posada recalled in June, 1910, “About three or four weeks ago, he invited me to visit a girlfriend of his. Prior to this time he had often boasted to me of his conquests among the girls of the University of California, most of whom, he said, were very young.”

Apparently, Hidalgo’s conquests were not solely due to his charm, “[h]e, knowing that I was interested in chemistry, asked me to let him have a drug which would render a person unconscious, explaining at the time that there was a girl visiting his offices at the Westbank building on whom he had designs.”

Posada never disclosed whether he provided the knockout drops to Hidalgo, but teacher and student kept in contact, “[h]e took me to the Hotel Cecil, where I was introduced to a woman named Marie Milder. I gave her $15.” Two weeks later, Hidalgo arranged another prostitute for Posada. “Last Saturday Hidalgo came to me again and invited me to meet another girl friend of his that night. Again I accepted. On this occasion I met Grace Carter. The strange part of the affair was that she was not the person whom it was intended to meet, but the other party failing to keep the appointment, Hidalgo found Grace Carter walking the streets, became acquainted with her to be a substitute.” Hidalgo reached an agreement with Carter, and they split the proceeds of her night with Posada.

Grace Carter

The ease with which he’d arranged trysts between Posada and Grace (a/k/a Grace Ellifritz) gave Hidalgo an idea; a house of assignation in Napa, where he could arrange meetings between his wealthy Latin American students and a hand selected group of prostitutes. He pitched the idea to Grace Carter, fully intending her to run the house while he took care of recruiting student visitors. Posada was either brazen or foolhardy; his meeting with Grace took place in his offices in the Westbank building, where a 20 year old student he’d ravished lay passed out from the effects of absinthe. Carter agreed to the proposal.

Meanwhile, Posada and Carter’s trysts at the Hotel Navarre continued. As Posada described one tryst “Hidalgo left us, and waited outside in the corridor. After he had gone the girl told me of her meeting with Hidalgo and said that he had proposed to her that he should bring students to her, and that she should give him a third of the money she received. ‘He is waiting for his share now.’ she said. ‘Let him wait.’ I replied. ‘He waited until 1 o’clock in the morning, and then slipped a note in through the door, saying he would call again at 3 o’clock the following afternoon.”

Hidalgo did call, although by that time Posada was gone. Carter and Hidalgo finished off a bottle of absinthe, then went looking for another victim. It didn’t take long. At one of the neighborhood cafes, Hidalgo sighted Richard Barry, sitting alone nursing a drink. Hidalgo quietly pointed him out, and discreetly withdrew.

Hidalgo couldn’t have chosen a worse victim. The lonely young man who appeared to be a likely looking Richard was a writer for Pearson’s Magazine. Even worse for Hidalgo, Barry was a muckraker who’d dedicated his literary efforts to exposing corruption in everything from boxing to the Utah state government. A skilled interrogator, Barry soon had the full story, and he dragged Grace Carter off to the San Francisco District Attorney, and then to the police.

Chief Martin, and Detectives Wren and Boyle set up a sting operation, and ordered Carter to phone Hidalgo and invite him to visit her at the Hotel Navarre on the evening of Wednesday, June 22, 1910. To entice him, Grace let him know that she’d found a mining millionaire willing to invest in the Napa establishment.

That night, Richard Barry, the detectives, a newspaperman from the San Francisco Call, and a police stenographer sat in an adjoining room, listening as Grace steadily drew Hidalgo out. The conversation, preserved by the newspaperman, gives the modern reader a fascinating window into the economics of prostitution and the slang of the day:

Grace: How much would it take to sta

rt an assignation house?

Hidalgo: Where?

Grace: Here, in San Francisco.

Hidalgo: Oh, about $3000 at least.

Grace: I’ve heard of a chance in Napa. I hear you can rent a house there for $35 per month, and get a license for $30.[1] So we could start on easy capital. Would you like that?

Hidalgo: Certainly.

Grace: Well, make a square propositi

on. How shall we run it?

Hidalgo: The way to do business is half and half. You take half and I take half.

Grace: How about getting the women for the place.

Hidalgo: Oh, get some you can manage – two young chickens and one good old one. Do not get them under 18. You have to look out; but get young fools –

Grace (laughing): Like the one you gave absinthe on your couch the other day?

Hidalgo: Yes, certainly.

Grace: How old was she?

 

Hidalgo: Oh, 20, I guess.

Our newspaper report cuts off here, presumably out of concerns of revealing the identity of the young victim. At 4AM, the police broke down the door, and took Hidalgo away in manacles. Two days later he was indicted on one felony count for a “criminal conspiracy against public morals.” Isaac Goldmen, grand jury foreman opined “It is the regret of this grand jury that the law does not permit of a stronger felony charge being laid against the man, as the evidence proved him to be of a most depraved character and a danger to the community.”

Hidalgo’s lawyer, H.F. Marshall, put up a valiant but forlorn effort to quash the indictment, and moved that it  be dis

missed because one of the witness’ names had been spelled incorrectly. The motion was denied, and on July 26th, 1910, Hidalgo pled guilty before Judge Conley of the county court. According to the San Francisco Call, “the assistant district attorney…urged the imposition of a light penalty, and said the prosecution would be satisfied if Hidalgo were sent to jail for a month.” Scheduled for sentencing on July 30th, Hidalgo was unable to appear in court because of a quarantine placed upon the city jail after a smallpox outbreak. On August 23, 1910 the court granted Hidalgo probation, on the condition that he leave the country immediately. After seven weeks in the county jail, Hidalgo hightailed it out of San Francisco and was last heard of in Mexico, where he was managing airplane races. He got off easy if you ask us.

As for the rest of the motley collection of characters they disappear, except for Richard Barry who kept right on muckraking.

[1] I can only assume they mean a liquor license.

Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. There’s nothing new under the sun as they say! And hurray for muckrakers. Ida Tarbell is on my list to investigate. Great as always!

    Reply
    • Check google books. They have free magazines from the 1910s, and some of her articles are bound to be in there.

      Reply
      • I have her Standard Oil expose, but I’m sure there’s more. And old magazines goody! Thanks!

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