The Murder of Cherry de St Maurice, Queen of the Underworld
Murdered in 1913, Californa’s wealthiest madam’s true identity is now lost to time
California’s capital, Sacramento, was an early 19th-century hotbed for prostitution. There weren’t many women on the frontier. Gold Rushers often found themselves reaching the end of their prospects on the west coast where many willing women waited, palms outstretched, in the demi-monde.
Between 3rd Street and the riverfront, Sacramento’s redlight district boasted some of the most eager, unfortunate women. Some walked the streets, but ladies who worked the brothels made the most money.
By 1913, reporters called Cherry de St Maurice “Queen of the Tenderloin,” and she was in the prime of her reign. Her death would have vigilantes calling for the end of legalized, or rather blind-eyed, sex work.
The Woman with no Past
Cherry had always been a woman of mystery. She first arrived on the scene in 1903. Legend holds, she worked as a chorus girl with the traveling production of the musical comedy, Florodora, and told everyone she came from Chicago but was born at sea in 1888 to French parents. No one asked her to elaborate.
A person could quickly ditch their identity at the turn of 19th century California. There wasn’t an abundance of red tape, like birth certificates or identification cards, tying people to their names — anyone with an alias and a plausible backstory could blend in with the droves of new arrivals.
Cherry was in Sacramento when the Florodora production tanked. She didn’t have time to wonder what she’d do. Cherry knew, at heart, she was a businesswoman, but her sensibilities told her she would make quick money in Fannie Brown’s 2nd Street brothel.
Cherry wasn’t wrong — by 1907, Cherry saved up enough cash to open a “sporting house” of her own at 327 L Street. She called her establishment The Cherry Club.
A Stigmatized Property
The property at 327 L Street had many incarnations, and most of them involved prostitution and murder. There was scarcely a year the building didn’t wind up in the papers because of some horrible…