The life and tragic death of Belgian Jennie, Arizona’s wealthiest madam.
Jennie Bauter's early life is a mystery. Before she became the richest woman in Arizona, she gave birth to a son in Brussels. Jennie and her fourteen-year-old boy, John Phillippe, immigrated to America in July of 1896. She put her son in a Chicago boarding school and ventured out west to the boom-town of Jerome, Arizona.
Jerome is nestled precariously in the Mingus Mountains of Yavapai County. Copper mining boomed in Jerome around 1876, and prostitutes moved in before the miners erected tents. Miners called these ladies “Blanket Whores” since they often conducted business outdoors on blankets.
Jennie arrived in Jerome before any real structures existed. Belgian Jennie had three strikes against her; she was an immigrant, unmarried, and a woman. Yet On October 21, 1896, she was able to secure a mortgage on three parcels of land, where she built a wooden building. On paper, this building served as a boarding house for women. In reality, it was a brothel she named Jennie’s Place.
Jennie’s place wasn’t the only house of ill repute in Jerome, but it was the grandest. Jerome had a redlight district mixed right in with jewelry shops and dry-goods mercantile stores. The other brothels had women, just like Jennie, but she had a unique knack for the business. Madam Jennie knew how to hold a man’s gaze while he waited for one of her girls in the parlor. She often sat down and drank whiskey or played cards while they carried on conversations and engaged in non-sexual ways.
Jennie was undoubtedly the lady in charge, and it seems she had prior experience working a bordello. She was past the prime age for prostitution, and she knew it. Rather than have her girls rent out rooms like the other saloons and boarding houses, she provided them shelter and protection as long as they were willing to work.
Life of a boom-town working girl was far from glamorous. Prostitutes had a lot to be fearful of, as they typically acquired a sexually transmitted disease within a year. They also feared pregnancy and violence. Jennie provided medical care to her ladies, and black-market condoms to her patrons-though they often declined to use them. She also took half of their pay.
It didn’t take long before Jennie was raking in big money. Every patron paid around a day’s mining wages to spend time with her girls, and the population of miners kept growing. It also didn’t take long for Jennie’s fortune to go up in flames.
Three fires roared through Jerome between 1897 and 1900. Each time, Jennie had to rebuild. By the third fire, Jerome incorporated as a city and ordained that all buildings needed to be fireproof. Jennie built a new establishment of brick. After Jerome achieved incorporation and sound structures, women and families moved in, and cat houses received plenty of side-eye from these new respectable citizens.
Jenny decided it was time to move on. She heard a gold-vein in Northern Arizona created a new and more prosperous boom town. In 1903, Jennie relocated to Acme Camp in Goldroad, Arizona.
Death in a Boom Town
Jennie arrived at Goldroad in August of 1903, between Kingman and Oatman, Arizona. The Acme mining camp was divided, with the bawdy houses and saloons situated below the road in a section known as “The Badlands,” and residences located above. Jennie established a saloon with two large tents in the back to serve as rooms for her working girls.
This time, she was not alone. A man named Clement C. Leigh joined her from Jerome. He claimed to be her husband. More likely, he was an opportunist who wished to part Jennie with her money.
Goldroad, in Mohave County, was a wild place to live in the early 1900s. Constant reports of murders, suicides and mining accidents lined the newspapers. Alcohol and opium addiction was rampant, and both were readily available. So when Clement, who was a “hop-head,” began threatening Jennie, she had reason to be afraid. Jennie made no secret of her fears. She told anyone who would listen.
Clement started drinking early on the morning of September 3, 1905. He was running off at the mouth about how he needed money to settle a debt and intended to take it from Jennie even if it killed him. The more he drank, the meaner and louder he got, and when he got drunk enough, he headed to Jennie’s house pistol in hand.
At Jennie’s, Clement kicked her door open and demanded cash. She refused, and the two argued loudly enough to call attention to themselves. Jennie ran outside in fear for her life, wearing only a nightgown. Jennie made it about forty feet before Clement shot her in the hip, and she fell to the ground, “For God’s sake, don’t shoot!” were her last words. Clement shot Jennie twice more. She clenched her eyes and fists as if to pray, and made the sign of the cross as Clement went to reload. Not a single soul attempted to help her.
“You aren’t dead yet?” Clement asked as she lay wounded on the desert pavement. He then unloaded a shot into her head. Satisfied that she was dead, Clement fired a shot into his chest. He laid down next to her, crossed his arms, placed his hat over his face, and waited to die. Death didn’t come for Clement that day. Constable Fred Brown hauled the murderer off to jail in Kingman to await trial.
Trial and Execution
Clement stood trial before a jury and Judge Richard E. Sloan. Clement’s sisters hired attorney Leroy Anderson to defend him. A jury found him guilty within a few short hours, and Judge Sloan sentenced Clement to die by hanging.
The defense immediately filed the first of many appeals claiming insanity or some other mitigating circumstance. The supreme court rejected each appeal
Clement was confident that he would not die for the murder of Jennie Bauters. Witnesses described him as the calmest person in the room on the day of his final sentencing. During his jail time, Clement bragged that he would welcome the day he was hanged, and put on a falsely brave face. On January 18, 1907, officers read him his signed death warrant. Clement was overcome with the realization he would die that very day.
Clement became physically weak as officers led him through the halls to the gallows. His legs gave out beneath him, and he fell, hitting his head on a jagged edge of a jail cell. He bled profusely and was only partially conscious as guards carried him up the gallows steps and placed the noose around his neck. The trap door opened as planned at 2 PM, and Clement C. Leigh dropped to his death.
Jennie’s place still stands in Jerome, Arizona, and is now a kaleidoscope store called Nellie Bly. The building went through an extensive restoration with funding secured by Nellie Bly owners Mary Wills and Sally Dryer. Sally provided a voice to Charles Schulz’s “Lucy Van Pelt” character in Peanuts Television specials.
Jennie left a will that entitled her son to everything she owned. She paid his tuition faithfully, but he never knew just how she got the money until he came to Kingman after her death. He used a portion of the $14,000 he inherited to purchase a grave for his mother in Kingman Pioneer Cemetery.
After Clement was executed, he was buried in a paupers grave in the same cemetery as Jennie. The city purchased land for a new cemetery and began moving graves from Pioneer Cemetery in 1917. The surviving family had to pay for the exhumation and reburial. Unfortunately, bodies that went unclaimed remained in the soil.
By 1944, the city of Kingman declared Pioneer Cemetery abandoned, and the built a school on top of it. The remaining corpses, including that of Jennie Bauters and Clement Leigh, were piled in a common grave and buried together beneath the football field at Lee Williams High school.