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The rape case of Frances Murphy

The Daily Mirror summed this case up correctly: “Barnum was right!”

Frances Murphy, the Bearded Lady, was on her way home at 3:00 A.M. Miss Murphy started up the steps of the 42nd Street subway station, when John Durkin, a chauffeur who had been drinking too much, tried to attack her. Miss Murphy confessed she slapped Durkin with the full force of her alleged 240 pounds.

The police arrested Durkin, five feet ten inches and weighing 165 pounds, who admitted he was out for a few highballs and could not remember the attack. He was charged with third degree assault, a misdemeanor and held on $1,000 bail for the Grand Jury. Magistrate William B. Northrop transferred the case, however, to the Felony Court with a charge of rape.

Miss Murphy was a twenty-six-year-old widow who lived at 312 W. 43rd Street. She was six-foot tall. A photographer asked to pull on her five-inch mustache and full beard and found it to be real. At Strange As It Seems, Miss Murphy was billed as The Gorilla Lady, “who lived among the gorillas of Darkest Africa.”

At the Manhattan Felony Court, Dr. Perry Liechtenstein, the medical assistant to the Manhattan District Attorney Thomas Dewey, testified: “She – er, er – he is just a man.” The doctor informed the court that Frances had been registered as a female student for two years at the University of Southern California before moving to New York. The Assistant District Attorney said all charges would be dropped against Durkin.

Frances Murphy
"Miss Frances Murphy", billed at New York's World's Fair as "The Gorilla Lady," was attacked by an amorous drunk in a deserted subway station on Sept. 27. Horrified when her veil slipped, revealing 5-in. whiskers, he tried to flee, was captured, arrested. Later in court he was quickly freed when a doctor testified "Miss Murphy" was in realty a man.

Photo courtesy of Jim Lucio,

The court records changed Frances to Francis and the judge ordered Francis to be held on a charge of perjury. However, he was unsure where to house Francis, so sent him to Bellevue Hospital’s prison ward.