On January 5, 1924, a well-dressed young woman, accompanied by a male companion, walked into a Brooklyn grocery, pulled a “baby automatic” from the pocket of her fur coat, emptied the cash register, and escaped into the night. Dubbed “the Bobbed Haired Bandit” by the press, the petite thief continued her escapades in the months that followed, pulling off increasingly spectacular robberies, writing taunting notes to police officials, and eluding the biggest manhunt in New York City history. When laundress Celia Cooney was finally caught in Florida and brought back to New York, media attention grew to a fever pitch. Crowds gathered at the courts and jails where she appeared, the public clamored to know her story, and newspapers and magazines nationwide obliged by publishing sensational front-page articles.
Celia Cooney was a celebrity, a symbol of the lawlessness of Prohibition-era New York City, a cultural icon of the Jazz Age. The Bobbed Haired Bandit captures what William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper called “the strangest, weirdest, most dramatic, most tragic human interest story ever told.”
“It could have come out of Hollywood. . . . Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson tell the story of this largely unremembered saga of crime and pursuit. The writing has velocity, and the amazing plot, with all its twists and turns, is alone worth the admission. More than just narrative history, the book is about representation — the multiple ways that the crime was reported in the New York press and ‘instrumentalized and mobilized’ for a variety of causes.“
—Journal of American History
"Duncombe and Mattson's fast-paced account of Cooney's story is an absolute winner."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“With crisp prose and a lively selection of newspaper photographs, headlines, cartoons, and excerpts, authors Stephen Duncombe and Andrew Mattson tell a story of an outlaw couple and, through them, the story of an era.”
—The Boston Globe
Stephen Duncombe teaches Politics and History of Media and Culture at the Gallatin School of New York University. He is author of Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture and editor of the Cultural Resistance Reader.
Andrew Mattson teaches American Studies and Media Studies at the State University of New York at Old Westbury.