Syrian Man Arrested for Abducting 14-Year-Old; Charged With Slavery

Washington Times headline
Washington Times headline

This is one of those bizarre stories from the papers. We came across the headline: “Arrest Syrian For Abduction” and we had to dig a little deeper.

The story below was printed in the Washington Times on March 19th, 1920.

Alleged to have abducted pretty Mary Matilda Worster, fourteen-year-old daughter of Mrs. Louise Worster, an American girl; Joseph Shama, thirty-eight years old, a Syrian, who has a wife and two children living at Lawrence, Mass., is held today at the Sixth precinct police station charged with white slavery.

The arrest of Shama, who denies any intimacy with the child, despite her accusations, ends a country-wide search for the couple, following the spiriting away of the girl from her home in Lawrence last Saturday by the Syrian.

Shama denies the charge that he drugged the girl and kidnapped her when she resented his attempt to have her leave Lawrence willingly with him. He claims that he took the girl away from her home, deserting his wife and two children, to have her assist in conducting a fruit store here in the Capital.

Confronted with the fact that when he was arrested he had only $3.45 in his pockets, scarcely enough to buy food for himself and the girl for two days, Shama declared he expected money from friends.

That the Syrian was aware the police of Lawrence had thrown out a dragnet throughout the United States for his arrest for the bduction [sic] of the child developed when a letter was found in his pockets in which he was advised to “leave at once for Florida.” He was told the police were “hot on his trail,” and warned to stop writing letters to any of his friends or relatives, as “his mail was being watched.” The letter was signed “Brother-in-Law.”

Because of the youthfulness of the girl, F. B. Macksoud, 100 K street northwest, where the Syrian had engaged a room on Monday when he arrived here, refused to permit the couple to occupy the same room despite Shama’s protestation that the girl was his wife.

Becoming suspicious, Macksoud notified the Sixth precinct police station that the Syrian and the girl were at his home, and Policeman T. O. Montgomery was sent to investigate. The girl told him a revolting story of her association with the Syrian. She said Shama had a wife and two children in Lawrence and had induced her to leave her home. The arrest of the Syrian followed.

The girl was taken to the House of Detention and she was questioned this morning by Mrs. Mina Van Winkle, superintendent of the Woman’s Bureau of the Police Department. She reiterated her story to Mrs. Van Winkle. The police are undecided whether they will prosecute Shama here or permit him to be taken back to Lawrence for trial.

Crazy story right?

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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