Detail from Bromley's 1898 Atlas of Baltimore County showing location of Schwarz home and Brehm's brewery. Note B&O railroad crossing over Sinclair Lane at lower left. Loney's Lane runs perpendicular to Sinclair Lane on left side of map. Regester's woods, mentioned as the location of the assailant's disappearance, was part of the John Regester estate, "Woodlawn."
Julia Ella Schwarz (1909-1995), for whom my mother was named, was the very youngest of my 16 Schwarz and Koppelman great-aunts and great-uncles.
After all her brothers and sisters had married and set up their own homes, Julia was left alone with her mother, Anna Soeder Schwarz (1872-1957), in the big old Brehm house at Sinclair and Loney’s lanes, on the edge of northeast Baltimore, close to Brehm’s Brewery (see map above).
According to family recollections, the large house had been given to Julia’s father, John Christian Schwarz (1868-1916) rent-free, when John came to manage the Brehm family’s stock farm, and the large Schwarz family was allowed to continue living there after my great-grandfather’s untimely death.
Still country but easily accessible from the city, the area that broadly encompassed the Brehm property was the site of a number of assaults on young women.
In 1922, at least three girls were attacked in the vicinity. One of them, 8-year-old Clare Stone, was murdered in February of that year. Her body was found in Dungan’s woods, part of a large estate about a half mile south of the Brehm house. The unsolved case roiled the city for months, with forced and retracted confessions, false accusations, disinterment of the body by the US Department of Justice, and the suicide of a would-be witness.
Six months later, on August 3rd, 12-year-old Julia Schwarz successfully fought off a would-be attacker. As the SUN and the Baltimore AMERICAN tell it, Julia was returning from the family mailbox at Loney’s Lane when she was accosted.
She had dawdled along, knitting as she went, said the SUN’s account:
“As she turned from the box to start homeward she was seized from behind. Swinging about quickly, she found herself face-to-face with a strange man, who asked to be directed to Erdman Avenue.”
The “sporty-looking” man then tried to get her to come with him. When she refused, he grabbed her.
“Remembering the knitting needle, which she still held in her hand, she gave the man several vicious jabs. The pain caused the man to loose his hold. She screamed for help.”
Whether it was her mother or a flagman on the nearby B & O track who first came to her aid is unclear. But the alarm was raised; Julia and her mother ran to call the police from Brehm’s plant; and a search was made of the neighborhood, especially adjacent Regester’s woods, where some reported having seen a stranger dressed like the attacker.
Despite several reported sightings, Julia’s assailant was not apprehended. The neighborhood was thick with woods and fields in full summer growth. He may simply have boarded a nearby Belair Road streetcar and melted back into the city.
Julia’s tale is a part of the larger story of change in northeast Baltimore: urbanization, the dangerous anonymity of the city threatening the neighborly, innocent familiarity of the countryside; the fear that the easy streetcar access that was making suburban living possible also made access easier for those bent on mischief.
Her story also sharply highlights the power of women’s work. Despite the rise of factory-made clothing, home knitting, while unpaid, was still an important part of domestic economics in the 1920s. In a moment of threatened sexual violence, women’s homely tool shows its sting.