Pauline Jones

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Pauline Jones


Pauline Jones was born on February 4, 1912 in Emmot Arkansas. She had three siblings and just four years of formal schooling. At age thirteen, Jones was married to a man 32 years her senior. The details surrounding her marriage are unavailable but it was possibly an unstable relationship because Jones told correctional authorities in California that she would “separate quite often and go back” to him, until she finally divorced him in 1929. Two years earlier, Jones was arrested in Hot Springs, Arkansas for larceny—the first of many encounters with law enforcement—the singular constant in a life marked by instability.

It is unclear why or how Pauline Jones left Arkansas, but by 1929 she was seventeen years old and living alone in Los Angeles. She supported herself by working as both a maid and waitress. Jones had frequent minor encounters with Los Angeles police. She had a drunkenness charge in June of 1929 and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder in May of 1930. Despite her record of run-ins with police in Hot Springs and Los Angeles, Jones’s conversations with psychiatrists in Tehachapi Prison suggest that she frequently felt harassed and victimized when she was out on the street, revealing that she “bought [a] pocket knife for protection. She said she was frequently accosted on her way home from the restaurant at night.”

On the night of May 19, 1930, a white man named Charles Riding, who frequented Jones’s restaurant offered her a ride home after her shift. She accepted. Riding took Pauline Jones to his apartment on 904 Wall Street and was “forcing her to commit a sensuous act upon him which she refused,” causing them to fight. Jones told authorities “because of his insistence and in order to protect himself, she inflicted some knife wounds upon him.” Charles Riding died ten days later.
Before his death, Riding managed to have his version of the night’s events documented by police, lawyers, and Los Angeles Times reporters. In this rendition, Pauline Jones was not a waitress accepting a ride home at the end of her shift, but a “negress prostitute” whom Riding took to his room for “immoral purposes.” When she tried to rob him of “between forty and sixty dollars,” Riding defended himself, provoking the stabbing. Riding’s neighbors reported to the police and LA Times reporters that when Jones fled the apartment, Riding “staggered into the hallway and shouted that he had been robbed.”

Pauline had a different story to tell. Maintaining her innocence and necessity of self-protection, Jones originally pleaded not guilty. However, under the advice of her legal counsel, she changed her plea to guilty. In entering her plea change, her lawyer urged the court to remember that Jones was just a girl, “I have nothing to say further than that the girl is 18 years old, I understand, or under 19.” The judge reduced Jones’s charge from murder to manslaughter, and sentenced her to 10 years at Tehachapi prison, Southern California’s women’s correctional facility.

At Tehachapi, the psychiatric staff classified Pauline as “psychopathic inferior with moron intelligence and poor adjustment prospects”, but also noted how she was “cooperative and want[ed] to rehabilitate self.” Jones’s time at Tehachapi was just as arduous as her life outside of prison. She received frequent punishment for minor conflicts with other inmates and insubordinate behavior toward prison authorities. In January of 1931, Jones was sent to the “Dungeon” for eight days for “provoking quarrel and fighting, and sent to solitary confinement twice (in 1932 and 1933) for three to five days for “extreme insolence” and vulgar language towards officers. Jones was up for parole and denied twice while in Tehachapi, perhaps due to her record of punishment.

Yet one of Jones’s former employers, Mrs. Allen C. Taylor wrote a letter on her behalf requesting her early release. Mrs. Taylor was experiencing health issues, and expressed a desire for domestic help: “I would be very glad to help her and would like very much to have her back in my employ.” Pauline Jones’s correctional records indicate that she had steady parole employment with sporadic instances of communication and transportation issues. However this stability was short lived. On December 2, 1946, Pauline Jones was back in custody at the Newton Street Los Angeles Police Station for assault with a deadly weapon and drunkenness.


Araceli Centanino

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