Cora Holben, Chicago's "lady detective," run to ground

Paul Reda was taken with the above 1908 ad for Miss Cora Strayer's Private Detective Agency, which was posted to the most excellent Vintage Ads LiveJournal group. A Chicago history buff, he decided to delve into the life and times of Cora Strayer, and has fleshed out a fascinating, and often tragic, timeline of her extraordinary adventures.

1898 –
Miss Cora Strayer is living at 3819 Wabash in Chicago. She lists her job as "Clerk."

1902 –
The first ad for her detective agency appears! It's at 5453 W Lake – a 4-room apartment with $18 a month rent. The apartment is above a tavern that was consistently being raided by the cops for its illegal poker room and bookmaking operations.

Aug 1903 –
Cora is profiled in the Chicago Tribune under the matter-of-fact headline "Woman Directs A Detective Bureau". In it she claims that she originally studied law and practiced as an attorney for several years.

1905 –
The first big ad in the Chicago city directory, complete with photo! Cora has moved to 3104 Cottage Grove, and a George S. Holben is named as the "Supt. of the Criminal Dept." In 1903 Holben was involved in a robbery where his landlady accused him of drugging her and stealing $750 worth of diamonds. Several weeks later, the diamonds were still missing, but Holben was not prosecuted. I don't know if Holben was working for Cora yet when this all went down.

Apr 12, 1906 –
Mahala Strayer dies at age 60. Her address is on Cottage Grove not far from Cora, so I assume her and Frank moved to Chicago at some point.

1907 –
Cora is hired by a Mrs. Campbell who believes that a Mrs. Harris is writing fake letters in order to make it look like she is having an affair with Dr. Harris and so she may blackmail her. Cora takes Mrs. Harris on a trip to Milwaukee, gets her drunk on $150 of fine wines, and steals the letters when she is passed out. Turns out Mrs. Campbell and Dr. Harris actually were having an affair and he performed an abortion on her. Mr. Campbell eventually killed Dr. Harris.

Miss Cora Strayer's Private Detective Agency

(Thanks, Dean Keyton!)