From Brothel To House Of Healing: The Story Of Louisville’s Most Famous Madam And The Plans For Her Former Home

Mar 24, 2021 at 11:37 am
Father Philip Erickson at 768 Eastern Parkway.
Father Philip Erickson at 768 Eastern Parkway.

I have spent the past several years researching the life of Louisville’s most famous madam, Anna Haines. I dove into census records, city directories, newspaper clippings, archived case files in Frankfort, police booking photos, property records and the original district court order books in order to find her footprint. Needless to say, a complex woman emerged. This is the story of a Louisville madam and her brothel. It’s the story of how a girl born into poverty, loss and abandonment learned to survive. 

In February, 2020, Father Philip Erickson and I sat down to talk about 768 Eastern Parkway, the former home of Anna. He arrived at Our Mother of Sorrows, which is located across the parking lot from Anna’s house, in July 2019 but he had already heard stories about Anna from another priest, Father John Dalton. He told me that Father Dalton had been an associate at Our Mother of Sorrows during the time that Anna lived next door to the church, and Father Dalton thought that Anna was a “nice lady.” They would exchange waves from time to time as he passed her house going to and from the church and school. She had a prolific green thumb and she cut flowers for the nuns to place on the altar of the Blessed Mother. The balcony over the porch was always filled with potted plants. She probably did her best to mind her own business, although it was natural for the school children next door to be curious about what went on behind her doors and behind the high fence, which once blocked their view into her backyard. The children couldn’t help noticing the license plates from all over the country on the cars parked in front of her house as they walked back and forth from the church to the school. Anna bought their raffle tickets, and sometimes she was seen in the back row during services. There was a tacit toleration on the part of the congregation to their neighbor, and the delicate balance sometimes teetered, but generally remained in place until the 1960s, when Anna finally sold the property to the church.   

Now Father Erickson would like to bring the property, which he has named “St. Anne’s House,” full circle from a former brothel to a house of healing. He chose the name St. Anne in homage to the biblical Anne, mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus. He invited eight people, including myself, to the table, and the board for St. Anne’s House was formed. In 2021, the building was inspected and found to be structurally sound. The original roof was replaced and the oak trees flanking the porch were trimmed back. The plan is to spend this year remodeling the inside into four, safe, secure apartment units. Father Philip has worked with women in the past who have been caught up in the sex trade, trying to find their way out. Aware of the hard choices that the women are forced to make in order to survive and/or take care of their families, he envisions the building being used as a recovery place for women trying to break the cycle of poverty, exploitation, abuse and/or domestic violence or perhaps as a place where single mothers could stay while taking college courses.  

A police booking photo taken of Anna Haines  in Louisville.
A police booking photo taken of Anna Haines in Louisville.

The Real Anna 

Anna Belle Shelton was born Aug. 20, 1899 in Brandenburg, Kentucky in Meade County, the 10th of 12 children of William “Henry” Shelton and Annie Thomas Shelton. Annie Thomas and Henry Shelton were married April 28, 1884 in Brandenburg. Annie Thomas was 16 years old and Henry was 22. By 1900, Henry and Annie had a houseful of children including Dora, Charley, Myrtle, James, Rose, Flora, William Henry, Frederick, Anna, Richard, Floyd and Charley, who was born in 1887, and died shortly after his first birthday in 1888. 

Anna’s father was a seine-haul fisherman. Henry Shelton and his partners cast their nets from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. at Morvin’s Landing on the Indiana bank of the Ohio River, just across from Brandenburg. The three-man team could catch up to 2,400 pounds of fish per night. The fish were sorted and placed in barrels of ice which were then shipped by river to Louisville and Tell City. Henry earned about $60 from each consignment. When not fishing, Henry was a tenant farmer. The family got by well enough until Henry died suddenly on Oct. 4, 1904. Anna was just five years old.

Her mother was now destitute with nine young children to care for, ranging in ages from 1 to 12. Just six months later, in July of 1905, Annie Shelton moved from Brandenburg to Jeffersonville, Indiana, where she married Willis Curry, a carpenter who worked on the Big Four Bridge. Willis was a recent widower himself as his wife, Laura, had died in September 1904. Willis rented a small cottage on 13th Street where Clark Memorial Hospital is now located. The tiny house would have been crowded with new wife Annie, nine stepchildren and Willis’ own five children, who were all under the age of 9. Anna’s 22-month-old brother, Floyd Shelton, died in Jeffersonville in July 1906. Annie and Willis added a daughter to the family, Nellie Marie Curry, born March 9, 1907.  

By 1910, Annie and Willis had parted ways, but they never divorced. The 1910 census reveals exactly how splintered the Shelton family had become. Annie’s three eldest children had each gotten married. The Shelton children under the age of 18 were scattered in homes over several Kentucky counties. Daughter Rose, age 16, was in a boarding house on 9th Street in Louisville. Flora Shelton, age 14, was a hired girl for the Buttman family (confectioners) in Hardin County. Henry, age 12, was the ward of the Cowley family in Hardin County. According to one of his grandsons, Henry said that he barely knew his family and that he had been “given away” at the age of 7. Frederick Shelton, age 11, was taken in by the Childs family in Meade County. The three youngest Shelton children — Anna, Richard and Nellie — are not found in the census records at all. One explanation for that may be that Annie Curry had become ill with typhoid fever and was living with her son James and his wife at 705 Vine St. in Louisville. It is possible that due to her illness, the youngest children needed to be temporarily removed from their mother. Possibilities in the 1910 Census include an Anna [with no last name], age 11, who lived at the Masonic Widows and Orphans Home on South Second Street and a Nellie, age 3, who resided at the Home of the Innocents on West Broadway. Annie Curry moved regularly, living with her son, James, her married daughters and sometimes extended family including in-laws. Annie Curry had no income and may not have been physically able to work.  

By 1913, Anna was running wild when along with stepsister, Lucile Curry, she was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct in Jefferson County Juvenile Court. After 10 days in the Louisville Children’s Home, on Sept. 12, 1913, the girls were released into the custody of the Sisters of Charity of the Convent of the Good Shepherd. The convent, located at the corner of 8th and Walnut, housed homeless and at-risk girls, teaching them vocational skills such as sewing, cooking and laundry. When Anna resurfaces in records again, it’s 1915, and she is living in Kings Mills, Ohio. Somehow Anna, age 15, and her younger brother Richard, age 14, managed to make their way from Louisville to Kings Mills, 144 miles away, on their own. Anna found work at Peters Cartridge Co., a munitions plant. About a year later, on July 6, 1916, she married a machinist named Joseph W. Doherty, age 31. Although she was just a month shy of 16, on the marriage certificate Anna added five years to her age, claiming that she was born on Aug. 20, 1894. Anna would use this birth date the rest of her life. 

Anna and Joseph’s marriage was probably short-lived though there is no readily available record of divorce. Both Joseph Doherty and Anna’s brother Richard enlisted in the Ohio Military Men in 1917. It is during that time that a Cincinnati madam by the name of Doretta Walker Dubois may have taken Anna under her wing. Dubois was an independent woman who bought and sold her own real estate, had been married three times and was arrested now and again for prostitution-related offenses. She was older than Anna by 15 years. The connection between Anna and Dubois lasted a lifetime. Dubois moved to Louisville following her third husband’s death in 1927. Dubois and Anna would later operate a house together on River Road. Following her fourth husband’s death, Dubois would move to 768 Eastern Parkway where she lived with Anna until her death in 1954.  

Anna returned to Louisville in 1917, and she did well financially, working as a prostitute during those years. Between 1910 and 1920, prostitution in Louisville was not legal but it was common and it was extremely lucrative. Jobs offered to unmarried women in the late teens and early ‘20s included shop-girl, factory worker or domestic servant. All of these occupations earned barely enough to rent a room and purchase food. Meanwhile a prostitute could easily earn five times the hourly wage of a factory job. A madam could compound her earnings based on the number of girls working for her. It was the type of income that brought security and comfort, and it was a difficult lifestyle to give up when considering going back to a more “respectable” line of work. In November of 1920, when she was just 20 years old, Anna purchased her first piece of real estate — a home for her mother Annie at 2227 St. Xavier St.. Annie Thomas Curry lived in the cottage on St. Xavier Street until her death in 1928.  

The property line at 768 Eastern Parkway.  |  Photo By Lisa Pisterman.
The property line at 768 Eastern Parkway. | Photo By Lisa Pisterman.

Becoming Anna Haines

In 1921, Anna fell in love with a floor finisher named Nicholas “Nick” Haines, a veteran of WWI. Anna’s brother Richard was also a floor finisher and likely worked with Nick. Nick was married at the time to Lyda Sillman Haines, and they had one son, Carl. According to Nick’s divorce petition, Lyda had abandoned the marriage after about a year, leaving Carl in the care of Nick. Anna and Nick lived together at 1907 W. Market, and although Nick was still married, Anna began to call herself “Anna Haines.” Nick and Lyda divorced in February, 1923. Anna and Nick did not have a lot of time together, and they never married. He had contracted tuberculosis during the war and his condition worsened rapidly. He died in September of 1924 and was interred in Cave Hill Cemetery. Following Nick’s death, Anna returned to her mother’s house at 2227 St. Xavier.

Another jarring event occurred in April 1925, when Anna’s brother James died of gunshot wounds during a domestic dispute. James was described by the paper as a “shell-shocked veteran of the World War.” James and his wife, Bessie Seeley Shelton, were both found shot in their automobile on River Road in Indiana. Bessie Shelton was dead at the scene but James was barely alive having sustained three shots to the chest. James was able to be interviewed by police, reporting that his wife had shot him three times before turning the gun on herself. James died from his injuries on April 20, 1925, and the case was closed. 

On June 29, 1926, Anna married Charles Brown, a proofreader for the Courier Journal. Anna was only 26 and Charles was 47. Like her first marriage, it was short-lived. Anna filed for divorce a little over four months later in October 1926. In her testimony before the court, Anna stated that Charles was a cruel alcoholic and beat her often. She described his behavior as a “settled aversion” to her. Her sister Myrtle corroborated Anna’s testimony in that she had witnessed Charles knock Anna down several times before while he was drunk. The marriage was dissolved in 1927. Anna had purchased a house at 512 East Brandeis several months prior to her marriage to Charles. Following the divorce, Anna kept the Brandeis property, which she used as a “house of call.”     

There are few first-person accounts of Anna’s life, so court records and newspaper articles speak best for the events of her daily life. She was the subject of many urban legends and particularly one that she was arrested “hundreds of times” in her life. Court records, however, reveal that by 1953 she had only 37 arrests. The earliest indexed criminal case in Louisville Metro Archives appears to have been Commonwealth v. Anna Haines, Case No. 53521, dated Feb. 22, 1928, wherein Anna and five other women were charged for keeping a disorderly house at 523 W. Broadway. As was the City Health Department’s protocol, she was quarantined in the City Workhouse and tested for disease. Had Anna been found to be infected, she would have been required to remain in the Workhouse under quarantine until she was cured. 

In August 1932, Anna purchased two parcels of property on Miller Avenue. She commissioned the building of a four-unit apartment building, with additional living quarters in the basement, plus a carriage house behind with living quarters over the garage. The building’s address was 768 Eastern Parkway.    

It appears that Anna wanted to create a comfortable and homey environment at 768 Eastern Parkway. The building remains largely unchanged since it was sold to Our Mother of Sorrows Church in 1965. The first floor has two apartment units with a stairway between them going to the second floor. Immediately inside the door is a vintage brass mailbox for the four apartment units with four doorbells. Each unit has a living room, kitchen, bath and two bedrooms. Arched doorways, plenty of built-in shelves and cupboards and many original light fixtures remain in place. The bathrooms are the best vintage feature of the house. One bathroom features the vintage subway tile and basket weave pattern flooring accented in pink penny tile, a pink tub and pink sink, while the other is the same but accented with all lilac fixtures.

A bantam wallpaper border still circles the wall in one of the kitchens. The second story windows offer a view directly into the windows of the classrooms next door. Father Dalton told Father Erickson that the teachers at the school kept the blinds closed on that side of the building due to Anna’s girls sunbathing in the backyard. Anna’s spacious basement apartment has been completely stripped of everything except her kitchen sink and cabinet. The apartment over the four-bay garage still has its tiny kitchenette, original gas stove and knotty-pine paneling throughout.   

Inside of one of the rooms at 768 Eastern Parkway.  |  Photo By Lisa Pisterman.
Inside of one of the rooms at 768 Eastern Parkway. | Photo By Lisa Pisterman.

Gentlemen always seem willing to lend a hand

Anna’s clientele in the ’30s and ’40s primarily consisted of railroad workers. A civil case filed in 1936 gives readers a look, revealing a humorous look inside Anna’s personal life at 768 Eastern Parkway. A railway engineer claimed that he loaned Anna the sum of $500, which Anna never repaid. Anna countered with a response that the money was not a loan, but a gift. During his deposition, the petitioner admitted that he initially loaned Anna $300 ,which she failed to repay. He went to Eastern Parkway to confront her in her kitchen where she was “hulling beans” and then loaned her an additional $200. In his testimony, the witness admitted that, over the course of two years, he bought Anna several gowns, coats and hats. He took Anna to Geher Stove Co. at 215 W. Market, where he bought several stoves for her. He told the clerk at the store that he wanted the best stove they had “for his wife.” The witness eventually admitted that, in two years, he had voluntarily given Anna between $1,200 and $1,700, cash. The case was dismissed.  

The Church Moves In

In March 1937, Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church broke ground for a church on one side of Anna’s property and a school on the other, leaving Anna’s house of ill-repute sandwiched in the middle. She set up business again in downtown Louisville, choosing a two-story building at 305 W. Market, known in more recent times as the former Deke’s Marketplace Grill on Market.   

In 1938, Anna sold her mother’s house on St. Xavier to her trusted friend and mentor, Doretta Dubois. Dubois was then living in Louisville, and in due course, she and Anna began to operate a house together at a location called the Circle Inn on Upper River Road. In 1941, a petition in equity was filed which described the Circle Tavern as a “tourist cabin, building and bungalow building” a quarter mile east of Indian Trail on Upper River Road. The property became such a nuisance during WWII that police raided the location. Anna, Dubois and multiple women were arrested. The buildings were padlocked and the furnishings seized. This case led to the first court order being entered in 1942 enjoining Anna from ever operating a house of assignation and prostitution again anywhere in Kentucky. 

Despite the 1942 ruling against Anna, she was arrested again in April 1943, along with her sister Flora, after police raided the second floor of 305 W Market St.. While it is true that Anna ignored the injunction, police had entered the apartment without a search warrant. Anna was fined $200, and her sentence was suspended. Anna was charged again in 1947 at the same address.  Attorney Brent Overstreet put forth a valiant defense, arguing that although detectives observed many soldiers entering the address, there was no proof given that the rooms were used for immoral purposes. In fact, the only thing that the detectives saw during the raid was a “group of people eating chicken in the kitchen.” Judge Scott Miller overruled Overstreet’s motion for a dismissal and sentenced Anna to 90 days in jail. 

In 1950, Anna was arrested at 768 Eastern Parkway and charged with keeping a disorderly house. Judge Lorraine Mix released her after payment of a $25 fine. The occasional arrests at 768 Eastern Parkway continued until 1953, when Anna faced federal charges for violation of the Mann Act. The Mann Act is a federal law which prohibits transporting “any woman or girl” across state lines for prostitution or any other immoral purpose. The arrest was made after police officers observed Paul Reeder Jacobs of Jeffersonville, Indiana, dropping off his wife Betty at 768 Eastern Parkway. Betty went into the house and Paul drove away, only to pick her up several hours later and drive her back home to Jeffersonville. Anna testified that Betty was a longtime friend and was just visiting her. According to The Courier Journal report, it took the jury about 15 minutes to find Anna not guilty and the case was dismissed. 

The vintage bathrooms have remained largely unchanged at 768 Eastern Parkway.  |  Photo By Lisa Pisterman.
The vintage bathrooms have remained largely unchanged at 768 Eastern Parkway. | Photo By Lisa Pisterman.

Additionally, in 1953, Anna was charged with federal tax evasion for failing to pay taxes from 1941 to 1952. While the case was pending, the Rev. John A. Floersch filed suit in Circuit Court in an effort to force Anna to sell her property to Our Mother of Sorrows Church. According to the suit, Anna had promised to sell the property to the church but later refused. The church contended that the sale was necessary to complete a planned expansion of the church campus. The suit was defeated due to the fact that Anna’s tax evasion case was not yet resolved. The tax evasion suit was the closest thing to an interview ever given by Anna. Anna testified about particular facts of her life including that she had never spent a day in school, that she was never married to Nick Haines and her primary source of income was monetary “gifts” from friends and from renting her real estate. The suit was settled in 1956 with a ruling that Anna was liable for income taxes for those years with a 25% delinquency penalty. 

The occasional prostitution arrests continued through 1961 when another injunction suit was filed to bar Anna from using the premises at 768 Eastern Parkway for purposes of prostitution. Judge Stuart Lampe signed the order and warned Anna that if she violated the order in the future, she would be arrested for contempt. Despite the warning straight from the judge’s lips to Anna’s ears, she continued to operate the house from 1961 to 1966. In 1966, another injunction was filed. Miraculously, Anna’s attorneys were able to successfully argue that the original 1942 order did not comply with statute, and it was agreed that the case would be dismissed — as long as Anna didn’t engage in prostitution.  

Anna finally sold the property at 768 Eastern Parkway to Our Mother of Sorrows in 1965. She moved to a property at 1202 Preston St., next door to a drug store. She rented the apartments over the drug store, with a street address of 338 E. Oak, and resumed keeping a disorderly house. Between 1967 to 1970, Anna would be charged a few more times with keeping a disorderly house, would endure another hearing on the violation of the 1942 injunction and would face another tax evasion case. In the tax evasion case, she pleaded guilty and was fined $6,000. She was not given time to serve due to her age and poor health.

Vice and Violence 

In July of 1972, while conducting a prostitution investigation, Louisville police officer Bobby W. Branham was shot in front of 338 E. Oak by Ivan Ray Jackson. Officer Branham and his partner were staking out Anna’s rented apartments in relation to a suspected prostitution ring when he observed two men stealing a police radio from his vehicle. Branham pursued the men on foot and caught one of them. As he was returning to his car with the suspect, both officers were approached by Ivan Ray Jackson. Jackson raised his gun and fired point blank at Branham, striking him in the abdomen. Jackson was then shot by Branham’s partner, Detective James H. Stevenson. Jackson fled, but the blood trail led to his quick apprehension. He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to prison. Officer Branham suffered serious complications from the wound for the rest of his life and required many surgeries over the years. He died in May 2013 following surgery to deal with the scar tissue from the gun shot wound he sustained 41 years earlier. 

Faithful Ernie Weaver

In May of 1977, the city filed suit and obtained a restraining order to halt the use of 338 E. Oak Street as a house of prostitution. The Courier Journal ran an extensive article about the location including photographs of the interior. Anna’s health had so deteriorated at this point that her longtime employee, Ernie Weaver, was taking care of the business. Weaver was a veteran of WWII and had sustained a fractured skull which left him with a permanent brain injury. He was able to do odd jobs after his discharge. Weaver told the reporters that he had met Anna about 30 years prior. He had been walking up Preston Street each day looking for work when he found Anna having car trouble in the parking lot of White Castle on Eastern Parkway. After he got her car running, she offered him a job. Over the next three decades, he took care of her properties, ran errands and drove Anna to the bank and to doctor appointments. When the Courier Journal reporters found Weaver drinking coffee at Jim Dandy’s, they persuaded him to give them a tour of 338 East Oak St., which Weaver described as “the cleanest whorehouse in town.” The photos capture tidy, feminine bedrooms with framed pastel pictures of ballerinas on the wall, white-antiqued bedroom furniture, and “softly patterned bedspreads without a wrinkle.” The article describes the pillows as “big and soft,” the sofas as “rich and vibrant,” and the rooms were lit with colored light bulbs. Reporters canvassing the neighborhood were told that Anna’s girls were good neighbors and kept to themselves.    

Anna died June 7, 1979, in Louisville. At the time of her death, Anna had no last will and testament. Her sister Flora’s daughter, Marjorie Logsdon, applied to be administrator of the estate. The only sibling to survive Anna was her youngest half-sister, Nellie Curry Hepperle. She was also survived by 28 nieces and nephews. She was buried at Resthaven Memorial Gardens on Bardstown Road beneath a stone inscribed with her false date of birth and the epitaph “Beloved Aunt.”  

The House That Anna Built 

To know Anna’s real story is to know that she was more than all the urban legends and the mockery made of her in the press. Women today still face the same exact struggles as Anna did at turn of the 20th century. Anna is only different in that she managed to build a place for herself by way of a dangerous, risky profession — one so many women do not come out of alive. Now, the house that Anna built may be the first stop for women needing escape, rehabilitation or recovery.   

If you are interested in making a donation to St. Anne’s House, please forward your contribution to Our Mother of Sorrows, 747 Harrison Ave., Louisville, Kentucky, 40217. Please make a notation or your check or enclose a note indicating that the donation is for the benefit of St. Anne’s House.