Photos courtesy Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries
Helen Mankin and Pal Shoaf after their arrest.
On the afternoon of November 8, 1950, a heavyset fellow in a rumpled overcoat strolled into the Kennedy Loan System company at 1208 Thomas Street. He whipped out a pistol and walked out with $550 — not in the form of a loan, you understand. Two weeks later, the same fellow came back, waved that pistol around again, and this time got away with almost $4,500. He might have made a clean getaway except for one detail: The clerk noticed the robber was wearing a hearing aid.
Well, the police officers rushing to the scene noticed a heavyset fellow leaning against a dusty Buick, adjusting his hearing aid. Behind the wheel was a gorgeous blonde, who seemed a bit nervous. When the cops pulled up to the car, the man surrendered without a fight, telling the police scornfully, “I’m Pal Shoaf, ex-pug and novelist.”
“Pug” in this case wasn't a dog; it’s short for “pugilist,” you see, and the police had nabbed one of the most colorful characters they had probably encountered in a long time. Palineau Jesse Shoaf , age 45, claimed he was the “king-pin bantamweight windmill” of the ring, and when the police searched his car, they found the stolen money — along with dozens of copies of a novel Shoaf had written and self-published called The World Is Mine, described on the dust jacket as “the roaring story of 300 fights, and a dramatic love story of the prize ring.”
The backseat of the car was filed with thick scrapbooks crammed with hundreds of newspaper clippings. The Memphis Press-Scimitar reported that the stories “variously described him as being a sailor, fighter, roustabout, police reporter, and author.” The paper also reported, “Pictures in the clippings don’t look much like the man held by the police.” Now that’s just mean.
What made Pal so interesting, at least to me, was the colorful way he talked. Just about everything he said was a boxing expression. He told police, “Twelve years in the prize-fighting ring and 300 decisions in my favor, and then I had to start fighting booze and shadow-boxing with the law.”
He told his 23-year-old companion, a former model identified as Helen Mankin of Los Angeles, “Keep your chin up, honey. I’m down now, but I’m not out for the count.” Newspapers reported that he “tapped her lightly on the jaw with his fist” and continued, “Keep smiling, honey. They got me cornered, but in the end, I’ll get the decision.”
So why did Shoaf rob the loan company — twice? For Helen, he said. “Do you know what it is to love a woman so much that it’s just a pleasure to sit and look at her?” he asked. “She brought me the only happiness I ever had in my life, and I wanted to give her everything I could. I guess I should have told her, “Look, honey, we’re flat broke.”
Later, while waiting for his trial, Shoaf blamed alcohol for his decline, lamenting to reporters, “The hand of the law is not cased in a glove. And right now, I’m too punch-drunk to fight back.” Among other things, he bragged that he fought — and beat — world champion Jack Dempsey, and that Hollywood had paid him $50,000 for the movie rights to his book. None of those claims, or much else he said, turned out to be true.
Even the newspapers got into the act with the boxing lingo. When Shoaf went before the judge, the Press-Scimitar reported that he “took a knockout punch in City Court today.” Shoaf pleaded guilty and was handed a 10-year sentence. His lovely companion in crime got a three-year term. That was the last round for Shoaf , and he knew it. “They’ve got me tied up in the ropes, and I can’t hit back,” he told reporters as he was hauled off to jail.