The Notorious Madame Gaine

Marie Le Flohic’s home at 314–316 East Second Street looks very different than it did when Duluth’s most notorious madam lived there. The house is right next door to First Presbyterian Church. (Image: Google Maps)

Frame Ups and Whitewash

Eight months after that report, Madam Gain defended herself in court, charged once again with conducting a “house of ill fame” at the Clifton Hotel, along with liquor violations. The arresting detective testified to the seizure of three quarts of champagne, three quarts of beer, and a bottle of whiskey. He indignantly added that, “the Le Flohic woman…drank a bottle of beer while she was being taken to headquarters in the police wagon.”

Undoubtedly, Madam Gain had been closely following newspaper stories of other vice districts across the country, also under siege by politicians and their reluctant police lackeys, spurred on by public opinion. She certainly would have taken note of the Everleigh sisters in Chicago, who, before disappearing into retirement, blew wide open the system of police protection and graft by exposing their meticulously kept records to the eyes of reporters. Madam Gain had such a book as well, and she had a plan.

Her first trial ended in a hung jury, but the prosecutors weren’t going to let this one drop, although testimony against her rested upon the word of two hired “stool pigeons” from out of town who were widely believed to be criminals themselves. Madam Gain repeatedly informed anyone who would listen that the whole thing was a “frame up” orchestrated by the police department. She pointed to the prior visit she received from a police officer who told her she’d soon be in need of legal help, and by the way, here’s a nice lawyer you should hire. (The police officer denied extorting her, but admitted to the visit.)

In the interim between the mistrial and the beginning of Gain’s new trial in January, the proverbial manure hit the fan: State Attorney General Lyndon A. Smith began a probe into Duluth police misconduct, including an investigation into possible malfeasance by Commissioner of Public Safety William A. Hicken. There was a mass meeting at the Armory, which ended in calls for an “extraordinary grand jury to investigate the police department.” In the midst of all this, Madam Gain slyly revealed the existence of her account books, and the list of police officer names who received her payouts totaling a whopping $40,000. Neither Hicken nor Police Chief Chauncy Troyer denied her claims outright.

Hicken and Troyer had taken a stance against vice, and early that year had introduced city legislation to pave and change the name of St. Croix Avenue to clean up the street, “not only morally, but physically, and then develop it.” After some debate, including a suggestion to name the street for Duluth’s first mayor J. B. Culver, St. Croix Avenue became South First Avenue.

A closed grand jury convened, and a corruption investigation continued through much of January. Madam Gain, under subpoena, revealed her books, along with two other madams. On January 29, Gain’s new trial began. The very next day, the grand jury report was released, and the Duluth News Tribune castigated it as “an abundant, copious, dripping whitewash,” refusing to accept its conclusions in the face of juror disagreement, and accusing three of the jurors of conflicts of interest. (One was a relative of a city detective, one was a public safety employee, and the foreman was a “known personal friend and associate” of Commissioner Hicken.)

Madam Gain’s contribution was for naught: the grand jury found that “no money was paid by prostitutes to members of the police department for protection.” They concluded that police officers “borrowed” money from prostitutes and madams, but paid it back, and that this practice should be stopped. They also found that prostitution was rare in Duluth, and rooming houses obeyed the law.

On February 5, 1914, Gain was found guilty of running an immoral house, and after nearly another year of appeals and delays, was finally sent to Stillwater with a sentence of seven years. After one year in prison, she was paroled, possibly due to a petition collected by her brother. It was signed by 4,000 people.

On March 3, 1917, Marie Le Flohic—a.k.a. Madam Gain—died in St. Mary’s Hospital, attended by her priest, Father Gagnon. She was 65 years old. Four hundred mourners attended her funeral, held at Sacred Heart Cathedral. In his eulogy, Father Gagnon compared Gain to Mary Magdalene, paraphrasing John 8:7–11, “‘Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.’ Then he dismissed her and said: ‘Go and sin no more.’”

Madam Gain is buried in Calvary Catholic Cemetery under a grand monument. However, friends ignored her dying wish that her marker would feature a phrase about her being “railroaded” to the state pen.

This stone marks Marie LeFlohic’s final resting spot at Duluth’s Calvary Cemetery. It reads “Marie LeFlohic, Born in France in 1853, Died at Duluth, Minn. March 2 1917. (Image: John C. Harrison)

Thanks to John C. Harrison, who donated a file of newspapers articles on Madam Gain to the authors and found her grave.

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Story by Heidi Bakk-Hansen. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by Heidi Bakk-Hansen.