From Journalist to Criminal: The Story of Herbert George Buss

Herbert George Buss’s mugshot, Montana, Prison Records, 1861-1968

When researching those who have corresponded with Jane Addams, you  come across a variety of unique individuals. As a research assistant who has been researching and writing biographies for a number of semesters, I’ve seen my fair share of interesting people — and I thought I’d share some of their stories with you!

Among all the people I’ve researched so far, one of my favorites is Herbert George Buss, a journalist who was sent to prison for extortion in 1919. Before being charged with extortion, Buss was a humble cattle rancher who quickly climbed the ladder of the journalism industry. During the Wilson Administration, Buss worked as a congressional reporter. Soon after he became a publicist for the United States Daily. By 1912 he was writing for The Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper published in Aurora, MO. Buss’s article, “The Torture Tunnel – The Underground Way – From God’s Altar to Hell’s Sweatshops,” a screed against forced labor at a Catholic sweatshop in Cincinnati, was sent to Jane Addams by William Ketchum, who implored Addams to take action.

By 1919, Buss was making the news, not just writing it due to his involvement in “a story of alleged lust, temptation, love, jealousy, hatred, poverty, attempted seduction and threatened murder,” according to the Montana Standard.

Buss had married Virginia Randolph in 1903, and they lived a happy life for a while with their two children. But in 1915/6 (the newspapers offer differing years), Virginia claimed that a local merchant, John E. Reid, began making advances towards her. He sent her presents and letters, professing his love for her and asking her to leave her husband, even offering her $

Buss’s article, “The Torture Tunnel – The Underground Way – From God’s Altar to Hell’s Sweatshops” in The Menace

10,000 and “the best little ranch in the valley” to do so. Virginia claimed her mother destroyed most of these letters, and only one survived. Virginia asked Reid why he was pursuing her when he himself was married, and he confessed that he had affairs with multiple women in the town. In June of that year, Virginia visited Reid’s store to look at some china. Reid took Virginia to the basement, where he grabbed her and kissed her until she almost called for help. Virginia never told Buss about the incident or the letters – until later when they were fighting over Buss’s drinking.

Once Buss found out about the incident, he met with Reid and threatened to bring the matter to court and sue. Reid offered Buss $10,000 to keep things quiet, which he accepted. But it did not stop there. Reid and his wife claimed that Buss threatened to accuse Reid of sexual assault and even threatened Reid’s life, claiming “there’ll be a new grave in Melrose by Christmas.” By April 1919, the issue was brought to court. Buss was accused of extortion and threats on Reid’s life. The trial was widely covered in the press, and in a twist of irony, the once successful journalist became the subject of one of the biggest stories in the state.

Headline from the Montana Standard, April 11, 1919.

By the time of the trial, Buss and his wife had divorced, and Virginia was married to another Melrose rancher named Roy Bird. Buss was found guilty of extortion, and sentenced to serve six to twelve months in prison. After his release, Buss married again, to Ida M. Carbone. After that, we cannot figure out what happened to Buss. His death date is unknown, and in 1952 his son put a notice in the Chicago Tribune asking for information on his whereabouts. That was the last time Buss’s name appeared in a newspaper.

Though Buss’s name only appeared once in the JAPP collection, by digging a little deeper one can find a huge story. As a journalist, Buss surely would have agreed! And this is just one interesting story I’ve found during my research; keep an eye out for the next unique tale from the JAPP!

Sara Catherine is writing a series of blog posts about interesting characters that she comes across while working as a co-operative education student for the Project this semester. Her work involves identifying and describing the over 5,000 unique individuals mentioned in Addams’ correspondence.


“Buss Takes Club Men Down Trail Ranch to Capitol,” Courier (Waterloo, Ia.) October 1, 1929, p. 4.

Herbert George Buss, U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.

H . George Buss, Montana, County Marriages, 1865-1950.

Virginia A. Buss, Montana, County Marriages, 1865-1950.

“Melrose Case to End Today,” The Montana Standard, April 11, 1919, p. 6.

“His Former Wife Tells Her Story,” The Anaconda Standard, April 11, 1919, p. 3.

“Find Buss Guilty Extortion Charge,” The Anaconda Standard, April 12, 1919, p. 3.

Jennie A Randolph, Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002.

Herbert George Buss, Montana, Prison Records, 1861-1968.

“Personal,” Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1952, p. 17.

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