‘Where everybody knows your name’ | After shooting her lover in a fight, a St. Louis woman spent her whole life running from the song inspired by her crime

Frankie Baker
Frankie Baker(KMOV)
Published: Jan. 21, 2022 at 1:36 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - “Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts. They had a quarrel one day.”

The music scene at the turn of the 19th century was roaring, especially in the black community. It was ragtime, and nowhere in America was it on display more fully than St. Louis. And few people enjoyed the party atmosphere more than Francine “Frankie” Baker. It seemed like everyone knew her name.

Perhaps it was because she was 22, beautiful and wealthy.

And a prostitute.

Frankie was well dressed, could dance her way around any woman in town, and owned a boarding house at 212 Targee Street.


Fall was in the air on the night of October 14, 1899. And so was something else. Suspicion. Frankie Baker thought her 17-year-old live-in lover Allen Britt was up to no good, and she was right. Her man was having an affair with another prostitute, Alice Pryor. Allen may have been young in age, but he was both popular with the ladies, and talented on the piano keys.

On this night, he was playing a gig at the Phoenix Hotel when Frankie strolled in. Unfortunately for Allen, Frankie walked in on his break. And even more unfortunately for Allen, Frankie caught him in the hallway making love to Alice Pryor.

This did not sit well with Frankie, and the two took it to the streets.

Frankie begged Allen to come home with her. He refused, and Frankie stormed home alone. Some time in the middle of the night, having had way too much to drink, Allen returned home. Frankie yelled. Allen yelled back.

“Johnny he vowed he would leave her

Said he was goin’ away

He’s never comin’ home

He’s goin’ away to roam

Frankie she begged and pleaded

Cried “Oh Johnny, please stay”

She says, “My honey I have done you wrong

But please don’t go away””

Allen threw a lamp, then, pulled out a knife. Unfortunately for Allen, Frankie had a gun under her pillow.

“Frankie then said to her Johnny

“Say man, your hour has come”

From underneath her silk kimono

She drew a forty-four gun

Oh, it was bear, ‘twas quite a large affair

Johnny he dashed down the stairway

Cryin’ “Oh Frankie, don’t shoot”

Frankie took aim with her forty-four

Five times with a rooty-toot-toot”

Frankie shot Allen in the stomach. Wounded, he stumbled two blocks to his parents house, where he died two days later. Unfortunately for Frankie, Allen told police she pulled the trigger. This would be a hard charge for Frankie to beat, and in court she claimed self defense; that Allen abused her repeatedly. To help her cause, she arrived in court with a black eye.

It worked. Judge Willis Henry Clark ruled Frankie was innocent by self defense.

But she was not so lucky in the public eye. And it didn’t take long for her to find out people were talking about her.


Just days after the shooting, a new ragtime tune hit the streets of St. Louis. It told of a woman named Frankie, angry at being dumped for a rival named Alice, pulling a gun on a man named “Albert” and shooting him five times after he begged for his life.

True crime meets ragtime in St. Louis.

To make the lyrics sound better, Allen became Albert, and later became Johnny. Eventually, “Frankie and Johnny” was being sung everywhere. Whenever and wherever Frankie went, she would hear”

“Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts, they had a quarrel one day”

Things got so bad, Frankie couldn’t take it anymore. Born and raised in St. Louis, she packed her bags a year after the shooting and decided to head to the middle of nowhere. She drifted from town to town before settling in Omaha. And when she arrived, she found folks there also had a favorite tune.

“Frankie and Johnny were sweethearts, they had a quarrel one day”

And when the fine folks from Omaha soon realized who Frankie was, she again was bombarded wherever she went. Finally, she had enough, and decided to head as far west as she could, just to get away from the song. By 1925, she settled in Portland, where she tried to quietly open a shoeshine factory, far away from the bright lights and brothels of St. Louis. And far away from Frankie and Johnny.

It was a lost cause.

Incredibly, the song became a national ragtime masterpiece, and Frankie and Johnny were now household names in America. Their tune would eventually be recorded more than 250 times by various artists, with wildly different lyrics. But if the lyrics changed, it mattered little when people discovered who Frankie was.

Then Mae West came along to put the final nail in Frankie’s coffin. The actress starred in a blockbuster Hollywood movie titled She Done Him Wrong, and suddenly “Frankie and Johnny” came to life on the big screen. Now Frankie was hounded in her own home by reporters and autograph seekers. People would stand outside her door and sing to her at all hours of the day.

It was more than Frankie could bear. So she started suing, claiming she was wrongly being portrayed in the song and the movie as a murderer. She lost. Eventually, at the end of her rope, hearing nothing but “Frankie and Johnny” every minute of her life, Francine “Frankie” Baker checked herself into a mental institution, where she would die two years later, “Frankie and Johnny” humming in her brain.

And the site of the shooting, 212 Targee? It’s still as busy as ever. It’s where the St. Louis Blues play hockey.