The Black Mailer: A Disreputable Class
 

 
 
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The detectives are constantly at work in attempts, which are generally successful, to protect persons of respectability from the clutches of that unscrupulous class known as black-mailers. These individuals are very numerous in the city, and are generally to be found amongst the most desperate and wicked of the disreputable classes. Street-walkers and fast women of all classes are most commonly engaged in it. The woman is the visible actor, but she is generally sustained by a rough, or professional thief, or pickpocket.

They are not content with making victims of those who have really committed indiscretions which have come to their knowledge, but they fasten upon the innocent and really virtuous, well knowing that nine persons out of ten, though really guiltless of any fault, will rather comply with their demands than have their names connected with a scandal. Such persons think that the wretch will not dare to charge them with the offence, or endeavor to extort money a second time, and do not regret the first outlay. They ought never to yield, whether innocent or guilty, for the wretches are sure to make repeated demands upon those who are weak enough to comply with them. The law makes it a crime for any one to endeavor to extort money in this way, and no one so threatened should hesitate for one moment in applying to the police.

A Minister Black-Mailed

A minister, who shall be nameless, was coming out of his robing-room one Sabbath night, after service, and was passing down the aisle on his way out of the building, when he was accosted by a well-dressed and rather handsome woman, who asked him to allow her a few moments' conversation with a him. He granted her request, and she said she had come to ask him to go with her to see her sister, who was lying at the point of death at a boarding-house in------street. She seemed very much distressed, and declared she would "go deranged" if her sister should die without seeing a clergyman. She added that her sister and herself were both strangers in the city, and that as they had never been to any other church but that in charge of the gentleman she was addressing, they would prefer his ministrations to those of any other person. The woman's story was so simple and straightforward that the minister did not hesitate to believe her, and accompanied her to a plain but respectable-looking house in------street. He noticed, while in the cars--for they took this means of conveyance in order to save time-- that a number of persons looked at his companion and himself rather strangely, but still he suspected nothing.

On reaching the house, the woman rang the bell, and they were admitted. She asked him to wait a moment in the parlor. The room was flashy, and the appearance of the men and women, who were grouped about in it, was far from being respectable, though there was nothing improper in their conduct. The minister's suspicions were aroused at once by the general appearance of things, and were increased as he saw the whispered conversation going on between the other occupants of the room, and of which he was evidently the subject. In a few minutes his companion returned, and asking him to follow her, led the way up to her room. He went with her, still thinking that his suspicions might have been misplaced. Several women passed him on the stairway each of whom greeted him with an impudent laugh. Upon reaching the room, the minister found that he had been deceived. There was no sick woman present, and he was alone with his infamous companion. As she closed the door, she came up to him, and put her arm around him. He threw her off sternly.

"What does this mean," he asked.

"I wanted to have the pleasure of your society," said the woman, laughing. "Now that you are here, you had better stay."

Without a word, the clergyman turned towards the door, but the woman sprang before him.

"You don't leave me in this way," she said. "I want money, and I must have it."

"I have none for you," said the minister. "Let me pass."

"Listen to me," said the woman: "I want two hundred dollars. Pay the money, and I will never tell of your visit here. If you refuse me, I'll tell the story all over town."

"Do so," was the reply. "I will tell how I was led here, how I was deceived, and I will have you arrested."

"My tale's the best," said the woman, defiantly. "I can prove your presence in the parlor by every girl in the house, and those who saw you in the hall will swear you came to my room with me. They will swear to no lie, either, and nine people out of ten will believe my story against yours. To say the least," she added, "it will fasten such a suspicion on you as will ruin you with your congregation; so you'd better pay me my money."

The minister was silent for a moment. He felt that his presence in that place would give rise to a terrible suspicion, and he knew that a man in his position could not afford to be suspected. However innocent he might be, the faintest breath of scandal would injure him greatly. He thought over the matter rapidly, and at last said:

"The sum you name is a very large one to me, and I could not pay you to-night, were I inclined to do so. Give me until to-morrow to think of it."

The woman's eyes sparkled, for she thought her victim would surely yield.

"Where can I see you to-morrow?" she asked.

"At my residence, No.--W----street, at twelve o'clock," he said. "Send in your name as Mrs. White, and I will see you at once."

"You had better do so," said the woman, emphatically. "Now you can go."

She led the minister down the stairs, and allowed him to leave the house. Instead of going home, he went straight to the Police Headquarters, and made his statement to the officer in charge, and was advised as to the course he should pursue. Then he went home, and told his wife of the whole affair, and of the course of action he had marked out.

The next day, precisely at noon, the so-called Mrs. White, accompanied by a villainous-looking man, arrived at the minister's residence, and the two were shown into his study. He received them calmly, and the woman introduced the man, as "her friend, who had come to see fair play." This announcement did not in the least disconcert the minister, who proceeded to state in plain terms the events connected with the affair of the previous night.

"You acknowledge this to be a true statement," he said to the woman.

"Yes, it is the truth," she said, "but your innocence will not keep people from suspecting you."

"You demand the sum of two hundred dollars as the price of your silence on the subject," he continued.

"That's my price."

"If I make it three hundred will you sign a paper acknowledging your deceit and my innocence?" he asked, producing a roll of notes.

"Yes," she replied, after consulting with her companion.

"Then sign that," he said, handing her a written paper and a pen.

The man read it, and nodded his head, and she signed it.

"Now, gentlemen," said the minister, raising his voice, and drawing the paper to him, "you can enter, and witness the signature."

As he spoke the door of an adjoining room opened, and a detective and one of the wardens of the minister's church entered. They had been concealed in the next room, and had heard and witnessed the whole transaction.

"Who are these men?" asked the woman, springing up.

"Why, don't you know me, Eliza?" asked the detective, coolly. "This isn't the first time I've put a stop to your villainy. I guess you'll go in for a few years this time."

"Give me my money, and let me go," said the woman, fiercely, turning her back on the detective and facing the minister.

"Eliza," said the detective, "you'll not get one cent. This gentleman wants the matter dropped here, and if you are not a fool you'll go about your business. You have signed a paper clearing Mr.-----from all suspicion, and you can't do him any further harm. The case is in my hands. If you will leave New York for Boston or Philadelphia to-night, I'll be quiet--I shall watch you, and if you're in town to-morrow, you'll be in Sing Sing before two months are out. Now go home and pack your trunk."

"I've been a fool," said the woman, bitterly.

"So you have, my dear," said the detective. "Now go home, and take this interesting young man with you."

The guilty pair departed in silence, and the minister was not troubled with them again. The courage and prudence of an innocent man enabled him to defeat this deep laid scheme for his ruin. Had he yielded and paid the money, the demand would have been renewed, and he would in the end have been ruined and disgraced without ever having committed a crime.

We recently heard of a case of an opposite character. A minister, settled over a large and wealthy congregation, was approached by one of these women, and charged with a crime of which he was entirely innocent. The woman professed to have an abundance of proof against him. He was a weak, vain man, proud of his reputation, and afraid of the slightest whisper of scandal, and he was terrified by the woman's bold assertions. In order to get rid of her, he paid her the sum she demanded, and received her promise not to trouble him again. In a few weeks she returned, and demanded a larger sum, which was paid. These demands then became so frequent and heavy that the minister could hardly support his family on what was left of his salary. He resigned his charge, and accepted a call to a distant city, hoping to escape his persecutors, for he could not doubt that the woman was urged on by others; but they followed him to his new home, and so harassed and plundered him that he was forced to ask the aid of the police, who discovered and arrested his tormentors. This ended the demands upon his purse, but he had been plundered of over eight thousand dollars, which was entirely lost to him. Had he acted as a sensible man at first, he would have been saved his losses and his sufferings.

A Bride In The Toils

Not long since a young lady of fashion, about to be married to a wealthy gentleman of this city, was called on by a woman who was unknown to her. The stranger stated her business without delay. She had heard that the young lady, whom we will call Miss R----, was about to marry Mr. F----.

"I have come to say," she added, "that I am in need of money. I want five hundred dollars, which is a small sum to a woman as rich as you. I intend to make this marriage the means of raising it. If you do not pay me the money, I shall go to Mr. F----, and tell him that you are not a virtuous woman. He will not believe me, at first, but I shall set a rumor afloat which will soon be known amongst all your fashionable friends."

"But, by your own story, there will be no truth in it," said Miss R----, amazed at the woman's effrontery.

"That is true," said the woman, "but you know that a false rumor will accomplish as much as a true one. I will take care that the rumor is well spread, and if you refuse me the money, it will be said all over New York that your virtue is a matter of doubt. Your character will be stained, and your marriage will be broken off."

Miss R----was astounded at such cool villainy, but fortunately her courage and self-possession did not desert her. Bidding the woman await her return, she left the room, and went straight to her lover, who was fortunately in the house at the time. She told him all that had occurred, and they at once sought her father, and laid the matter before him. The old gentleman advised them to go to the parlor and confront the woman, and at the same time sent for the policeman on that "beat." The woman seemed surprised, when she saw the lovers enter the room, and she rose to her feet in alarm. "This is Mr. F----," said Miss R----, calmly, "and I have just told him of your infamous proposition."

"You have beaten me," said the woman, "but I'll take care that you suffer for it."

She was about to leave the room, when Mr. F----placed himself before the door.

"You cannot leave this house," he said, sternly. "We have sent for a policeman, and you must wait till he comes."

The woman sat down without a word, and in a few minutes the policeman arrived. He recognized her as an old offender, and after congratulating Miss R----upon her coolness and good sense, led the woman away. The black-mailer was sent to prison, and the wedding proceeded without interruption.


Desperate characters

The incidents already given, will show how this system is conducted. As a general rule, the wretches are easily disposed of with the aid of the police, but sometimes it requires all the ingenuity of the most experienced detective to ferret out and foil the plot. These wretches know that respectable people dread scandal, and they profit by this knowledge. They are sometimes bold and unscrupulous in their way of conducting their business, and at other times endeavor to palm themselves off as injured innocents. They rarely meddle with women, for the difficulties in their way are greater; but, as they know that almost any story about a man will be believed, they fasten themselves like leeches upon the male sex. Young men about to make rich marriages are bled freely, for few will care to risk a scandal which might break off the whole affair. If a young man refuses one of them on such occasions, she goes boldly to the lady he is to marry, and declares herself the innocent and wronged victim of the aforesaid young man. This is her revenge, and the majority of young men, knowing them to be capable of such a course, comply with their demands on the spot. There is nothing these wretches will not do, no place they will not invade, in order to extort money from their victims.

Persons from the country, stopping at the hotels of the city, are frequently the objects of the attacks of the black-mailers. A man's name is learned from the hotel register, and he is boldly approached and charged with conduct he never dreamed of being guilty of. The scoundrel professes to know him and his whole family, and names the price of his silence. Too often the demand is complied with, and the money paid. The proper course to pursue when accosted in such a manner, is to call upon the nearest policeman for assistance in shaking off the wretch.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The Black Mailer: A Disreputable Class
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

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BIBLIOGRAPHY:  The Secrets of the Great City: A Work Descriptive of the Virtues and the Vices, the Mysteries, Miseries and Crimes of New York City, by James Dabney McCabe (aka Edward Winslow Martin) Published: Philadelphia, Chicago, Jones Brothers & Co., 1868
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