The Detectives of New York City Pre: 1868

 

 
 
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The Detective Corps of New York consists of twenty-five men, in change of Captain Young. They are men of experience, intelligence, and energy. They are well skilled in the art of ferreting out crimes, and generally succeed in the objects which engage their attention. They have a distinct organization from the Metropolitan Police, though they are subject to the orders of the Commissioners.

It requires an unusual amount of intelligence to make a good detective. The man must be honest, determined, brave, and complete master over every feeling of his nature. He must also be capable of great endurance, of great fertility of resource, and possessed of no little ingenuity. He has to adopt all kinds of disguises, and is often subject to temptations which only an honest man can resist. Any act, savoring in the least of dishonesty, is punished by immediate expulsion from the force.

Business of the Force

The men are always to be found at the police headquarters in Mulberry street, where they have a separate apartment, when not on duty. They are constantly engaged. Strangers coming to the city get drunk overnight in places of bad repute and are robbed. Next morning they come to ask the aid of the police in discovering their property. If their statement of the circumstances of the case is true, they can generally recover the lost articles through the aid of the detectives, if they can be recovered at all. The force is in constant telegraphic communication with other cities, and is always giving or receiving intelligence of criminal matters and movements, so that if a crime is committed in any city, the police force of the whole Union is on the alert for the apprehension of the criminal.

The individuality of crime is remarkable. Each burglar has a distinct method of conducting his operations, and the experience of the detective enables him to recognize these marks or characteristics, in an instant. Thanks to this experience, which is the result of long and patient study, he is rarely at a loss to name the perpetrator of a crime, if that person is a "professional." Appearances which have no significance for the mere outsider are pregnant with meaning to him. He can determine with absolute certainty whether the mischief has been done by skilled or unskilled hands; whether it has been done hurriedly or leisurely; and can in a few minutes decide upon the course which ought to be pursued for the apprehension of the thief and the recovery of the property.

"A man came into the Fourth Police Precinct, some time ago, and complained that his house had been robbed. The thief had been pursued without effect, but while running, he was observed to drop a chisel, and to tear up a piece of paper, which he also threw away. Captain Thorn, and a detective who was present, carefully examined the man respecting the mode by which the entrance had been effected, the marks left by the tools, the kind of property taken, and the action and bearing of the thief while running away. After eliciting all the facts that they could obtain, they both agreed that it had been done by a certain gang. When this had been ascertained to their satisfaction, the next thing to be done was to identify the individual or individuals belonging to the said gang, who had committed the robbery. Captain Thorn proceeded to gum over a piece of paper, on which he fitted together the small bits of paper which the thief had thrown away. This at once disclosed the name of the robber, who was well known to the police as a member of the gang which Captain Thorn and the detective had, from the indications afforded, judged to be the depredators. The detective then said that the thief would certainly be found at one of three places which he named. Three policemen were accordingly sent after him, one to each of the places named; and the captain assured us that the sun was not more certain to rise the next morning, than that the man would be at the station-house. Now, how were the police enabled to fix so readily on the depredators in this case? Simply by their intimate knowledge of their style of working. They knew their marks just as a man knows the handwriting of his correspondent. When they had fixed upon the man who committed the robbery, their knowledge of all his habits enabled them to predict with certainty where he would be found, and to give such exact description of his person as would enable any one who had never seen him to recognize him at a glance."


A Costly Case

The necessary expenses of the detection of crime are often considerable. Information must be obtained, even if it has to be paid for liberally. Officers must be in concealment for weeks, and sometimes for months. Long journeys must not infrequently be made; and in a hundred ways large expenditures will be called for. We were told of a case where a treasury note of the government was counterfeited with consummate skill, and it became a matter of vital importance to obtain the plate from which the counterfeit was printed. One of the most successful detectives was employed to work up the case, who soon found that the cost of securing it would be so great that there was little probability that the treasurer would audit his accounts. He therefore told the government that the cost would be so great that he declined to undertake it; but the possession of the plate, and the information that its capture would give, were so exceedingly important, that the detective was authorized to go on with it. He did so; the plate was obtained; all the information sought for was procured, and the counterfeiters and their abettors were captured. But it cost the government one hundred and twenty thousand dollars to accomplish this result. There were regular vouchers for every payment, and each was carefully scrutinized and verified. There was no doubt whatever that all the expenditures had been made in good faith, and with the utmost economy. Doubtless the government felt that the possession of that plate, and the knowledge gained, were worth all they had cost.


Tracking A Murderer

The following case, which occurred a few years ago, in a sister city, will show how the detectives track and secure their game:

A terrible murder had been committed. The sods were scarcely heaped upon the coffin of the murdered man when one of his murderers was securely confined in the cells of the central station. The arrest was one of unusual difficulty. When the detectives visited the scene of the murder, the only clue to the perpetrators was a blood stained handkerchief and the gag used in strangling their victim. With these faint traces there was little hope of ferreting out the murderer, but Detective Joshua Taggart assumed the task. Returning to the store, he reconnoitered the premises with new diligence. A new trace was then discovered. A new mortise chisel, wrapped in a piece of brown paper, lay on a shelf in the room. The chisel was not the property of the proprietors of the dental depot. It had plainly been brought there by the burglars. To trace it then became the task of the detective. Upon it depended his only hope of tracing the murder from the dead porter to the burglars who had killed the unoffending warden.

There were none of the usual evidences of crime in the robbery of the store. A skilled detective knows every thief within his jurisdiction, and their operations are to him familiar and easily recognized. The appearance of a forced door will indicate the man who burst it open. An experienced detective will trace a burglar by the manner of opening a door as readily as a bank teller will recognize the hand writing of one of his depositors. The size of the jimmy used, the manner in which it is applied, the place at which a house is entered, whether at the door, the window, the roof, or the cellar grating, are all so many unerring indications to the detectives of the burglars whose operations he traces. But in this case there was no burglary committed. It was simply murder and robbery. The murdered man had either opened the door of the wareroom, or the murderers opened the door with the keys taken from the gagged or insensible porter. The removal of the goods betokened the robbery. Gold, silver and platina to the value of three thousand dollars were taken away, but there were no traces or evidence of the burglars. A murdered man lay dead in the entry, a number of shelves stood empty against the wall, but neither clue nor trace, footprint nor finger mark, existed to aid or direct the detective's sagacity in his search. Detective Taggart knew this. He felt the difficulty of his situation, and he preserved the chisel as the first link of the evidence he was to forge and fasten into a chain of convicting proof. He took the chisel home. The trade mark could not guide him. Hundreds of the firm's chisels were weekly sold in the city, and the clue seemed losing its power, when a few figures on the back of the wrapping paper inclosing the chisel arrested Taggart's attention. These figures were evidently a calculation by a hardware dealer of the price of the tool, the reduction by a slow hand of the business trade mark into the simple value of the digits. To find the man who had made the memorandum on the back of the paper was the first step in detecting the murderer.

Mr. Taggart visited the hardware dealers one by one until he despaired of finding the one who sold the chisel. There was no evidence that the tool had been purchased in Philadelphia. New York, Pittsburg, Baltimore and Boston retail such chisels, and the probability of its purchase in St. Louis was as strong as the idea of its purchase here. But Taggart found the man who sold the chisel. A hardware dealer recognized the calculation on the wrapper, and remembered the man who had bought it. Two men, he said, came to the store. One was slender and tall, the other was short and stout, with a heavy black moustache and black hair. The latter bought the chisel. The pal stood in the background and said nothing.

This was the commencement of the case. Who the stout man was Taggart could not surmise. It might be one of a score of thieves, and for four days he could form no conception of the murderer's identity, until one night, waking from a restless slumber, Huey Donnelly flashed like thought across his mind, and running his memory back for the past few weeks, he remembered that at the time the murder was committed Donnelly was in the city. The great difficulty in tracing the case was passed.

Donnelly was at once watched. Who the second man was Taggart well surmised. He followed Huey to every quarter of the city to see if he communicated with his pal, who was with him when the chisel was purchased--who was with him when the porter was murdered. But the second murderer had fled. Taggart himself followed Donnelly night after night, dogged him into every rum-mill and thieves' brothel, where he tarried briefly or long, watching him at night until he went to bed, but never found his pal, who is the associate criminal in the tragedy. A week after Donnelly was spotted, Taggart found his pal had left the city, and unless Donnelly was arrested he would also leave. Following up the trail, he met Huey in Washington Square. Donnelly was leisurely crossing when a hand was laid heavily on his shoulder. He turned and faced the detective, who simply said:

'I want you, Donnelly.'

'What for?'

'Murder.'

"When at the station, the salesman was sent for. Donnelly's black moustache was gone. His face was shaved clean. He was placed in the rogue's gallery. A number of men of similar build, both mustached and clean face, were placed in the same room. The salesman was conducted to the gallery. 'Point out the man who purchased the chisel,' was the detective's command. Without hesitation or doubt, the salesman placed his hand on Donnelly's shoulder. Then Taggart followed the second murderer. He went to Baltimore, but he could get no further. All clue was lost in that city, and the present lurking place of the confederate of Donnelly is undiscovered. The necessity for keeping the arrest quiet was removed, and now the detective calls to his aid the far reaching influence of the press and the telegraph, that police authorities of other cities may complete the work begun here, and render to justice the other murderer, who is at liberty in spite of her laws."

It would require a volume to narrate all of the exploits of the detectives, and so we shall content ourselves with the incidents already given.

If, as we have said, persons seeking the aid of the police, would tell the truth in their statements, the aid rendered them would be much more efficacious and speedy; and, after all, it is useless to try to deceive these keen students of human nature. The detective can tell from the nature of the loss whether the statement of the circumstances is true or false, for he knows that certain robberies take place only in certain localities.

Persons are often indignant that those who have robbed them are not arrested and held for trial. Undoubtedly this would be a very desirable thing, but it is not always possible. Frequently no evidence can be obtained against the guilty party, whose arrest would be a useless expense to the city, and the detective in such cases is compelled to content himself with the recovery of the property. The stolen goods thus recovered and restored to their owners is stated on good authority at two millions annually. [Footnote: Prison Association Report. 1866.]

In many cases the detective is very loath to arrest the culprit. It may be the first offence of some youth, or the victim may have been forced on by circumstances which an experienced officer can understand and appreciate. In such cases he generally leans to the side of mercy, for the men of the New York force are kind and humane. Their advice to the party against whom the offence has been committed, is not to resort to the law, but to try the offender again. In this way they have saved many a soul from the ruin which an exposure and punishment would have caused, and have brought back many an erring one to the paths of virtue and integrity. There are men of tried honesty in this city to-day, men holding responsible positions, whose lives,

"Could their story but be told,"

would verify this assertion.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: The Detectives of New York City Pre: 1868
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

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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