24 November 1907
Nothing Mysterious English Sleuths, Who Are No Better then the American Detective
The recent dragnet search of London by the police and detective forces for Barbara Lapoukhine, daughter of a Russian Princess and of a Russian diplomat, who disappeared under extraordinary circumstances from the door of the Aldwych Theater, had led to a comparison between the detective methods in London and in this country. There is a /illegible/ glamour about the work of Scotland Yard sleuth, but as a matter of fact there is little difference in the style of work in the detective service of >London, New York or Paris. In the case of the missing Russian the work of the detective force was largely negative. The men did their best, but the girl turned up at her own home some time after her disappearance without any explanation to give. There is no evidence that the detectives found her in spite of the fact that the most elaborate pains were taken to search every nook and corner of the great city for her. The police of London seem to be hiding something from the public in the case, but all that is known through the press is that she mysteriously disappeared and quite as strangely reappeared.
There is much misunderstanding in the public mind about the work of the detective service, and this is because secret service work is, of necessity, mysterious. And the mystery of it all is usually due to the willingness of credulous reporters to accept the fairy tales of the detectives illegible/. The sleuths who are paid by the great municipalities of the world are for the most part ordinary human beings, with little that fits them, as the public mind would understand it, for the work. Criminologists and those who are acquainted with the routine of police operation understand that the two things which are essential in a detective are pertinacity and plain, ordinary horse sense. A knowledge of faces, a good memory and some acquaintance with criminals themselves are needful, but persistency is the chief thing.
In the city of London the elaborate system of detective work, built up most laboriously and out of years of experience, does not produce any better results than are obtained by the square toes of the New York detective force. There are here just as many brilliant detectives as there are anywhere else; men who can wear good clothes as if they were accustomed to do so, who can talk grammatically, who are pretty well read and who have more than one language at their disposal. And they are, after all, not the most useful in ferreting out crime and catching criminals. Some of the best work done in the city is by plain patrolmen assigned to detective duty on some special case, for the investigation of which they are particularly adapted. It is a safe bet that the men of New York city have to their credit just as many successes in criminal investigations and the unravelling of mystery as the best gilt-edged detectives in other countries. And they have as many failures, too. It is the detective success that is heralded abroad. The failures are forgotten in one good piece of work. Just now London is patting herself over the work done in Scotland Yard in the Russian girl mystery, although just how the detective service there comes in for praise it is hard to understand. She has forgotten that for months there was a series of "Jack the Ripper" murders which baffled the detective giants there. This is on series of scores of murders and robberies that have not been cleared up by the police of the great metropolis.
There has been recently a new dispensation in Scotland Yard. Under Sir Melville Macnaghten, the head of the detective force, there has been established a council of seven, composed of chief inspectors of the Scotland Yard Bureau, who meet in consultation when there is a hard shelled criminal not to crack. The Chief Inspector most fitted for the job, the man with a speciality, is put on the case. He has the benefit of the advice of the others, and of the great chief, Sir Melville himself. Each man is supposed to be a person of vast experience in his particular line, where, of course, experience counts. There are men in the council who have spent the best years of their lives at the work, and it would be wonderful, indeed, if they did not once in a while accomplish something.
When a case that seems to be particularly troublesome comes up the seven thinkers sit down in a room and think. Then they act as seems best under the circumstances. But their work is no more remarkable than that of detectives in other cities who do not have daily councils. They have the same tools - criminal records, the pictures of criminals, a system of searching jewelers' shops and pawn offices for stolen property, a "stool pigeon" now and then, and sources of information that are open to the police and to no other department of municipal investigation. There are always crooks who are willing to betray their fellow crooks for the sake of a smile from the sleuth.
In one respect the New York policeman lacks in his detective work who the detective service of London has. There is an emergency fund which may be drawn upon, and the funds of the force are so trusted that they may spend from this fund, without going into details, for secret service on the part of outsiders. There is no fund of this sort of any size at the service of the police force. All bills must be itemized, and emergency agents of the police, in high social standing, cannot be retained for special jobs. In London, as in most of the cities of continental Europe, it is not uncommon to secure the services of persons who are not regularly employed in police investigation and who are not known as detectives. This is of great advantage to the detective systems abroad.
But even with this handicap the New York secret service man does very well and his work compares favorably with that of the police in other parts of the world. The best evidence of this if the number of convictions secured by the New York department. But there are as many failures marked against them; many unsolved murder mysteries; many robberies that are never cleared up.
It is safe to say that the unsolved crimes were committed by persons who were not habitual criminals. Murders committed on impulse, and robberies by amateurs at the game are those, most commonly, which are never cleared up by the police. This applies not only to New York but to other cities here and abroad. The practiced criminal has a system of his own, and his work may be differentiated from that of other criminals of his class. And an experienced detective is usually able to pick out the trademark. The solution of this class of crime is just as easy to a policeman as kneading a lump of dough is to a practiced baker. For example, as safe is broken open and property is taken from it. The head of the force will have some of his men look the ground over while he is hunting up the whereabouts of well-known safebreakers. He finds that Tom McCarthy, for instance, is out of jail; got out a month before. The job looks like Tom McCarthy's, and men are sent out to find Tom. They know his usual haunts, if he is in the city, or some of his friends. And in nine cases out of ten Tom is found near by. Following up the lead against Tom, the police discover that a man answering his description has been seen loitering around in the neighborhood of the "plant" or may have been seen there that very night. So Tom gets "pinched" and it's good betting that he has not got time to fix up an alibi and some of the swag is traced to him. A clear case of good detective work; but how simple!
Some furs disappear mysteriously from a big shop. Bertha Lowenstein is the woman who does that kind of work, and search is made for Bertha. The detectives find that Bertha has finished her last bit in prison, and the questions is, Where is she now? Her associates are trailed, and they invariably "connect" with her. The chances are, too, that Bertha will be in custody in a very short time and the stolen property is either turned up, or some of Bertha's friends turn it up, so that it may be easier for Bertha when she goes into Court. More good detective work, certainly; but it is all so easy when the way of doing it is known.
One of the best captures of burglars that has taken place in Brooklyn for years was made not many months ago. A number of detectives entered the home of one of a gang and rounded up the lot of them. They were captured redhanded, for the swag of a burglary just committed was found distributed among their pockets. It looked like a fine case, and there was about it that mystery which a detective like to have thrown over his work. But the doing of the job was easy. There had been a number of burglaries, all of the same sort. It was done in a certain way; done with side-lights thrown about it by certain experts. Captain McCauley was the man who had charge of the local service then. "Where's Bill, Dick and Tom So and So?" he asked. "That looks as if they might be out of jail." Inquiry showed that they were at large, and the next thing to do was to locate them. Easily done, for their haunts and associations were known. One of the gang was trailed to his home in this borough, and his house was thereafter under the closest surveillance for days and days. Not a soul passed out who was not seen. And the three burglars were found there one night, were followed as they went out on their nocturnal trip, and were permitted, under the very eyes of four shrewd detectives, to "do a job." The job finished, they started for home, and when they got home they were taken. Each of the men is now doing a long stretch in prison, thanks to the local judges and the police. That was detective work, pure and simple, but there was nothing about the case that is mysterious when it is all explained. Most of the success in detective work is due to experience and to information from outside sources. Then, of course, there is the element of patience, the ability to hang on and hang on, even when the conditions seem disheartening. A detective may follow up a case for months and even years with the most discouraging disappointments, only to end his work in brilliant attainment.
The professional detective in London, Paris or New York is pretty much the same man, working on the same problems without any supernatural power of divination, making purely human mistakes or gaining the degree of success which comes only from hard work. Of course, there is a class of men who seem to be particularly fortunate. They happen to be around at the right time, or conditions strike them in the right way, but it is the hard working, observant and wide-awake man who makes his way in the service. The mental caliber of the detective of today in this country is better than in bygone years, when the patrolman with a pull was put on the work. Nowadays young men who have shown aptitude for the service have been selected, and, on the whole, the detective force of New York is doing work that will stand comparison with the best detective forces of other countries, not excluding Scotland Yard with its baronet at the head. Jim McCafferty may not have a handle to his name, but he is an Inspector now. He has done good work in Mulberry street and has had no more failures than the big men at Scotland Yard. And Brooklyn is pretty well provided with good men to follow up her criminal mysteries with August Kuhne at the head of the detective force and Lieutenant Vachris and his band of Latin sleuths to keep track of the mysteries of the Black hand and the Vendetta.