Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pinkerton Practices

I finished reading another Pinkerton story, this time "The Burglar's Fate" from 1884. There's actually more than one burglar in the story, and they are more like bank robbers and perpetrators of check fraud. So the title seems to be referring to an abstract, hypothetical burglar, i.e. the inevitable fate of a burglar is to be captured and sent to prison for his crimes. It's Victorian moralizing (and Pinkerton self-promotion) at its best.

Anyway, four criminals conspire to rob a bank in Geneva (I think Geneva, Illinois), and Pinkerton is called in afterward. One robber is an inside man at the bank, and his accomplices are his gambling buddies who plan to split the proceeds with him. I found this story more readable than the Expressman case because there is actual evidence on which Pinkerton bases his suspicions. It's not all purely his intuition anymore, and the case moves fairly quickly, ending only a couple of months after the robbery itself. So no waiting endlessly for any progress to be made.

Three of the conspirators are discovered and captured quickly, while the fourth man travels toward Montana hoping to lose himself in the Wild West. A Pinkerton detective pursues him, chapter after chapter, until finally catching up to him and bringing him back to Chicago to be questioned by Pinkerton. Confessions are obtained, remorse is expressed, and finally all four criminals are tried in court. They are sentenced to prison, and the book closes by moralizing about how these young men should learn their lesson and try to live respectable, hard-working lives once they finally get out of prison. (Their bank robbery scheme arose out of their habit of gambling and spending way more money than their normal jobs could support. They lived beyond their means and so were tempted to obtain easy money through thievery.)

Pinkerton is more inclined to call his detectives "operatives" when they are simply tracking or monitoring suspects, rather than solving cases. Kate Warne isn't in the case at all. Maybe it's after her death, but I wonder why there are no other female detectives/operatives mentioned. Allan Pinkerton himself died in July of 1884, so I've no idea if this 1884 book was published posthumously or not. In any case it could have been done by a ghostwriter anyway, such as Wikipedia suggests. Being a latter-day case, Allan's sons Robert and William are part of the investigation, helping to hunt down the fugitives in several states.

A couple of interesting things go on in the book. In the "Somnambulist" and "Fortuneteller" stories, Pinkerton talked about his detectives stealing letters from suspects and then opening them to read or copy the contents before resealing the letters and sending them on. Yet here in "Burglar's Fate" Pinkerton asserts that tampering with U.S. mail is a crime (which it is) so his detectives never open the letters. They just look at the mailing addresses to get clues. How odd! Did the laws change over the years, or did Pinkerton's agency change its practices after getting into trouble for interfering with the mail?

Another thing--I was just saying before that Pinkerton abruptly ends his books on a dramatic moment, like when a criminal suddenly confesses or kills himself, and doesn't reveal what happens to the criminal's family, even when those family members were the source of guilty confessions and evidence. I thought it was quite callous of him to have his operatives use people that way.

However in chapter 6 of "Burglar's Fate," Pinkerton claims that his detectives often feel sympathy for the wives and children of criminals. He says that he himself, and his operatives do feel pangs of guilt for befriending these people and using them to get information to convict their loved ones.
It is a common error, I fear, to imagine that a detective is devoid of those finer feelings which animate humanity, and to credit him with only the hard, stern and uncompromising ideas of duty which only appear on the surface.
Pinkerton further claims that many of his detectives offer help or kindness to the criminals or family members after the case is over. When they no longer have to think of their professional duty of capturing a suspect, they can end the deception and offer some sympathy. So am I to imagine that Kate Warne somehow made things up to Mrs. Maroney from the "Expressman" book? Should I really think that DeForest tried to marry Mrs. Maroney (after getting her a divorce)? Hmm, I don't know.

In any case, Pinkerton doesn't reveal what happens to the criminals or their family after prison, because the young men are still serving their sentences when "Burglar's Fate" ends.

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