Our Police Protectors
History of New York Police
Chapter 18, Part 2

By Holice and Debbie


In the Fifteenth he convicted the burglars who robbed Van Tine & Co., silk merchants. He also arrested Paul E. Law, son of the ex-Governor of Maryland, who was trying to escape to his native State after shooting four men in Neilson Place, and Vanderbilt Crawford after he had shot Henderson. This arrest was highly commended at the time, and reflected great credit on the force generally. Murray, the assassin of Merril, who his himself in Brooklyn, also fell into Inspector Byrnes' hands.

But any attempt to enumerate the distinguished achievements of Inspector Byrne within ordinary limits would be futile. Such a task would more than fill the space allotted to this entire volume. Therefore, the task cannot be attempted at all, as the subject is too vast, and is, besides, beyond the scope of this history.

Inspector Byrnes' methods are not new. But like all bright and successful men, the very common places of his profession assume the witchery of originality, when manipulated by his practiced hand. Like the few really clever men who, by this astuteness and sagacity, have listed the prosaic and plodding life of a Detective into the realms of romance, Inspector Byrnes is a consummate judge of human nature, and can "size a man for all he's worth" with an unerring judgment that is intuitive. His manners, too, are adapted to the profession which he adorns. He can be "all things to all men," as circumstances demand. However, a psychological study of Inspector Byrnes is not aimed at here. It is enough to say that in his official capacity as the head and guiding spirit of the Detective Department, he fills the bill in every particular.

In this city, criminals, as a rule, are quickly detected, but it does not follow that their punishment is equally prompt and salutary. Had criminals the same dread of the judiciary as they have of the Detective, they would give New York a very wide berth. But as matters now stand, a "crook" finds comfort in the reflection that the vigilance of the Detective Department will, in all probability, be counteracted by the lack of promptness and the absence of severity in the subsequent stages of his experience with the officers of the law; at all events he feels certain that expiation is not swift or certain.

No man has been more constantly or prominently before the public as the Nemesis of the law than Inspector Byrnes. In this respect no man in this country, or in Europe, holds so commanding a position. his name as a successful chief of Detectives will for all time be associated with Vidocq, Coco-Lacour, and M. Mace, who fame is world-wide.

"But how do Detectives operate? Is a question frequently propounded by the uninitiated. A proper answer to his query would make a very interesting book in itself. There is no manual, no set rule, to control or guide a Detective. It is safe to say that a Detective, unlike a poet, is made, not born. If he be a man of average astuteness, alertness and physical activity, in time the experiences of his calling and the circumstances with which he had to struggle, willfully educate him up to the proper standard in his warfare on the criminal classes. Our Detectives are men who have been admirably trained, who have seen service, who are veterans but still retain the ardor and enthusiasm of novices, directed and controlled by good judgment and a wise discretion. The corps consists of forty Detective Sergeants, who, animated by their chief, keeps in check the whole criminal population of this city, a fact which speaks for itself. They follow the chase with the zest of hunters; and when they run down their quarry, their countenances flush with real delight. Such men must possess nerves of steel, and the highest courage--the true courage, that finds itself along and in the dark in the presence of a constant danger, but a danger of an unknown kind, which may suddenly assume the least expected shape.

The devotion off these men is not always understood, even in New York, though many instances of this quality is recorded. The sagacity with which the red Indian follows the trail of his enemies, in Fenimore cooper's works, is not greater than the eager keenness with which a New York Detective scents his prey. Sometimes he watches under the shadow of a wall a whole winter night, under heavy snow, cutting sleep, drenching rain, or piercing wind; or stands for a day before one of our many fashionable hotels, theatres, or big dry goods, or banking houses; wherever his duty calls him, waiting and watching for the favorable opportunity to lay a firm and relentless hand on the shoulder of the transgressor, who, desperado as he generally is, and armed, finds himself overmatched, and overreached at the game in which he ash played in his warfare on society. The perseverance born of such experiences is extraordinary, and only equals their sagacity and penetration. It happens with some mental talents as it happens with the muscles of the body; through continual exercise they become developed beyond measure. Habitual close observations, and great experience, enable them, for the most insignificant signs, to construct a complete theory, which is seldom incorrect; just as the practiced physician sees at a glance the nature of a patient's malady. It is related of Cauler) a celebrated French Detective) that, from four works written on a piece of paper in which some button was wrapped up, he discovered the clue to a murder. This is characteristic of Detectives as a class. They, in time, acquire a wonderful memory, and they never fail to recognize a face they have once seen, however, altered or disguised it may be. A single instance of this may be cited. One day Inspector Byrnes and the writer left the public thoroughfare of Broadway, in the vicinity of Police Headquarters, and strolled into the less frequented by-ways, while the Inspector who was on his way home, was explaining the facts in the case of a recent arrest of some importance, the writer being then attached to the Herald Police Bureau as a reporter. The Inspector is an inveterate smoker. As usual, he was enjoying the weed and in his peculiarly earnest way he was, while talking, seemingly absorbed in his subject, and apparently oblivious to all things else. Without raising his eyes, altering his tone, or changing his gait, he remarked: "see that fellow on the other side of the street; isn't he a dandy? I'll bet five dollars I know him." The reporter looked and beheld a "solitary figure," a nobby young man with a silk "tile," a silk-lined overcoat, and carrying a cane. His face as not within view, as he was walking in the same direction, but faster, and he was some yards in advance. "One of your friends, eh?' queried the reporter, languidly and mechanically, the interruption not being relished. There was a queer twinkle in the Inspector's eye. Removing his cigar, he uttered a low but penetrating sibilant sound with his half-closed lips. The man heard it, started, looked back over his shoulder, turned pale, and stood still. "I told you so,' said the Inspector, with a quiet and amused smile, addressing himself to the reporter, who was not wide-awake and interested. "Sam," said the Inspector, still moving ahead in a half-abstracted manner, as before. The petrified statute again heard, and regaining animation, he slowly crossed the street diagonally and stood by the side of the Inspector and reporter, looking nervous, but remaining silent. "You are looking splendid, Sam; times must be good," said the Inspector, with a chilling sarcasm in his tome. The man's teeth were chattering now; his tongue refused to give utterance to his thoughts, and the change that had come over him in a brief moment was both radical and remarkable. From being the rakish-looking light-hearted sport, he was metamorphosed into a cringing, frightened, abject creature, with pallid checks, downcast eyes, and cowering form. The three men were standing still now. The Inspector, critical and austere, the stranger cringing and frightened, and the reporter curious and observant. "It is a long time since I saw you, Sam' I thought you dear or--"

"Sam" at last found his tongue. "I know what you want to add, Inspector. The latter supposition is he correct one. I have been in a tight snap; did my bit and have been out a few months. For God's sake, don't run me in. I swear to you I have been keeping straight."

The man's knees shook under him, and his voice was husky with emotion.

"Sam," said the Inspector, very quietly and almost gently, only for the frigidness of the tome. "It is a long time since we’ve met. You did not look quite do dapper then; and there have been times since when I would have given a fingernail to have found you. How long is it since the night you shot at the officer and escaped over the house-tops?" "Six years, going on seven, Inspector," said the man thus interrogated.

"Call at my office at ten o'clock to-morrow morning, Sam," said the Inspector, moving a step forward, "I want to have a word with you privately."

The man bent his head, stood still a second, and then darted forward in a rapid walk, never once looking back.

"This is the second time I have ever met or seen that man in my life," said the Inspector, in a reminiscent way and reflectively. "The first time, he and two other men were arrested on suspicion of being concerned in a butcher wagon highway robbery case. Proof of guilt could not be brought home to Sam, and he was let go; but he was a marked man. Some months after a Broadway store was broken into, the burglars, to of them captured, the third making his way to the roof, and, when pursued, emptying his pistol at the officer, none of the balls taking effect, however. I always suspected Sam of being that man, and, in his fright, now he has confessed to it." "Will he not get away out of the city?" "Not a bit of it; he is too much scared for that; besides, he is shadowed. Look there!"

At that moment Sam disappeared around the corner of a street, and a man in a long overcoat, with collar turned up (it was in winter) came into view, stood still a brief second, threw a salute in the direction of the Inspector, which was returned, accompanied by a low chuckle on the part of the Inspector, and the mysterious figure in the flowing ulster rapidly disappeared in the direction "Sam" had taken.

One more incident may be narrated.

The case of the Frenchman, Louis Hanier, who was shot dead on his own stairway, at midnight, by the young "tough" McGloin, who, with others had broken into Hanier's liquor store for the purpose of robbery, will readily be recalled. For some time the murder remained a deep mystery. Inspector Byrnes dispatched one of his trustiest men to investigate the circumstances of the case. This many was sent on no novel or untried mission. Having made an exhaustive study of the scene of the murder, and familiarized himself with such facts in connection therewith as were obtainable, he returned to report progress to his chief. Practically he had accomplished but very little, if anything at all; theoretically he had, in his own estimation, achieved wonders. From these bewildering theories and fancies, Inspector Byrnes, by a process of inductive reasoning, sifted the very small grains of fact, and on this established his case. Three glasses had been found on the counter, each containing a small quantity of brandy. The Inspector fastened on this one central clue. His first exclamation was: "It was Hanier's rum that killed him." This remark was unintelligible to the Detective to whom it had been made. "I mean," said the Inspector, to his puzzled subordinate, "that three men (young men, most probably) were engaged in the murder. They broke into Hanier's saloon more with the expectation of finding rum than money. They drank deeply, and the brandy crazed their brains. They became noisy, and Hanier, arming himself, came to the stair-landing, when one of the half-drunken rowdies let fire at him, wounding his fatally. Terrified at their bloody work, all three escaped."

The Inspector could reason the case thus far, but there, in the absence of more specific data, he was stopped. But he had come to one highly important conclusion. He had settled it in his mind that the murderer was to be found among the young rowdy element (and there was a superabundance of the material) in the neighborhood. At the autopsy the bullet was found. Now, then, this was a tangible clue. Calling a dozen of his best men, the Inspector instructed them singly, giving each to understand that he was the only man on the case, and pledging him to strict secrecy, to make a tour of all the fun shops, pawnbrokers shops, etc., of the city, and find out if cartridges of the calibre found in the body of the murdered man, or a revolver carrying that calibre bullet, had been sold within a reasonably period. A week or ten days previous to the shooting several such sales had been made. All these were investigated without arriving at tangible results. A box of cartridges, it had been learned, was sold to a youth about a week previous to the murder. They were of the calibre sought after. This clue was followed up, and this was the beginning of the solving of the mystery of the murder of Louis Hanier. Inspector Byrnes had arrived at just conclusions; his handling of the case was marked by great Detective sagacity, and the subsequent steps taken by him to fasten guilt on the beardless murderer, who had boasted of being a "tough," and gloried in having knocked out his man, were characterized by good judgment, sagacity, penetration and energy--qualities which Inspector Byrnes possesses in an eminent degree.

To unravel plots, unmask falsehoods, and extort the truth, is singularly interesting to those practiced in the arts of mental warfare. The members of the Detective force are so accustomed to the study of human physiognomy that an involuntary change of countenance may reveal a weak spot, whence confession may be extracted from the criminal. Stern harsh language, or threats, only harden the criminal, and render him more impenetrable; words of kindness are the only means of unlocking his tongue. No man understands this better than Inspector Byrnes himself. Even the greatest ruffians are amenable to the influences of a friendly address, and no man is so utterly depraved or lost as not to possess a soft chord in his heart. The question is how to strike upon it. None but a master hand can play upon this chord. Inspector Byrne' imperturbable temper and his keenness of intellect enable him to subdue the most obstinate and tenacious prisoner; and it is possible that some of his remarkable success may have been achieved by valuable hints furnished him by grateful criminals, as no man knows better how to be just and at the same time merciful than Inspector Byrnes. Such hints, doubtless, have, on occasion, assisted him in unraveling many an entangled skein.

During the last four years crime has perceptibly decreased among professional thieves to almost nothing. The people who steal now-a-days are the rising generation of young people. All the old thieves, who have been looked upon as experts in that business, have been driven from post to pillar, and have finally disappeared altogether. The reason of that is because of the great power Detective officers have over thieves, and the intricate knowledge they possess of their ways. Another great secret of success is discipline among the men, and, as far as practicable, not to let one man know what another is doing. This, at least, has been Inspector Byrnes' experience. His control over thieves is also to be traced to the thorough knowledge he possesses of their haunts and methods. He spends a great deal of his time amongst the, and it is his belief that when thefts are perpetuated, the place to get information is among thieves. When a burglary, for instance, is committed, it is necessary to reflect, who could have done it, for every thief has his specialty and his own peculiar branch of business. Take a first-class burglar, for instance' his hobby may consist in opening a safe, and after a while he becomes a great man in the estimation of the fraternity. By studying these little details, an by keeping a record as thieves disappear and others take their place, a pretty accurate knowledge of their plans and operations can be arrived at. There is not a robbery committed throughout the State that the Inspector does not try to find out who bossed the job, and who executed it, in order that he may keep posted on what is going on about him among criminals. This is a very necessary proceeding. A good Police officer wants to find out where the thieves are, who they are, and who they are working for. The moment a Detective officer sees a thief accompanied by a stranger, it is the duty of the Detective to follow the thief and find out who his companion is, for it is fair to assume that anyone who accompanies a thief in the public streets must himself be a thief. One of the best ways to find out these people is through their women. A thief has three weaknesses--women, gambling, and drink.

Forgers are a very peculiar class. Some of these possess a great deal of ability, the men who lay down the counterfeit paper, as a rule, never see the forger himself, who sometimes lives luxuriously, and does his business through an agent who gets a percentage. These forgers, sometimes for months and years even, study on one series of counterfeits. They are often considered to be very reputable citizens by people who do not know their calling.

As a general thing, men who commit highway robbery do not belong to a particular class. They are men who have become desperate from various causes. This is a class of crime where every man performs his part, and it is really one of the most difficult things in the world to get at them, because the robbery is the work of a moment, and the robbers are generally disguised so that they cannot afterwards be recognized.

Pickpockets generally work in gangs of four or five. The "tool" is the one who steals, while the other do the jostling.

Sneak thieves are a numerous class. But bank sneaks are a different class of men, There are probably from twenty-five to thirty of them in this country. They are generally Americans, with some few exceptions. They are men of education, fine appearance, and good address, who walk up to the paying or receiving teller in the bank, and hold him in conversation on a subject that will positively interest him, while somebody else will steal stealthily in behind with rubber shoes on, and rob the safe. That has been "worked" very successfully. They have another system in country banks. A sneak thief will drive up to the bank door, alight, go inside, and tell the cashier that a certain gentleman who has hurt his leg, and is unable to get out, wishes to speak with him. The unsuspecting bank official goes out to speak to the injured gentleman, and, during his absence, the bank is robbed.

At the present time some of the most expert thieves that ever lived in this country are located in England and France.

Bunco-steerers are a class of young men who are well educated, as a general thing, and who, in the main, have come from good families. In their younger days their parents had not been able to supply them with the amount of money they are willing to spend. They had been infatuated with women or gambling; and at last were either driven from their homes or had voluntarily left it. They are a class who generally live in furnished rooms in the better part of cities, and change their quarters frequently so as to disarm suspicion. What they win in gambling is generally paid by check by their victim. Then there is some convenient lawyer who positively knows the bunco-steerer's business, and who, for a consideration, will bully their victims into paying the amount of these checks. The victims are, as a rule, men who occupy prominent public positions, and would not expose themselves in a court of law as defendant in an action for the recovery of a gambling debt.

"I never met a thief in my life, provided he could benefit by peaching on his confederates, from whom could not find out anything I was desirous to know. There is no such thing as honor among thieves." Is one of Inspector Byrnes' maxims.

New York is the most difficult city in the world to protect against thieves--for this reason: in the first place, thieves from abroad are constantly introducing crime with which our Police are not familiar. The only way to find these criminals out is to hunt them among some of their own countrymen. When these foreigners come here they generally have somebody to meet them who will take them in charge, and, in spite of themselves, they are obliged to show themselves on the streets sometimes.

The facilities for getting out of New York to neighboring cities make it difficult also to capture criminals.

During the draft riots the duties imposed on the Detectives were of a higher role than the work ordinarily imposed upon them. They were kept employed day and night obtaining useful information concerning the plans and movements of the rioters, supplying Police Headquarters and the precinct commands with the information so obtained, and in this way doing much towards frustrating the cowardly aims of the rioters. While so occupied they ran great risks, and not a few of them had hairbreadth escapes from death at the hands of the mob. Whenever one of them was recognized, the startling cry went up, "There goes Kennedy's spies," and then the officer was lucky indeed if his self-possession and presence of mind extricated him from the dangerous dilemma. The Detective force acted throughout with great discretion, bravery and zeal.



Our Police Protectors, History of the New York Police, Published for the benefit of the Police Pension Fund, by Augustine Costello, Published by Author, 1885.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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