Cranks that Worry Business Men.
NEW YORK TIMES
So numerous is the criminal class that seeks to profit by preying on the sympathies of rich business men that regularly organized bodyguards have had to be formed to keep them away from their victims. The following article describes some methods of these crooks, and introduces the reader to several of the more interesting characters among them.
APROPOS of the daring conspirlacy attributed to a notorious western character to kidnap the presiding genius of Standard Oil —a feat which the Pinkertons declare is absolutely improbable if not impossible of accomplishing—considerable curiosity has been awakened as to the ways and means adopted by men and women of sovereign fortune to protect themselves from the annoyances and even dangers to which prominence is subjected.
No crowned head lies more uneasily at times than may be said of our wealthiest men and women. Cranks and crooks are their particular haunting ghosts on occasion, or rather, would be if due precautions were not taken in raising a barrier between the Midas and the mob.
New York City, according to reliable record, has nearly a thousand millionaires to its credit. As a majority of them are actively engaged in business of a sort that brings them in direct daily contact with numbers of people, most of whom are safe, but many of whom are no saner than they should be in the presence of temptation, it behooves any person of large means to fend him or her self from annoyance. If access to prominent people of affairs were easy, they would have not only the major portion of their time pre-empted with trivial matters, but would also be subjected at times to no small personal veril from cranks and criminals. Accordingly, in big offices of
every sort in our myriad-mannered metropolis, hall men, detectives, clerks, private secretaries, or ordinary office boys are assigned as intermediaries between the visitor and the person he or she desires to see.
It is, of course, in the financial district, where immense sums of money as well as important men have to be fended, that this bodyguarding business is best systematized. Nearly every bank or large financial institution employs one or more men as special agents or bodyguards. Their duties are usually threefold. They accompany and guard the messengers when bearing corpulent amounts of money through the highways and byways; when in the hank they keep an eye out for cranks or criminals, and many of them act in confidential capacities to their employers.
At least 90 per cent, of these gobetweens, it is estimated, are quondam policemen. They get their jobs, as one of them expressed it, through influence, or, colloquially, a pull. As a matter of fact, many of them have flawless reputations for honesty and faithfulness. They are physically powerful as a rule, and their experience on the force is supposed to have familiarized them with the under world and its denizens, as well as methods. A member of one leading bankin°‘ house, for instance, informed a writer for the Times that he had fkmrntivelv followed a certain patrolman for nearly ten years, had seen him promoted to roundsman, and
when he was retired offered him at once the Wall Street position which he still occupies. One former .London bobby stands guard over one of the greatest banking houses in the street.
Until about fifteen years ago the Police Department regularly detailed patrolmen to watch each of the greater city banks, the institution defraying the cost. When this system was discontinued, several of the patrolmen so detailed resigned from the force and remained at their posts, being sworn in as special officers.
As an additional protection to the financial and jewelry district there is a large force of detectives under Sergt. Dunn, with headquarters in the Stock Exchange, engaged solely in filtering the district of objectionable persons.
Sitting in his office in the Stock Exchange building, the head of the Wall Street Detective Bureau, with his hand literally and figuratively on a hundred wires communicating with his subordinates in various parts of the district, can within a period of five minutes mass enough men at a given spot to handle any crowd or cope with any demonstration liable to arise.
Sergt. Dunn and his Cerberi, however, only keep watch and ward on the outside. On the inside the nets are arranged by the bodygrards proper, and, as a rule, they are seldom required to deal with the criminal classes as distinguished from cranks. The typical crank is one who comes for money, usually several million dollars, which he must have in a hurry. The following letter recently received—interrupted—by the guardian of a great banking house at Wall and Broad Streets reveals the more harmless type of dunning crank:
Dear Sir: Trusting you will
readily understand the following!: Being known or termed an outsider by an organization called Swim, secret, of course, if the latter name is correct I can hardly conjecture. I am supposed to be dead to the world by this same secret organization, and am thrown on my own resources to find the reason. I trust to your kindly advice to enlighten me under the above peculiar circumstances, believing you must have a knowledge of such matters, being in your line.
If it is necesary to be enrolled and entered on any list of freemen to be in the so-called Swim, I shall be most happy to comply. I also have claims of a lifetime to be considered and adjusted. Hoping you will have no trouble in comprehending the purport of the foregoing, I remain, yours to command.
On the envelope containing this curious effusion was written: “Full
claim, $25,000,000. Will compromise for $4,000,000 in cash.”
Recently a man of angoral aspect and frenzied of eye visited the United States sub-treasury and inquired for Assistant-Treasurer Fish. The special officer at the door asked the suspected caller to state his business. After glancing furtively about, the latter led the doorman into a corner and in a mysterious voice revealed his mission. He had invented a machine, he said, by which gold dollars could be minted at the rate of a million a minute and at infinitesimal cost. Being in need of ready money, he continued, he was willing to transfer his invention, with patents and everything thrown in, for the modest sum of $2,500,000. Now, it is said that a machine capable of accomplishing such a result would be worth many times the amount asked of the Government, yet the doorman was skeptical. He referred the visit-
or to the Customs House. At the Customs House he was shunted on the the City Hall, where, he was told, a man with a gold badge and dark-blue coat would be awaiting him. This particular crank was never seen ag'ain.
A favorite method of these eccentrics is to write themselves checks for fabulous sums on slips of scrap paper. These they present at the banks for payment, and are indignant when the money is not forthcoming.
All these varieties are harmless enough, but the actual infernal machine which was recently received at a Broadway office, or another that was discovered on board the Umbria, have served to inspire the minds of many with a haunting disrelish of cranks. More than one bank president maintains a revolver in a drawer of his desk, and one has devised a contrivance, concealed inside his desk, which would blow a visitor into eternity at the touch of a button.
Quite as ingenious as the cranks are the grafters, who pick up what they can before being spotted by the police. The commonest graft, and consequently the least successful is the bogus subscription list for some ostensibly charitable purpose. Strangely enough, in the premises, a woman recently arrested in the financial district confessed that she had averaged $5,000 or $6,000 a year for several years by obtaining money on a charitable pretence.
One of the prime qualifications of your bodyguard is to be prepared for all possible emergencies, but occasionally even the best of them are outmanoeuvred. One of the most prominent and influential capitalists in the country, whose aversion to interviews is proverbial, has as a bodyguard. an ex-policeman almost as reserved and unapproachable a« him-
self. No one can gain his ear for a moment until he has passed this Cerberus.
A certain illustrated journal not long ago made several ineffectual efforts to secure sketches of the great man at his desk. At last the publication sent two representatives, a woman and a man. The latter began by negotiating a flank movement, as though trying to sneak into the sanctum sanctorum, and of course was promptly intercepted. Meanwhile the young woman sauntered into the holy of holies unchallenged, presented a letter of introduction in person, and so dumfounded the financier that he involuntarily provided material for some characteristic pictures.
Not long ago a man visited the Morosini banking offices and sent in his card with that of a friend of the banker’s as a means of introduction. He was at once admitted. Presently, on coming down to business, he startled the banker by demanding $20,000 to perfect a submarine boat which he declared would cross the Atlantic in twenty-four hours.
As the same financier volunteered it is far more difficult to get rid of a woman than it was to turn the aforementioned crank into the street. Several months ago a woman called on him with the announced object of buying stocks. It was the day after the Japanese had scored a great military victory and the woman proved to have invented a war balloon for which she desired capital to float.
Being advised that the banker had no wish to invest in such an enterprise, she became persistent.
“I will take lunch with you,” she suggested, “and we can talk it over.”
She was informed that luncheon was always served in the office.
“Then I will stay,” she rejoined cheerfully.
“That is very kind of you madam,” replied Mr. Morosini, but I am expecting my daughter to-day and she may arrive at any moment. If you will return to-morrow at this time I will give you my attention.”
Needless to say, means were found to bring the annoyance to an end. Incidentally the Morosini mansion at Riverdale-on-the-Hudson is equipped with very extraordinary and picturesque apparatus as a proof ogainst burglars and other unwelcome visitors. Several small-bore cannon and sundry howitzers are planted around the house, each piece of ordnance being connected with the house by an electric wire.
Whenever occasion demands, a button may be pressed inside the mansion, and any one or all of the cannon can be fired off. In addition to this novel safeguard the grounds surrounding the mansion can be illuminated by means of electric bulbs scattered thickly among the trees and shrubbery.
Recently there was occasion one night for the police to answer a call from the Morosini mansion, two servants having become obstreperous. As the vehicle containing two officers from the King’s Bridge station passed through the gate, the lawn for a hundred feet about suddenly burst into light. Adjacent trees glowed with a hundred dazzling flashes. Surprised, the officers came to an abrupt halt. But presently continuing on toward the house, every foot of the way was similarly illuminated, lights budding everywhere, making the grounds almost as brilliant as day. During a subsequent survey of the premises the police learned that all the windows on the ground floor were connected with heavily charged elec-
tric wires. When the family retires a switch is turned on, and any one attempting to open a window from the outside is apt to be fatally shocked.
Russell Sage, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday by putting in a busy day at his Nassau street office, has for the past year been accompanied by a stalwart attendant whenever he stirs abroad. The Sage bodyguard has the double duty of assisting the aged financier up stairs and through the crowded streets, and also of warding off annoying persons. No one is more easily reached as a rule than Mr. Sage when one has business of importance to transact. But any stranger who becomes annoying is apt to be reminded by the stalwart warden that' business is business. Even the general popularity of Miss Gould, even the title of good angel so freely bestowed by many whom she has assisted, does not relieve her from sharing in such annoyances and dangers. Her Fifth Avenue home is a Mecca for every variety of beggar and crank. Hardly a day passes, in fact, without some unwelcome visitor being recorded. In most cases they are harmless, but they are always treated carefully. The butler who opens the door is himself a pretty shrewd detective, and whenever his suspicions are aroused the Detective Bureau is at once notified and officers are hurried to the place.
Should an objectionable caller refuse to leave the premises or threaten to come again, detectives are kept in the house until there is reasonable assurances that the cause of annoyance is removed.
Besides these visits Miss Gould receives threatening letters in nearly every mail, all of which are promptly turned over to the authorities for ex-
amination. A source of particular annoyance is the hallucination of one type of crank regarding marriage. If Miss Gould has kept any record of the number of proposals she has received, the total would probably stagger credibility.
Whenever a threat is definite, such as a particular hour being mentioned for its fulfillment or a sufficient clue is given, a detective is immediately put on the case. Often several officers will be employed investigating a single letter.
Here, as at other houses of the wealthy, elaborate precautions are taken to protect guests during social functions. Frequently a dozen detectives, in correct evening garb, will be detailed to a house wherein there is entertaining. Their rendezvous is about the main entrance, though of course every door and window by which one might enter is watched. As each guest arrives the detectives note whether he or she is recognized and whether the name is announced by the butler. Persons not so announced are shadowed until the new arrival meets one of the family or is otherwise recognized.
In driving about Miss Gould and many other wealthy women depend for protection upon their coachmen and footmen. Only a trusted attendant is naturally allowed to occupy such a position. The Gould footman is a strong fellow, and quite capable of giving a good account of himself whenever necessary, and it is not alone because it is stylish that he always keeps close behind Miss Gould as she passes from her equipage to her door, and remains at, the door ready to escort her back.
Speaking of *paranoiacs in general, the head of the psychopathic ward at Bellevue ventured that cranks who
ordinarily act as other people are apt to have ideas of grandeur and of personal importance which when they fall to receive the attention or deference which they think is their due, develop delusions of persecution. These are usually dangerous, from the fact, he continued, that their intellectual defects are not appreciated and that they are merely regarded as eccentric and queer, but harmless cranks.
Upward of 2,000 cranks are annually received and examined at Bellevue, of whom about 66 per cent, are sent to asylums, about 25 per cen t, ire discharged, and the balance are committed to other institutions.
Comparatively few of such cases are ever heard of by the public. According to the Be!l,evue records women cranks are by no means as numerous as men, but they are frequently more determined when they threaten to commit a crime. As a case in point, pursued the same authority, the most notorious case of recent years was one Harriet Coffin, who attempted to kill Kyrie Bellew, the actor. Hers was a violent delusion. She believed the star at one time had returned the great affection she had for him. but that he had tired of her and secluded himself to the verge of persecution. Once at a Boston hotel Miss Coffin attacked a waiter with a knife, thinking the victim was the recalcitrant actor. With an umbrella she on another occasion ruined the hat and wearing apparel of an elderly gentleman who was accompanied by his wife, in a Fifth Avenue stagne, because he had, she declared, insulted her by pressing against her arm. In a fit of rage she struck a well known hotel proprietor on still another occasion. She Fas sent to Middletown for this assault,
and later was removed to Amityville, where she is now domiciled.
An amusing case which has never been made public had for its recent principals an elderly paranoiac and several financiers, including one of the Goulds and a director of the United States Steel Corporation. For some time before the police were notified this crank visited numerous offices in order to dissuade certain financiers from sending him money or cast-off clothing. For a year past, lie said when arrested, people had been sending him cash and articles
which he did not need, as he was already comfortably established in a Bowery lodging house. Moreover, he confessed, the postal authorities had persistently refused to deliver certain packages addressed to him. Various donations so addressed, he added, were testimonials sent him by religious people who were grateful for a special prayer he had composed. When refused admittance to an office the author of the prayer would gravely write out a note, asking So-and-so not to send him any more money, and depart quietly.