The Arm of the Law
BY CHARLES J. TIBBITS, IN LONDON MAGAZINE.
The detection of crime by the police of the world has been worked into a science. From the humble beginning made by the Bow Street “ runners ” in their brilliant red waistcoats to the world-encircling organizations of to-day is a big step, but the development is but a matter of a century. The story of the gradual evolution of the modem detective is a highly interesting one.
“IF the Arm of the Law, in the shape of our organized systems of detecting and bringing criminals to punishment, were paralysed for only a week, the people who now are inclined to regard it and even deride it as insufficient would be surprised to discover how much they owed to it,” once declared Mr. Justice Stephen.
They certainly would. In the continual war waged between society and crime —the one trying to defend' its rights and the other to outrage them—the battle is such that society can ill afford to lose even an individual supporter, much less a system. There have been officers at Scotland Yard, whose retirement has at once been seized on as an opportunity, by the special criminals with whom they were chieffy concerned, to pursue their nefarious avocations with increased fervour. M. Mace, the famous chief of the Paris Criminal Investigation Department, pathetically remarked that he had had his grey hairs materially increased by the thoughtlessness of a genius in false-coiu detection belonging to his staff, who contracted typhoid fever, and was laid hors-de-combat for months. The coiners became acquainted with the fact of “Monsieur’s” indisposition, and took a base advantage of it. Bad money was turned out with the most astounding facility. Its producers proved, by working night and day, that they could belong to the most industrious classes. It was a case of the mice playing in the absence of the cat that best knew them. But
they did not play for long. M. Mace had his revenge. He was decidedly not a gentleman whose abundant good nature it was wise to abuse.
“Did conscience never deter you from crime?” a friend of mine, who is a prison chaplain in one of his Majesty’s biggest penal establishments, asked a criminal whose remarkable record interested him.
“Often,” he replied. “Conscience and that man Froest have kept .me from much.”
The public who estimate the effects of a system of crime detection by the mere number of convictions obtained, are apt to arrive at a very inadequate sense of its utility. An efficient system deters; and to deter from crime is better than capturing the criminal after he has committed it.
The story is told of a great lady, celebrated for her jewels and her parsimony, that, having employed a detective for some years to guard her treasures, she came to the conclusion, as no attempts had been made by thieves to deprive her of them, that the detective was an unnecessary expense. She dismissed him, with the result that within six months some thousand pounds’ worth of her jewels became the possession of a gang of American thieves who had long cast envious eyes upon the treasure, but had never till then found an opportunity of securing it.
The worthy citizen who does not believe in the police because he rev' V had his house burgled, is probably led to despise them by the very effi-
ciency of the protection they afford him. The capture and conviction of one master of crime has a deterrent effect upon dozens of the master’s followers.
“Well, that’s only one criminal the less,” a friend remarked to Williamson, the then chief at Scotland Yard, w’hen he seemed peculiarly elated over the capture of a certain notorious coiner.
‘ ‘ Pardon me ! ’ ’ corrected Williamson. “It’s nearer a hundred.”
In three buildings the chief intelligence that directs and controls the forces engaged in the war with crime is centered—New Scotland Yard; the detective bureau in Mulberry Street, New York; and the Prefecture of Police, at the Quai des Orfevres, Paris. If roguery could annihilate the men who inhabit them, the world would quickly discover how grimly the arm of crimeTiad become unfettered and free to strike.
I am not, of course, saying that there are not elsewhere detectives as acute and able as any attached to these three headquarters. The detectives of the City of London police, of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Glasgow, Dublin, Bristol, and other towns have, to speak only of our own force, shown frequently the most consummate ability and devotion to duty; but the three roofs I have mentioned are those which shelter the greatest organized forces with which the astute and cultivated criminal has to fight.
The Anarchists did once pay the officers of the special branch of Scotland Yard devoted to defeating their plans the compliment of trying to extirpate them at one fell swoon. It was in 1884 that, one May night, an infernal-machine was exploded under their quarters. It did no injury to any of the men against whom it was
directed, and seemed, indeed, only to stimulate them to fresh vigor.
How did we get our detectives?
Our modern detective force had its forerunner in a little band of eight men, especially chosen for their ability in capturing criminals, attached to Bow Street police-court. They were the famous Bow Street “runners.” But they hardly correspond to our idea of a detective. They Avore brilliant red waistcoats as symbols of their dignity, and Avere disrespectfully dubbed “robins” by criminals, in consequence.
In spite of their red waistcoats, hoAvever, they succeeded in occasionally capturing some of the hordes of criminals that haunted the metropolis.
ToAvnshend Avas the most celebrated of them all. He Avas on intimate terms with George the Third and George the Fourth, and Avith all the nobility Avorth knoAving. He was a terror to criminals; and invitations sent out for great functions, at which jewels were worn, often used to end Avith the comforting assurance, “Mr. ToAvnshend Avili be in attendance. ’ ’
It Avas noticed that on occasions when the great “runner” was present, ladies and gentlemen appeared in jeAvels Avhich they A\7isely refused to take from their safes Avhen he was absent. It can hardly be Avondered at that when ToAvnshend Avas one da;/ ordered by a magistrate to arrest a baker, he politely but firmly refused. He had, he expostulated, arrested nobility of the highest rank, and he Avould not soil his fingers with such an offender!
ToAvnshend was vain, not only of his professional skill and his “company,” but of his taste in dress and of his personal appearance. He declared that the Prince of Wales used
to imitate the cut oí his hats, and confided to his intimates that, in spite of this imitation, he did not know “which looked the prettier gentleman.”
Serjeant Ballantyne, the distinguished criminal barrister, who knew many of the “runners,” declared that they were an excellent body of men, and were not surpassed by the detectives that succeeded them. We may well doubt the latter statement. The crime they had to deal with was of a rather primitive kind. The criminal was not so subtle and so scientific as he is nowadays.
A popular writer on criminal matters recently reproached Scotland Yard with its failure to unravel a mystery, declaring that it was incomprehensible, considering all the resources science had placed at their disposal. He apparently forgot that the resources of science are also at the disposal of the professional criminal, and he by no means hesitates to avail himself of them.
Some of the Bow Street “runners” appear to have had their faults, too. One died at an advanced age, leaving a fortune of forty thousand pounds—certainly noi saved out vof his wages of a guinea a week. He had investigated a huge bank robbery some years previously, and the spoil taken by the thieves had never been found. As he was dying he made desperate efforts to speak, and threw anxious glances toward the chimney of his room; and it is significant that after his death a relation who had stood beside him at the time was found in possession of a large number of the missing banknotes.
In 1829 Peel introduced the modern police system, and the Bow Street “runners” were done away with. The “men in blue” commenced to
patrol the streets, their chiefs' being two Commissioners, who were granted a room at Whitehall, fitted with a table and two chairs! Such was the humble origin of Old Scotland Yard! Fifteen years later, Sir James Graham introduced “the policeman in plain clothes,” an officer who performed his duties without a badge to warn all criminals whom it might concern that he was an officer. It is almost incredible to us that a large section of the British public—innocent people above suspicion of being prejudiced by criminal predilections—viewed the new police with alarm and hatred. But the policeman in plain clothes was specially abhorrent to them.
“So now,” cried an excited member of Parliament in the House, “we have the full and undisguised introduction of the official spy to dog our footsteps in the Continental fashion; to listen at our keyholes ; to peep under our blinds; to violate the privacy of our British life ! ’ ’
Some people will hold queer views of things, and the criminal has had their attention. When in 1870 the police began to take photographs of the habitual criminals in their custody, and to form a gallery for the purpose of identification, excited articles appeared in many newspapers protesting against it. It was, the writers urged, “an infringement of the liberty of the subject” to take a man’s photograph against his will, and it was inconceivable that any criminal could really desire to pose before the police camera ! When, again, some fifteen years ago, some of the night police were supplied with noiseless shoes, many worthy citizens waxed indignant at it. It was not “open and above-board” fcr a policeman to walk about in shoes that did not announce his coming!
A writer declared that he had himself been frightened nearly into a fit by one of these “noiseless phantoms.” Was it not better that a few burglars should escape than that respectable citizens with heart affections should be startled into the grave? Medical practitioners have not, I believe, been able to satisfactorily trace increased mortality to the policemen’s noiseless boots. They have materially discouraged the burglar.
Experience quickly proved that the policeman in plain clothes was a remarkably valuable officer in the fight with crime. He justified his existence, and at last found a powerful friend to gain him the sympathy and admiration of the public.
Charles Dickens was the great populariser of the British detective. He knew the “force,” and was on terms of great friendship with the celebrated Inspector Field, who now and again piloted the novelist, intent on studying the lurid side of human nature, in the most criminal haunts of the East End.
Field was a charming man —to all save criminals—with a special weakness for children and gardening. His appearance was remarkably deceptive, suggesting rather bucolic simplicity, but no one was acuter or more inexorable when duty called him.
Among his companions was the renowned Whicher, “who never failed, ’ ’ but who was doomed to mortifying disaster at last, and to die of a broken heart, at the abuse poured on him in the Press, because he denounced a pretty criminal to whom he could not bring home her deed. Years later, the criminal confessed, and admitted that Whicher had been right in every detail of his theory as to how the murder had been committed.
In his old age, Field retired from the force upon a pension, and was retained as private inquiry agent by a great life insurance office. Never was detective astuteness more needed by such societies. Poisoning was fearfully rife; and one of the last cases in which Field ’s skill was called into play was the investigation of certain peculiarly suspicious deaths of heavily insured persons in Staffordshire. They were the work of the terrible poisoner Palmer, to whom Field’s investigations proved fatal.
The detective as Dickens described him in “Household Words” was the exact opposite of what a good many of the public, prejudiced by a survey of the French police system, had expected. He could play tricks and set traps for the criminal with singular astuteness, but there was nothing of the “mouchard” about him. Dickens wTent to a dinner of detectives. They were excellent company, told good stories, sang sentimental and comic songs, drank punch—in moderation—and played the piano. In their spare time their chief hobbies appeared to be gardening and fishing. One member of the force was raising a subscription to help the crippled child of a criminal he had “put away”! The public became reconciled to and even began to lavish admiration on the detective force.
The Metropolitan Police Force of the present day consists of something like sixteen thousand men. Its chief is a Commissioner, now Mr. E. R. Henry, appointed by and acting under the Home Secretary, and under him are three Assistant-Commissioners, one of whom is also director of the Criminal Investigation Department. This post is filled by Mr. M. L. Macnaghten. This famous department of Scotland Yard was or-
ganized in 1878, and consists of a little body of four chief inspectors and eighteen other officers, with members attached to the various twentytwo divisions of Metropolitan Police.
There are no initials in the world more provocative of icy tremors in the skilled criminal operator than the three letters “C.I.D.” after a man’s name. A card with this on it has a paralysing effect —“like a revolver put at one’s head,” a celebrated criminal declared.
The City Police, whose headquarters are in the old Jewry, is a force of over nine hundred men, of whom about eighty belong to the detective department.
No organization to battle against the forces of crime has proved itself more efficient than that of the British police; and no detectives have proved themselves more equal to foiling the deep-laid schemes of criminals or of bringing criminals to punishment for their misdeeds. In spite of occasional failure, of which depreciatory critics never fail to make the most, they will emerge well from comparison with their French or New York rivals, whom their critics are apt to extol in terms of exaggerated panegyric. There are fewer unsolved mysteries in London than in Paris or in New York.
Our detectives like Williamson ; Littlechild, the famous expert in longfirm and insurance-office frauds; Melville, the terror of political wrongdoers; Froest, whose hand has descended on criminals in the most remote quarters of the globe; Sexton, renowned for his “instinct” with regard to dangerous Continental visitors; Drew, the jewel thief’s foe; McWilliam and Davidson, of the City Police, consummate masters in the detection of bank forgers and preyers on commercial houses : these
men, to mention only a few, have exhibited qualities which place them in the first rank of crime investigators. They have discovered the great detective qualities in a degree not to be surpassed by their rivals in the Paris Prefecture, New York, or by the renowned Pinkertons.
“Every detective has to admit his failures,” declared Mace, one of the most renowned chiefs of the famed Paris detective department. One of the most famous instances quoted against the capacity of our British detectives is their failure to bring to justice the monster who, in 1888, horrified the world with his series of crimes known as the “Jack the Ripper” murders. As a matter of fact, such crimes are the very hardest of detection ; and similar criminals have baffled the most expert detectives of France and the United States. An authority in French police history recounts the remarkable skill of Claude, the renowned head of the Paris detectives, in running down the fiendish Avinain. During the first half of 1867 hardly a month passed without human remains being found in the Seine close to Paris. The murders were the work of Avinain, who was at last run down by Claude—“Papa” Claude, as he used to be termed for his gentle and paternal aspect. The historian proceeds: “The unenviable glory of leading the van in such crimes .still belongs to France. It is almost impossible to determine their number during the last twenty years, because the perpetrators of at least half of them have never paid the penalty of their misdeeds. ’ ’
It is perfectly true that no detectives have figured in more romantic cases or displayed more marvellous detective instinct than the French. The triumphs of Vidocq have been
emulated by his successors, Canler, the great chief under the Second •Napoleonic Empire, Claude, Mac«, Goron, and Cochefert. A tremendous system of espionage, introduced for political purposes, but available also as a means for acquiring information in cases of crime, has assisted the Service de la Surete to unravel many mysteries in a marvellous manner.
Spies flourished in all directions under the Empire. In the time of the Third Napoleon, there were no fewer than six different secret police services in Paris, each chiefly employed in watching the others. The Emperor had his, the Empress Eugenie had hers, the Prime Minister another, the Prefect of Police a fourth. These detectives and their agents furnished secret reports, the hateful ‘1 dossiers, ’ ’ concerning everybody. Recent events have proved that the dossier system is still in full progress. Some years since the Paris police were reputed to have in their possession dossiers which filled eight thousand boxes in the Prefecture, and there were said to be no fewer than five million records.
The auihors of these reports did not always find it convenient to confine themselves to facts, for an agent who never discovered a formidable member of society would have been in danger of being thought incapable. Dossiers are, therefore, almost invariably full of uncomplimentary matter respecting their subjects. They are the last place in which to discover the virtues of men and women.
A Monsieur Andrieux, when he became himself Prefect of Police, caused his own dossier to be hunted up for his perusal. He found it most unflattering—“full of the grossest libels and impudent misstatements,” he declared —and he had it bound and placed in his library, presumably to a
read in moments when he needed self-humiliation.
The spy system has, however objectionable it is, provided the French police with immense facilities in the detection of crime. Householders are, of course, well known to the police, and the floating population in the hotels have their special watchers. The police of the brigade de garnis, or lodging-house inspectors, are ever busy requiring from the proprietors details respecting their lodgers, and inspecting the register that every proprietor is bound to keep for their information. Visitors to Paris are apt to excite more curiosity than they imagine.
A few years since a London jeweller's assistant, having laid his hands on a large amount of his employer’s jewels, decamped with them. The London detectives came to the conclusion that he had fled to Paris, and an officer proceeded there, with the jeweler to try and hunt him down. They, of course, went to the Prefecture of Police, where they laid details of the robbery before the chief, who, at the end of their story, walked to a speaking-tube and called some instructions down it. The door of the room was opened a few moments later by an officer, who carried in his hands some jewel-cases, which the chief laid upon the table in front of the confounded jeweler.
“Will monsieur be good enough to see whether he identifies the jewels in these cases as his own?” asked the Prefect. The jeweler was so overjoyed and astounded by the unexpected recovery of his treasures that he fainted. The Prefect explained that his department had been notified, a few hours before, of the arrival at one of the best hotels in Paris of a young English gentleman. The traveller, unsuspecting the cur-
iosity he excited, having engaged his rooms, had strolled out and had pawned five pieces of beautiful jewelery, returning afterwards to his hotel. While ¿íe was seated an hour or two later in his room, a knock came to the door, and, opening it, he found himself confronted by a couple of exceedingly polite gentlemen who had called to ask monsieur some questions respecting himself. They were detectives; and a dip into monsieur’s portmanteaux having revealed the startling fact that the young gentleman who had to have recourse to the pawnshop was possessed of jewels worth thousands of pounds, he was taken to the police headquarters for detention during investigation. He was the London jeweler's delinquent employee.
Tht French detective system under the Empire was one naturally conducive to encouraging skill in the art of disguise. Attached to the department in the Rue de Jerusalem there was a spacious dressing room, with costumes, wigs, false beards, moustaches, and disguises of every description for the use of members of the force. Some of them quickly proved themselves artistes who might rival the most celebrated actors in the art of making-up.
An English gentleman, some years ago, while on a visit to Paris, had a remarkable instance afforded him of their skill in this direction. He was staying with friends when his host was robbed of some bonds and jewellery, and he and 1he visitor wished down to the Prefecture to lay the matter before the police.
They were shown into a little room, where a very polite, bald-head pi gentleman, who looked like a superior commercial clerk, seated at a little table, listened to them, put a few questions, made some notes in a book,
and informed them that he had little doubt that all would be well. An officer, he said, would call on the robbed gentleman the day after tomorrow. The delay appeared ridiculous, but the official assured his visitors that there was really no need for hurry—none at all—and he begged the gentleman to receive the officer he should send as if he were a personal friend paying him a visit to condole with him on his loss.
The detective, in due time, made his appearance. He was fashionably attired, and spent som3 hours with his host, chatting about all matter.'’ apparently save the robbery, while the servants waited on him as a friend of the master. Three days later one of the servants was, on his information arrested, and the stolen property found in his possession.
This detective was one of the chameleon artists. The English visitor expressing his disbelief of the power of any man to disguise himself so that he should deceive a person who had once studied him, he bet the Englishman a luncheon that he would meet him and converse with him for ten minutes without his suspecting who he was. A few days later the Englishman left Paris on a little pleasure excursion ; and in the railway carriage facing him was a garrulous old 'mntlermn. who rather forced his conversation on him. At the end of half an hour he revealed himself as the detective!
But the present officers of M. Hamavd, the Chief of the Detective Department in Paris, resort to disguise only in the same degree as do our own detectives. They assume, when need be, the roles of workmen, sailors, cab-drivers, milkmen, etc. A few weeks back two of them, acting the part of road-menders, succeeded in capturing some members of the
Apache gang. The famous detective Littlechild, when at Scotland Yard, having one day despached his work in the role of a cab-driver, presented himself as a joke at Scotland Yard, pretending that he was seeking a license for a hansom ! - o •- ,
was his disguise and his acting of the part that he was for a long while unrecognized even by those that knew him best.
The French police are immensely assisted in their work by the liberty allowed them by the law when a prisoner is in their hands. In hundreds of cases the British detective, while thoroughly convinced of the guilt of a person, dare make no arrest because some link in the chain of evidence is missing to sustain a conviction. The French detective arrests; and by himself, and later with the aid of the juge d’instruction before whom he takes his prisoner, seeks by interrogation to extort from the captive admissions that will supply the missing information.
When Marguerite Dixblanc, the French cook, murdered her mistress —Madame Reil, in Park Lane—she
fled to France, where she was hunted down by Druseovitch, of Scotland Yard, and a French detective. Upon her arrest, the French detective, putting her in a fiacre, drove her off to prison for examination by the juge d’instruction.
While on the way, he pointed out to his charge the folly and enormity of her crime, showed the most paternal interest in her, and expressed his sorrow at her having been betrayed into committing such an offence. Dixblanc burst into tears, and the detective was himself seemingly deeply moved. He was not so overcome with emotion, however, that he could not proceed with his exhortations and questions; and before the cab drew up at the gate of the prison he had learned from the wretched woman all the details of the crime.
When Dixblanc was tried at the Central Criminal Court not a word of this confession was ever hinted at. It would never have been allowed as evidence. According to French law the detective in doing what he did was onty performing his duty.