No. 527
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
June 23, 2021

Inspector Thomas F. Byrnes.

Thomas Byrnes and his men giving a suspect the "third degree."
March 4, 2012
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Chapter 2
Parental hostility drove Fanny Madison out of her home and into the arms of her cousin, Thomas Cluverius. It was not a wise decision.Read the full story here: Kissing Cousins.                                             Pictures from Illustrated Police News, May 2, 1885.
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Murder by Gaslight - 6/19/2021


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After the acquittal was turned in by 12 good men and true in short order on June 20, 1893, Lizzie returned to Fall River and her champions returned to regular, unremarkable lives once more. It’s hard to know if anything as exciting as the Trial of the Century ever happened to these men again in their lifetimes. After sitting for a dignified portrait, which they presented to Lizzie as a souvenir and remembrance (one would think she would prefer to forget it), the gentlemen decided to re-live past glories by holding an annual luncheon for themselves at the famous Revere House Hotel and Restaurant on Bowdoin Square in Boston. The Revere House was an upper crust establishment, frequented by Boston’s notables and boasted superb chefs and impressive menus, catering to society’s special needs. It would be interesting to have eavesdropped on the conversation at their table at these annual assemblies. Did they drink a toast to Lizzie or share reminiscences of their moments in the national spotlight? The Revere House Restaurant and Hotel was built in 1847, beginning as the former residence of a prosperous Boston merchant and burned in January, 1912 in an horrific fire which killed twelve people. It is not certain just how long Lizzie’s jury met annually or if, after the fire they relocated to another fine eatery to mark the occasion of her acquittal and their part in history. https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2014/01/30/throwback-thursday-revere-house-hotel-burned/
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Lizzie Borden : Warps & Wefts - 6/22/2021
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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ExecutedToday.com - 11/13/2020
Parental hostility drove Fanny Madison out of her home and into the arms of her cousin, Thomas Cluverius. It was not a wise decision.

Read the full story here: Kissing Cousins.                                            



Pictures from Illustrated Police News, May 2, 1885.
More...
Murder by Gaslight - 6/19/2021

When railroad baron H.H. Cook decided to build himself a New York City mansion, he didn’t try to squeeze into a plot of land on Fifth Avenue in the 50s—an area that had been colonized by several Vanderbilt heirs and other Gilded Age moneymakers. Instead, he went to the then-hinterlands of Manhattan, purchasing the entire […]
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Ephemeral New York - 6/20/2021
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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The National Night Stick. - 6/22/2021
Via Newspapers.comThis creepy little tale appeared in the “Morristown Republican,” February 3, 1900:The citizens of the northwestern part of Bracken county, Kentucky, in the vicinity of the village of Minerva, will, on the slightest provocation, revive one of the most remarkable ghost stories ever heard. The astounding incident occurred more than 25 years ago, but the old settlers relate the
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Strange Company - 6/23/2021
An Ordnance to Cover the Defective Points.Denver Tribune-RepublicanMay 14, 1885(Click image to enlarge)   n order to cover such cases as "Soapy" Smith, the arrest of whom for violating the lottery ordinance"  Note how bad the Xerox copy at the top is. This was shared to my father, by his brother (my uncle) Joseph Jefferson Smith​ (1909-1977). Obviously, the copiers at the time did not do
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Inspector Thomas F. Byrnes. | Their Name a Misnomer.

Inspector Thomas F. Byrnes.

Third Degree

Thomas Byrnes and his men giving a suspect the "third degree."

The nineteenth-century saw the rise of the professional detective, both public and private, as a leading figure in the fight against crime. On a city police force, it was no longer sufficient for an officer to grab a ne’er-do-well off the street and throw him into jail, he must also gather the evidence and testimony needed to convict the perpetrator. The force needed men—and sometimes women—with the ability to read clues and follow the trails of a criminal class growing ever more sophisticated at eluding detection. In the private sector as well, agencies sprang up to provide these services to those who, for whatever their reason, were not interested in making their investigations public.

New York City Police Inspector Thomas F. Byrnes, almost singlehandedly transformed the department from a collection of club-wielding thugs to a modern, efficient crime-fighting organization. Under Byrnes’s leadership, police procedures were standardized and criminal information was stored systematically; the New York City Police became the model for police departments throughout the country.

Thomas Byrnes became a police patrolman in 1863, and that same year he distinguished himself during the New York City draft riots.  He rose through the ranks on the strength of his outstanding arrest records and in 1872 became Captain of the Fifteenth Precinct. During this period, Thomas Byrnes led the investigations of a number of famous New York City crimes: the murder of Jim Fisk, the murder of Maud Merrill, the Manhattan Savings Institution robbery. When the first detective bureau of the New York City Police Department was established, Thomas Byrne was made chief inspector.

Rogues-Gallery
"Rogues Gallery"

The core of Byrnes’s crime-solving success was the employment of extreme interrogation methods, known as “the third degree,” to extract information. With two of his men holding the suspect, Byrnes would put on a leather glove and beat the man—in places where the bruise would not show—until he revealed the required information. He would also employ deception and run undercover operations, sometimes using ex-prostitutes to obtain information. No criminal passed through the New York Police Department without being photographed, and Inspector Byrnes maintained a "Rogues Gallery" of mug shots and a private museum of burglary tools and weapons.

Thomas-Byrnes

Thomas Byrnes was also a master of self-promotion. In 1886 he published the photographs of more than 200 criminals along with brief biographies of each and explanations of various criminal techniques in his book Professional Criminals of America. The book was ostensibly for the benefit of police departments throughout America, but it became popular with the public and has been reprinted numerous times. (Now in public domain, the book is the source of the material in The National Night Stick’s Rogue’s Corner.”) Some of Byrnes cases were romanticized in books such as A Tragic Mystery, The Great Bank Robbery, and The Fatal Letter. Purported to be “From the Diary of Inspector Byrnes;” the books were written by journalist/author, Julian Hawthorne, son of novelist Nathanial Hawthorne.

But not everyone was impressed with Thomas Byrnes. The ethics behind his methods, which were often no better than those of his rivals, put him at odds with reformers and journalists. In a rush to find the killer of East Side prostitute Carrie Brown—whose murder was being compared by the press to those of London’s Jack the Ripper—he railroaded Ameer Bin Ali, convicting him on tampered evidence. Journalists Jacob Riis and Charles Edward Russell campaigned to have the verdict overturned, and eleven years later they succeeded.

Cases like this one, along with Byrnes close association with Tammany Hall, began to tarnish his image. He was never able to satisfactorily explain how he had amassed a personal fortune of $350,000 on a salary of $5,000 per year. In 1895, when reform-minded Theodore Roosevelt was appointed Police Commissioner, Thomas Byrne was forced to resign. In spite of his flaws, Thomas Byrne left a lasting imprint on American law enforcement as was truly one of The Great Detectives.

 



Sources:

  • Byrnes, Thomas. Professional criminals of America. New York, N.Y: Cassel, 1886.
  • Conway, J. North. The big policeman: the rise and fall of America's first, most ruthless, and greatest detective. Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press, 2010.
  • Defenders and offenders. New York: D. Buchner & Co., 1888.
  • Hawthorne, Julian. A tragic mystery from the diary of Inspector Byrnes. New York: Cassell, 1887.