Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Meeting the Crime Wave
Meeting the Crime Wave: A Comparison of Methods
By Joseph Gollomb
From “The Nation” magazine January 21, 1921
This story is a lot more representative of the work of Joseph Gollomb than my previous post. I'll try and create a bibliography in the near future./drf
The crime wave now afflicting the whole world is a logical aftermath of the war. Economic distress—poverty, insufficient food, clothing, and fuel—the loosing of men’s animal passions, coupled with the general disorganization of our social structure, are producing their inevitable effect. While its manifestations vary, subject to local conditions, the disease knows no geographic boundaries, but its treatment is still largely national. Moreover, the police power of the world has been rudely shaken by events. It needs reconstruction, revitalization, and above all increased international cooperation. The American has, of course, always taken it for granted that his police organization is the best on earth, his system of detection the shrewdest, most scientific, most persevering. Present-day New Yorkers, in the face of a mounting epidemic of unsolved murder and robbery, may perhaps entertain a lurking doubt. But it is questionable whether we could ever justly boast of anything in this direction but a mistaken pride. The actual claims of France and Britain—in fact and fiction—seem more valid. What have we comparable to the great Bertillon and to M. Lecoq? What traditions to equal the famous Scotland Yard organization, what hero of detection superior to Sherlock Holmes? As for Germany, its “verboten” has become notorious as the symbol of the omnipresent and ever-watchful arm of the law. We shall do well to study our neighbors’ methods.
The tracking by society of the men who prey on man is already something of a sport and sometimes an art—in fiction. In real life it is a crusade, a science, a profession; there is no sporting ethics in it as yet and police prefer the shortest way to the kill whether it is good sport, art, or neither. But the quarry has grown clever with science and technique, and the hunter has had to keep up with him. The result is that so infinitely complex, delicate, and manifold have become the means and weapons of crime and of man hunting with X-ray, dictaphone, micro-photography, chemical reagents, psychoanalysis, organization technique, card cataloguing, and ten thousand other devices that the modern detective has come to exercise something of the care of the artist in choosing weapon and trail in his hunt. It is interesting to observe, therefore, the differences in the manner of man hunting shown by the detective systems of London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna, and how in their hunting they reveal their racial traits. Let us consider four actual cases.
In a half-asleep residential section of east London is a neglected three-story private dwelling with heavy shutters and doors, inconspicuous and unattractive. It was just the kind of house for which an old man, calling himself Smithers, had been looking. For twenty years he had been accumulating money by buying all kinds of objects and no questions asked. He could drive a shrewd bargain and his business associates usually acceded to his terms, though not without many a curse and often more or less impressive threats. Smithers did not mind the former; but as he grew more and more rich he worried about the threats. He knew his customers. So he tried to hide his riches and lived penuriously. Fear of being murdered and robbed drove him from his business to a retreat. The house, by reason of its inconspicuousness, its strong doors and windows, attracted him and he bought it. He secured every possible entrance with bars and double locks and had his home wired so that nobody could touch a door knob, window sash, or grating without setting an electric bell ringing. In addition he arranged it so that if any one detected the wiring and cut it, the loosened wire, dragged down by a leaden weight, would fall on a cartridge and exploding it would give as effective notice of danger as the electric bell. He lived by himself, received no one, and attracted as little attention as he could.
Nevertheless, one day tradesmen began to wonder why he did not take in off the front steps the articles he had ordered delivered. The police were notified, an entrance was forced. Smithers was found murdered. The burglar alarm had been cut, under the fallen leaden weight was found a pad of cloth and the cartridge unexploded. A strong-box had been rifled. Whoever had done the business was no novice. There was not a finger-print to be found, the work having obviously been done in gloves. The only clue left for the police to work on was a small dark-lantern, a child’s toy without doubt, which had been contemptuously left behind by the burglars.
Scotland Yard went to work on the case characteristically. A conference was held of the Central Office Squad, consisting of four chief inspectors, ten detective inspectors, nineteen detective sergeants, and fourteen detective constables. They went at their problem like a team, captained, but working as one. There was no star performer. With only the child’s lantern to work on as a clue, the problem became at first mere drudgery. A tedious round of manufacturers and toy shops followed to determine if possible where that lantern was bought. In this search team-work was everything, individual cleverness nothing. Finally it seemed probable that the lantern was such as a mother in one of several tenement districts in London would buy for a seven-year-old child.
A simple plan was devised as the next phase of the hunt. A detective who had a seven-year-old son was assigned to allow his boy to play with the lantern in the streets of the quarter from which it might have come and to see what happened. For a week nothing at all happened, and father and son were asked to repeat their task in the adjoining district. Here the simple device brought no better results and again they were assigned new territory. This happened several times, until it began to look as though nothing at all would come of it. But with the doggedness of the race Scotland Yard hung on to the trail. Then one day a little boy of the quarter edged up to the policeman’s son, looked sharply at the lantern with which the youngster was playing, and set up a wail.
“I want mah lantern!” he said.
“’Tain’t your lantern!” the policeman’s son retorted indignantly.
“Yes, it is! I know it is!”
The detective came forward. “Are you sure?” he asked, gently. “Because my son has had it for many weeks, you know.”
“ ’Ere, I’ll prove it’s mine,” the stranger boy said. “W’en mah wick burned out I cut off a little piece of my sister’s flannel petticoat for a new wick.”
The detective opened the lantern and examining the wick found it to be of flannel, as the boy had said. “We’ll have to ask your mother about this,” the detective said. “If you’re telling the truth you shall have your lantern back.”
The three went to the boy’s mother, a widow who kept boarders. The woman, honest and hard working, confirmed her son’s claim. The detective kept his word, returned the lantern, but questioning the widow further found out that the boy missed the lantern at about the same time that two of her boarders had left without paying their board bills. One had told her that he was an electrician, the other a plumber’s apprentice, and she remembered seeing tools of their trade, or what she thought were such, in their room.
Followed then another series of weary searches by the men of Scotland Yard; searches among young plumbers and among electricians; in the underworld for two young fellows answering to the descriptions the widow gave; in the files of criminal records in Scotland Yard; in more expensive boarding houses and in dance resorts. Nothing short of a big organization imbued with team work and bulldog perseverance could have accomplished that search. But at last two young men were found whom the widow, unknown to them, identified as her former boarders.
The police had as yet nothing more serious against them than unpaid board bills. So they secretly kept them under surveillance. It was thus they learned that the young men were fond of target shooting with a revolver at trees in the country. The bullets extracted from the trees proved to be of the same exceptionally large caliber as that found in the murdered miser’s brain. Tactfully, patiently, a corps of detectives searched into the past of the two men, each finding out some seemingly unimportant item. But the whole was becoming a net in which one day the two men found themselves inextricably fast on the charge of the murder and robbery of Smithers.
Now let us contrast with this man hunt another under similar circumstances in Paris. There had been a remarkable series of burglaries in the aristocratic Etoile section. In each case the burglar—for there was every sign that one man was committing them—took art objects of considerable value but never of such marked uniqueness that they could not be disposed of without difficulty or danger. Indeed the man’s skill in entering well-guarded homes, in gathering his loot, and in disposing of it was such that the Paris police had not a trace to work on. This man, too, worked with gloves, so that there was never a finger-print left of his visits.
The Paris police, so to speak, ran around in circles trying to find his trail. One theory was as little fruitful as another and each man on the hunt followed his own. One detective- inspector, let us call him Dornay, struck out on a lone hunt. Posing as a nouveau-riche art collector and bon vivant, he made scores of acquaintances in the fast set where his quarry might conceivably be found. In this way he became interested in a rather quiet, alert man who knew where good values in art objects could be had. Dornay showed more friendliness than the other accepted and, apparently hurt in feelings, the detective thereafter avoided the unsociable man, whom he knew by the name of Laroche. Thus far Dornay had only a nebulous theory about Laroche’s connection with the elusive burglar he was hunting. It was so nebulous that the detective could not convince his colleagues sufficiently to secure the number of men needed to keep track of all of Laroche’s movements, for the latter had an uncanny way of eluding Dornay’s vigilance. Thereupon Dornay determined to get Laroche unconsciously either to clear or to implicate himself. Watching one night outside Laroche’s hotel he saw the latter leave in evening dress. Dornay stole up to the man’s room, let himself in with a skeleton key, and made a thorough search. The only discoveries that interested him were a much-used pair of gloves and the water caraffe and drinking glass Laroche kept on a little stand to the left of his bed. With a file Dornay rubbed gently at a spot in the thumb of the left-hand glove until little more than a thin filament of chamois remained, which, however would not be noticeable at a careless glance. Then the detective carefully polished clean the outsides of the caraffe and the drinking glass. He took nothing with him when he left. But next morning, when Laroche again left the hotel Dornay stole back into the room and eagerly examined the caraffe and the drinking glass. With a camel’s-hair brush he dusted some graphite powder on it until Laroche’s finger-prints showed clearly. Substituting other glassware Dornay carefully brought Laroche’s to police headquarters.
Three weeks later still another burglary was reported, bearing all the marks of the elusive burglar. But this time the police found faint impressions of a left thumb—and only that. It was, however, sufficient. Dornay’s instinct and little plot had won. As he knew, the moisture of the human finger is sufficient to leave a print even through gloves if the intervening texture is thin. And the fingerprints on the scene of the latest burglary were identical with those on Laroche’s caraffe and drinking glass.
Call it Anglo-Saxon love of team-play, or a racial disinclination of the individual to shove himself forward at the expense of the group interest, or whatever other trait it illustrates, the Scotland Yard treatment of the Smithers murder mystery was characteristic. Certainly the instinct for organization and organized effort, which has made Scotland Yard the foremost man-hunting medium in the world, is the inspiration not of individuals but of the race. In contrast in method was the Paris police treatment of the Laroche burglaries. The Frenchman is keenly individual in his work. It makes him less patient, therefore less efficient in organization, and consequently throws him back again on individual effort. He is much more prone, as a detective, to hunt by himself than with his colleagues.
Like the Anglo-Saxon gift for organization is the German passion for it. But there is a vital difference between the two in the outcome of the organization, a difference which is illustrated in the treatment by the Berlin detective force of a murder mystery that occurred in that city several years ago. The under-secretary for one of the important governmental departments was found dead near his home in a Berlin suburb. He had evidently been seized from behind, garroted until dead, dragged into an alley and robbed. It was not till late the next day that his body was found; no one had been seen lurking about the scene of the crime; so that the police had practically nothing to work on, other than the manner of the crime.
But they have a machine in the Berlin police department that works almost automatically in the solution of such mysteries. It is typically a German product in the thoroughness of its organization, in the ruthlessness of its operation, in the vastness and at the same time in the minuteness of its product. Its principal part is the Meldewesen. Every citizen and visitor in Germany, the former from the day of his birth, the latter from the day of arrival, is recorded at police headquarters, a card for each individual, and every card is kept up to date. If, for instance, the police want to know something about Carl Schmidt, respectable citizen, in three minutes after his name reaches police headquarters they know the date, place, and circumstances of his birth, a brief history of each of his parents—if German, a cross-reference to their individual cards will give a complete history; his education, religion, successive residences, dates of removals, names of business and other associates—again cross-references afford fuller information on each of these; the name of his wife, date of marriage, names, and other data of his children; dates of the death of any of the family, place of burial; names and histories of servants, employees, etc. At Berlin this Meldewesen department contains over 20,000,000 cards today, occupies 158 rooms, requires 290 employees, and is daily growing in size. The cards of names commencing with H alone take up ten rooms, S requiring seventeen.
What happens to any individual in Germany who fails to register can be seen in the working of the Razzia system, which is used as a complement to the Meldewesen, and which the police of Berlin proceeded to use in the case of the strangled under-secretary. The Razzia consists of police raids without warrants on gathering places of every kind and even on private dwellings. Every person caught in such a raid is required to give a complete account of himself or herself. This account is checked up with the record in Meldewesen. If there is a discrepancy, it means anything from a fine, for a first offense for failing to register, to prison if it is repeated.
In this particular case the Berlin police raided Jungfernheide, an amusement park. Of the people there, three hundred could not give a clear account of discrepancies between their status then and what the Meldewesen showed. They were all arrested and a minute investigation of each case begun. Out of the three hundred sixty were found to be “wanted” by the police of other cities for various crimes. At the same time that this sifting was going on a special “murder commission,” appointed to deal only with this particular case, was proceeding with coordinating investigations. Such a commission consisting of seven or eight men as a rule, but calling in as many others as necessary, usually includes three or four of the higher officials of the detective force, a police surgeon, a photographer, and one or two men from some highly specialized detective squad. There are thirty-one such squads, each sharply specialized. These squads are known by numbers and the classes of crimes they deal with. For instance: 1. Church thefts, counterfeiting, safe-breaking. 2. Thefts on stairs, streets, squares, hallways, cemeteries, gardens, lead pipes, zinc, etc. 6. Larcenies in flats, tenements, apartments. 7. Burglaries in flats, tenements, apartments. 11. Thefts of overcoats, umbrellas, canes, in restaurants, waiting rooms, institutions, etc. 24. Usury, postal frauds. 31. Perjury.
To the special commission in this case were added two members of a squad specializing on highway robberies and an expert on stranglers. These men sifted out the mountain of cards dealing with every individual who could even in the remotest way be suspected of a possible connection with the murder of Under-Secretary Rheinthal. Meanwhile forty-two individuals caught in the Jungfemheide were waiting in prison together with other suspects arrested without warrant or charge. The search revealed that one of the women detained was the mistress of a man against whom were recorded in the police departments of two cities three former highway robberies and a burglary in which the victim was found nearly dead of strangulation, and through the elaborate system of records of the man’s accomplices, friends, and family, he was finally caught. Once in the clutches of the police the celebrated method of “sweating” or “third degree,” which includes every possible means of coercion, pinned the man to the crime itself and he confessed.
Clearly, then, what solved the Rheinthal mystery was a machine, which is what the German passion for organization produces, rather than a team, as in the case of Scotland Yard. With the Germans organization reduces its human elements to cogs and parts of an automaton. In England it binds human beings into a group, which retains initiative on the part of the individual and adds to it the increased competence of the group. In France organization is the minor fact, the individual is everything.
Aside from the emphasis which national and racial traits give to their different ways of man hunting, these things are also determined by the manner in which men are chosen in these countries to become detectives. In England the instinct is against the creation of a man-hunting class. Scotland Yard, therefore, looks for its raw material among the common people, preferably those near the soil. The Metropolitan Police send scouting teams into the country and offer sufficiently inviting terms to splendid physical specimens to join the police force of London. They investigate most carefully the moral character of the applicants, take the successful ones to London, and school them to become one of the world-famous force of “bobbies.” Then if a man shows special aptitude for detective work he has to pass an examination, is given a special training in the detective school of Scotland Yard, and is allowed to work his way up to the top of the system as fast as merit entitles him to promotion. Three elements in his education are constantly stressed—the jealously guarded right of every citizen to untrammeled freedom until sufficient evidence is available to justify arrest; the subordination of individual benefit to the good of the group; the duty of every individual to develop initiative and some degree of specialization.
In Germany the practice is to limit the detective force to men who have had at least nine years’ training in the regular army. By the time a candidate becomes a member of the detective staff he is usually past the plastic stage of life and set in his ways. His army life has drilled every vestige of individuality out of him. He is confronted with a future in which he can rise only a grade or two, no matter how efficient he turns out to be. The higher ranks in the service can be reached only through a university training. The result is that the German detective can be depended upon only to follow a routine. It is a machine that the German system demands, rather than an organization.
In Vienna the detective system can draw on neither a people gifted with regimentalized efficiency, nor the individual efficiency of the Scotland Yard man or the French detective. Yet the man hunting done by the Vienna police equals in efficiency any other in Europe. For, in the professorial chairs, the laboratories, and the research departments of Austrian universities man hunting has attained its highest development. In Vienna it is not organization or the individual detective or a marvelous machine that hunts the criminal most successfully, but modern science with its microscope, chemical reagents, the orderly processes of inductive reasoning, carried out by professors, and a minimum contribution on the part of the professional detective.
Let us illustrate with the murder and robbery of a millionaire recluse who lived in a villa on the border of Wiener Wald. He was found dead in his barn, his skull crushed in with some blunt instrument which could not be found. The only clue left by the murderer was a workman’s cap. Dr. Gross in his celebrated work on criminal investigation, which is the most exhaustive study of the science of man hunting in existence, stresses the importance of hairs and dust as clues. The inside of the cap, therefore, was carefully examined and two hairs found, which were not those of the murdered man. These hairs were placed under the microscope, experts called in, and the following was ascertained as the description of the man to whom those hairs belonged: “Man about forty-five years old; robust constitution; turning bald; brown hair, nearly gray and recently cut.” The cap was placed in a tough paper bag, sealed, and beaten with a stick as hard as possible. When it was opened again there was dust at the bottom of the bag. This dust was microscopically examined and chemically analyzed. Disregarding the elements that came obviously from the floor of the barn where the cap was found it was discovered that wood dust, such as is found in the shop of a carpenter, predominated. But there were also found minute particles of glue. The combination pointed to a wood joiner.
There was such a man living near the scene of the crime, who also answered to the description derived from the two hairs, a man of morose temperament rendered desperate by drink and poverty. A search of his premises for the instrument which might have caused the death of the murdered man yielded a hammer and two mortar pestles. The hammer with its octagonal nose was found incapable of inflicting the shape of the wound in the man’s skull. The pestles fitted. There were two of them, an iron one rusted in spots and a polished brass one. The rust spots on the iron one were found on chemical analysis to be due to water. But under the metal polish of the brass pestle, when it was carefully scraped away, were found remnants of stains which on analysis and microscopic examination proved to be blood. By a system of reagents developed by Professor Uhlenhut the blood was found to be that of the murdered man. After the investigation had proceeded a little further the murderer broke down and confessed his guilt.
Nothing is too small or insignificant to furnish clues to the Vienna school of laboratory detectives. The marks of teeth on a cigar holder left on the scene of the murder were found to indicate unusually long canines, a clue which led to the murderer. The dust found in pocket knives or clasp knives with which crimes had been committed brought many a criminal to justice wholly through laboratory methods.
The readiness of the German police to search, arrest, and detain citizens on the slightest ground, and the methods employed by the French police in extracting confessions from suspected persons vary fundamentally from the procedure followed in man hunting by the English. When a Scotland Yard man, backed with a warrant, makes an arrest he is compelled by law to say to his prisoner: “Do you wish to make any statement? I warn you that anything you say now may be used against you. You are not required to make any statement.” It is generally acknowledged that a confession extorted from an accused would be barred as evidence in English courts. In contrast to this is the brilliant record made by a Paris detective in tricking arrested suspects into confessions. This man would cultivate the friendship of the accused, say, of murder. Outside of prison the detective would spend most of his time investigating not so much evidence of the prisoner’s guilt but his grievance against the murdered man. Then one day he would rush into the accused man’s cell, his face burning with indignation. “My friend!” he would exclaim. “I don’t understand why you hesitate for one instant in confessing that you killed that snake! I am not a bad man myself. But if any man ruined my business and outraged the woman I love and did a tenth of the vile things that snake did to you, I would kill him and be proud of it!” “Isn’t that so?” the accused would exclaim—and find himself betrayed.
In England a man’s home is his castle and a detective is limited accordingly. No search can be effected, no arrest made without a warrant based on such evidence as will convince a judge in open court. In Berlin a police lieutenant boasted with truth to a student of European police methods : “I can have my neighbor arrested, his house searched, and the man detained in prison for twenty hours even if he is innocent as a lamb. And I can do it without a process beforehand or being made to answer for it afterward.”
This free hand the German police has, together with the infinitely elaborate net in which the German public consents to live, gives its detectives a tremendous advantage over the English. A man’s house in Germany is not his castle; an accused can be forced to testify against himself; the habeas corpus is not the institution it is in England. As Sir William Harcourt said: “You must not be surprised if the English police is sometimes foiled, baffled, or defeated. . . . It is the price England pays for a system which she justly prefers.” On the other hand the German system does not necessarily argue a slavish people. The German is equally surprised at the English lack of the institution of the Meldewesen and other aids to the police. “What do people in England do to find where a certain criminal is?” a German asked in discussing the Meldewesen. “And why should I resent the Meldewesen when it operates to protect me against the criminal? Also suppose I want to find out the address of any man in Berlin or Dresden. For a small fee the police will get it for me. As for the right of search and arrest, well, an innocent man will not suffer long. In return he gets the protection of a system from which the criminal undergoes a maximum of insecurity.”
As the criminal becomes more and more international in his operations, more and more cosmopolitan in his knowledge of the ways of man hunters, so the latter, too, are forced to become broader in their hunting methods. The science and some of the organization technique of the Austrians and the Germans are being added to the equipment of Scotland Yard. Republican Germany, on the other hand, is modifying some of the autocratic police abuses established by an imperial regime. Paris police are working in close harmony with Scotland Yard and are assimilating from them some of the lessons of team work. Vienna is borrowing German organization and Scotland Yard emphasis on the selection of the raw material of its detective force and has surpassed Scotland Yard in the educational training it now gives its operatives. Some day there may even come true the dream of several visionaries among police chiefs—an international police headquarters in The Hague or in some other city from where man hunting in Europe will proceed on a world-wide scope and with the combined skill of all nations.
- ▼ September (6)
- ► 2015 (35)
- ► 2014 (55)
- ► 2013 (41)
- ► 2012 (88)
- ► 2011 (104)
- ► 2010 (43)
- ► 2009 (40)
- ► 2008 (48)
- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.