Born in the Gorbals, Glasgow, Allan Pinkerton had to leave school when his father was killed in a political riot. He went to work as a runner for a pattern maker, then as an apprentice, but soon grew restless and joined the Chartists, a revolutionary group who demanded the working mans’ voice in government. At 22, Allan Pinkerton was put on their watch list.
He married singer Joan Carfrae in secret when he was 23, their honeymoon spoiled when a friend of Allan’s came to warn them after the ceremony that soldiers were coming to arrest Allan. The next morning, the newlyweds sailed for Quebec.
The ship ran into high gales off the coast of Halifax, blown two hundred miles off course and was shipwrecked on a beach in Nova Scotia. Pinkerton and his wife were both injured, and lost everything they had in the submerged hold, leaving only the clothes on their backs and a few pieces of silver in Allan's vest pocket. They collapsed on the beachhead where they were surrounded by Indians who demanded their trinkets, including Joan’s silver wedding ring.
Once aboard the rescue ship, Allan decided to settle in the United States instead and disembarked above Detroit, Michigan. Chicago was then a town of rutted streets and rough lumber storefronts, where Allan discovered Lill's Brewery was hiring barrel makers. Allan built a cabin on the banks of the Fox River near Dundee, one of the waterways that led to Chicago, and opened a cooperage shop
Allan was an honest man who delivered what he promised, on time, and undercut the Chicago firms. Within a year, he had ten craftsmen working for him. As early as 1844, he was an ardent abolitionist, his shop functioning as a "station" for escaped slaves traveling the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North. Their son, William, was born in 1846. Twins Robert and Joan followed soon afterwards.
Allan helped the Cook County Sheriff apprehend a gang of counterfeiters, which led to his appointment as deputy sheriff of Kane County, Illinois, and, later, as Chicago's first full-time detective. He accrued the highest number of arrests for burglaries and murders than any of the experienced police on Chicago's squad roll.
In the 1850’s, Pinkerton left his job with the Chicago police force, and partnered with attorney Edward Ruckerto form the North-Western Police Agency. They specialised in the capture of train robbers, counterfeiters and provided private security services.
As rail transportation increased, Pinkerton's agency solved a series of train robberies bringing Pinkerton into contact with George McClellan and Abraham Lincoln. Their rules were:
• Accept no bribes
• Never compromise with criminals
• Partner with local law enforcement agencies
• Refuse divorce cases or cases that initiate scandals
• Turn down reward money (Agents were well paid)
• Never raise fees without the client’s pre-knowledge
• Keep clients apprised on an on-going basis
Born in New York, Kate Warne was slender, brown haired and widowed shortly after she married. In 1856, she walked into the agency offices in answer to a newspaper advertisement for detectives:
‘Kate argued her point of view, saying women could be useful in worming out secrets in many places which would be impossible for a male detective.’
Pinkerton took her on and in 1858, Kate gained the confidence of the wife of a Mr Maroney, who stole $50,000 from the Adams Express Company. With Warne’s help, $39,515 was returned and Mr. Maroney was sentenced to ten years.
In April 1861, the Confederate States of America in Charleston fired on Fort Sumter. Asked by Major General George B. McClellan to set up a military intelligence service, Pinkerton became head of the Union Intelligence Service, the forerunner of the U.S. Secret Service. He took Warne, Timothy Webster, and later George Bangs to set up a headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio, to follow McClellan's Ohio division.
|Kate Warne was believed to be the figure holding the post|
After the War, Pinkerton was hired by the railroad companies to track down Jesse James, but failed to capture him. The railroad withdrew their financial support, so Pinkerton continued the search at own expense. James allegedly captured and killed a young undercover agents. Pinkerton gave up the chase which some said was his greatest failure.
Allan Pinkerton, Abraham Lincoln, and General McClernand,
at Antietam, Maryland, October 3, 1862
Kate Warne worked on various high profile cases, the murder of a bank-teller, and a case of suspected poisoning. Her employment was unusual in that women were barred from the police force until 1891 and could not be detectives until 1903.
Kate became supervisor of Pinkerton's Female Detective Bureau, but her expenses became a sore spot between Pinkerton and his brother, Robert, who believed she was simply accompanying him as his mistress.
Pinkerton would never confirm the suspicions about his relationship with Kate, though they were often seen together and she continued to deliver information through her many clever guises.
Kate caught pneumonia on New Year's Day, 1868, and died shortly afterwards at the age of 35. Pinkerton was at her bedside and reportedly devastated. She was buried according to his wishes in Pinkerton's family plot in Chicago's Graceland Cemetery. He wrote in his will that that Kate's plot was never to be sold.
In 1876, Robert Pinkerton conspired with two lead agents not to hire female detectives. Allan sent Robert a blazing telegram:
"It has been my principle to use females for the detection of crime where it has been useful and necessary," he wrote. "With regard to the employment of such females, I can trace it back to the time I first hired Kate Warne, up to the present time. And I intend to still use females whenever it can be done judiciously. I must do it or falsify my theory, practice and truth."
After Allan Pinkerton’s death in 1884, his sons rid the agency of all their female operatives.
The achievements of Pinkertons Detective Agency are too extensive to mention in this blog, but their main cases can be read about here:
Allan Pinkerton died in Chicago on July 1, 1884, and he was buried in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago.
Today, Pinkertons agency employs approximately 28,000 women.