Society - History
By: - at June 19, 2013

15 Detectives Credited With Solving The Biggest Cases In History

Private eyeEverywhere you look, whether it be bookstores, media, television shows, or movies, you can find some story about a detective or crime solving. These fictional characters capture the hearts and minds of people as they race to solve the next big case and save the world from trouble. They challenge readers and viewers to sleuth with them and find out the clues together to figure out the mystery or case at hand. From Sherlock Holmes to Olivia Benson, fictional detective names have become popular. The real detectives, the real heroes behind some of these stories, though, are often not known. Real life detectives who have solved or help solve some of the world's greatest cases are not being remembered or even talked about. These detectives spawned the likes of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew with their courageous efforts, yet not many people even know who they are.

15)  The Real Sherlock Holmes?
pollakyIn the book "Brilliant Deduction" by Matt Kuhns, the author writes about several real life detectives. One of those is Ignatius "Paddington" Pollaky, whom Kuhns calls "a true man of mysteries, in every sense." Pollaky (1828-1918) was a Hungarian detective in London's Paddington Green area who tracked international fugitives, spent decades working on mysteries, and thwarted criminal deeds. He was so famous in Europe by 1880 he was a household name and was immortalized in poems and songs. He was a private detective who kept very much to himself. In an article published by Vaughn Drydon in "Very Odd Fellows," Drydon says Pollaky was "sinister" enough to know what criminals were thinking because he had acquired knowledge of how they operate. Drydon said Pollaky was secretive about how he knew these things, though, and stayed quiet about most subjects pertaining to himself. Just as his name and reputation were gaining him celebrity, Pollaky retired and left the limelight. A few years later the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes hit the scene and all but obliterated thoughts of Pollaky.

14)  The American Sherlock Holmes
Ellis ParkerEllis Parker (1871 – 1940) was known (among many other names) as The Sherlock Holmes of America. Parker a rural fiddler in a small town in New Jersey who became the detective known for solving so many cases he was even consulted on the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's infant son. Parker became so good at being a detective, he had stories written about the crimes he solved and the small town boy became a well-traveled, and well-respected, man, according to Kuhns. Jersey Man Magazine published an article about Parker chronicling his career, focusing on the barn burning cases Parker solved in the early 1900s in New Jersey. By the time the case was solved, 14 barns had burned and the criminal was found not to be a pyromaniac, but rather a horse thief burning away evidence. It was cases like this that got Parker the lead on the Lindbergh case, where Parker was later accused of kidnapping and torturing an innocent man. Kuhns said this case was Parker's attempt to end his astounding career on a high note, but the pressure of the case drove Parker crazy and he resorted to illegal actions, ruining his reputation. He died in prison in 1940.

13)  The First Captain of Detectives in San Francisco
Isaiah LeesIsaiah Lees (1830 – 1902) was the first Captain of Detectives in the San Francisco Police Department. Author Bill Secrest wrote a biography about Lees in which he describes the way Lees became Captain so quickly. In 1849 Lees arrived at the San Francisco Police Department, but the department had no detectives unit. By early 1851 the local papers were blasting the police department's efforts and saying the police were not properly doing their jobs. Lees left the department, but in 1852 fate would bring him back when a stabbing occurred adjacent to where Lees worked for the Union Iron Works. Lees worked the case with friends even though he was no longer with the department. He rejoined the force in 1853 and in 1854 the detective's task force was established. Lees' abilities were quickly recognized and he was put in charge of the detective unit as an assistant captain, according to Kuhns. He was then appointed captain in 1856, but then was put back to patrolman due to the uncertainty of the department. In 1859 he was reappointed captain, and was then made Chief of Police in 1897. During his career Lees led a drama filled life filled with "counterfeiting, frauds, thefts, kidnappings, and violent, vicious murders." He was a legend in San Francisco and around the country.

12)  The "Tailor-Made" Detective
William J. Burns (Aug. 22, 1921 - June 14, 1924) was a tailor from Columbus, Ohio who became a detective and loved the attention he received from his exploits against counterfeiters, corruption, thieves, and terrorist bombers. Burns was a "maverick" and a "frontier lawman" who often found himself at odds with a changing and maturing world of law enforcement, according to Kuhns. He was always involved in controversy and scandal, and ended his long career with a tarnished name and a reputation for being a dirty detective. Burns was born in Baltimore, Maryland and performed as a Secret Service agent when he was young, according to the FBI's website. He took his reputation and made the William J. Burns International Detective Agency. Burns became a national figure due to his police work and he even made national news, the gossip columns newspapers, and the pages of detective magazines. He was also friends with Warren Harding’s Attorney General, Harry M. Daugherty and through this friendship Burns was appointed Director of the Bureau of Investigation on August 22, 1921. Under Burns, the FBI shrank its ranks by half in just three years, and he was then asked to resign by then Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone because of his role in a scandal involving the secret leasing of naval oil reserve lands to private companies. After his retirement in 1924, Burns wrote stories about his real life cases, becoming one of the first writers to sensationalize police work in such a way.

11)  One of the First Scotland Yard Detectives
Jonathan Whicher (1814 – 1881) was one of Scotland Yard’s first eight detectives. He was soon to be known as London’s "original amazing detective," according to Kuhns, and was a household name. He has had many books, plays, and even modern television shows based off of his life and cases. Even Charles Dickens wrote about him. His reputation was basically ruined, however, when he was assigned to a case that gained national attention. The case involved a murdered infant, and Whicher suspected the child's older sister of the murder. He accused her, but had no clear evidence, as the one key piece of evidence was hidden by a police superintendent to save face after the evidence was stolen from him. The media did not approve of Whicher accusing the 16 year old girl, and wrote awful, damaging things about him in the papers. Later it was discovered the girl had been the murderer when she confessed. The girl was sentenced to death, but her confession came too late, according to the site Metropolitan Police. Whicher's career was all but over. The book "The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher," however, says that Whicher was exonerated after the girl confessed and went back to work as a private investigator, even playing the lead in a very big case. Whicher retired from all police work in 1881. The girl was never executed, but did serve 20 years in prison for her crime.

10)  The Pinkertons Create a Legacy
Pinkerton DetectivesAllan Pinkerton (1819 – 1884), William Pinkerton (1846 – 1923), and Robert Pinkerton (1848 – 1907) created a legacy on detective work that still lives on. They formed a detective agency that would be world known for producing some of the best detectives in the world, but their names may not always be remembered. The Pinkertons served "as an effective national police force in the second half of the 19th century" and fought spies and assassins in the Civil War, according to Kuhns. They are also well-known for their work with capturing the infamous Jesse James. They helped create the Secret Service as well.

The Pinkerton legend of detective work spans centuries. That may be why it is so funny that the original Pinkerton, a poorly educated village craftsman, became a detective through accident. He was involved with finding the culprit behind a series of local burglaries, and that led to him being a detective full time. Pinkerton, a very conservative man, supported abolition, women’s rights, and radical religious views. Maybe this is why they employed the first female detective. Kuhns said William and Robert were the sons of Allan, and were even better detectives than their father. They have a history of tracing criminals from remote corners of the United Sates, to Latin America, Southern America, and Europe. They fought master thieves, murderers, and gangs. The Pinkerton Code was created in 1850 to include not accepting bribes, never compromising, partnering with local law enforcement, refusing divorce cases and cases that incite scandal, turning down reward money, never raising fees without warning, and keeping clients up-to-date on the cases, according to the Pinkerton Detective Agency's own websites. In 1856, Kate Warne was hired by Pinkerton and becomes the first female detective in the U.S. In 1861, the Pinkertons uncovered and foiled an assassination plot on the life of Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Pinkerton agency served as head of the Union Intelligence Service, which later became the Secret Service.

9)  The First Female Detective
Kate Warne was the first woman detective in the United States, according to reports by TruTV and the Pinkertons' website. She was hired by the Pinkertons in 1856 and started a life of legend. Warne became supervisor of Pinkerton's Female Detective Bureau during a time when the female division was growing, despite efforts of a jealous wife of one of the Pinkerton brothers to stop women from being in the business. Some even accused Allan Pinkerton, Warne's boss, of having an affair with Warne. These suspicions were never confirmed, although it was well-known that William adored Kate. Warned worked on hundreds of cases with the Pinkerton agency, using disguises better than most of her male counterparts and operatives. She was one of the best employees the Pinkertons had, and she set the bar for female detectives around the world. Warne became seriously ill when she was 35 years old, with nothing ever confirming why. She died, even after Allan worked hard to nurse her through her illness. He was lost without her and missed her to the point of it sending him into a deep depression. This is when he lost some of his abilities as a detective and his sons took over, proving to be great at detective work.

8)  The Man Who Knew Guns
Calvin GoddardColonel Calvin Goddard got his famous start with the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," when seven men were lined up against a garage wall and murdered with machine guns. Goddard, already a famous firearms and ballistics expert, was called in to Chicago from New York to examine the shells and other evidence at the scene of the slaughter. He was able to determine the men were killed by Al Capone and his mobsters dressed as police officers. Goddard's work attracted lots of attention and a group of men made up of law enforcement and detectives called on Goddard for help. The group saw the need for scientific crime detection school and laboratory, and they put their money where their ideas lay and offered the financial backing for the school. Colonel Goddard accepted the position of director of the school and gathered groups of experts to teach in the school. Northwestern University, the country's first independent forensic science crime laboratory, opened in 1931. The school taught about blood analysis, fingerprinting, and firearms. In 1932 Goddard advised the FBI at a similar forensic science crime laboratory. Colonel Goddard is credited with founding the science of Firearms Identification and the first example of him using this method was during his investigation of the 1929 massacre, according to the Goddard Award site.

7)  The Real Fictional Detective That's Really Real
J.J. Armes is a real detective, even if that's hard to believe. The name has become more known through his fictional work as a detective than his actual detective work, but Armes is a real detective. This real-life Texas private eye has a website dedicated to his fictional work that also tells his back story. According to his site, Armes' clients have included Elvis Presley, Howard Hughes, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlon Brando. Armes claims he has never lost a case.

J J armes

Armes' biography was written by Frederick Nolan in 1976 and inspired a series of action figures and TV shows. Hollywood is even now proposing to base a TV show on him. One of the greatest things about Armes is that he has prosthetic claw hands thanks to an accident he had when he 12 years old that resulted in his real hands being blown off. According to Stan Lee, Armes, and Nolan Armes can do amazing things with these claws, including reaching into fire, smashing through doors, cutting through metal, and piloting a jet, among other things. Armes is currently the "Chief Investigator" for The Investigators, an El Paso-based detective agency. He is most known as an actor to people today, but his detective work is what made him who he is.

6)  A Modern Day Hero
In a letter to the editor of the New York Times written in 1996, a former prosecutor wrote about New York City Police Detective Thomas McKenna, "who serves as a role model to Hollywood's rookie detectives," the letter said.

Detective McKenna:
Detective McKenna

The reason the prosecutor felt this way was because of a case the prosecutor handled after Detective McKenna solved it. The incident happened while the detective was driving home from work at 2 a.m. one morning. The detective saw a man running out of a parking garage on the Upper East Side, waving his arms and screaming for help. McKenna stopped his car and the man proceeded to tell the detective he was the garage attendant and that three men were currently robbing the place. McKenna told the man to call the police and he moved his car to block the entrance to the garage. He was able to stop one of the robbers, in a stolen Mercedes, and hold him until back up arrived. McKenna and the other police then entered the garage and found another robber. The third was not caught until months later. During the line-up of the suspect, McKenna refused to hide behind the two-way mirror and confronted the suspect, asking the man if he remembered the detective. The man didn't at first, then McKenna described what he was wearing the night of the robbery. The suspect admitted his guilt. He is still with the department and earns more than $30,000 in overtime pay a year as a detective, according to New York employees' website.

5)  The Woman Who Catches Cheaters
Rebecca SuttonRebecca Sutton made headlines when her real life story of making an all-female detective agency hit the Hollywood big screen in the form of a movie. Sutton started the agency on her own, working as a one-woman show for hire as a private detective, according to TruTV. On her own website Sutton said she now has a whole army of detectives working for, all female, still of course. Most of her jobs involve following cheating spouses, but Sutton (who also works as a model and Marilyn Monroe look-alike) says this type of detective work is not only good pay, but good for people. Her work has helped many women with cheating spouses, and spouses involved in illegal activities. Not only has Sutton had women begging for her help, but also women begging to work for her. In just six months of work, Sutton and her small crew have caught dozens of unfaithful spouses, and the numbers are rising. A few of their cases have even aided police in finding drug dealers and with prostitution stings.

4)  The Detective Who Served Six Presidents
John Edgar HooverJohn Edgar Hoover (Jan. 1, 1895 – May 2, 1972) was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover was appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924 helped to found the FBI in 1935, according to the FBI's website. He was director of the FBI until he died in 1972 at 77 years old. Much credit is given to Hoover for building the FBI into what it is today, and many of his practices are still used. He worked with Goddard in developing a fingerprinting file. Under his term with the FBI, Hoover worked for six presidents. Hoover became a controversial figure. Hoover was known to have sex with men, but many speculate he was not a homosexual, according to many articles (one published for ABC News). Other than this, he has been accused of going beyond the FBI's jurisdiction, allowing the FBI to harass protestors and people going against political figures, using illegal methods to collect evidence, and even using the FBI as his private police force. President Harry S. Truman even wrote that the FBI was heading in to a "Gestapo" under Hoover. Truman asserted that all congressmen were afraid of Hoover and would not go against him.

3)  The Rich Detective with a Biography Movie
Raymond C. SchindlerAccording to his biography, Raymond C. Schindler was born in Oswego County, New York and attended High School in Milwaukee. He was an insurance agent that began selling typewriters, then tried his hand at gold mining in California, and then later became a detective with the hopes of one day being a historian. His gold mining days were cut short and he went to San Francisco in 1906 the day after the big earthquake. He got a job as a researcher, which would be a historian one day, but he soon found the job made him more of a detective. He would soon be assisting the San Francisco police in investigations and then became chief lieutenant to William Burns. When Burns started his national detective agency, Schindler became the New York office manager. Schindler was one of the first investigators to use the dictograph in 1911, according to multiple newspaper accounts with his obituary. His portion of the detective agency was known as the Schindler Bureau of Investigation in New York City, and he took control of it in. He and his work were held in high regard by the Scotland Yard. He spent years trying to solve the murder of Sir Harry Oakes in 1943, but it still remains unsolved. Schindler was known to celebrate his own fame, which was plentiful, and spend lots of money, which was also plentiful. He loved parties, fine dining, and beautiful women. He was a regular fixture for nightclubs and restaurants. He formerly served as president of the Adventurers Club of New York, the president of the International Investigators, a fellow of the American Geological Society, the British Detectives Association, and the American Polar Society. He died in 1959.

2)  Freedom Fighters
The Freedom Fighters are a trio of black detectives that formed the agency to help people in their situations. The fighters have now developed and received funding for a documentary, according to A&E TV. The website introduces the detectives. Christopher Scott was released from prison after serving 13 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit. Johnnie Lindsey spent 26 years in prison for a sexual assault he didn't commit. Billy Smith was released from prison in 2006 after spending 20 years behind bars aggravated sexual assault he did not commit. All of these cases happened in Texas, and the fighters are working in the state to end the problem of racism and overturn wrongful convictions.

Freedom fighters:
The Freedom Fighters (trio of black detectives)

1)  The First Detective
Eugène François VidocqEugène François Vidocq (1775 – 1857) was one of the very first detectives to become famous for what he did. This French policeman was the first full-time formal detective and he basically invented the profession, according to author Matt Kuhns. He has played the role of soldier, gambler, and wanted fugitive, multiple times. Eventually he became an investigator, using his past skills to earn a decent, honest living. Kuhns said Vidocq invented the police detective bureau, the private detective agency, and even the detective story. Even his personal life was full of romance, disguises, and drama. Encyclopedia Britannica said Vidocq was an adventurer and detective "known all over France as a remarkably audacious man." He was friends with Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Eugène Sue, and Alexandre Dumas père, and was often ridiculed and imprisoned for his actions. The police did not trust him, but they often needed him. He resigned from being a detective in 1827 to start a paper and cardboard mill, which was a failure, so he once again became chief of the detective department. He was let go in 1832, and then created a private police agency. This, too, was soon taken from him by the authorities, but he kept on being hired as a private investigator by clients.

Final Words
If you were to ask someone to name a detective they would probably tell you a name like Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, Matlock, or some other fictional character. Rarely would you hear someone say the names of The Pinkertons or Paddington Pollaky. Yet these men (and women) have solved some of the greatest crime cases in the history and gave birth to the fictional characters people know today. Simple reasoning would stand to argue that these and other detectives should be talked about, but sometimes the fictional stories over shadow the truly interesting real life dramas. Knowing about the real life detectives that solved the real life cases, though, can shed some insight into the way the crime world (fictional and non-fictional) works. It's elementary, really.





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