Sunday, August 25, 2013

Kate Warne Never Sleeps

Kate Warne was the nation’s first female detective. She died at 38 of congestion of the lungs and is buried in the Pinkerton family plot in Graceland Cemetery Chicago.
Kate Warne
Kate Warne

Where every October she gets a visitor who comes to say “Thank you.”

I’m Kate.

My last name? The gravestone says Warn. No “e” at the end. But I’ve had lots of names. I can tell you that when the tall, thin man dressed in black with the sad, haunted eyes comes to visit, comes here to Graceland Cemetery in Chicago each October, he just calls me Kate.

I rest now and forever near Mr. Pinkerton. And it should be that way. Without Mr. Pinkerton,
I would never have met the tall sad man. Without Mr. Pinkerton, they would never have said, “Kay Warne, she never sleeps.”

After I came here to Graceland, people wrote, “Kay Warne, the first lady detective.” I never understood why being first was important. What was important, was that I was good.

I was only 23 when I first stepped in to Mr. Pinkerton’s Detective Office in Chicago. But I hadn’t been a little girl in a very long time. My husband had passed. So it was just me, and I needed a job.

I knew I could find out things about people that no one else could. I knew I could find secrets. So, at ten o’clock in the morning of August 23rd, 1856, Mr. Pinkerton gave me the job. I was a detective now.

Wives and girlfriends would tell me the things they would never tell a man. Like Mr. Maroney, in Montgomery Alabama. He embezzled $50,000 from his company, the Adams Express Company. And I got the true story from his wife. The true story and $39,515 back to the company.

Mr. Pinkerton was pleased. He said I was one of the best he’d ever known. Bank robbers and killers. I found their secrets. I stopped their evil deeds. And when I walk these golden brown grounds of autumn, I am pleased with my life’s work. My years were few. I passed soon after the war between the states. I was 38. But I am pleased with my life’s work.

In October, I remember my best work; it’s in October when the sad eyed man who had just been elected to be President comes back to visit me.

My work with the President-elect began with the tips we got out of the secessionist plots in Baltimore. The cry to crack open the Union was echoing across the land in those times. Splitting up what America had become. But it was what I found out next that could have ripped open the very fabric of these United States and left it to bleed and die.

There was a plot to kill the new President. Kill him before he even took office. I pieced together the evildoers plan.

It was to happen when the President-elect changed trains in Baltimore. There was a 1-mile carriage ride between the two train stations. The secessionists would cause a diversion. The President-elect’s guards would respond to the diversion. And a crowd would swarm the unprotected carriage and kill the soon-to-be President. He would never complete  the trip from his home in Springfield, Illinois to the muddy streets of Washington. He would never take office. He would die in Baltimore.

But with Mr. Pinkerton by my side, I was able to make the case for what I had found. I convinced the President-elect that there really was danger. So after the President-elect’s last speech of the evening in Harrisburg Pennsylvania, we changed the travel schedule for the last leg of the trip into Washington DC. Mr. Pinkerton had the telegraph lines interrupted so no one would know of the change. And then we dressed the President elect in the suit of a traveling common man. We put a soft felt hat on his head and told him to carry a shawl as if he was an invalid. When he got on his new train I cried out a greeting as if he were a long lost brother. And throughout that long dark night, as the train pulled into an empty Baltimore at 3:30 a.m., as opposed to the much earlier hour that had been planned, even then, I sat next to him. Kept him safe.

I got him to the White House alive. Because throughout that night I never slept.

He was inaugurated. Became the President. And he saved the union. He kept alive the great American dream.

Which is why he comes to see me each October. He comes to say thanks.

President Abraham Lincoln. The tall, thin man with the haunted sad eyes. He comes here to Graceland. Offers me his arm. And we walk. Through the orange, red and brown scattered leaves of time. He is known by so many as the centuries pass, this President Abraham Lincoln. And few remember my name.

Pinkerton had no trouble being innovative. He'd started the first private detective agency in America, after all, and he knew it was certainly true that women had access to places where men were not allowed. The real issue for him, perhaps, was whether those exclusive areas actually offered substantial potential for developing intelligence. Pinkerton reportedly wrestled with the pros and cons all that day and half the night. His brother, with an investment in the agency (probably a co-founder), was set against it. But Pinkerton had been impressed by the fire he'd seen in Mrs. Warne's eye and had little doubt she'd work hard to prove herself. And if the arrangement didn't work out, he wasn't committed to keeping her. Certainly, hiring a female detective would startle people, perhaps even disturb them including his other operatives. He'd have to convince them as well. But it was his agency; the decision was his, as were the consequences.

The next morning, Pinkerton contacted Kate and offered her a job as an operative-in-training. As the first female detective in America, she'd be paving the way for others, some of whom Pinkerton himself hired within that same decade, but no formal police agency would follow his lead for nearly half a century. New York City's first female investigator would be employed as late as 1903, and policewomen would not become part of the street force until 1920.
It was Pinkerton's opinion that detectives with "considerable intellectual power and knowledge of human nature as will give him a quick insight into character" would do an effective job. Apparently Kate had these qualities, as he once wrote later in life that she had never disappointed him. He'd probably taught her his techniques of shadowing suspects and assuming roles to deceive people and put them off their guard. Much as Pinkerton despised the pretense of friendship in order to eventually betray, he knew that his chosen line of work often called for it. He also developed sources among the criminal underground to facilitate his work, and made many friends among law enforcement. Kate apparently was a natural for the job, able to play both a female and a young male, a society lady and a mystic some even believe she dressed as a Union soldier - and she went to work right away. Unfortunately, she left behind no memoir of her own, not even a letter, so how she liked her work was never made public. However, she stayed with the agency until her death. It appears that she was both competent and satisfied perhaps for more reasons than just the work involved.

A Wife's Best Friend

While the following incident reportedly occurred in 1855, the year before Kate was hired, Mackay (and others) includes her as an operative. Either he did not spot the inconsistency or he was wrong about the date, but here's how he tells it:
As various express mail companies began to form to compete with the U.S. Postal Service, some engaged Pinkerton for security and for the investigation of financial crimes. Adams Express operated out of Chicago. They asked Pinkerton to investigate the theft of $40,000 that had been kept in a pouch, now missing. Pinkerton studied the details provided by one of the company executives and identified the likely culprit as Nathan Maroney, the manager of an office in Alabama. He advised surveillance. Later that year, on the slightest evidence, Maroney was arrested. Since he was a popular figure in the area, he'd easily made the minor bail imposed and it seemed likely the company would lose its case. Desperate about the message this would send to other employees, they asked Pinkerton to assist.
He arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, with Kate and three male operatives, all of whom adopted disguises in order to move freely among the townspeople. One shadowed Maroney's pretty young wife, while Kate posed as the wife of a wealthy businessman and soon got an introduction to Mrs. Maroney. It wasn't long before Kate was able to win her trust and get her to confide that her husband had grown wealthy by forging bank bills. This disclosure put Kate in a good position to learn more.
Another agent turned up an address in New York of a locksmith who had copied a key for Maroney that proved to be the property of Adams Express. Pinkerton advised Adams Express to get Maroney re-arrested for conspiracy, as it was unlikely by this time he'd be able to make bail. Once Maroney was ensconced in a jail cell, Pinkerton sent in an agent to share it, posing as a clever forger. Pinkerton also sent anonymous letters to Maroney to the effect that another man was moving in on his wife (another agent was in fact "courting" her). This pressured Maroney, and when he confronted her she admitted to seeing this man. Maroney was so disturbed he began to confide in his cellmate, who had made a show of having a corrupt lawyer (another agent) who knew how to bribe officials. Maroney requested his help. He then sent word to his wife to get the stolen money ready to hand over.
Mrs. Maroney was uncertain about this move, so she talked it over with her new friend, Kate. As they discussed the matter, Kate agreed that presenting the money to the attorney was probably the best course of action. Mrs. Maroney handed over the Adams Express pouch, which proved to contain all of the stolen money except for $400. That was all the evidence the prosecution team needed.
At the trial, when Maroney saw his former cellmate come in to testify, he realized he'd been set up, so he changed his plea to guilty. He received a ten-year sentence and his wife was arrested as an accomplice (but got a suspended sentence). Pinkerton, in the meantime, received a handsome annual retainer from Adams Express for his professional services. The teamwork had paid off, and its success inspired them to refine their act.
However, the case in which Kate's contribution is most renowned, and for which there are clear records, is the infamous Baltimore Plot. Let's return to that event.

Hotbed of Conspiracy

Barnum Hotel on Howard Street
Barnum Hotel on Howard Street
Pinkerton was the one who developed the first lead about the anti-Lincoln conspiracy from his undercover work at Baltimore's classy Barnum Hotel on Howard Street, says researcher Lynn Levy, also a PI. The Barnum was a hotbed of conspiracy. Using an alias, Pinkerton opened an office, hung out in the bar, and got his hair trimmed in the hotel's barber shop. He talked with many people who came to the hotel to learn what they were saying about Lincoln's scheduled stop in the city. One of the best connections he made was the barber, an Italian who knew quite a lot from his many clients about the secessionist meetings held there. In fact, the barber had the same inclination, with no qualms about stating his certainty that Lincoln would never get the chance to serve as president. Levy indicates that this man cried out, "Lincoln shall die in Baltimore!"
At Pinkerton's request, several more operatives went into the city to gather the details of a possible assassination plot. Kate was among them, dressing as a wealthy Southern woman visiting Baltimore. She infiltrated the hotel's social gatherings, moving easily from one circle to another as she listened for details or confirmed what she'd already heard. Soon she was not only able to report to Pinkerton that a plot was indeed afoot, but she also offered key details as to just how and where it would likely occur.
President-elect Lincoln
President-elect Lincoln
Pinkerton now believed that a group of assassins would attack the president-elect in an area of town where he would be most vulnerable: the mile-and-a-half stretch required for changing trains while riding in a carriage. If not there, the ambush would take place at a planned reception where Lincoln would be exposed to thousands of boisterous people. To make matters worse, Lincoln could expect no extra protection from the local police force, as the chief himself sympathized with the South.

Foiled Assassination

Pinkerton requested an interview with Mr. Lincoln to inform him of the risk he was taking with a public appearance. They had met before, when Lincoln was an attorney, so he was familiar with Pinkerton's intensity and reputation. According to Pinkerton, he told Lincoln, "We have come to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there exists a plot to assassinate you." He then explained his supporting evidence.
Lincoln asked many questions until he was satisfied that the risk to his life outweighed the disappointment he'd cause many people by not showing up. He placed himself in Pinkerton's hands, who was so careful as to advise that the telegraph lines out of Harrisburg be severed to prevent messages about Lincoln's departure from passing to his enemies.
Kate was involved in coordinating the operatives' reports and in devising a scheme to get Lincoln safely to Washington. She reserved four sleeping berths close together at the end of a night train out of Philadelphia, under the pretext that she and several family members were escorting her invalid brother, and he'd need them close. She also organized a disguise for Lincoln, wrapping him in a traveling shawl with collar turned up and a Scotch cap, and urging him to stoop to seem ill and to undercut his signature height. Carrying a worn bag, he boarded through a rear door left unlocked for his convenience, with no one the wiser save a close friend, his wife, and the Pinkerton operatives.
Kate, in the next berth, stayed that night between him and the rear door, armed and ready to act. She remained awake until Lincoln was safely in the Capital. Also on board were three other men, Pinkerton among them. He stood on the rear platform, despite the frigid air. In fact, writes Richard Rowan, Pinkerton agents were posted at every crossroad and bridge along the way, using lanterns to signal their presence and to offer a code that all was well...or otherwise.
Lincoln's entourage, which included his family, remained on the original train so that no one would suspect the covert operation. Only when he failed to step off that train in Baltimore as expected did people realize he wasn't going to show. He'd passed through the city that night, with a layover of half an hour for pulling the train to the next depot, but without incident. By the time would-be assassins, mingling with the crowds, were aware that he'd foiled their plan, Lincoln was preparing to accept his new office on March 4.
John Wilkes Booth
John Wilkes Booth
Journalists later revealed that the assassination plot had consisted of a plan to derail the train, with a back-up strategy involving a lone shooter. In any event, thanks to Pinkerton and Kate, Lincoln gained four more years before John Wilkes Booth succeeded in ending his life. Those four years involved a pivotal presidency and a great many historic decisions made during the country's darkest era.

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