No. 499
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
November 25, 2020

Kate Warne.

Kate Warne, America’s first female detective.
May 30, 2012
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"York Dispatch," November 28, 1905.  (All clippings via Newspapers.com) When normal people think of Thanksgiving, they picture large family dinners, a relaxing day watching football in front of the TV, a general atmosphere of comfort and contentment.Me, I picture turkeys being used as lethal weapons and guided missiles.  The "Passaic Herald-News," November 23, 1956:This inventive lady celebrated
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Strange Company - 11/25/2020

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A CHAMPIONSan Francisco ChronicleOctober 12, 1898(Click image to enlarge)     ASCOMB IS A CHAMPION    Guess Bascomb Smith wasn't all bad. The texts of the newspaper appear below.  Miss Hall finds a champion. Brother of  “ Soapy” Smith claims her as his wife.There is another side to the pathetic story told to the police by Minnie Hall, the Vaudeville actress to jump into the bay from Howard
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 9/25/2020

It’s been a good century or so since New Yorkers celebrated Evacuation Day. But in the late 18th and 19th centuries, this holiday—on November 25—was a major deal, marked by festive dinners, parades, and a deep appreciation of the role the city played in the Revolutionary War. Evacuation Day honors the day in 1783 when […]
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Ephemeral New York - 11/23/2020
Colorization can sometimes add another whole dimension to vintage black and white photos. We’ve done this one of the crime …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 8/31/2020
 Old Cap. Collier, the fictional dime novel detective, tries his hand at solving the murder of Dr. Cronin.The real murder of Dr. Patrick Henry Cronin was stranger than fiction, with the good doctor found naked and dead in a Chicago sewer after confronting the corrupt leaders of an Irish secret society. As Edmund Pearson said, “It was one of those murders over which men nod their heads and look
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Murder By Gaslight - 11/21/2020

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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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
[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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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Gold from Seawater! | “The Wickedest Man in New York.”

Kate Warne.

Pinkerton & Warne This is believed to be the only photograph of Kate Warne, America’s first female detective  (standing behind Allan Pinkerton.)  
Forty-seven years before any American police force employed female investigators, Allan Pinkerton hired a woman operative for his fledgling detective agency. In 1856, Kate Warne, a twenty-three-year-old widow, answered an advertisement in a Chicago newspaper and was interviewed by Pinkerton for the job of detective. At first, Pinkerton was taken aback; a female detective was simply unheard of. Mrs. Warne argued that a woman could be “most useful in worming out secrets in many places which would be impossible for male detectives.” A woman can gain the confidence of wives and girlfriends of criminals, and learn their secrets, and men become braggarts around women and would sometimes reveal too much. Pinkerton was convinced, and, against the recommendations of others in the organization, he hired Kate Warne as a detective.
Pinkerton later described her this way:
"She was above the medium height, slender, graceful in her movements, and perfectly self-possessed in her manner. I invited her to take a seat, and then observed that her features, although not what would be called handsome, were of a decidedly intellectual cast. Her eyes were very attractive, being dark blue, and filled with fire. She had a broad, honest face, which would cause one in distress instinctively to select her as a confidante, in whom to confide in time of sorrow, or from whom to seek consolation. She seemed possessed of the masculine attributes of firmness and decision, but to have brought all her faculties under complete control."
Expressman

Kate Warne soon proved herself to be indispensable. In 1858 the Pinkerton Agency was hired by Adams Express in Montgomery, Alabama, to capture a thief who had stolen $40,000 from a locked pouch somewhere between Montgomery and Augusta, Georgia. Warne contributed to the case by gaining the confidence of Mrs. Nathan Maroney, wife of the suspected thief and obtaining information from her. The thief was convicted and all but $400 of the stolen money was recovered. The story was published by Pinkerton as The Expressman and the Detective, the first of series of books based on Pinkerton’s cases.

Kate Warne’s most important case was “The Baltimore Plot” to assassinate President Lincoln. The Pinkertons had been hired by the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, to investigate the possibility of sabotage by secessionist groups. Warne was one of five agents sent in February 1861 to Baltimore, a hotbed of secessionist activity. Posing as a wealthy southern belle, Kate Warne was able to infiltrate social gatherings. She acquired information confirming not only the secessionist’s plan to sabotage railroads but an imminent plot to assassinate the president in Baltimore.

President-elect Lincoln would be traveling from his home in Springfield, Illinois to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration. The trip involved changing trains in Baltimore, traveling about a mile by carriage between stations. This is when the assassins planned to strike. Dubious at first, the president was finally convinced by Pinkerton of the danger, but because of scheduled public ceremonies in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, he did not want to change his travel plans.

A new plan was put into place by the Pinkertons, including code names for the principals—Pinkerton was “Plums,” Lincoln was “Nuts,” Kate Warne used two aliases, Mrs. M. Barley (M.B.) and Mrs. Cherry. Warne made arrangements for the president, incognito, to take a different train from Philadelphia. President Lincoln disguised himself as an invalid, and Kate Warne posed as his sister. They had adjoining berths in the sleeping car out of Philadelphia. Warne remained awake and alert all night until the train reached Washington. Legend says that the Pinkertons’ motto “We Never Sleep,” was inspired by Kate Warne’s sleepless train ride.

Warne-Tombstone

Warne was an effective Union spy during the Civil War, and after the war continued as an active detective, as well as managing Pinkerton’s female detectives. Kate Warne and Allan Pinkerton would often pose as husband and wife during investigations, and it was rumored that they were also clandestine lovers. Kate Warne died suddenly of pneumonia in on January 28, 1868, with Pinkerton by her bedside. She was buried in Pinkerton’s family plot in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery.

 
 
 
 
 
 

  • American Civil War Espionage. Memphis: Books LLC, 2011.
  • Mackay, James A.. Allan Pinkerton: the first private eye. New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1997.
  • Pinkerton, Allan. The expressman and the detectives. New York: G.W. Carleton, 1886.
  • http://www.pimall.com/nais/pivintage/katewarne.html