Friday, May 24, 2019

Researching Pinkerton Agents

When I started researching the Pinkerton National Detective Agency for the hero of a story, I had no idea what was a reasonable amount of time for an agent to spend on a case. Or if traveling from Rhode Island to Texas was believable. First, I consulted non-fiction titles that detailed Allan Pinkerton’s personal detective history that led into creating his agency. One book I read, Inventing the Pinkertons by S. Paul O’Hara was really slanted toward the economic and political conditions of the times. (rather dry) Then I read The Pinks by Chris Enss, which showcased the famous female detectives and the types of roles they performed for the company.

Allan Pinkerton circa 1861 credit Wikipedia

I dug deeper and, to my delight, discovered that Allan Pinkerton himself published reports of various cases. A first-hand account of events is always the most reliable and valuable source for research. The added bonus is that these reports read like fiction. Possibly he learned his writing skills because he released a couple dime novels based on cases. But he also wrote factual accounts of the timelines, events, agents involved, and the methods used. I was so surprised at how dedicated he was to fulfill the clients’ needs.

One story I read is titled The Spiritualists and The Detectives, and it related how two agents went undercover and worked for weeks to gain the confidence of the spiritualist who had a lawsuit against their client, hoping she’d admit the case was a fraud. The woman who read palms and gave séances claimed the rich client promised to divorce his wife and marry her. She sued him for breach of promise. When the spiritualist suspected someone was watching her, (which was happening because she’d rented rooms in her house to the two men who posed as salesmen) she jumped on a westbound train and ended up in Missouri, when another lawsuit was pending. The agents followed her on the train, but replacements took over surveillance once she settled in Missouri.

Something spooked her again and she set off, meandering through Illinois and Indiana. A sheriff attempted to serve her with a subpoena to appear in one state’s court and she successfully avoided touching the document until the riverboat reached mid-river and she was within another state’s jurisdiction. The replacement agents suspected she was headed back to Rochester New York where the original ones first met her and advised they return. In total, the surveillance lasted almost four months before the court date was close enough the agents could serve her with an order to appear and keep her in town. She lost.

If you’re interested in reading about real cases, I also found these titles by Allan Pinkerton: The Somnambulist and the Detective, the Murderer and the Fortune Teller; The Spy of the Rebellion: Being a True History of the Spy System of the United States; Bucholz and the Detectives. The best thing is the books are part of the project where out-of-print titles are scanned and made available free.

I used the research in writing my novella titled Taming A Scandal, book 14 of Lockets and Lace series. Socialite Mercia Saunders is traveling to her brother’s Texas ranch to let the gossip settle from a Philadelphia scandal. Pinkerton agent Dominic Prentice is pairing surveillance on the spoiled lady and hunting down stolen jewelry. Will the confinement of a cross-country train ride toss them together and ignite sparks?

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