No. 643
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 29, 2024

Kate Warne.

Kate Warne, America’s first female detective.
May 30, 2012
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Via Newspapers.comPhantom stagecoaches are always fun (especially when they generate manic headlines.)  The “San Bernardino News,” December 7, 1914:Have you seen the phantom coach that dashes madly, silently, down the steep, rugged mountain trail near Pilot Rock? It is a weird story, this. It deals with the apparently supernatural. Possibly it isn't that at all, maybe it is simply some
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Strange Company - 2/28/2024
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HE DUEL IN ELLEN'S HONOR. Soapy Smith’s grandmotherOn Wednesday, August 9, 1820, an argument between 17-year-old, James Bowe Boisseau (1802-1820) and Robert C. Adams (unknown-1820) vying for the attention of 18-year-old Ellen Stimpson Peniston (1802-1860), took a terrible turn. The happy party in her honor took a tragic turn when the competition for Ellen’s affections ended in a deadly duel,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/10/2024
There’s nothing wrong with the MTA’s usual subway signage: the directions are clear, the design is simple. But when a contemporary sign happens to be stuck underneath original signage made with decorative tile and an unusual typeface—as it is inside the Sixth Avenue F and M station at 14th Street—the old-school sign wins hands-down. Subway.org […]
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Ephemeral New York - 2/26/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 Alice Hoyle last saw her sister, Lillie, the night of September 1, 1887, in the room they shared in Webster, Massachusetts. Lillie left to use the outhouse, and Alice fell asleep. Lillie never returned. The next morning, Alice went out, thinking Lillie had already left for work. That is the story Alice told the police— as the investigation progressed, she would change it several times.Read
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Murder By Gaslight - 2/24/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
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 … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
A Ghastly Table. | She Was Bug Crazy.

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