Sunday, November 24, 2013
Pinkerton's Great Detective by Beau Riffenburgh
McParland was an Irish immigrant, who came to the United States with his brother. After trying several occupations, he realized that his talents were best used as an investigator. At this time, the private detective had as much power as did the police, and often handled cases that were beyond the resources of local law enforcement. McParland parleyed his first big case into national fame and then rose in the ranks of the agency. He remained a detective for the rest of his life.
The book is broken into three sections, each featuring one of the large cases McParland worked on. Each case took months or even years of effort to bring the criminals to justice. The first case was that of the coal miners in Pennsylvania. The miners were attempting to start the first union to represent the working men against the owners of the mines. Most miners were Irish, especially those involved in the secret organization called the Molly Maguires. The mine owners wanted to break up the Maguires, as they suspected them of crimes such as intimidation, thievery and even murder. McParland was sent in undercover to learn the inner workings of the Maguires and to help control them. He spent months in this nerve-wracking occupation, playing each side against the other while learning the innermost secrets of the organization. When he left the organization, he was key in the many trials that accused Maguire leaders of organized murders and maimings. This case was so sensational that McParland's name became known across the country, and he became the epitome of law and justice in the 1870's.
McParland was too notorious after this to work again in the East, so the company moved him out to a Western office, where he soon became one of the main managers. Under his management, the second big case occurred. The Pinkerton's were hired to track and catch the Hole In The Wall Gang, better known today as Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Their organization of loosely joined outlaws terrorized the West, robbing banks and trains and murdering those who got in their way. While the main individuals escaped to South America, McParlane's investigation succeeded in breaking the back of the gang and bringing most of the men to justice.
After this, McParland returned to his roots and worked on the case of the miners attempting to organize in Colorado and Idaho. The same tactics as he had seen in Pennsylvania were taking place, with murders and beatings commonplace. The job increased in prominence when a former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg, was assassinated. McParland again used his tactics of coercing confessions from those in the mining organizations against the leaders, as he had done in Pennsylvania.
McParland's fame, or notoriety, helped define what a private detective was, and what role he could play in society. Most saw McParland as a hero, who used whatever means were available to crush organizations that terrorized entire states, and that local law enforcement were often powerless against. Yet, those on the opposite side saw him as a traitor and a rat, an informer of the worst sort, who would stop at nothing to gain his wins. These two opposing viewpoints are still prevalent today, depending on one's view of the labor wars.
Beau Riffenburgh has written a meticulously researched history of James McParland, and the large cases that consumed the country as law enforcement became stronger and the unions and the capitalists fought their battles. The reader is given all the facts and left to make their own decision on whether McParland is a hero or a horror. This book is recommended for history lovers and for those interested in the law enforcement occupation.