May 27, 2006

Famous Crimefighters by Robert Larranaga

I read a short easy book last night -- Famous Crimefighters by Robert Larranaga (Lerner Publications, 1970). It was 78 pages and profusely illustrated with old photographs. It covered the men responsible for each evolutionary step in crime fighting from the early 1800s to 1970. It began with Francis Eugene Vidocq in France. He was a famous criminal who switched sides and created the first detective agency to help catch criminals. His organization was called the Sûreté (Surete). Next was Sir Robert Peel in England. In the early 1800s England had no police force because the people feared police would abuse their power. The closest thing to policemen were the Bow Street Runners (called "Charleys") who were court assistants. in 1829 Bobby Peel, the Home Secretary, created the first London Metropolitan police department. The men were called "Peelers" after Bobby Peel but later they became known as "Bobbies" also after Bobby Peel. The police force was located at 4 Whitehall Place which is where Kings and Queens of Scotland stayed when they visited London. The police force became known as Scotland Yard.

Next was Alphonse Bertillon, a Frenchmen who recognized the limitations of the "rogues gallery" for identifying criminals. A criminal would simply change his appearance by growing a beard or mustache and no longer be identifiable from his picture. Bertillon developed a system of identifying people by their measurements -- height, arm length, leg length, and skull measurements. Within two years of developing his system he had caught 240 criminals by their measurements. The system was called "bertillonage" and was installed in every French prison. All prisoners were measured. Then crime fighters began experimenting with fingerprints. The man credited with establishing a system for matching fingerprints was Sir Edward Henry, the Commissioner of Scotland Yard, but several men in several countries contributed to the new science.

Next was Allan Pinkerton who started the first detective agency in the US. He and his agency were famous for providing security for President Lincoln, for acting as spies in the south during the Civil War, and for catching or killing many famous robbers. Allan Pinkerton died when he got gangrene after biting his tongue. When Pinkerton died in 1884 bertillonage was still being used in US prisons rather than fingerprints. Then there was an incident at Leavenworth Prison in Kansas, when two men were discovered to have the same name and the same measurements. The incident got lots of publicity and bertillonage lost it credibility as a foolproof method of identification. Then a New York detective named Joseph A. Faurot studied fingerprinting at Scotland Yard and established its use in the US in 1906.

Then came a chapter about J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Famous criminals mentioned were Bruno Hauptman who kidnapped and murdered the Lindbergh child, Pretty Boy Floyd, "Machine Gun" Kelly, "Mad-Dog" Karpis, John Dillinger, and "Baby Face" Nelson. Although the 18th amendment was passed to eliminate societal evils related to alcohol, it had the opposite effect and created the biggest crime wave the country had ever known. The book says during prohibition there were probably more gangsters in the US than there were soldiers in World War I. In New York alone there were over 22,000 speakeasies. The book covered Al Capone, Dutch Schultz, Bugs Moran, and Treasury Agent Eliot Ness.

Next was Dr. Bernard Spilsbury, who pioneered forensic medicine in crime fighting. He worked with Scotland Yard. Dr. Charles Norris followed with the establishment of a forensic medicine laboratory in New York, which he set up with his own money. Next was John F. Tyrrell, the world's greatest handwriting expert. His methods turned up lots of forged documents, especially insurance forms fraudulently filled out by well people on behalf of sick people. Next was George Chenkin, a New York detective who was so good at tracking criminals that there was a $5,000 underworld bounty on his head. The final chapter was about a legendary German shepherd police dog named Dox, nicknamed "Il Gigante" by Italian bandits. Before Dox's crime-fighting career, his owner made $11,000 over a period of a few years by betting men in bars that Dox could track anyone in the bar to his home. Dox's unbelievable ability to track people came to the attention of the police and Dox entered police work. Dox had a long memory for scents too. Once when his owner was walking him, Dox caught a scent and pulled his owner into a restaurant and straight to a man eating at a table. It turned out the man was a criminal Dox had tracked and caught six years before, but who had recently escaped from prison.


  1. i have been looking for the book you talk about 'famous crimfighters' but havent had any luck finding it. my mother is obsesed with the dog Dox so i m trying to find any info on him for her. could u please tell me exactly where to find it?? thanks

  2. The only copy I know of is my ex-library copy. It is currently in my BookMooch inventory available for mooching by any BookMooch member in the US who wants it. Members not in the US can mooch it using the BookMooch Angel Network. Here's a link to BookMooch (which is free):
    And here's a link to information about the BookMooch Angel Network: