A thorough New Jersey Man

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Mar 18, 2013

The stars of Brilliant Deduction are “forgotten” figures in the sense that they were once prominent figures, regularly in the news, at least regionally. Isaiah Lees, once a name familiar to nearly the entire city of San Francisco, is now almost vanished; William Burns, in his day perhaps the most famous real-life detective in history, has thoroughly lost out to his great rivals the Pinkertons (the exception to the rule) in popular memory. Ellis Parker, though the last to depart the stage, has fared little better; despite a recent biography, my efforts to acquire a photo of the man via the same newspapers that regularly featured his picture within living memory met with zero recognition of him.

Still, it’s more accurate to describe the reduced profiles of Parker et al. as “obscure,” because none of them is entirely forgotten. Since publishing Brilliant Deduction, in fact, I have heard from various others interested in one or another of its heroes, beyond those biographers and other chroniclers I found during my research. Just recently, their number has been joined by two gentlemen working to restore a little of the faded reputation of The Garden State’s greatest sleuth.

The first of these, attorney and local historian George R. Brinkerhoff, has written an excellent feature article on Ellis Parker for JerseyMan Magazine. Having spent a good deal of thought and effort on how to condense down Parker’s life and career, myself, I feel I may say with fair qualifications that Mr. Brinkerhoff has succeeded admirably. Parker’s origins, key information about his most remarkable cases, a good sense of what he was like as a person, and a thoughtful analysis of his story’s unhappy ending; it’s all there.

Having also observed how published reminiscences of Parker grew fewer and farther between since his death, I’m glad to see at least one local periodical taking note of his fascinating story again. Better still, there may be more to come, from the second gentleman; as noted in the JerseyMan story, Parker grandson Andrew Sahol has been preparing to write his own account of “Pop” as few other living people could.

In truth I learned of Mr. Sahol, as well his cousin who developed the online Parker archive, during my original research. As Parker biographer John Reisinger had already spoken with both, I didn’t feel justified pestering them for my own much more brief account of their grandfather. I have since ended up hearing from both, all the same, and most recently had the honor of speaking with Mr. Sahol, who has a wonderful passion for his grandfather’s legacy as well as a treasury of family lore to supplement the documentary research he has been conducting. I expect to have a few further notes to pass along some time soon, and hope that eventually I will be able to share news of success for Mr. Sahol’s planned book, as well.

And if exciting news like this (or this) continues then just perhaps, one distant day, I will be able to update Brilliant Deduction with a new afterword about “The Comeback of the Great Real-Life Detectives.”

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