In the jailhouse now

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jan 16, 2013

Being a prominent detective had its up-sides. Fame, for a time; in a few cases wealth. It also carried considerable risks, trouble with the law being one of the biggest. After all, the position usually meant being regularly associated with criminals, and a constant “person of interest” to law enforcement. That’s like two strikes, right there. Three strikes and you’re in—jail.

Of the nine men profiled in Brilliant Deduction, nearly half were sentenced to serve time behind bars, after they had established reputations as detectives.

Vidocq was in and out of jails regularly in his youth, before changing sides, but long after he had made immeasurable contributions to policing history, the Paris gendarmes still threw him into the Conciergerie.

Isaiah Lees spent a brief period in jail early in his career with the SFPD, mainly for arguing with a particularly combative chief, though he found himself in hot water with the law a further time or two as well. (For what it’s worth, another SFPD chief went to jail, himself, during one of those later episodes; it was a rowdy era, you might say.)

After years of controversies and legal scuffling, William Burns was sentenced to jail late in his career for what he called jury surveillance and his opponents called jury tampering. As with an earlier case in which he was briefly wanted by the police, though, Burns avoided actually having the jail door clang shut on him…

Ellis Parker, however, was not so fortunate, and effectively ended his career with a lengthy prison sentence. The jury recommended leniency, and a public outcry eventually demanded a pardon, though neither did Parker much good in the end.

Of my five other subjects, Jonathan Whicher was the subject of extraordinary controversy and criticism, but never actually threatened with going to jail; Allan Pinkerton claimed that his political activism had made him a wanted man in his youth, and he certainly violated the Fugitive Slave Act repeatedly later in life, but also avoided prosecution. As usual with “Paddington” Pollaky, anything is possible, at least during his own wholly unknown youth, but there’s no evidence he was ever locked up.

Pinkerton’s sons, William and Robert, were probably the farthest from ever going to jail out of all the great detectives, though. Unlike their one-time reformer father, they were basically men of the establishment from their youth, with connections, money, and lawyers; their opponents were the ones sent to jail, not them. (Just ask Burns.)

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