Runners-up: Raymond Schindler

Posted by Matt Kuhns on Jun 14, 2013

As I recall I was some ways into my research when I first took notice of Raymond Schindler. Most likely I first encountered reference to this man as a detective of note in researching William Burns; I believe one or other of Burns’s biographers note that the team he employed in the massive San Francisco corruption investigation included Schindler, who later established a legend of his own in detection history.

I may have found one or two other references to Schindler, also, but I certainly recall that he turned up in Eugene Block’s Famous Detectives, one of the few examples of anything similar to Brilliant Deduction which I was able to turn up. As I also recall, and as their web site confirms, this 55-year-old work has been relegated to the Cleveland Public Library’s off-site storage and had to be specially requested when I consulted it. Still, per the very premise of my book, dusty obscurity hardly disqualifies a detective for having been one of the field’s greats. And it’s quite possible that Mr. Schindler might be a worthy peer for the nine men featured in Brilliant Deduction. Not only did he make it into Block’s survey, but he has a book of his own, The complete detective: Being the life and strange and exciting cases of Raymond Schindler, master detective. That’s more than Pollaky can say. More than William Pinkerton or his brother Robert can say.

Even so, this even older (1950) tome does not seem to be among any of the local libraries’ many works attributed to a Hughes, Rupert. This being 2012, I certainly could have looked further afield to acquire a copy, very possibly without even leaving home; used copies appear to be available and inexpensive. Nonetheless, I have not done so, for what I feel is a reasonable excuse, at least in context.

The context is that Brilliant Deduction is not an encyclopedia of detectives, or even of their theoretical hall-of-fame members. It’s an introduction to some of history’s most prominent detectives that, moreover, in the course of research and writing also became a story of the era of prominent real-life detectives told through overlapping individual stories from that era. It’s possible that Schindler or other individuals could fit into that story, in addition to or in place of one or another of the nine I selected, but I did not necessarily need all of them to tell the story I was telling and ultimately I had to make some kind of choices. And ultimately I chose not to pursue further research on Mr. Schindler after reading Mr. Block’s account of the man.

It was, shall we say, not quite what I was looking for. Indeed, so unlike what I was looking for in my approach to the concept of “great detective” that I don’t believe I took notes—but I do recall why Mr. Block’s example Schindler case, presumably intended to justify his inclusion among Famous Detectives, persuaded me, by contrast, that I could safely leave off thinking too hard about including him in my own work. What’s more, happily and perhaps tellingly, I don’t actually need to rely exclusively on my memory because an online search turns up the same case at trivialibrary.com. In their words

With no evidence, Schindler’s only hope was somehow to trick [his suspect] Heideman into confessing to murder. For this, Schindler masterminded a plot worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle himself. The Hound of the Baskervilles provided inspiration for an outlandish plan, but it backfired on Schindler. The florist who employed Heideman and owned the house where he boarded kept a large dog. Schindler’s strategy was to cause the dog to howl all night until Heideman broke. Schindler’s detectives threw rocks at the dog for a week, but Heideman didn’t break; he moved to New York to get away from the howling dog and enjoy a night’s sleep.

Now, in fairness: this is a site called “trivia library.” And their sample case for Allan Pinkerton is one I don’t recall reading about as particularly noteworthy. And some times detectives, even and especially the great ones, resort to some wacky means; the Pinkerton case I’ve just linked to certainly includes some odd ideas, and it’s by no means unique even in Pinkerton’s history, alone.

But, at the same time, Allan Pinkerton was feeling his toward a system in what were still the early days of professional detection, with little in the way of models to follow. Sixty years or so later, however, I submit that the state of the field of detection had advanced such that one might expect at least that field’s luminaries to come up with something a little more sophisticated in the way of “strategy” than employing detectives to throw rocks at a dog in hopes that the animal’s very reasonable noises of protest would “break” one’s leading murder suspect!

I mean, Come. On.

I have to think that Raymond Schindler “masterminded” better plots than this during his career. The fact that he had a detective career, alone, would imply that he must have. And it’s entirely possible that some of them were even Brilliant, indeed. It is absolutely possible that I was hasty and unfair in bailing out on any further study of Mr. Schindler when I did. But…

Can you really, really blame me…?

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