The Expressman and the Detective

The Expressman and the Detective

by Allan Pinkerton

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Pinkerton sends an agent to catch a thief on the Southern railway

In the build-up to the Civil War, Montgomery is a thriving town—a local capital grown rich on cotton and the railroad. When $10,000 disappears from the railroad, suspicion falls on a clerk named Maroney, an upstanding citizen whose only vice is a love of horseracing. The railroadSee more details below


Pinkerton sends an agent to catch a thief on the Southern railway

In the build-up to the Civil War, Montgomery is a thriving town—a local capital grown rich on cotton and the railroad. When $10,000 disappears from the railroad, suspicion falls on a clerk named Maroney, an upstanding citizen whose only vice is a love of horseracing. The railroad hires the South’s best detectives to tail Maroney, looking for a clue as to where the money has gone, but they find nothing. So they turn to the only man who can help: Allan Pinkerton.

The head of the nation’s first modern detective agency, Pinkerton invented undercover detective work, and he sends his finest agent, Mr. Porter, to infiltrate the high society of the old South. Whether Maroney is the culprit or merely a scapegoat, Porter will get to the truth. Allan Pinkerton never rests until justice is served.

This ebook features a new introduction by Otto Penzler and has been professionally proofread to ensure accuracy and readability on all devices.

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The Expressman and the Detective

By Allan Pinkerton


Copyright © 2014 Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-0148-9


Montgomery, Alabama, is beautifully situated on the Alabama river, near the centre of the State. Its situation at the head of navigation, on the Alabama river, its connection by rail with important points, and the rich agricultural country with which it is surrounded, make it a great commercial centre, and the second city in the State as regards wealth and population. It is the capital, and consequently learned men and great politicians flock to it, giving it a society of the highest rank, and making it the social centre of the State.

From 1858 to 1860, the time of which I treat in the present work, the South was in a most prosperous condition. "Cotton was king," and millions of dollars were poured into the country for its purchase, and a fair share of this money found its way to Montgomery.

When the Alabama planters had gathered their crops of cotton, tobacco, rice, etc., they sent them to Montgomery to be sold, and placed the proceeds on deposit in its banks. During their busy season, while overseeing the labor of their slaves, they were almost entirely debarred from the society of any but their own families; but when the crops were gathered they went with their families to Montgomery, where they gave themselves up to enjoyment, spending their money in a most lavish manner.

There were several good hotels in the city and they were always filled to overflowing with the wealth and beauty of the South.

The Adams Express Company had a monopoly of the express business of the South, and had established its agencies at all points with which there was communication by rail, steam or stage. They handled all the money sent to the South for the purchase of produce, or remitted to the North in payment of merchandise. Moreover, as they did all the express business for the banks, besides moving an immense amount of freight, it is evident that their business was enormous.

At all points of importance, where there were diverging routes of communication, the company had established principal agencies, at which all through freight and the money pouches were delivered by the messengers. The agents at these points were selected with the greatest care, and were always considered men above reproach. Montgomery being a great centre of trade was made the western terminus of one of the express routes, Atlanta being the eastern. The messengers who had charge of the express matter between these two points were each provided with a safe and with a pouch. The latter was to contain only such packages as were to go over the whole route, consisting of money or other valuables. The messenger was not furnished with a key to the pouch, but it was handed to him locked by the agent at one end of the route to be delivered in the same condition to the agent at the other end.

The safe was intended for way packages, and of it the messenger of course had a key. The pouch was carried in the safe, each being protected by a lock of peculiar construction.

The Montgomery office in 1858, and for some years previous, had been in charge of Nathan Maroney, and he had made himself one of the most popular agents in the company's employ.

He was married, and with his wife and one daughter, had pleasant quarters at the Exchange Hotel, one of the best houses in the city. He possessed all the qualifications which make a popular man. He had a genial, hearty manner, which endeared him to the open, hospitable inhabitants of Montgomery, so that he was "hail fellow, well met," with most of its populace. He possessed great executive ability and hence managed the affairs of his office in a very satisfactory manner. The promptness with which he discharged his duties had won for him the well-merited esteem of the officers of the company, and he was in a fair way of attaining a still higher position. His greatest weakness—if it may be so called—was a love for fast horses, which often threw him into the company of betting men.

On the morning of the twenty-sixth of April, 1858, the messenger from Atlanta arrived in Montgomery, placed his safe in the office as usual, and when Maroney came in, turned over to him the through pouch.

Maroney unlocked the pouch and compared it with the way-bill, when he discovered a package of four thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars for a party in Montgomery which was not down on the way-bill. About a week after this occurrence, advice was received that a package containing ten thousand dollars in bills of the Planters' and Mechanics' Bank of Charleston, S. C., had been sent to Columbus, Ga., via the Adams Express, but the person to whom it was directed had not received it. Inquiries were at once instituted, when it was discovered that it had been missent, and forwarded to Atlanta, instead of Macon. At Atlanta it was recollected that this package, together with one for Montgomery, for four thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars, had been received on Sunday, the twenty-fifth of April, and had been sent on to Montgomery, whence the Columbus package could be forwarded the next day. Here all trace of the missing package was lost. Maroney stated positively that he had not received it, and the messenger was equally positive that the pouch had been delivered to Maroney in the same order in which he received it from the Atlanta agent.

The officers of the company were completely at a loss. It was discovered beyond a doubt that the package had been sent from Atlanta. The messenger who received it bore an excellent character, and the company could not believe him guilty of the theft. The lock of the pouch was examined and found in perfect order, so that it evidently had not been tampered with. The messenger was positive that he had not left the safe open when he went out of the car, and there was no sign of the lock's having been forced.

The more the case was investigated, the more directly did suspicion point to Maroney, but as his integrity had always been unquestioned, no one now was willing to admit the possibility of his guilt. However, as no decided action in the matter could be taken, it was determined to say nothing, but to have the movements of Maroney and other suspected parties closely watched.

For this purpose various detectives were employed; one a local detective of Montgomery, named McGibony; others from New Orleans, Philadelphia, Mobile, and New York. After a long investigation these parties had to give up the case as hopeless, all concluding that Maroney was an innocent man. Among the detectives, however was one from New York, Robert Boyer, by name, an old and favorite officer of Mr. Matsell when he was chief of the New York police. He had made a long and tedious examination and finding nothing definite as to what had become of the money, had turned his attention to discovering the antecedents of Maroney, but found nothing positively suspicious in his life previous to his entering the employ of the company. He discovered that Maroney was the son of a physician, and that he was born in the town of Rome, Ga.

Here I would remark that the number of titled men one meets in the South is astonishing. Every man, if he is not a doctor, a lawyer, or a clergyman, has some military title—nothing lower than captain being admissible. Of these self-imposed titles they are very jealous, and woe be to the man who neglects to address them in the proper form. Captain is the general title, and is applied indiscriminately to the captain of a steamer, or to the deck hand on his vessel.

Maroney remained in Rome until he became a young man, when he emigrated to Texas. On the breaking out of the Mexican war he joined a company of Texan Rangers, and distinguished himself in a number of battles. At the close of the war he settled in Montgomery, in the year 1851, or 1852, and was employed by Hampton & Co., owners of a line of stages, to act as their agent. On leaving this position, he was made treasurer of Johnson & May's circus, remaining with the company until it was disbanded in consequence of the pecuniary difficulties of the proprietors—caused, it was alleged, through Maroney's embezzlement of the funds, though this allegation proved false, and he remained for many years on terms of intimacy with one of the partners, a resident of Montgomery. When the company disbanded he obtained a situation as conductor on a railroad in Tennessee, and was afterwards made Assistant Superintendent, which position he resigned to take the agency of the Adams Express Company, in Montgomery. His whole life seemed spotless up to the time of the mysterious disappearance of the ten thousand dollars.

In the fall of the year, Maroney obtained leave of absence, and made a trip to the North, visiting the principal cities of the East, and also of the Northwest. He was followed on this trip, but nothing was discovered, with the single exception that his associates were not always such as were desirable in an employé, to whose keeping very heavy interests were from time to time necessarily committed. He was lost sight of at Richmond, Va., for a few days, and was supposed by the man who was following him, to have passed the time in Charleston.

The company now gave up all hope of recovering the money; but as Maroney's habits were expensive, and they had lost, somewhat, their confidence in him, they determined to remove him and place some less objectionable person in his place.

Maroney's passion for fine horses has already been alluded to. It was stated about this time that he owned several fast horses; among others, "Yankee Mary," a horse for which he was said to have paid two thousand five hundred dollars; but as he had brought seven thousand five hundred dollars with him when he entered the employ of the company, this could not be considered a suspicious circumstance.

It having been determined to remove Maroney, the Vice-President of the company wrote to the Superintendent of the Southern Division of the steps he wished taken. The Superintendent of the Southern Division visited Montgomery on the twentieth of January, 1859, but was anticipated in the matter of carrying out his instructions, by Maroney's tendering his resignation. The resignation was accepted, but the superintendent requested him to continue in charge of the office until his successor should arrive.

This he consented to do.


Previous to Maroney's trip to the North, Mr. Boyer held a consultation with the Vice-President and General Superintendent of the company. He freely admitted his inability to fathom the mystery surrounding the loss of the money, and thought the officers of the company did Maroney a great injustice in supposing him guilty of the theft. He said he knew of only one man who could bring out the robbery, and he was living in Chicago.

Pinkerton was the name of the man he referred to. He had established an agency in Chicago, and was doing a large business. He (Boyer) had every confidence in his integrity and ability, which was more than he could say of the majority of detectives, and recommended the Vice-President to have him come down and look into the case.

This ended the case for most of the detectives. One by one they had gone away, and nothing had been developed by them. The Vice-President, still anxious to see if anything could be done, wrote a long and full statement of the robbery and sent it to me, with the request that I would give my opinion on it.

I was much surprised when I received the letter, as I had not the slightest idea who the Vice-President was, and knew very little about the Adams Express, as, at that time, they had no office in the West.

I, however, sat down and read it over very carefully, and, on finishing it, determined to make a point in the case if I possibly could. I reviewed the whole of the Vice-President's letter, debating every circumstance connected with the robbery, and finally ended my consideration of the subject with the firm conviction that the robbery had been committed either by the agent, Maroney, or by the messenger, and I was rather inclined to give the blame to Maroney.

The letter was a very long one, but one of which I have always been proud. Having formed my opinion, I wrote to the Vice-President, explained to him the ground on which I based my conclusions, and recommended that they keep Maroney in their employ, and have a strict watch maintained over his actions.

After sending my letter, I could do nothing until the Vice-President replied, which I expected he would do in a few days; but I heard nothing more of the affair for a long time, and had almost entirely forgotten it, when I received a telegraphic dispatch from him, sent from Montgomery, and worded about as follows:

"ALLAN PINKERTON: Can you send me a man—half horse and half alligator? I have got 'bit' once more! When can you send him?"

The dispatch came late Saturday night, and I retired to my private office to think the matter over. The dispatch gave me no information from which I could draw any conclusions. No mention was made of how the robbery was committed, or of the amount stolen. I had not received any further information of the ten thousand dollar robbery. How had they settled that? It was hard to decide what kind of a man to send! I wanted to send the very best, and would gladly go myself, but did not know whether the robbery was important enough to demand my personal attention.

I did not know what kind of men the officers of the company were, or whether they would be willing to reward a person properly for his exertions in their behalf.

At that time I had no office in New York, and knew nothing of the ramifications of the company. Besides, I did not know how I would be received in the South. I had held my anti-slavery principles too long to give them up. They had been bred in my bones, and it was impossible to eradicate them. I was always stubborn, and in any circumstances would never abandon principles I had once adopted.

Slavery was in full blossom, and an anti-slavery man could do nothing in the South. As I had always been a man somewhat after the John Brown stamp, aiding slaves to escape, or keeping them employed, and running them into Canada when in danger, I did not think it would do for me to make a trip to Montgomery.

I did not know what steps had already been taken in the case, or whether the loss was a heavy one. From the Vice-President's saying he wanted a man "half horse, half alligator," I supposed he wanted a man who could at least affiliate readily with the inhabitants of the South.

But what class was he to mix with? Did he want a man to mix with the rough element, or to pass among gentlemen? I could select from my force any class of man he could wish. But what did he wish?

I was unaware of who had recommended me to the Vice-President, as at that time I had not been informed that my old friend Boyer had spoken so well of me. What answer should I make to the dispatch? It must be answered immediately!

These thoughts followed each other in rapid succession as I held the dispatch before me.

I finally settled on Porter as the proper man to send, and immediately telegraphed the Vice-President, informing him that Porter would start for Montgomery by the first train. I then sent for Porter and gave him what few instructions I could. I told him the little I knew of the case, and that I should have to rely greatly on his tact and discretion.

Up to that time I had never done any business for the Adams Express, and as their business was well worth having, I was determined to win.

He was to go to Montgomery and get thoroughly acquainted with the town and its surroundings; and as my suspicions had become aroused as to the integrity of the agent, Maroney, he was to form his acquaintance, and frequent the saloons and livery stables of the town, the Vice-President's letter having made me aware of Maroney's inclination for fast horses. He was to keep his own counsel, and, above all things, not let it become known that he was from the North, but to hail from Richmond, Va., thus securing for himself a good footing with the inhabitants. He was also to dress in the Southern style; to supply me with full reports describing the town and its surroundings, the manners and customs of its people, all he saw or heard about Maroney, the messengers and other employés of the company; whether Maroney was married, and, if so, any suspicious circumstances in regard to his wife as well as himself—in fact, to keep me fully informed of all that occurred. I should have to rely on his discretion until his reports were received; but then I could direct him how to act. I also instructed him to obey all orders from the Vice-President, and to be as obliging as possible.


Excerpted from The Expressman and the Detective by Allan Pinkerton. Copyright © 2014 Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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