Detective Allan Pinkerton and the Gordon Case Part 1

About the famous detective Allan Pinkerton, his history and biography as well an account of the crime in the Gordon Case.


The Crime

George Gordon was a cheerful, dutiful, efficient, 25-year-old workaholic when he was murdered in the winter of 1855. George held the rank of paying teller at the Atkinson, Miss., bank; and although the vice-president of the bank was his uncle, it was generally agreed that George owed his position to his own efforts and abilities, not to his uncle's influence.

George had formed the admirable habit (from management's point of view) of returning to his desk in the evenings, and he would often open the bank to late-night customers wanting to make a deposit or cash a check.

On the night of the murder, George was working late. A local jeweler who stopped at the bank to leave off a box of valuables for overnight storage was the last person to see him alive.

The next morning, when the bank had not opened by ten o'clock, George's uncle arrived to discover what had delayed his usually prompt nephew. George was found dead, his head bashed in, blood splattered all about. In his hand was clutched a $100 bill, while under his body was a bloodstained piece of paper with numbers on it. And $128,000 was missing. Police later discovered some buttons, fragments of burned clothing, and pieces of charred paper in the bank's fireplace. Those were the only clues, and they didn't amount to much until the bank president, Alexander Bannister, decided to call in Allan Pinkerton.

Enter the Detective

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency was already famous when it was called in on the Gordon murder, and was well on the way to having its symbol--an open eye above the legend "We Never Sleep"--enter the vernacular as a description of all private detectives as "private eyes."

Allan Pinkerton, fonder of the agency, had almost as dramatic a personal history as his business later gained for itself. Pinkerton grew up in a slum area of Glasgow, Scotland. His father was a handloom weaver and later a warden in the Glasgow jail, a man who instilled a strict Lowland Scottish discipline in his children. The father died when Pinkerton was eight, and Allan left school to go to work as an apprentice in a pattern-maker's shop. Later he became a cooper, or barrel-maker, and as a young man he became caught up in Chartism, an early popular reform movement. The Chartists and the British Establishment were at odds, and eventually Pinkerton had to flee Scotland to avoid arrest.

Eventually Pinkerton and his wife made their way to Chicago, where Allan again found work as a cooper. About a year later the Pinkertons moved to West Dundee, a Scottish settlement 50 mi. from Chicago, and Pinkerton set up his own cooperage. In West Dundee he also made his first "pinch"; he uncovered a counterfeiting ring operating in the area. Later he abandoned the cooperage business and served as deputy sheriff of Kane County, III., and then of Chicago's Cook County. He eventually became Chicago's first detective and then a special U.S. mail agent. Pinkerton saw opportunities for a private detective firm, one that would be professional and trustworthy, in contrast to most public law agencies of the time. He founded his firm in the early 1850s, and it flourished. It was only five years old at the time of the Gordon murder case.

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