I’ve set up a new blog site as an experiment in historical research, using as its basis the landmark 1886 book by Chief Inspector Thomas Byrnes of the New York Police Department, Professional Criminals of America.
Byrnes legacy is decidedly mixed. He was an unapologetic advocate of harsh interrogation techniques, i.e. “the third degree,” a euphemism for the torturing of suspects. Still, Byrnes adopted new methods to track habitual criminals, namely the “rogue’s gallery” of photographs. In addition to photographs, Byrnes kept records of physical descriptions of criminals and a list of their known crimes and criminal associates. He drew on all of these to produce Professional Criminals of America in 1886. The first section of his book discusses the techniques used by different types of criminals; the main section consists of numbered profiles of professional criminals, many accompanied by 1-2 pages of description. Interspersed in this section are pages showing photos from NYPD’s rogue’s gallery. These photographs were on display in wall mounted cases in the Central Station.
The new blog is intended to revisit those same profiles using genealogical information, government (court and prison) records, and newspaper archives to discover what, if anything, Byrnes missed in his sketches of the most infamous criminals of his age. In many cases, the criminal careers of those he profiled extended well beyond 1886.