Sleuths who “get their men”
Whenever a criminal thinks he is getting foxy enough to try to rob the United States mails, he is talking about the surest method of engaging free board and lodging in a Federal prison. The unrelenting nature of the justice which pursues mail bandits is the theme of an article by Nell Ray Clarke in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, which states that more than 90 percent of the men who have been involved in robberies of the United States mails have paid the penalty.
Remarking that these figures are startling when compared with the records for the punishment of crimes by State and local authorities, she gives these interesting details:
A man who has robbed the mail can never be sure that he will not have to pay the penalty for his act. He may escape for ten or twenty years and then be apprehended and sent to Federal prison. Such cases are well known in the files of the Post-office Inspection Service. A man’s erstwhile friends are usually his undoing; they have a weapon in their knowledge with which they can always “get even” and put money in their pockets at the same time. It is from the once-trusted pal that the information comes that convicts a man.
Not a single post-office or mail robbery in the Chicago district, which is notorious for its crime record, has gone down in history as an unsolved mystery. The “brains” of the crimes and the henchmen are “doing time” for tampering with the mail-sacks. During the last two years and a half, fifty-eight gunmen, who probably could be convicted of murder under state laws if state authorities were infallible, have been captured by post-office inspectors for their connection with robberies of the mails, and have been sentenced to the penitentiary for an aggregate of more than 1,700 years. For an offense against the Federal statutes, a twenty-five-year sentence is the limit that can be imposed; but many of the criminals get the limit of the law. Murder in connection with the robbery of the mails must be prosecuted under state law.
How is it that the post-office inspectors can maintain such an excellent record, when state crime records stand out in such disgraceful contrast? The Ledger writer has found a high authority to answer this question:
“We inspectors don’t quit. It is eternal, persistent pursuit. We are consistently at it. If we get a bit of information, we pack it away against a need for it even twenty years after the time we get it. We have no Sherlock Holmes in our service, in the ordinary sense of that term, though our men must be keen, and they must know evidence when they run across it.”
That is how Grant B Miller sized up the situation. He has just come to Washington within the last few months as Chief of the Inspection Division of the Post-office Department, because for years he has been one of the star men in the service. For the last two years he has served in the Chicago district, and was instrumental in getting the gunmen convicted in that area, and in recovering about $3,000,000 in loot which had been taken from the mails.
“When a post-office inspector gets a bit of evidence against a man he writes it up as a report, copies of which are filed in the offices of the inspector of his district and in the District Attorney’s office,” Mr Miller said. “Nothing is done in the way of apprehending a man until we are sure we have enough evidence for an indictment. Then we arrest our man and produce our evidence against him. Many criminals pay the penalty long after the deed has been forgotten by almost everybody but the post-office authorities.”
Photo: Mugshot from 1927 of E Montague