Daily Witness, 25 Aug 1877
The Press as a Crime Detective
A great wall has gone forth from the police authorities over the fact that the evening papers, through publishing the robbery of Messrs. Claxton & Co’s warehouse prematurely, had given warning to the ringleader of the thieves, and thus assisted in his escape. This sounds all very well, but a few incidents will be sufficient to show that the press has very often much more to do in the unearthing of crime and fraud than the police, notwithstanding their great usefulness; and it thus becomes a question of considerable importance whether such publication is not in general the safest course, and more in the interests of the public. Leaving home, we shall first give an interesting case where the atrocious and mysterious murder of a beautiful young girl on Staten Island was relegated, like so many others, to oblivion by the sapient gentry of Mulberry Street. The NY World, which from the first had taken a deep interest in the matter, but its reporters to work, and in less than a week the murderer was in custody. It is unnecessary to say that daily reports of progress were published. Coming home for further proof, we would respectfully refer the compiler of the report which appeared in the Herald, and reproduced by us, and the police authorities as well, to Mr. JP Cuddy, dry goods merchant, in this city, for his experience. He and some of his neighbours had been repeatedly robbed, and, as usual in such cases, immediately notified the police authorities of the fact, but all to no purpose, until Mr. Cuddy became impatient, and notwithstanding that he was requested by the detectives to keep the matter quiet, he had the last robbery of his shop published in the “evening papers”, and two days barely elapsed before he was in possession of a large portion of the stolen property, consisting chiefly of cloth. It had been conveyed to Sicher’s Auction rooms, the day after the robbery, where it was being cut up into pieces and sold at less than half its original cost, when a person who had read in the Witness an account of the robbery went to Mr. Cuddy and informed him of the sacrifice that was being made by the auction of broadcloths. Mr. Cuddy through this information discovered a portion of the stolen goods, the largest part having already been disposed of at prices that should have aroused the suspicions of even an ordinary policeman. Mr. P Wright, another dry goods merchant, says he was robbed on two occasions and kept the matter, according to the detective’s imperative orders and unfortunately for himself, too quiet, as he now believes if he had given the matter publicity, he would have recovered the stolen property, as he found out some months later that some cloth of his stolen had been sold in the city for fifty to seventy-five cents per yard, although its market value was five dollars. He thinks his loss, like Mr. Claxton’s, would have been but small, the latter having recovered all but $400 worth of his stolen property by the “premature” publication. As an instance of Mr. Wright’s experience, he says he went so far as to bring the detectives to his store and showed them a gold breast-pin, with a masonic emblem on it, which had been dropped by one of the thieves. One of the detectives said, “Give that to me. I know the owner of it, and will have him arrested before long and your goods discovered and restored to you.” However, neither goods nor breast-pin have ever been heard of since, notwithstanding repeated enquiries, and Mr. Wright, with several other merchants, show their confidence in our police protection by having, along with Mr. Cuddy, employed a private watchman to look after their premises at night, the result being that they have not since suffered from the depredations of thieves.
It is very strange that the police authorities should have known apparently much less about Vosbourgh’s illegal and shameful manner of earning a living than a large number of citizens and members of the press? Why did they not break up his infamous den in St Lawrence Main Street which he had the impudence to locate in the midst of some of our most respectable citizens? While in St Catherine Street, at a convenient distance, a gambling hell of his, it is said, was in full blast. What stronger reason had they for keeping these things silent than exposing them?