Chief Desmond’s Recruits

     St. Louis Chief of Detectives William Desmond’s success in capturing many desperate criminals made him a celebrity of sorts particularly among aspiring detectives.  When Edgar Allan Poe wrote three tales based on the exploits of fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin, detective fiction captured the attention of readers.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle popularized the genre permanently with his fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.


Chief Desmond’s Sweating of Suspects from the St. Louis Republic

     These stories inspired many would-be detectives.  On October 22, 1902, a 16-year-old boy from Jonesboro, Arkansas wrote Chief Desmond to inquire about a position on the St. Louis Police Department’s detective force.

     The young man wrote, “I am a boy, 16 years of age, and want to join your detective force.  I have read a good many of your accounts.  I am ahead of my playmates in playing ‘Outlaws and Detectives’.  I claim to be a bright boy and I have a talent I know I can develop with careful training.  Will you take me in?  I truly remain, ALBERT TATEM.  P.S.  If you take me in, state the conditions.”

     Chief Desmond told a correspondent from the St. Louis Republic about the letter.  Chief Desmond told the reporter he received several letters like the one written by the young man several times a week.  Most writers held an unrealistic view of detective work from reading stories.

     The would-be detectives believed they would be looking for buttons and scientific evidence to solve the crime instead of the often mundane detective work of canvasing areas, talking to people and spending hours chasing down often worthless leads.

     Some correspondents boldly gave Chief Desmond advice on solving some of the more publicized crimes in St. Louis.  Desmond told the correspondent, “If I paid any attention to them, it would take a great deal of my time.”

     Chief Desmond intended to write young Tatum back and dissuade him from pursuing a police career.  Maybe Albert Tatum’s letter convinced Chief Desmond that Tatum possessed the creative ability to be a fiction writer himself.  Tatum’s ability to write his letter and ask for an opportunity might be a bit unrealistic but demonstrates a strong character.  I’m sure he went on to a successful career in some field.

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