Detective Desmond Catches Eddie Guerin

     Before he was the “Sherlock Holmes of St. Louis”, St. Louis Chief of Detectives William Desmond was Detective “Billy” Desmond.  One of the most talented detectives in St. Louis Police history, Desmond met one of the most famous international criminals in history, Eddie Guerin, in the mid-1880s.

     Guerin robbed the American Express Office in Paris in the early 1900s.  French officials sent Guerin, a robber and thief to the French Guiana penal colony, Devil’s Island.  Guerin became the first man to successfully escape from the prison in 1905.  Guerin’s six confederates died during the attempt but “the Fox” successfully made his escape.

eddie-guerin

Eddie Guerin from an early mugshot during his long criminal career

     Guerin’s origins were obscure and “Three-Fingered Eddie” did all he could to keep it that way.  Authorities believed Guerin grew up in Chicago, Illinois.  Guerin may have been the wayward son of a wealthy family but fact is hard to separate from fiction in Guerin’s life.  Guerin reportedly committed his first big robbery in Galesburg, Illinois as a 22-year-old.  Guerin netted $10,000 in this heist.

     Guerin also reportedly wounded a police officer in Chicago.  St. Louis Detective Billy Desmond, the future St. Louis Chief of Detectives, found Guerin to be non-violent and more intelligent than most criminals.  Desmond took great pride in having caught Guerin before he pulled off the robbery of the Downtown St. Louis Commercial Bank.

     Detective Desmond heard rumors that men were in St. Louis to rob the Commercial Bank on Third Street.  Detective Desmond and Sgt. Burke investigated the rumor.  They caught Guerin and his crew casing the bank.  Detective Desmond took Guerin and his accomplices to the Police Court, where the criminals were given a few hours to leave the city.

     In 1890, London Police caught Guerin in the midst of another bank robbery due to the incompetence of one of his accomplices.  Guerin was sentenced to Dartmoor Prison for 18 years but escaped and headed back to the United States.  Guerin intended to ply his trade at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

     At the Fair, Guerin met an infamous madame, Mary Anne “Chicago May” Churchill Sharpe.  “Chicago May’ was smitten with Guerin and began a long criminal and romantic association with the intelligent brigand.  “Chicago May” reportedly provided the money to help Guerin escape Devil’s Island.  After the escape, Guerin and May had a falling out, when she took up with another lover.  The couple shot at Guerin, who was wounded in the foot.  He quickly and permanently broke off his association with May.

     Guerin’s criminal career would last until 1940, when he passed away at 80 years of age.  Despite his record of big heists, Guerin died destitute and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Manchester, England.  Guerin never completely gave up his criminal ways.

     St. Louis Chief of Detectives William Desmond caught many criminals over his career.  Few though engendered the respect he held for “The Fox”, Ed “Three-Fingered Eddie” Guerin.

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Sources: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 20, 1890 edition, p. 9 and The Montreal Gazette, December 5, 1940 edition, p. 36.

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