Detective Desmond Gets His Men

     Before he became St. Louis Chief of Detectives in 1890, William Desmond plied his trade as a Detective with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. During February 1890, Detective Desmond’s persistent efforts to locate two confidence men paid off with the arrest of both men.

chief-desmond-exploits

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

     “Kinch” Keegan and “Thatch” Grady were brother-in-laws and accomplices in several confidence games.  On January 24, 1890, the men tricked a Farmer Britt into giving them $18 as part of a check scam at the Union Depot.

     Detective Lawler, who was acting Chief of Detectives while current Chief Hugh O’Neil’s recovered from an illness, and his partner Detective William Desmond suspected Keegan and Grady of the crime.  Britt confirmed their suspicions, when he picked Keegan out from the pictures of criminals maintained by the St. Louis Police.

     The detectives believed both Keegan and Grady were lying low outside the city limits to prevent their arrest.  However, Detective Desmond continued to frequent the areas known to be part of the crooks’ area of operations.  On the morning of Saturday, February 1, 1890, Detective Desmond found Keegan standing at the corner of Ninth and Olive Streets in Downtown St. Louis.

     Desmond arrested Keegan and took him directly to the Four Courts Building.  Keegan was in custody for less than half an hour, when his brother-in-law Grady showed up to inquire about his accomplice.  St. Louis Police promptly arrested Grady too.

     The First District Police Court judge accepted a charge of vagrancy against the men and continued the trial until February 5, 1890.  The vagrancy charge was a technical one until Detective Lawler could get Farmer Britt back to the city.

four-courts-building

Four Courts Building in St. Louis in early 1900s

     Chief of Detectives Hugh O’Neil, who was sick from January 5, 1890 to February 23, 1890, returned to duty on February 24th.  Desmond’s partner and veteran detective, Pat Lawler, did a good job supervising the department during the seven week absence.

     However, Chief O’Neil returned looking pale and haggard.  O’Neil never regained his full strength.  On Tuesday, September 16, 1890, 33-year-old William Desmond was promoted to St. Louis Chief of Detectives.  Desmond would hold the position for 17 years.

     Hugh O’Neil was reduced to Detective but placed in charge of the Lafayette Park Station Detectives.

     With William Desmond’s promotion, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s detectives would embark on one of the most storied times in their history culminating with the protection of the St. Louis World’s Fair ground in 1904.  Detectives like Chief of Detectives Hugh O’Neil and his old partner Pat Lawler helped to lay the road, which Desmond would pave like few others.  “St. Louis’ Sherlock Holmes” career would soon gain national attention.

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Sources: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 1, 1890 edition, p. 6 and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 17, 1890 edition, p. 3

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