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THE POLLOCK DIAMOND ROBBERY

There were thirteen men in the smoker of a train on the Sioux City and Pacific Railroad when it drew out of Omaha at six o’clock on Friday evening, November 4, 1892, and started on its eastward run. Among these thirteen, sitting about half-way down the aisle, enjoying a good cigar, was Mr. W. G. Pollock of New York, a traveling salesman for W. L. Pollock & Co., of the same city, dealers in diamonds. In the inside pocket of his vest he carried fifteen thousand dollars’ worth of uncut diamonds, while a leather satchel on the seat beside him contained a quantity of valuable stones in settings.

On the front seat of the car, just behind the stove, sat a stolid-looking young man, who would have passed for a farmer’s lad. He seemed scarcely over twenty, having neither beard nor mustache, and a stranger would have put him down as a rather stupid, inoffensive fellow. Compared with Mr. Pollock, he was slighter in build, although an inch or so taller. As he sat there staring at the stove, the passenger in the seat behind him, J. H. Shaw, an Omaha well-digger, a bluff, hearty man of social instincts, tried to draw him into conversation; but the young fellow only shook his head sulkily, and the well-digger relapsed into silence. Presently, as the train was approaching California Junction, the young man on the front seat rose and started down the aisle. Curiously enough, he now wore a full beard of black hair five or six inches long. No one paid any attention to him until he stopped at Mr. Pollock’s seat, drew a revolver, and said loud enough for every one in the car to hear him:

“Give me them diamonds.”

Then, without waiting for a reply, he shifted the revolver to his left hand, drew a slung-shot from his coat-pocket, and struck Mr. Pollock over the head such a heavy blow that the bag of the slung-shot burst, and the shot itself fell to the floor. Then he said again: “Give me them diamonds.”

Realizing that the situation was desperate, Mr. Pollock took out his pocket-book and handed it to his assailant, saying: “I have only a hundred dollars; here it is.”

Pushing back the pocket-book as if unworthy of his attention, the man coolly aimed his revolver at Mr. Pollock’s right shoulder and fired. Then he aimed at the left shoulder and fired. Both bullets hit, and were followed by two more, which went whizzing by the diamond-merchant’s head on either side, missing him, perhaps by accident, but probably by design, as the men were not three feet apart.

By this the other people in the car had disappeared under the seats like rats into their holes. To all intents and purposes Mr. Pollock was alone with his assailant. The latter evidently knew where the diamonds were secreted, for, ripping open his victim’s vest, he drew out the leather wallet in which they were inclosed, and stuffed it into his pocket. Wounded though he was, Mr. Pollock now grappled with the thief, who, using the butt of his revolver as a cudgel, brought down fearful blows on Pollock’s head. The latter, however, getting into the aisle, fought the robber up and down the car; but a crushing blow at last laid him senseless on the floor.

With perfect self-possession and without hurry the thief walked back down the aisle to Mr. Pollock’s seat, and took one of the two leather bags lying there, by mistake choosing, though, the one that did not contain the mounted diamonds. Then he went to the end of the car, pulled the bell-rope, and, as the train began to slacken its speed in response to this signal, jumped off the steps, rolled down a bank fifteen feet high, and disappeared.

Sharing, apparently, in the general consternation and terror inspired by the young fellow, the conductor, instead of holding the train to pursue the thief, signaled the engineer to go ahead, and no effort was made for a capture until the train reached California Junction, several miles farther on. Meanwhile the panic-stricken passengers recovered, at their leisure, their composure and their seats. Had but one of his fellow-travelers gone to the assistance of Mr. Pollock, the robber might easily have been overpowered. As it was, he all but murdered his man, plundered him of his diamonds, and escaped without the slightest interference. When his pistol was picked up, near the spot where he left the train, it was found that in the struggle the cylinder had caught, so that it would have been impossible to discharge the two chambers remaining loaded. Thus eleven able-bodied men were held in a state of abject terror by one slender lad, who at the last was practically unarmed.

At California Junction the wounded diamond-merchant was carried from the train, and that same night taken back to Omaha. Mr. Pollock, being a member of the Jewelers’ Protective Union, a rich and powerful organization, established some years ago for the protection of jewelry salesmen against thieves, was entitled to its aid.

When the detectives reached the scene of the robbery, the robber had vanished as completely as if he had been whisked off to another planet. To be sure, farmers in the neighborhood brought rumors of the stealing of horses, of a strange man sleeping in the woods, and of a desperate-looking character seen limping along the road. But all this came to nothing, except to establish, what seemed probable, that the diamond-thief had fled back to Omaha. A patient and exhaustive search in Omaha resulted in nothing. The man was gone, and the diamonds were gone; that was all anybody knew.

What made the case more difficult was the uncertainty as to the robber’s personal appearance; for some of the passengers testified to one thing, and some to another. The black beard was a cause of confusion; only one witness besides Mr. Pollock remembered that the man wore such a beard. Mr. Pollock, however, was positive as to this particular, and it seemed as if he ought to know. It was also impossible to decide, from conflicting statements, whether the robber had a mustache or not, and whether it was dark or light in color. The fact is, the passengers had been so thoroughly frightened at the time of the assault that the credibility of their testimony was much to be questioned.

Mr. Pollock reported that for several weeks previous to the robbery he had suspected that he was being followed. He also reported that on the day of the robbery he had been in the shop of the largest pawnbroker in Omaha, and that while he was there two noted Western gamblers had entered the shop and been presented to him as possible customers. He had made a trade of some diamonds with one of the men, and, in the course of the negotiations, had shown his entire stock. While the trade was in progress a negro on the premises had noticed, lounging about the front of the shop, a man in a slouch-hat who suggested the robber. From these circumstances it was decided that the robbery might be the work of an organized gang, who had been waiting their opportunity for many days, and had selected one of their number to do the actual deed.

All his life it had been Mr. Pinkerton’s business to study criminals and understand their natures. He knew that a crime like this one was much beyond the power of an ordinary criminal. Let a robber be ever so greedy of gold, reckless of human life, and indifferent to consequences, he would still think many times before declaring war to the death upon twelve men in a narrow car, on a swiftly moving train. This was surely no novice in crime, reasoned Mr. Pinkerton, but a man whose record would already show deeds of the greatest daring; a brave fellow, though a bad one. And even among the well-known experienced criminals there must be very few who were capable of this deed.

Mr. Pinkerton, therefore, set himself to studying the bureau’s records and rogues’ gallery to first pick out these few. Page after page of photographs was turned over, drawer after drawer of records was searched through, and at last a dozen or more men were decided upon as sufficiently preeminent to merit consideration in connection with the present case.

Photographs of these dozen or so were speedily struck off, and submitted by the detectives to all the men who had been in the smoking-car at the time of the robbery, to the conductor of the train and the trainmen, to other passengers, to farmers and others who might have seen the robber while making his escape, and to various people in Omaha. The result was startling. Conductor D. M. Ashmore, without hesitation, selected from the dozen or more portraits one as that of the robber. Mr. Shaw, the Omaha well-digger, who had sat just behind the robber, selected the same photograph, and was positive it pictured the man he had tried to talk to. Other passengers also picked out this photograph, as did various persons who had caught sight of the man as he escaped.

The portrait thus chosen by common accord was that of Frank Bruce, one of the most desperate burglars of the younger generation in the country, and it seemed only necessary now to find Bruce, to have the problem solved. Many days were spent, and hundreds of dollars, in searching for him. Dozens of cities were visited, and every conceivable effort made to get on his track; but it was not until his pursuers were almost weary of the chase that he was finally discovered living quietly in Chicago, on Cottage Grove Avenue, near Thirty-sixth Street, where he was operating with another high-class burglar, “Billy” Boyce.

Requisition papers were at once procured from the governor of Iowa on the governor of Illinois, and men were sent to take Bruce into custody, when the “shadows” reported that he and Boyce had left for Milwaukee, where, of course, the requisition papers were valueless. Fortunately, that same night they attempted a burglary in Milwaukee, for which they were arrested and held for ninety days. This gave the Chicago detectives abundant time to identify Bruce as the missing robber.

Mr. Pinkerton himself went at once to Milwaukee, saw Bruce in the jail, heard his story, verified its essential facts, and within two days, to his own complete disappointment, and in spite of himself, had proved a complete alibi for Bruce. To satisfy himself in this connection, Mr. Pinkerton brought conductor Ashmore and Mr. Shaw to Milwaukee, and pointed Bruce out to them; and, after looking carefully at him, both men declared they had made a mistake in choosing his portrait, and that Bruce was not the robber.

With Bruce clear, the detectives were again without a suspect, and almost without a clue. Just here, however, Mr. Pinkerton recalled that on a trip to the West, some three years previous, to investigate the case of a man arrested at Reno, Nevada, on a charge of “holding up” a faro-bank, and while stopping over in Salt Lake City, Utah, he had run across some sporting men in that city with whom he was well acquainted, and on his telling them where he was going and what his business was, one of them, whom Mr. Pinkerton had known for years, had said: “Why, the man at Reno is innocent. The men who committed that robbery are in this city. One of them is a smooth-faced boy, about twenty years of age, and the other is a heavy-set, dark-complexioned fellow, with a dark mustache. They are the intimate friends and companions of Jack Denton, the well-known gambler of Salt Lake; and only a short time ago, at Salt Lake, they entered a house one night, going in through a rear door, and compelled two ladies, who were just returned from a ball, to give up a large amount of diamonds.”

Though not interested in this particular robbery, Mr. Pinkerton had mentally jotted down the intimacy of Jack Denton with this class of people; and he recalled it now in connection with the fact that Jack Denton was one of the two gamblers to whom Pollock had exposed his diamonds at the pawnshop in Omaha. He at once decided to secure definite information in regard to the boy who had been with Denton at Salt Lake three years earlier. Proceeding immediately to Salt Lake City, and making cautious inquiries, he learned that the boy in question, since he first heard of him, had been arrested and convicted of robbery at Ogden, Utah, and sentenced to one year’s term in the penitentiary. An investigation at the penitentiary disclosed that the young man had given the name of James Burke, had served out his sentence under that name, and had been released about one month previous to the Pollock robbery.

Denton, in the meantime, had left Salt Lake and gone to Omaha, there to make his home. The boy Burke, argued the detective, had naturally followed his friend to that place. An accurate description of Burke was got from the records of the Utah penitentiary, and some idea of him and his friends was derived from the officials of the prison. But where to find him in the whole great West was a question.

Inquiries at Salt Lake developed the further fact that Burke had had one intimate friend there, a man named Marshall P. Hooker. Hooker had now, however, left Salt Lake and removed to Denver. For a man of his class, Hooker was unusually talkative, and was known by “crooks” throughout the country as “Windy” Hooker. Plans were made for keeping a watch on him and on Jack Denton, in the hope, by “shadowing” the movements of these two, of ultimately locating Burke.

Through the free talk of Hooker, reported back to the detective, it was soon learned that Burke was known by the alias of “Kid” McCoy, and that he had recently been operating on the Pacific coast in “holding up” faro-banks, and had also been concerned in two large robberies, one at Lincoln, Nebraska, and the other at Sacramento, California. His whereabouts at that time, however, were unknown.

Much time had now elapsed since the robbery, and the sensation caused by it had died out. Jack Denton and his friends seldom spoke of it, and Hooker never spoke of it unless the subject was introduced to him. Both men were extremely shy of strangers, and it was almost impossible for a detective to draw them out, as anybody who introduced the subject of the robbery was at once looked upon with suspicion. For the purpose of creating further talk upon the subject, Mr. Pinkerton caused to be inserted in the Omaha papers an advertisement as follows:

“Five hundred dollars will be paid for any information leading up to the identification of the party who robbed William G. Pollock on the Sioux City and Pacific train, November 4, 1892.

“William A. Pinkerton,

“Paxton House, Omaha, Nebraska.”

This at once attracted the attention of the local newspaper-men, and when Mr. Pinkerton arrived in Omaha he was interviewed by all the papers in the city in regard to the robbery. Thus interest in the robbery was at once renewed. Denton and the other persons under suspicion commenced talking of the matter again, none more freely than Hooker.

The latter was then in Denver. Mr. Pinkerton instructed Mr. James McParland, Denver superintendent of the Pinkerton Agency, to send for him, and say to him that he had understood that he (Hooker) could throw some light on the robbery, and that a large sum of money would be paid him for the information he gave. Mr. Pinkerton explained to Mr. McParland that Hooker would lie to him and endeavor to get the money by giving him false information, but to listen patiently to what he had to say and lead him on as far as possible without giving him any money. This done, Mr. Pinkerton further predicted that Hooker would go back to his cronies and boast of the way he was fooling Pinkerton and how much money he expected to get; and that eventually, through his boastings, he would prove the means of locating Burke, alias McCoy.

And so, precisely, it fell out. Some of Hooker’s companions were Pinkerton detectives, although Hooker did not know them as such, and they in time reported back that Burke was really the Pollock robber; that after committing the robbery he had gone back to Omaha, and from there had gone to Denver. From Denver he went to Salt Lake, and visited a prisoner in the Salt Lake penitentiary with whom he was intimate, gave this prisoner some money, and went from Salt Lake west to the Pacific coast.

Mr. Pinkerton next instructed that the record be examined for daring “hold-ups” that might have occurred in the country lately traversed by Burke. It was then found that a faro-bank at Colorado City, a small place between Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs, had been entered late at night by a masked robber, who compelled the dealer and other persons to hold up their hands, took the money in the drawer, and escaped; that later on a similar robbery had been perpetrated at San Bernardino, California; that later still the pool-rooms of James Malone, a noted gambler at Tacoma, Washington, had been treated in the same manner; and, finally, that a light or pane of glass in a jewelry store at Sacramento had been broken in and a tray of diamonds snatched from the window by a daring thief. And all of these deeds, Mr. Pinkerton learned ultimately through Hooker’s talk, had been done by Burke.

The watch on Denton at Omaha developed little, if anything, except that a close companionship existed between him and the Omaha pawnbroker.

During the summer of 1893, learning that an intimate friend of Burke’s, a burglar who had been in prison with him in the Utah penitentiary, was confined in jail at Georgetown, Texas, Mr. Pinkerton decided to go and interview this man, and see if he could get any trace, through him, of the robber. In the meantime he instructed the detectives at Omaha and Denver to keep a particularly close watch on Jack Denton and Hooker.

On Mr. Pinkerton’s arrival at Austin, Texas, he found awaiting him despatches from Superintendent McParland of the Denver agency, stating that through Hooker’s talk they had learned that “Kid” McCoy, or Burke, had been arrested at Eagle, Colorado, with a kit of burglar tools in his possession, and was then in jail at Leadville, Colorado.

Mr. Pinkerton at once telegraphed to have conductor Ashmore and Mr. Shaw, the well-digger, go to Leadville and see if they could identify the prisoner. Word was also sent to New York for Mr. Pollock to do the same. He also instructed Superintendent McParland at Denver to send his assistant, J. C. Fraser, to watch the case, so that if McCoy gave bail, or attempted to escape from the Leadville jail, they could be ready with a warrant for his arrest on account of the Pollock robbery.

Having wired these instructions, Mr. Pinkerton proceeded on his journey to Georgetown, Texas, where he called on McCoy’s former prison associate in the Utah penitentiary, but was unable to get him to tell anything about McCoy, though he volunteered, if Mr. Pinkerton would furnish him a bond and get him out of his Texas scrape, to go to Omaha and compel the “fence” who had received the diamonds to turn back the property. But the rule of the Jewelers’ Protective Union was to get the thief first and the property afterward; so no treaty was made with the Texas prisoner.

Mr. Pinkerton now went to Kansas City, and found awaiting him there despatches from Superintendent McParland of the Denver agency, stating that conductor Ashmore and Messrs. Shaw and Pollock had positively identified the prisoner James Burke, alias “Kid” McCoy, as the man who assaulted Mr. Pollock and robbed him of his diamonds.

Burke winced perceptibly when he saw conductor Ashmore and Mr. Shaw, and went fairly wild when confronted by Mr. Pollock. Requisition papers were obtained from the governor of the State of Iowa on the governor of Colorado, and the Colorado offense being a minor one, Burke was turned over to Assistant Superintendent Fraser and another detective, to be taken to Logan, Harrison County, Iowa. Before leaving Leadville, Mr. Fraser was confidentially warned by the sheriff of the county that he could not be too careful of his prisoner; for that Burke, through a friend of the sheriff, had made a proposition to the latter to pay him a thousand dollars if he would secretly furnish him with a revolver when he left the jail, his design being, with this revolver, to either “hold up” or kill the two detectives who had him in custody and make his escape from the train.

On trial at Logan, Iowa, the man was easily convicted, and was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of seventeen years.

by Cleveland Moffett

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