From the autobiographical notes of Captain Charles Albertson regarding his career in the New York City Police Department and his travels and adventures during retirement beginning in January 1905.
When on patrol in the McDougal Street precinct as Captain, one forenoon I stopped into the pawn office of Rosenberg and Kalmus on the north side of Canal near Thompson Street. While there an American District messenger boy came in with two large paste board boxes containing lace curtains and Mr. Kalmus gave him eighty dollars and a ticket. While this was going on, I secured the messenger’s number from his cap. I trailed him up Canal to Church Street where there was a well dressed man about thirty years of age waiting for him. He handed him the money and received a bill in return. I then followed the man up Broadway to the store of Mills and Gibb on the north east corner of Grand Street. I was close to him but when I got in the store he had vanished. I asked the man at the door, Mr. Robinson, where the man who came in had gone. He said he was the city salesman in the curtain department. Mills and Gibbs had the largest lace, white goods and notion store in the city and probably in the world at the time. It extended one hundred feet on Broadway through to Crosby Street six or seven floors. Mr. Mills, an American, spent his entire time in England in charge of the manufacturing and business there.
Mr. Gibb was an Englishman and in sole control of the immense business here. I went down in the basement and had a good look at my man. I came up and informed Mr. Robinson that I wanted to see the head of the house. He escorted me up one flight to Mr. Gibb’s office. I introduced myself and explained what had occurred and expressed an opinion that there was something wrong. He informed me in a very pompous and offensive way that they had been in business many years and their methods were so complete and perfect that in all that time they never had required the services of the police and did not want my services now. I was vexed, so much so that he could not help but know it. I bid him good day and went down stairs with Mr. Robinson.
While we were talking a message came for him to hunt me up and go to the pawn office with me and investigate the matter. We found that they had loaned two thousand dollars on goods worth about six or eight thousand and within two months. We took some of the goods up to Mr. Gibb’s office. They had the firm’s cost and price mark on. He sent down for the salesman and when Mr. Gibb repeated my statement he said, turning to me, “You are a damn liar.” I whirled him around with his back against the wall and searched him finding a large lot of pawn tickets including the one of this date. He was done for. I said, “Tell me how you worked the scheme.” He replied, “I tied up the goods wanted, took them up to the office and had a bill made to Ms. Jones at the Windsor Hotel, took them down to the door, showed Mr. Robinson the bill and he checked them out. They were sent to the pawn shop.
Later I went up to the office and notified the bookkeeper that Mrs. Jones had not taken the curtains and returned the bill.” When I requested to know how he managed the stock book, he said they had no stock book. Mr. Gibb said, “If I decide to have him arrested, I will let you know.” He was not arrested. His mother who was a wealthy real estate owner on the upper east side paid about eight thousand dollars for money loaned and interest due on goods he had stolen and pawned. He had to obtain a new position. I was quite content as I had discovered a flaw in Mr. Gibb’s perfect business methods.
The above is not all of the tale, for soon after, Harry Rosenberg, brother-in-law of Mr. Kalmus, an employee of the firm, came to the station and stated that they had a lot of jewelry pawned under the same name as the curtains but all brought by a messenger boy. I went down to the loan office and examined the jewelry. It was a splendid collection. In the top cover of one of the small boxes was the name of a Mrs. – – -, Carlstadt, New Jersey. I wrote a short letter on plain paper to the name and address requesting her to call at the street number of my station signing my name. This as it turned out was an error.
Soon after, when sitting in my office window a private carriage stopped in front and a good looking and well-dressed woman got out, addressed me through the window and wished to know where she would find a certain number in McDougal Street. I said this is the number, she then said, “I am looking for a man by the name of Albertson.” She had my letter in her hand. I said, “I am the man.” Right there she started in. I will not attempt to repeat what she said for it would not sound well in print. She called me a gentleman several times but the word not was so close to it that it did not sound well. I tried several times to say something but no use. When she was tired and ready to go, I said, “If you have lost any jewelry let me know.”
The next day I received the sweetest note of apology requesting to know when she could see me at some place other than the station as she did not think it was a proper place for a respectable woman to go. I wrote her that I always made my appointments with women at my station so that I might retain my respectability and that she must come there and if I was not in, wait or call again. She arrived within two or three days. When I explained the case to her, she denied knowing the city salesman. I said if that is true perhaps he is a professional burglar and I was inclined to think that such was the case. Then she stated that she did remember his being at her house as the guest of her husband. He was a prominent wholesale merchant in Mercer Street in my precinct. Then she collapsed entirely.
The same old story, another man in the case. I then said to her, “Tell me the truth. I can and will help you for I will then know how to do it.” Her jewels were kept at her home in a safe from which her friend took them while visiting her. I sent to the loan office and had the jewelry brought to the station where she identified all but three or four articles. I fear the handsome salesman was not true to her. He may have had other married ladies. I made arrangements with the pawnbroker so that she could take out part at a time so as not compromise herself. The other pieces were eventually redeemed. Our salesman was only one of thousands who thieve because he played the races, the most dangerous of all gambling.
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Mills & Gibb Again
Soon after the event narrated above, I was placed in command of the Mulberry Street station for the second time as captain. Mills and Gibb were located in this precinct. One morning an employee reported that there was some trouble there. I hastened down and found that a mysterious larceny had occurred. Down underneath the sidewalk at Grand Street and Broadway was a very large vault with old style doors and a key lock. This key was very large and was kept in a small drawer in the office on the second floor. This vault was used for storing the most valuable goods and a good sized heavy tin cash box fastened with a hasp and small padlock. They did their banking in a bank next door north on Broadway and deposited every day before three, retaining sufficient money for change. On the night before, the assistant cashier placed the box containing a little over one thousand dollars in the vault locked the door at six, placed the key in the drawer as usual and alleged he locked the door. Mr. Evans, a heavy stockholder had full charge of the office management. He stated to me that there were three keys to the small drawer where the vault key was kept. He had one and the cashier and assistant cashier one each. They alternated in closing. The tin box, when they opened up this morning, was on a table in the basement broken open and the cash gone. The vault was locked and the key in the drawer as usual. I found out during the investigation that the building was wired by the Holmes Burglar Alarm Company, and that in the latter part of the night the alarm had gone off and their men had come and searched the building as they had keys.
I at first suspected the assistant cashier who had been married a short time before and was living at a four thousand dollar rate upon a one thousand dollar salary. It developed that the bride had a three thousand dollar income. I was convinced that it was what we call an inside job. Some employee in the place had stolen the money. With this idea in mind, I commenced a systematic inspection of the place and employees as far as possible. One young man employed in the curtain department whose father was a prominent minister in Jersey City was doing a splendid business. We will call him B as that was the initial of his name. He was in the habit of coming out at closing time with goods wrapped around his body, his clothing being large for that purpose, visiting the toilet of a liquor store, coming out with a bundle wrapped neatly, going to the Christopher Street ferry and across to Hoboken where he met a fine looking well dressed man to whom he delivered the package and returned on the same boat. I trailed this man to his home and found that he had been a salesman for W. J. Sloane and had been discharged for dishonesty. This was the man I wanted but he was a slick article. I tried many schemes but none of them worked. Finally, I tried a new one. Some times the two walked down to the boat and stood talking until the boat was loosened and the gang plank drawn aboard. When the boat was attached to the shore it was New Jersey territory but the moment it cast loose she was in New York as all of the Hudson River belongs to New York State. I waited my chance and got on the shore side and just as the boat was cut loose I ran for the boat, bunting him on board with my body but the fates were against me for the bundle of Mills and Gibb goods went into the river and I was beaten. If he had retained the bundle I would have arrested him even though I was accused of kidnapping. As it was, I apologized.
On another occasion I followed B down Broadway to city hall where he met his Hoboken friend and they boarded an uptown Broadway car. When B got off at Grand Street, he left a package on the seat by the side of the Hoboken man. How I did wish he would take it but when he got off at 34th Street, he left it on the car seat and I went to the car stables and claimed it. They had evidently suspected or recognized me as the bunter so my value as a trailer was gone, but the bundle of goods, a lace bed spread and a bolster could be used in B’s case.
I had a lot of evidence against other employees. They could get a package checked out the Crosby entrance for fifty cents and there was no trust. I had gone as far as possible. I must try some other plan. I took the recovered package and went to Rick Gibb one of the seven sons all alive then, all dead but one now, I believe. I informed him of what I had done. He wanted to consult his father. I said, not yet. I had him order B upstairs and we took him into one of the small rooms where they exhibit goods to customers. We talked with him a long time and I told him of my long job and what I had discovered. I then said to him, “You think this matter over very carefully and come to me at my office tomorrow evening when you are through work before going home.” This was my so called, third degree. The following evening B came into my office and asked if he might close the door. I knew I had won. He said, “If I help you clean out that place down there will you help me?” I said that I could not promise that at the present but would see Mr. Gibb as soon as he came in the morning and see what could be done. When Mr. Gibb came to the store the next morning about ten, the son Rick, Mr. Robinson and myself went up into the office where I explained briefly what I had done and that B would help us if promised immunity. He said that any arrangement that I made he would carry out. I then promised B that he should not be sent away.
He commenced and after a long statement I assure you that B knew more about some parts of the business than Mr. Gibb or myself. Sixteen heads of departments were sent for and fifteen of them plead guilty. As near as I could estimate, the firm were at a loss of more than forty thousand dollars a year. Mr. Gibb refused to prosecute and some or all of those implicated were dismissed. While on our way upstairs B said to me if you get me out of this scrape I will tell you something that will interest you very much. When the above was completed I said, “Now that some thing of interest.” He said, “Do you want to know who took that one thousand dollars?” I then said, “Tell us all about it.” He stated that he went out and secured sufficient food for his supper and breakfast before closing time, secreted himself down in the basement, obtained the tin box, broke it open and hid the money behind some goods and left it there until the second night fearing he would be searched when going out the first night. He said, “Oh my but I was scared the night I was inside after secreting the money. I made me a bed of some goods beneath a counter and was awakened by a lantern near my face.” Holmes men were searching the place, and if the man with the light had looked down he could not have helped seeing me. They found a shutter loosened by a heavy wind blowing at the time, fastened it and went away. I changed my sleeping place as soon as they were gone, fearing they might return. I wanted to know how he knew where the vault key was kept. He said when he first came with the firm he worked in the office. I then asked him where he secured the key to the small drawer where the large key was kept and he said it had never been locked to his knowledge. I then called for the drawer key and there was none to be found. I then secured a screw driver and took the lock apart. There had not been a key in it for years. I can imagine Brother Gibb saying something to Mr. Evans when we were gone. B said that he and his Hoboken friend had spent the one thousand dollars for a vacation and had a swell time.
When it was all over Mr. Gibb never even thanked me. But I was elated. His business method that was so fine, that he required no police assistance had a few more holes punched into it. I met him many times after and he never recognized me. I fear his pride was hurt. I saw in this place one of the greatest memories I ever heard about.
Mr. Robinson who was stationed at the front door could call by name every one of the thousands of customers that had ever been there before and tell where they came from and call out the name of the salesman who covered the territory. When I came down stairs from Mr. Gibb’s office, Mr. Robinson informed me that B wanted to see me. I went down into the basement where he was gathering his belongings. He thanked me for getting him out of this trouble and that he was satisfied that the man in Hoboken was his evil genius and had treated him unfairly. He mentioned one case in Brooklyn where one private home had been furnished with four thousand dollars worth of goods and he received but two hundred and fifty for his share. He then took from his pocket a small slip of paper with some figures on and unfolded this tale. Hoboken whose name I have not mentioned had a good wife and a house full of children and was the lover of a beautiful widow and one of the wealthiest women in Jersey City. She had been boarding since her husband’s death about three years before at a hotel. Hoboken had persuaded her to build a beautiful residence which she had recently moved into. He had also caused her to purchase a big new safe which was placed in the basement before the window casings were put in as it was very large to hold her silver and jewelry. He had caused her to bring this material from the safe deposit vault and place it in the safe. This was valued at twenty thousand dollars. While Hoboken was to entertain the widow upstairs the next Sunday evening, this was Saturday, B was to take the jewelry, as the basement door was to be left open and the servants were to be out when he called. The figures on the paper was the combination of the safe. Something had to be done at once. B insisted that he was through thieving but it was possible that Hoboken’s influence was strong enough to swerve him. I was so busy that I could not go to Jersey City that day. I called Chief of Police Murphy whom I was well acquainted with as he was a witness in the Hetty G. King case in Rochester and made and appointment for nine A.M. Sunday. I was waiting when he arrived at headquarters. I explained the case fully. It was his duty to take the matter up with the widow. He was well acquainted with her husband, but he begged me to call on her. I finally consented to do so as I realized that there was a difficult job ahead. I reckoned she would be so indignant or afraid when I broached the subject that she would not permit me to fully explain but decided to stay in her house until she would listen to me The chief accompanied me nearly to the house and was to remain and prevent one of his men coming in to put me out if summoned. I rang the bell and a maid invited me into the reception room. I gave her a plain card with my name on it. After a long wait Madame came. I apologized for this early Sunday call by saying that my mission was urgent and I would delay her but a short time. I handed her the safe combination. She did not recognize it at once but when I said I believed it was the combination of her safe, she went into the rear room and came out with a duplicate and then the fire began to fly. I attempted to explain who I was and my errand. “I don’t care who you are!” she said. “Where did this combination come from?”
I gave her the name of her friend and she collapsed and the maid took her up stairs. She ordered me out of the house on her way up. I waited some time and when she came down, she was quite reasonable. I fully explained all. When her friend attempted to call that evening he was met by Chief Murphy who said a lot of things to him, some not pleasing. She also had a watchman until the combination was changed. I kept track of B for some time and the last report was that he was holding a position of trust.