Private investigators are professionals specialized in gathering information and resolving legal and personal issues. Private investigators often work independently but can also be hired by investigative agencies or individual clients.
Although the collective imagination often leads us to think of private investigators as characters from detective novels, the reality is much more complex. In this article, we will explore the origins of private investigators and the historical figures who have made history in this profession.
The first private investigator
Although private investigation has existed for centuries, the figure of the first official private investigator dates back to the 19th century. His name was Allan Pinkerton, a Scottish immigrant who founded the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in 1850.
Initially, his activity focused on detecting counterfeiters and train robbers, but soon expanded into other areas, such as private security and investigations for businesses.
Pinkerton developed numerous innovations, including the use of undercover agents, the creation of a network of informants, and the dissemination of photographs of wanted criminals. His agency was also responsible for the protection of President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War.
Although investigation has long been considered a male profession, there have been women who have made history in this profession.
One of these was Kate Warne, the first official female investigator of the Pinkerton agency. Warne proved to be an excellent undercover agent and contributed to the arrest of numerous criminals.
Another important figure was Nellie Bly, an investigative journalist who achieved fame thanks to her round-the-world trip in 72 days in 1889. Bly also carried out numerous investigations on social and judicial issues, highlighting corruption and abuse of power.
Historical private investigators in the 20th century
David Rabenhorst is another historical private investigator who left his mark on American history. Born in 1902, Rabenhorst founded his investigative agency in 1924 after becoming the first private detective to obtain a private investigator’s license in Louisiana. His agency quickly became one of the most respected of its time, and Rabenhorst was often called upon to collaborate with law enforcement in many important cases.
One of his most famous investigations concerned the escape of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, better known as Bonnie and Clyde, from Eastham Prison in 1934. Rabenhorst was hired to track down the two criminals and managed to locate the couple’s hiding place thanks to his investigative skills. Unfortunately, Rabenhorst died prematurely in 1940, at the age of only 38, due to a heart attack.
Among the notable historical private investigators was William J. Burns. Born in 1861, Burns was one of the first American private investigators to gain national fame. After a long career in the police, Burns founded his investigative agency in 1909 and became famous for solving many important cases, including the kidnapping of Edward Cudahy Jr., a wealthy industrialist, in 1900.
Burns later became famous for his collaboration with the US government, particularly during World War I. In 1917, Burns was tasked by the government to create a private investigative agency, which was then used by the government to spy on suspected German agents within the United States. After the end of the war, Burns returned to his private business and continued to solve many important cases until his death in 1932.
It is also important to highlight how female investigators have played a fundamental role in the history of private investigation. One of the most important names is that of Kate Warne, considered the first female private investigator in the history of the United States. Warne was hired by Allan Pinkerton in 1856 and distinguished herself for her ability to infiltrate suspects and obtain valuable information to solve cases.
Another example of a pioneering female private investigator is Grace Humiston, also known as “Mrs. Sherlock Holmes.” Humiston was a lawyer who became interested in investigating missing persons cases, particularly those involving women and children. She was known for her tenacity and thoroughness, and her investigations helped to free many wrongfully accused individuals.
Humiston also played a key role in exposing corruption in the New York City Police Department in the early 1900s. She uncovered evidence of a widespread bribery ring and helped to bring down several corrupt police officers.
In the modern era, private investigators continue to play an important role in a wide range of legal and personal investigations. They may work on cases ranging from infidelity and custody disputes to corporate fraud and intellectual property theft.
While the profession has certainly evolved since the days of Allan Pinkerton and William J. Burns, the fundamental skills of investigation and information gathering remain at the heart of the work. Private investigators must be skilled at conducting interviews, gathering evidence, and analyzing data, all while working within legal and ethical boundaries.
In conclusion, private investigation is a rich and varied field with a fascinating history. From the pioneering work of figures like Allan Pinkerton and Kate Warne to the modern-day investigations of today’s private investigators, the profession has played an important role in shaping our understanding of the world around us.