Jay Waitkus

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Excerpted from Jay Waitkus' Crime Chronicles: Police Blotter edited by Frank Pemmon

The Missing Finger 

RED JOE was an industrious young man. He worked early and late at his profession. While others slept he toiled upward in the night; in fact, night was his favorite time for toiling.

He didn’t exactly make hay while the sun shone because he didn’t do any work while the sun was shining on his side of the earth. He was willing to put his hand to almost anything that did not belong to him, and which he could dispose of without fear of detection.

Red Joe was a burglar, and a most successful one. That is to say, he succeeded so well at the burglary business that he spent the greater part of his time behind prison walls.

He was concerned, either alone, or in company with others of his ilk, in some of the most important “breaks” that the police have any record of. Whenever a big burglary was committed, the police invariably tried to connect Red Joe with it, providing that gentleman didn’t happen to be “otherwise engaged” at the time. This was the case in the burglary of which I have to tell. The facts are as follows:

The home of Mr. Reed, the rich banker, had been broken into and a quantity of silver plate, valued at $5,000, stolen. It had occurred during the absence of the family. The affair was reported to the police, and a large reward offered for the detection and conviction of the guilty parties.

The police at once set about unearthing and following up clues. But all their labor was in vain. The burglar had carefully covered up his tracks, and left no clue as to his identity. Nobody had seen him enter or leave the house. There was no one in the house at the time of the robbery. The family had gone off for the night, and the butler who had been left in charge took advantage of their absence to visit some of his friends.

During his absence — which he averred did not extend over two hours — the burglar had come, seen and conquered. He entered a poor man and went away comparatively rich. At first the butler was suspected and arrested, but he established a satisfactory alibi and was soon released from custody.

The police did all in their power to bring the guilty ones to justice, but failed. The affair was then placed in my hands. The solution of the mystery seemed hopeless. The thief had left no clue as to his identity, and none of the loot had been disposed of at any of the pawn shops in the city or surrounding cities.

I did not despair, however. I simply went to the scene of the robbery and made a most thorough examination of the premises. I found nothing.

I was about to give up when I came upon something that promised to be a clue. I inquired from the master of the house whether there had been any repairs made in the house recently. There had. The whole interior of the house had been repainted and repapered just previous to the robbery. In fact the finishing touches had been given the very day the burglary had been committed. 

Getting the address of the painter and other workmen, I went to them and made certain inquiries which were answered to my satisfaction. Then I reported at headquarters.

Two days later, Red Joe was arrested and charged with the robbery. His premises were searched and most of the stolen plate recovered. The clue I had discovered was this: on the door frame near the safe, was the imprint of fingers in the then fresh varnish. The imprint of only the thumb and three fingers appeared. One finger was missing — the one next to the little finger.

This was a peculiarity of Red Joe’s right hand. This discovery might mean a good deal for me, or possibly nothing. 

You know the result. Red Joe was watched, and his suspicious actions furnished sufficient grounds for the issuing of a warrant for his arrest. He is now doing time.

A Freight Car Adventure 

THE freight cars of the B. & R. Railroad were being systematically robbed. During one month, the railroad company lost over $500,000 in this way. It was impossible to catch the thieves.  

On several occasions the conductor, engineer, and brakeman had been shot at, and narrowly escaped death. The thieves used to board the train either before it left the freight yard, or during one of its numerous stops along the road, and hold the train until they had secured what they wanted, thrown it off, usually in a lonely spot far from dwellings, and made their escape. 

On numerous occasions a posse of police were secreted on the trains, but these nights (the robberies occurred always at night) the thieves failed to put in an appearance, evidently having learned that pains had been taken to give them a warm reception. 

I suspected something more than the railroad officials seemed to, and when I was told to do my best to bring the thieves to justice, I laid my plans accordingly. I sought leave from the conductor to ride on his train in disguise.

“I can’t allow you to do so without permission from headquarters,” declared the conductor.

“But I want to try to capture the thieves who have been robbing this company’s trains and shooting at you, and I haven’t time to get the necessary permission,” I protested.

The conductor still refused to let me ride.

“I must and shall ride on your train tonight,” I said. “Tomorrow night I shall be a good many miles away and I must carry out my orders tonight.”

“I have my orders, too, to carry out,” declared the conductor.

“I shall ride, nevertheless,” was my parting shot.

I did not ride. I had no intention of doing so. There was nothing taken from that train that night.

On the following night I secreted myself in the train, disguised as a homeless vagrant. I lay in hiding in an empty hay car. At the various stopping places, I took careful note of what occurred. Nothing suspicious happened until we were several miles up the track.

Here the train slowed up, although there was no station anywhere in sight. From my post of observation I saw everything that occurred. The conductor and some of the brakemen broke open the door of a car in which, as I afterward learned, there was a big consignment of tobacco and cigars. A large quantity of this was thrown out.

Pretty soon one of the brakemen left his fellows and started rapidly away from the train. Hastily slipping from my place of concealment, I hurried after him. I had not taken half a dozen steps when a pistol shot whistled past my head. 

I stopped short, drew my revolver and prepared to open fire upon those in my rear. Just as I turned I saw the conductor take off his hat, and, holding it in his hand, deliberately fire his revolver at it.

On the morrow, he would doubtless tell a harrowing tale of adventure with train robbers, and show visible proof of his own narrow escape from death. I was immediately taken in charge by the train crew, and, it being part of my plan, I made no resistance.

We had not gone many miles when the conductor came to me and magnanimously offered me my freedom and promised not to turn me over to the authorities, if I would go quietly about my business.

“Why do you hold me prisoner?” I demanded.

“For complicity in robbing this train,” replied the conductor, coolly. “Your accomplice got away.”

“Yours, you mean,” I remarked.

“Who’ll believe that story?”

The conductor did not suspect my identity. He put me off the train. If he had known whom I was, my life would probably not have been worth ten cents.

I hurried to the nearest station, and got in touch with some of my colleagues. When the robbed train reached the end of its run, there were several policemen on hand to put the conductor and his accomplices under arrest.


Excerpt from Jay Waitkus' Crime Chronicles™ e-book series. Cover image by NZ Graphics.