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William Bonney was born in New York City but moved as a young lad to Kansas. His father soon died, and his mother remarried and moved west to New Mexico. Having killed a man for insulting his mother, Bonney fled to the Pecos Valley, where he was drawn into the cattle wars then in progress. He became a savage murderer of many men, including Sheriff James Brady and a deputy, and scorned Governor Lew Wallace's demand that he surrender. There are few facts about Billy the Kid's career that can be verified. Sheriff Pat Garrett and a large posse vowed to track Billy down and destroy him. In the fall of 1881 they trapped him at Pete Maxwell's house in Fort Summer, N.Mex., ambushed him in a pitch-black room, and shot him to death. The next day he was buried in a borrowed white shirt too large for his slim body. Admirers scraped together $208 for a gravestone, which was later splintered and carried away by relic hunters. From the first Billy's fame was part of a folkloric, oral tradition; it had more to do with western chauvinism than with literal history. If his crimes are dated, his appeal is not, as attested to by the many books and movies based on his life.

Adapted from: "Billy the Kid." Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Gale, 2004

Scanland, John Milton. Life of Pat F. Garrett and the Taming of the Border Outlaw. A History of the "Gun Men" and Outlaws, and a Life-Story of the Greatest Sheriff of the Old Southwest. By John Milton Scanland. Published by Carleton F. Hodge, [1908]

Fighting Sheriffs of the West. n.d. TS Wood Detective Agency Records, 1865-1945: Series VII. Criminal Accounts and Articles Compiled by James Rodney Wood, Jr., 1816-1934 Box 13, Folder 7. Harvard University Law Library

Siringo, Charles A. History of "Billy the Kid". S.n., [c1920]

"How 'Billy the Kid,' Mortally Wounded by an Officer, Made His Last Stand." National Police Gazette, 5 Jan. 1901


While much was made of body snatching in the British media, it would be easy to think it was a largely British problem. The reality was very different: it was far from a British phenomena, as the need for cadavers in medical research was as great in America as it was in Europe. While the exploits of body snatchers like Burke and Hare were known to American audiences (as shown by the example below from the records of the Wood Detective Agency), 'ghouls' and 'resurrectionists' were also active in the U.S., and did not escape the attention of the big publications of the day, including the National Police Gazette.

Smithsonian Magazine wrote how "Baltimore became a center of “resurrections”—as grave robbers referred to their business—because a half-dozen medical schools in the city needed a steady supply of corpses. It also helped that the Maryland’s largest population center was located in a temperate zone that often allowed digging in winter when the ground in New England and in the Midwest froze solid.... Grave robberies and body trafficking for profit were distinctly Anglo-Saxon phenomena; in Central Europe, the authorities usually distributed unclaimed corpses to medical schools. No such mechanism existed in the United States, England, or Scotland. So medical schools needing dissection material acquired corpses the best way they could—by sending janitors, students, and medical doctors to rob fresh graves."

Prestigious institutions were not adverse to being involved either. At Harvard University, according to, "anatomy students were permitted to dissect executed criminals, but that yielded perhaps one body a year, not enough to meet demand. In response, some universities hired body snatchers known as “resurrection men” to supply them with cadavers. But in some cases, students were forced to literally dig up their class work.... [After the Civil War] Harvard Medical School was forced to import its corpses from New York City, where the bribing of public officials and cemetery employees allowed the practice of grave robbing to endure."

"Body Snatchers Trapped." National Police Gazette, 23 Dec. 1882

"Stealing 'Stiffs'." National Police Gazette, 3 Jan. 1880

'Burke and Hare.' Murderers. n.d. TS Wood Detective Agency Records, 1865-1945: Series VII. Criminal Accounts and Articles Compiled by James Rodney Wood, Jr., 1816-1934 Box 12, Folder 8. Harvard University Law Library

"Gunning for Ghouls." National Police Gazette, 13 Sept. 1879


This archive contains the FBI File on Sacco/Vanzetti, featuring a line of internal discussion among FBI and Department of Justice leadership regarding a request by supporters of Sacco and Vanzetti's legal defense (the Defense Committee) to share evidence and the government's rationale for refusing. These files also include a sampling of reports from agents abroad monitoring American embassies in the event of retaliatory bombings by European Communists sympathetic to Sacco and Vanzetti and the anarchist faction led by Luigi Galleano. It also includes a selection of news clippings pertaining to the public relations issues around this request and refusal. 

Section 3 Dec. 1921. 1921-1922. TS FBI File on Sacco/Vanzetti: FBI File on Sacco/Vanzetti FBI File: 61-126, Section 3

Section 7 Sep. 1926-Apr. 1927. Septmber 2 1919-November 3 1927. MS FBI File on Sacco/Vanzetti: FBI File on Sacco/Vanzetti FBI File: 61-126, Section 7

Section April -August 1927. April -August 1927. MS FBI File on Sacco/Vanzetti: FBI File on Sacco/Vanzetti FBI File: 61-126, Section 8

Watts, James F., editor. The Trial and Execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. [s.n.], n.d. 


Allan Pinkerton emigrated from Scotland to the United States in 1842, when he was 23 years old; he soon settled in the town of Dundee, northwest of Chicago. By the beginning of the 1850s, Pinkerton and a partner had established the North-Western Police Agency, which had its offices at Washington and Dearborn Streets in Chicago. One of the first private detective agencies in the United States, this company worked for the Illinois Central and other railroads. By late 1850s, Pinkerton employed 15 operatives. During the Civil War, the company provided intelligence to the Northern armies that was not particularly accurate. After the war, promoting itself with the slogan “we never sleep,” the company opened offices in New York City and Philadelphia. Much of its business came from banks and express companies, who wanted to deter robberies. Starting in the 1870s, Pinkerton detectives also began to work for industrial companies as spies and strikebreakers, and they quickly became despised by American labor. The company's most infamous strike-busting operation came in 1892, when 300 Pinkerton employees fought with workers at the Homestead, Pennsylvania, steel plant owned by Andrew Carnegie. When the two sides exchanged gunfire, nine strikers and seven Pinkerton agents were killed. By the time Allan Pinkerton died in 1884, his sons William and Robert Pinkerton were leading the company, which had about 2,000 full-time employees and several thousand “reservists.” (Adapted from

This archive contains many works by Allan Pinkerton himself, as well as archive files from the agency. These documents give a valuable insight into the working of America's most noted detective agency, and into Pinkerton's own views and approaches to various types of crimes, illustrating the role crime--and what crimes--were at the forefront of American concerns.

Pinkerton, Allan. General Principles of Pinkerton's National Police Agency. Geo. H. Fergus, Printer, 1867

Pinkerton, Allan. The Expressman and the Detective: by Allan Pinkerton. W. B. Keen, Cooke & Co., 1874

General Principles of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency. Jones Printing Company, 1878

Pinkerton, Allan. The Bankers, Their Vaults, and the Burglars: by Allan Pinkerton. Fergus Printing Company, 1873


Between 1888 and 1891, a murderer known as ‘Jack the Ripper’ committed a series of violent murders in and around Whitechapel, a notoriously impoverished area of east London in the Victorian era. Although the crimes were gathered together as the ‘Whitechapel murders’, it was not conclusively proven they were all the work of the same murderer. The coverage in newspapers consumed by the affluent middle class drew attention to the conditions in the slum areas of the city. As a result, the areas were improved in the early twentieth century, with the passing of the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890 and the Public Health Amendment Act 1890. 

This archive contains documents from a wide variety of sources, but of particular interest is the coverage in mainstream illustrated publications like the National Police Gazette and The Illustrated Police News that presented the information to an American audience. These publications mixed the journalistic detail of the crimes with the sensationalist presentation that sold issues in huge quantities: the kind of publications that the graphic, primal nature of "Jack the Ripper's" murders were ideal content.

'Jack the Ripper.' Murderer. n.d. TS Wood Detective Agency Records, 1865-1945: Series VII. Criminal Accounts and Articles Compiled by James Rodney Wood, Jr., 1816-1934 Box 12, Folder 42. Harvard University Law Library

"Jack, the Ripper's, Terrible Work." National Police Gazette, 1 Dec. 1888

"The Whitechapel Murders." National Police Gazette, 1 Dec. 1888

"Was He Jack the Ripper?" Illustrated Police News, 9 May 1896


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