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Burns, William John (19 October 1861–14 April 1932), detective, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of Michael Burns, a merchant tailor, and Bridget Trahey. The family moved to Columbus, Ohio, where William attended parochial schools and business college. In 1880 Burns married Annie Maria Ressler; the couple had six children. When his father won election as police commissioner of Columbus, Burns first developed his detective skills by assisting in a number of important cases, including discovery of fraudulent voter tally sheets in an 1885 election and conviction of a gang of arsonists who had extorted thousands of dollars from insurance companies....

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Earp, Wyatt (19 March 1848–13 January 1929), outlaw, gambler, and lawman, was born Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp in Monmouth, Illinois, the son of Nicholas Porter Earp, an adventurer and frontiersman, and his second wife, Virginia Ann Cooksey. After the Civil War the entire Earp family moved from Missouri to Iowa and then wandered westward until reaching California. After three years of farm life, Nicholas Earp’s sons struck out on their own....

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Hoover, J. Edgar (01 January 1895–02 May 1972), director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was born John Edgar Hoover in Washington, D.C., the son of Dickerson Naylor Hoover, a printer for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, and Annie Marie Scheitlin. Born in a secure middle-class enclave of civil servants just behind the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill, Hoover attended the city’s elite public high school, taught Sunday school in the historic First Presbyterian Church on Judiciary Square, and worked his way through the National University Law School (later merged with George Washington University) as a clerk at the Library of Congress, receiving his law degree in 1916. A lifelong bachelor, Hoover’s closest relationships were with his mother, with whom he lived on Capitol Hill until her death in 1938, and with FBI subordinates at the bureau, particularly Associate Director ...

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Kennedy, John Alexander (09 August 1803–20 June 1873), immigration official and police superintendent, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of John Kennedy, a schoolmaster who, accompanied by his wife (name unknown), immigrated to the United States from the north of Ireland. After receiving a common school education, Kennedy learned the sign painter’s trade. Residence in the slave state of Maryland bred in him a hostility to slavery that was to prove lifelong. In 1925 he became secretary of the newly formed Maryland Anti-Slavery Society, but the society was soon forced to disband by mob action. At about the same time he became ...

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Means, Gaston Bullock (11 July 1879–12 December 1938), spy, swindler, and detective, was born in Blackwelder’s Spring, North Carolina, the son of William Gaston Means, an attorney, and Corallie Bullock. Means grew up in Concord, North Carolina, in a family that had lost most of its considerable wealth during the Civil War. He left the University of North Carolina in 1900, early in his third year, and served for two years as the superintendent of the elementary schools in Stanly County, adjacent to Concord. In 1902 he took a job as a salesman for the Cannon textile mills, living in New York City and traveling widely....

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Pinkerton, Allan (25 August 1819–01 July 1884), private detective, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of William Pinkerton, a handloom weaver and jailer, and Isabella McQueen, a mill worker. Ironically, Pinkerton, renowned in America as an enemy of organized labor, fled Scotland in 1842 because of police persecution over his involvement with the Chartists, a workers’ protest movement in Great Britain. With him was Joan Carfrae, his new bride, with whom he had three children who lived to adulthood. They lived briefly in Canada and Chicago before settling in a small Scottish-dominated town called Dundee, forty miles north of Chicago. While hunting wood for barrel-making in a shop where he employed eight apprentices, Pinkerton in 1847 stumbled upon a camp of counterfeiters. Returning with the sheriff, who arrested the gang, Pinkerton became a local hero. When despite his renown he lost his bid for election to the state’s constitutional convention in 1848 (probably, according to Pinkerton, because of his strong abolitionist views), Pinkerton sold his prosperous business and moved to Chicago in 1850....