*Big thanks to Joe Rainone and Nick McBride for the use of their images.
The reporting of crime and police news has a long and colorful history. In London Henry Fielding, author of The History of the Life of the Late Mr Jonathan Wild the Great, was the first to publish crime news and advertisements for wanted felons in a newspaper called The Public Advertiser. In 1786 the Bow Street magistrates, under Henry’s brother John Fielding, (known as “the blind beak,”) converted a weekly posted crime bulletin into a newspaper called the Public Hue and Cry. The Public Hue and Cry was later renamed the Hue and Cry and Police Gazette, then, in 1828 the Police Gazette. In 1883 the editorial office was transferred to Scotland Yard. The Police Gazette was published weekly until 1914, when it was converted into a daily newspaper.
The penny press took up crime sheets with such periodicals as Cleave‘s Weekly Police Gazette and Journal of News, Politics and Literature (Spring 1834-Oct. 1, 1836) published by John Cleave at his premises in Shoe-lane. The London Era, in early days, ran crime and police news as well as theatrical and entertainment, starting in 1838. Penny blood publisher Edward Lloyd got in the game as well with Lloyd’s Penny Sunday Times and People’s Police Gazette (1841-1851).
“Mr. Grant, that veteran of the press, tells a capital story, in his “History of the Newspaper Press,” about one of the early vendors of unstamped newspapers in Shoe Lane :-
“Cleave’s Police Gazette consisted chiefly of reports of police cases. It certainly was a newspaper to all intents and purposes, and was ultimately so declared to be in a court of law by a jury. but in the meantime, while the action was pending, the police had instructions to arrest Mr. John Cleave, the proprietor, and seize all the copies of the paper as they came out of his office in Shoe Lane. He contrived for a time to elude their vigilance; and in order to prevent the seizure of his paper, he resorted to an expedient which was equally ingenious and laughable. Close by his little shop in Shoe Lane there was an undertaker, whose business, as might be inferred from the neighbourhood, as well as from his personal appearance and the homeliness of his shop, was exclusively among the lower and poorer classes of the community. With him Mr. Cleave made an arrangement to construct several coffins of the plainest and cheapest kind, for purposes which were fully explained.
The ‘undertaker,’ whose ultra-republican principles were in perfect unison with those of Mr. Cleave, not only heartily undertook the work, but did so on terms so moderate that he would not ask for nor accept any profit. He, indeed, could imagine no higher nor holier duty than that of assisting in the dissemination of a paper which boldly and energetically preached the extinction of the aristocracy and the perfect equality in social position, and in property too, of all classes of the community.
Accordingly the coffins, with a rudeness in make and material which were in perfect keeping with the purpose to which they were to be applied, were got ready; and Mr. Cleave, in the dead of night, got them filled with thousands of his Gazettes. It had been arranged beforehand that particular houses in various parts of the town should be in readiness to receive them with blinds down, as if some relative had been dead, and was about to be borne away to the house appointed for all living. The deal coffin was opened, and the contents were taken out, tied up in a parcel so as to conceal from the prying curiosity of any chance person that they were Cleave’s Police Gazettes, and then sent off to the railway stations most convenient for their transmission to the provinces. The coffins after this were returned in the middle of next night to the ‘undertaker’s’ in Shoe Lane, there to be in readiness to render a similar service to Mr. Cleave and the cause of red Republicanism when the next Gazette appeared.
In this way Mr. Cleave contrived for some time to chide the vigilance of the police and to sell about 50,000 copies weekly of each impression of his paper. But the expedient, ingenious and eminently successful as it was for a time, failed at last. The people in Shoe Lane and the neighbourhood began to be surprised and alarmed at the number of funerals, as they believed them to be, which the departure of so many coffins from the ‘undertaker’s’ necessarily implied. The very natural conclusion to which they came was, that this supposed sudden and extensive number of deaths could only be accounted for on the assumption that some fatal epidemic had visited the neighbourhood, and there made itself a local habitation. The parochial authorities, responding to the prevailing alarm questioned the ‘undertaker’ friend and fellow-labourer of Mr. Cleave as to the causes of his sudden and extensive accession of business in the coffin-making way; and the result of the close questions put to him was the discovery of the whole affair. It need hardly be added that an immediate and complete collapse took place in Mr. Cleave’s business, so far as his Police Gazette was concerned. Not another number of the publication ever made its appearance, while the coffin-trade of the ‘undertaker’ all at once returned to its normal proportions.”The Illustrated Police News law courts and criminal-record began 20, Feb, 1864 and ran for 3862 numbers, ending on 3 march 1938. The first publisher was John Ransom. George Purkess Jr., who published the rival Illustrated Police Gazette (No. 1, Feb. 9, 1867) took over the Illustrated Police News in 1870. The Halfpenny Police Gazette; or, London By Gaslight (1871) was also incorporated with Illustrated Police News.
In 1873 A. Ritchie & Co. joined in the rivalry with the Illustrated Police Budget. The Illustrated Police Budget the Leading Illustrated Police Journal in England began on 10 June, 1893 and was eventually taken over by Harold Furniss editor, and Frank Shaw Printer-Publisher. This periodical, under the title Sporting Budget, ended on 19 Nov. 1912. Furniss printed, published and edited Famous Crimes Past and Present (Police Budget Edition) from 1903.
The founders of the original National Police Gazette, the oldest weekly in America, were George Wilkes, who dodged bullets and gangsters while publishing The Subterranean, a 4 page political expose, and Enoch Camp, who retired rich a few years after the launch of the Gazette, he was replaced as partner by George W. Matsell, a Chief of Police in New York.
The first issue was dated October 11, 1845, and opened with a series entitled , “Lives of the Felons,” the first of which dealt with Robert Sutton, known as “Bob The Wheeler.” When Sutton got out of jail he led a mob of two hundred in an attack on the Gazette which resulted in five deaths. Editing magazines was a deadly business before the Civil War, another assault came in 1850 from members of the Five Points gang, Wilkes was hospitalized and six men died. The crusading Gazette bravely battled gangs, crooked cops, and city hall corruption throughout the fifties. Prizefighters worked with the gangs , and the gangs were protected by cops and politicians.
Wilkes purchased the weekly sporting journal, Spirit of the Times, from William T. Porter in 1856. Matsell became sole owner of the Gazette in 1873 and sold the property to two engravers who had supplied pictures to the paper. Readership declined until Richard Kyle Fox bought the Gazette in 1876 and redesigned the paper as a pictorial paper in pink covers. He increased the page count from eight to sixteen pages with an emphasis on crime, sensation, sports and the theatre, and within ten years the National Police Gazette was popular in at least 26 countries. The popularity was a response to the abundant illustrations of sex, mayhem, and murder, and true crime stories wildly exaggerated by Fox’s reporters. Fox was arrested a few times at the urging of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, under the much vilified Anthony Comstock.
Fox was born in Belfast in 1846 and worked for various Irish newspapers before emigrating to New York n 1874. He joined the staff of the Commercial Bulletin and then bought the moribund Gazette, with offices and machinery housed in a tall building next to the Brooklyn Bridge. He bought the paper with a loan from William Muldoon of the New York Police Department. Muldoon was to become The Champion Wrestler of the World and manage the Heavyweight Boxing Champion, John L. Sullivan.
There was bad blood between Fox and Sullivan. Fox spent $5000 on a jeweled championship belt for a battle between Sullivan and Jem Smith. Sullivan declined to fight Smith who wasn’t considered to be in the same category. Fox was outraged and presented the belt to American Jake Kilrain. When Sullivan gave the knock-out to Kilrain in 1889 after 75 rounds Fox climbed into the ring to present the belt to the Champion. Sullivan reportedly snarled at the publisher and spit at his belt calling it a “damned dog collar.” Eventually the belt was presented to the next champion Gentleman Jim Corbett. When Corbett was in vaudeville, in 1893, the dog collar was on display in a shop window when it was stolen in a smash and grab. It hasn’t been seen since.
Like his counterpart in London, George Purkess Jr., Fox kept his press from lying idle by publishing 66 page true crime pamphlets featuring Jesse James, Belle Starr, and Jack the Ripper. When Fox died in 1922 he was worth over a million dollars, the Gazette went into bankruptcy, and Nat Fleischer, publisher and editor of The Ring magazine took over and published it for two years.
The star writer of Fox’s ‘pink ‘un’ was Samuel A. Mackeever, a former editor for Frank Leslie’s publications, who wrote a series “Glimpses of Gotham,” as ‘Paul Prowler,’ beginning in January 1879. He also wrote “Midnight Pictures,” as ‘The Old Rounder,’ and “City Characters” as ‘Colonel Lynx.’ A fictional serial under his real name began on January 4, 1879, entitled ‘The Phantom Friend; or, The Mystery of the Devil’s Pool. A Romance of New York City.’ This tale featured Sergeant Flick, of the Municipal Police mounted squad. He also wrote ‘Prince Marco; or, The Child Slave of the Arena,’ ‘ The New York Tombs - Its Secrets and its Mysteries,’ ‘The S-A-M Letters,’ and ‘Popular Pictures of New York Life.’
Mackeever’s books for Fox included the titles New York By Day And Night, The Tombs its History, Romances and Mysteries, and The Female Sports of New York by One of Them. Mackeever also wrote a column of criticism and stage gossip as the ‘Marquis de Lorgnette.’ When Richard K. Fox published Glimpses of Gotham in book form sales hit close to a quarter million copies. As Paul Prowler he wrote of wandering the metropolis with his friend Charley, from Broadway to the Bowery, visiting boudoirs and drinking parlours from Fifth Avenue to the Five Points. Mackeever died at the relatively young age of thirty-two and his obituary in the Gazette praised his ‘sunny nature’ and ‘warm heart.’
Fox published older sensational tiles such as New York Naked ; or, Not Such a Sucker as He Looked Being The Adventures of a Young Man Who Did Not Get Left By Himself. New York Naked was either a reprinting or a rewriting of Tribune reporter George G. (for “Gaslight”) Foster’s 1850 work of the same title. Foster’s description of prostitutes “hooking” a victim may have contributed the word “hooker” to the English language. He was one of the editors of the weekly Yankee Doodle and a follow-up, John-Donkey. He was married to Madame Julie de Marguerrittes, a native of London who wrote fiction, drama and musical criticism as Mrs. Rea. Foster was born in 1814 and died in 1856.
Another serial writer was the British author of Jack Harkaway’s Schooldays, Bracebridge Hemyng, who had been enticed to America by Frank Leslie to carry on his hero’s adventures in the far West. Leslie’s business collapsed in 1877 leaving Hemyng with his lucrative contract suddenly worthless. He worked sporadically for Beadle & Adams, then turned to the Gazette for which he wrote two serials beginning with The Finger Of Fate; or, The Curse of Crime. A Story of Love, Intrigue and Retribution (Oct. 12, 1878), followed by Left Her Home; or, The Trials and Temptations of a Poor Girl (May 17, 1879,) and Steps To Ruin; or, Gaslight Temptations. The Finger Of Fate chronicled the adventures of a remorseful murderer and his daughter. Left Her Home told the tale of Fanny King, who loses her job with Workem and Starvem and falls in with Lizzie and the ‘mashers’ of New York. Hemyng’s wife died and sometime in late 1879 or early 1880 “Harkaway” returned to England.
Alfred Trumble, newspaper columnist, editor of The Collector, a current record of art, bibliography, antiquarianism, etc., and author of In Jail With Charles Dickens (1896), contributed many titles to Fox’s publications in 1881-1882. Some titles were The Slang Dictionary of New York, London and Paris, Guiteau's Crime the Full History of the Murder of President James A. Garfield. With Complete Secret Biography of the Assassin, The "Heathen Chinee" at Home and Abroad, Secrets of the Tombs: Its Crimes, Romances, and Mysteries, and The Mysteries of Mormonism: A Full Exposure of Its Secret Practices and Hidden Crimes By an Apostle's Wife.
Chuck Connors (real name George Washington Connors (1852-1913) was another popular Fox author (Bowery Life, 1904). He was supposedly born on Mott Street and was fluent in Chinese which made him invaluable to Tammany as a political organiser in Chinatown. At one time he juggled three girlfriends he called The Truck, The Rummager, and Chinatown. His wife was Nelly Noonan, known in the theatre as “Queen of the Seventh Ward.”
An article in the American Mercury Magazine in May-Aug 1926 said Connors “lived for many years in a two-room apartment at 6 Dover Street, near the East River, in a tenement house called Fox’s Flats because it had been built by Richard K. Fox, owner of the Police Gazette. He never paid any rent, and the fact that Fox never made any effort to dispossess him gave rise to the report that the publisher had given Chuck the flat rent free so long as he lived.” Connors died in 1913, age 61, at the Hudson Street Hospital.
Many a lad learned the facts of life while getting a haircut and perusing the shapely ankles portrayed on the covers of the Police Gazette. Women and Crime (a sure-fire selling point in any age) were usually featured in the sensational cover art of the Gazette. There were showgirls, women bullfighters, murderesses, and women brandishing riding crops. One memorable picture was of a woman with a crop with her foot on the neck of one of two men groveling on all fours on the floor. Another showed a woman ascending tenement steps while a man below her is lifting the back of her long dress with the tip of his umbrella for a stolen peep.
At the end of the gaslight era the pink sheet of Gotham was still being published but the days of sin and murder were passing, at least in the lurid illustrated manner of the National Police Gazette. Photographs began to take the place of engraving and the visual mayhem was not as enticing to the eye without the racy pictures of Footlight Favourites, Madams and gun-toting women, of the oldest pink weekly in America.
Sins of New York. Ed Van Every. New York, 1930
Sins of America. Ed Van Every. New York.
The Ring. Sept. 1949. “Dog Collar” Belt Was Lost” Daniel M. Daniel.
The Ring. “Gang Wars And Politics Of The Prize Ring.” George T. Pardy. August To December.1937.
The Boston Strong Boy. The Story of John L. Sullivan. Nat Fleischer. 1941.
The Anglo-American Pulp Wars : Edwin Brett vs. Frank Leslie. E. M. Sanchez- Saavedra. 1996.
Thomas Nast His Period And His Pictures. Albert Bigelow Paine. 1904.
Thomas Nast Political Cartoonist. J. Chal Vinson. 1967.
Introduction by Patrick Pringle to Henry Goddard’s Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner, Museum Press 1956.