How to Solve a Crime 19th Century Style

Come Hades or high water,

Jennifer Layne always gets her man.

                                                                  – Petticoat Detective

 

Have you ever wondered what Sherlock Holmes would think about today’s modern crime labs?

Crime-solving in his day was no walk in the park. Can you imagine having to track down criminals without benefit of DNA, fingerprints, security cameras, Facebook, cell phones or computers? But that’s exactly what those early gumshoes had to do.

This posed an interesting problem when I set out to write Petticoat Detective, book one of my Undercover Ladies series.

It seems that years of watching Castle, CSI and Rizzoli and Isles had taught me a lot about modern day forensics (and how to solve a crime in an hour), but left me clueless when it came to plotting my own story. After much research I now have only the greatest admiration for those early sleuthhounds. With little more than wits and determination they almost always got their man—and in some cases, their woman. How did they do it?

Detectives Worked Undercover:
Some like real-life Pinkerton detective Kate Warne were masters of disguise. Kate was hired by Allan Pinkerton in 1852 and could change her accent as readily as she could change her clothes. You’ll never guess how the heroine in Petticoat Detective disguises herself. Let’s just say that a certain handsome Texas Ranger finds her disguise shocking—to say the least.

Detectives Shadowed Suspects (aka Surveillance)
Shadowing was a tiring but necessary part of crime-fighting. The best color to wear for shadowing at night? Blue. Black is not natural in nature and will stand out.

Detectives Resorted to Trickery:
It’s hard to believe but the Federal Bureau of Investigation didn’t get its first forensic crime lab until 1932. It’s no wonder that Pinkerton operatives resorted to some interesting (and probably illegal by today’s standards) tricks to solve crimes.

The heroine of Petticoat Detective resorts to a few tricks of her own. Does she get her man?  That depends what man you’re talking about; the outlaw or the gorgeous hunk…uh hero.

Detectives Pounded the Pavement:
Questioning witnesses was and still is an important part of solving any crime. But then as now witness testimony wasn’t always that reliable. As Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”

Detective Were Experts at Body Language (even before anyone knew what body language was):
Detectives of yesteryear were only as good as their observation skills and the best ones could read a person’s personality at a glance. You think social media raises privacy concerns? Just be glad that you never had to walk past Sherlock Holmes.