A Flight Into Texas
A Formidable Weapon
A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department
An Aspirant For Congress
An Erring Shepherd
An Old Game Revived
Saint-germain The Deathless
The Fortune Of Seth Savage

The Lock And Key Library

A Case Of Identity
A Conjurer's Confessions
A Flight Into Texas
A Formidable Weapon
A Mystery With A Moral
A Scandal In Bohemia
A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
Addressed To The Advocate Who Defended Him At His Trial
Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department
An Aspirant For Congress
An Erring Shepherd
An Heiress From Redhorse
An Old Game Revived
By The Waters Of Paradise
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
His Wedded Wife
Horror: A True Tale
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
In The House Of Suddhoo
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Introduction To The Corpus Delicti
Matter Through Matter
Melmoth The Wanderer
Mind Reading In Public
My Own True Ghost Story
My Wife's Tempter
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
Saint-germain The Deathless
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Avenger
The Baron's Quarry
The Closed Cabinet
The Corpus Delicti
The Dream Woman
The Fortune Of Seth Savage
The Fowl In The Pot
The Gold-bug
The Golden Ingot
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hostler's Story Told By Himself
The Incantation
The Lost Duchess
The Magician Who Became An Ambassador
The Man And The Snake
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Methods Of A Doctor Of The Occult
The Minister's Black Veil
The Minor Canon
The Mortals In The House
The Name Of The Dead
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Pavilion On The Links
The Pipe
The Puzzle
The Red-headed League
The Sending Of Dana Da
The Shadows On The Wall
The Story Continued By Percy Fairbank
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams

Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department

* The author of the pages that follow was chief special agent of
the Secret Service of the United States Post-Office Department
during pioneer and romantic days. The curious adventures related
are partly from his own observation, and partly from the notebooks
of fellow officers, operating in many sections of the Country.

The stories are true, although, of course, justice demands that in
some cases persons and places be usually disguised under fictitious

The stories have interest not only for their exciting play of
honest wits against dishonest, but also for the cautions they sound
against believing things "too good to be true" from the pen of

There is a class of post-office thieves who make a specialty of
rifling the registered letters that pass through their hands in
transit on journeys of greater or less length. Some of them have
managed operations very shrewdly, in the evident belief that they
had discovered an infallible method for doing the work and at the
same time escaping detection. Too late they generally learn by sad
experience that no patents can be taken out for the protection of

In this class of cases something tangible always remains to exhibit
the peculiar style of workmanship belonging to each; and it would
often surprise the uninitiated to learn how many traits of
character, what indexes of habit and vocation, can be picked up by
careful study of the minute points presented for inspection.
Unless, however, an agent cultivates a taste for thoroughness even
to details and trifles that might at first view appear utterly
insignificant, he will never succeed in interpreting the

At intervals of two or three weeks, beginning in the summer of
1871, registered packages passing to and fro from Chicago to a town
in the interior of Dakota Territory, which for convenience will be
called Wellington,--though that was not its name,--were reported to
the department as rifled. As the season wore on, the complaints
increased in frequency. Under the old method of doing business at
headquarters, which often amounted practically to a distribution of
the cases about equally "among the boys," the agent stationed at
Chicago received most of them at first; then a part were sent to an
agent in Iowa; and as the number multiplied, Furay, at Omaha, was
favored with an occasional sprinkling. Under the present more
perfect system, great care is taken to group together all the
complaints growing out of each series of depredations, to locate
the seat of trouble by comparisons carefully made in the department
itself, and to give everything bearing on the subject to the
officer specifically charged with the investigation.

March came around before Mr. Furay found time to give personal
attention to this particular thief. He then passed over the route
to Wellington, eighty miles by stagecoach from the nearest railroad
station, with ten intermediate offices. All the packages remained
over night at Sioux City, Iowa, a fact sufficiently important to
invite close scrutiny; but the detective soon became satisfied that
he must look elsewhere for the robber. His suspicions were next
directed to another office, where also the mails lay over night;
but the postmaster bore a countenance so open and honest that he
too was eliminated from the problem.

He continued on to Wellington, skirmishing along the line, and
observing the faces of the postmasters; but these studies in
physiognomy threw no light on the mystery, as the officials of the
department on the route, though far removed from central
supervision, seemed to be all that their affectionate uncle at
Washington could wish. On the return trip the detective was
equally observant and equally perplexed. At that season the stage
stopped for the night at Hannibal; but there, likewise, the
postmaster shared the honest looks that seemed to prevail through
eastern Dakota.

Proceeding on, the passengers dined at Raven's Nest, where one
Michael Mahoney, Sr., kept a small store and the post-office,
running also--with the aid of a young son and a son-in-law--a farm.
The store was managed by Michael Mahoney, Jr., a married son, who
happened to be absent both when the special agent went up and when
he returned. The face of the old man indicated that he was
vicious, ignorant, and unscrupulous; but clearly he was not sharp
enough to execute nice work like that under investigation.

With the exception of a general knowledge of the offices, the
special agent returned but little wiser for the trip, and
concluded, as the best that could be done under the circumstances,
to allow the bird to flutter a little longer before renewing the
hunt. Meanwhile the thief grew more reckless, and the papers that
came to Mr. Furay, though covering a fraction only of the
depredations, located the thief on the lower end of the route,
within fifty miles of the terminus.

During the summer one or two other agents took up the matter
cursorily, but made no discoveries. In the meantime Mr. Furay was
kept too busily occupied with a succession of important cases in
Nebraska to give much thought to the outlying territory of Dakota.
At length, in September, he went carefully over the papers that had
accumulated during his late prolonged absences, and soon knew
exactly where to look for the chap who had so long plundered the
public with impunity.

For some time Chicago had been closing registered package envelopes
with wax, which, on this route at least, effectually secured them
against molestation. Imitating the example, Camden, Dakota, began
to do the same; but, having no seal suitable for the purpose,
improvised a substitute by using the flat surface of a rasp.

Camden placed the wax near each end of the envelope, which
materially interfered with the game of the thief, because it was
just here that he operated. Evidently piqued that a rural
postmaster should presume to outwit him, he studied hard to devise
some means for opening these particular packages without leaving
such traces of his handiwork as would attract the notice of other
officials through whose hands they might subsequently pass. The
effort was crowned with a measurable degree of success, for Mr.
Furay, at the general overhauling referred to, was the first to
discover that the seal had been tampered with.

As it was necessary to break one of the seals, the object of the
robber was to restore it as nearly as possible to its original
appearance; and to effect this he used a dampened thimble, rolling
it over the wax while the latter was hot. There was but one
envelope of the kind in the lot, but it told the whole story to the
eye that could penetrate its meaning. As the thimble passed along
the edge, it left the mark of the rim, then a smooth, narrow band,
followed by pointed elevations closely resembling continuous lines,


On the opposite side of the same seal the wax flattened out so as
to cover a good deal of surface; and, to give it the desired
appearance, the manipulator resorted to the thimble again, but this
time USED A DIFFERENT ONE, the indentations on the surface being
perceptibly finer and more shallow.

The violation of that single seal betrayed the thief, for the
detective at once inferred that the job was done in a store where
the operator had access to a variety of thimbles. Only one was
required; and no person but a merchant would be likely to have more
than one within convenient reach. In a store, however, it would be
natural to take down a boxful, and place it on the counter, to be
selected from at random. One is picked up, used, and thrown back.
The operator now finds another spot that requires attention, and
without waiting to hunt for the thimble that has already served as
a seal,--for the wax is cooling and no time must be lost,--grasps
the first that comes to hand, too absorbed in the main issue to
give a thought to what would pass as an insignificant subsidiary
trifle. No rascal is sharp enough to guard every point,--a general
fact that illustrates over and over again, in the experience of
man, the seminal truth that in a mercenary and physical as well as
in a high and spiritual, sense there is neither wisdom nor profit
outside of the limits of absolute integrity and unflinching

The detective laid aside the papers with a light heart, knowing
that at last he was complete master of the situation. Below Camden
on the infested route the post-office was kept in a store at two
points only, and in one of those no thimbles were sold. The clew
pointed unerringly to Raven's Nest as the spot where alone the
requisite conditions to account for the imprint on the violated
seal were to be found. Thither the officer accordingly went; and
the moment his eye rested on Michael Mahoney, Jr., he recognized
the heaven-branded features of a thief.

Returning to Sioux City, he telegraphed to another agent, who had a
large number of the cases growing out of the robberies, to come on
at once. The two men took stations, one on each side of Raven's
Nest, and in thirty hours they arrested the youthful criminal, who
in the interval stole four decoy letters, and paid a portion of the
contents to one of the officers who was testing him.

Mr. Furay collected from the thief and his relatives the full
amount stolen from the mails during the entire continuance of the
depredations, restoring the money to the rightful owners dollar for
dollar. Young Mahoney made a written confession, supplemented by
three or four codicils relating to items which, to use his own
language, "at first did not to me occur." He was tried the
following February, and sentenced to the penitentiary for the term
of three years.

Within fifteen days from the time when the doors of the prison were
closed upon the son, the villainous old father, acting perhaps on
the theory that no two shots ever strike in exactly the same place,
began also to rob the mails. In due time Mr. Furay again appeared
on the scene and took the old reprobate away a prisoner. When the
trial came on, a material witness for the prosecution happened to
be absent, the lack of whose testimony proved fatal to the case,
for after hanging a day and a night, the jury brought in a verdict
of acquittal.

Next: An Erring Shepherd

Previous: A Flight Into Texas

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