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The Heist of the Century and the copper who solved it
on August 19, 2011
You probably already have some of the story from the other blurbs but listen up anyway there's more to tell: The biggest bank robbery in the Big Apple's history, pulled off in broad daylight on one of the city's busiest commercial streets. Even in the annals of crime, the heist was brazen. This is the account of the detective who broke the case.
It's a story made all the more remarkable because the detective was a woman in a man's world and the first female police officer, later detective, in the history of the New York Police Department.
Her name was Isabella Goodwin, 47, and they ought to have given her a medal. They did, and one day in May 1912 after everything had pretty much settled down, a million New Yorkers, almost of fifth of the denizens of the metropolis give or take a few thousand, lined the streets as six thousand police officers marched by in a four-mile parade honoring the city's finest. There in the reviewing stand (which was probably festooned with red, white and blue bunting) on the corner of Forty-Second Street and Fifth Avenue, sat now-Detective Goodwin in a special seat of honor almost right next to the Mayor himself.
The Heist of the Century as the rags called it took place on 15 February 1912. By then the pattern of brute crime from some years back (anyone remember the Five Points Gang?) was a thing of the past that most people had forgotten. New York at the time was a place where for the most part strangers "would never harm strangers, institutions (such as banks) would never be touched by violence." For the most part. This day would be different. It would make history.
A couple of thugs waylaid a taxicab with cabbie and two bank messengers who were making a money transfer from the Produce Exchange Bank at No. 10 Church Street downtown, bludgeoned the messengers bloody and senseless (one of them was still a kid of 16) and then proceeded to make off with a cool $25,000, which even by today's standards is a tidy sum.
The coppers had an idea that Edward Kinsman, aka Ed Collins, aka Eddie "The Boob" might be behind the heist and a smart Deputy Police Commissioner named George S. Dougherty came up with the notion that a widowed police matron might be of some assistance in collaring the perpetrator.
Dougherty called down to the Mercer Street Station and said, "Send me Mrs. Goodwin." Dougherty figured the key to get to Eddie was to locate his moll, a tea dancer named "Swede Annie." Police matron Goodwin was just the ticket to get that done. And to get right to the short of it without giving too much away that's how things came down. And remember this all happened; you can check out the newspapers if you don't think so.
Other than the crime itself, there isn't too much action in this story. Or drama or even suspense. The sharp-eyed Mrs. Goodwin, who by-the-way had the tiniest feet you ever saw not that that means much, called on some good common sense. She employed her knack for making "people believe she was anyone she chose." Then she got out on the street and did some pretty straightforward gumshoeing.
But for what it might lack in drama, the story makes up in atmospherics. You get a real good sense of what it was like in Old New York, with all the dust, the stench, the clatter and clang. Another thing I should say is that the author really seems to know her stuff. She did her homework on this one.
Plus, and this is maybe the best part, the story has a real surprise for the ending. You're not going to believe it. It might even make you cry. So go find out yourself what happens next with Mrs. Goodwin.