28 Articles by Alexander Gifford in the “Baltimore News-Post” and “Baltimore American” from April 13-June 3, 1936
In the spring of 1936, legendary reporter-broadcaster Alexander Gifford selected 28 of the most sensational turn-of-the-century crime stories culled from Baltimore and Maryland police files, and published them as part of a true crime series in the now defunct News-Post and Baltimore American newspapers.
Only one copy of a book made from the original clippings that comprised Gifford’s series exists and that reference-only title, True Detective Stories from the Annals of the Maryland Police, resides at the Enoch Pratt Free Library/State Library Resource Center. It was compiled in 1938 by members of the Enoch Pratt Free Library staff but remained largely unknown and virtually untouched in the stacks of the library’s Maryland Department for decades.
Almost 70 years later, the Maryland Department staff dusted off the book, researched old and worn microfilm, and reformatted the articles to recreate copies of what the staff called “the stories that must have thrilled Baltimore readers during the era of the Great Depression.” The new edition’s preface adds, “Pieced together much as a kidnapper’s ransom note, the stories have been painstakingly laid out in the order the crime series appeared in the News-Post.”
On October 8, 2007, the library presented a copy of Gifford’s series to “our friend and supporter” John Waters, when Baltimore’s famous filmmaker-author-and-true crime aficionada was the featured guest speaker at Enoch Pratt’s Staff Day. From the looks of the custom-made copy currently available in the Maryland Department, Waters may have returned the book to Pratt for safekeeping – and for the reading pleasure of future generations of true crime fans.
Though he made his name as a political writer covering Governor Huey Long’s administration for the New Orleans Times-Picayune before coming to Baltimore, Alexander Gifford proved himself to be a great story-teller when it came to recounting sensational crimes, and his series covered everything from elaborate bank robberies and arsons-at-sea to gruesome hangings and ax murders. His prose is at once elegant and engaging, as in this opening to the story of the “Torch Murder On the Bay”:
“The hand of Fate, that goddess who snips the thread of life, seems to destroy just at the moment when the sister god, Fortune, is smiling most brightly.
Captain Oliver Caulk, of St. Michael’s bought at fine cargo of oysters to Baltimore, added $200 to his “roll” and smiled delightedly as he put out on the bay again with a full cargo of shingles.
“Luck is with us,” he cried to his mate, the Negro, Frank Collier.
And suddenly, Snip! went the shears of the goddess Fate – and Caulk and Collier never returned from that voyage.”
As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words and the illustrations (artist unknown) accompanying Gifford’s penny-dreadful tales are great come-ons encouraging readers to turn the page.
Following are some samples from the series:
If you’re a fan of true crime stories, especially Victorian-era murder cases from the mid-1800s to the turn of the 19th century, Gifford’s series is essential reading in the library’s Maryland Department. Just don’t be tempted to purloin this rare and valuable treasure – that would be a true crime!
Gifford, Alexander. True detective stories from the annals of the Maryland police. Maryland Dept. (HV6533.M3 65). Enoch Pratt Free Library. Baltimore, Maryland. 1938.
Baltimore City Newspapers on Microfilm, Listed by Title (Periodicals Department, Enoch Pratt Free Library)