True Detective Stories from the Annals of the Maryland Police

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.


Crime doesn’t pay, but it stays – at Pratt Library

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.


If It Bleeds, He Reads: John Waters gets carded at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

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:


Through snow he silently moves with his ghastly load.


The killer who dreamed too much.

Killer slew two women with an ax.


The last voyage of the “Dream” was a nightmare.


Old chisel handle betrays murderer.


Patricide makes elaborate efforts to conceal crime.


“Black Charlie” describes the candy store murder of Caroline Link.

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!

Related Links:

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)

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John Waters on hitchhiking adventures and his long-ago arrest at Johns Hopkins

By Bret McCabe (Johns Hopkins University “Hub,” 9/22/2014)

carsick_cover“…In the prologue of the book you write that your parents expected you to hitchhike to school.

When my parents wanted me to hitchhike—I went to Calvert Hall—and in private schools and Catholic schools, everybody hitchhiked. It wasn’t thought of as an eyebrow-raising thing to tell your children to do then. It should have been. The same perverts were out there that are out there now.

That’s what I was wondering. What has changed? I don’t spend much time driving on the interstate, but when I did in the 1990s I don’t recall seeing many hitchhikers.

I never saw any the whole way to San Francisco—well, I saw one hitchhiker. The last time I saw one in Baltimore, I picked him up. It was the daytime on Eastern Avenue, and I was there innocently—Eastern Avenue didn’t used to be an innocent place to pick up hitchhikers, believe me. And he got in the car and immediately started huffing glue. And I said, “Just make yourself comfortable.” He offered me some. I said no—it wasn’t a Friday night, it was a Tuesday morning or something. If I’m going to huff glue in my 60s, it ain’t going to be on a weekday morning. It would have to be a really bad night, late.

What do you think happened to all the hitchhikers? Did more people get cars? Did other forms of transportation become more affordable? Or did we just get more fearful of each other, worried that hitchhikers or the people who pick them up are serial killers?”

Continue reading at JHU Hub.

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H. L. Mencken rips Gum-shoe Steiner & sour old maids at Pratt Library

The following excerpt was published in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun (“Sage Words” by Mary Carole McCauley, September 21, 2014). It’s taken from H.L. Mencken, “The Days Trilogy, Expanded Edition,” edited by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers (Copyright 2014 by The Library of America, New York, N.Y. With the permission of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. All Rights Reserved.). As a contemporary Pratt librarian, I find it highly amusing. – Tom Warner (Baltimore Or Less)

Newspaperman on the job, and Gum-shoe Steiner
by H.L. Mencken


Enoch Pratt Free Library: “The main building…was a morgue, and getting a book out was a tedious process.”

When I became a newspaper reporter in 1899 the Central Y.M.C.A. was one of my regular assignments, and I often dropped in to look through the magazines in its reading-room. Now and then I had to cover one of its Sunday afternoon religious meetings. They were always dull and gloomy.

Once, I recall, the speaker was Dr. Bernard C. Steiner, librarian of the Enoch Pratt Library — a solemn, humorless, intensely pious fellow who, because of his shambling way of walking, was known to the reporters of the time as Gum-shoe Steiner. He delivered an harangue so inconceivably stupid and uninteresting that I remember it clearly to this day.

Until he died in 1926 the main building of the Pratt Library, then in Mulberry street, west of Cathedral, was a morgue, and getting out a book was a tedious process. There was no card-index, but only a series of printed books with typewritten addenda, and the female attendants, mainly sour old maids, were far from helpful. Nevertheless, I patronized it assiduously, and whatever education I may be said to have came out of it. I used Branch No. 2, at Hollins and Calhoun streets, until 1894 or thereabout, but by that time I had pretty well exhausted its somewhat meagre stock of books, and after that I resorted to the main library. I had two cards — one a regular card, and the other what was called a student’s card — and I kept both of them working steadily. In addition, I dropped into the reading-room at least twice a week.


“The female attendants, mainly sour old maids, were far from helpful.”

In 1903 or thereabout, after I had become dramatic editor of the Herald, I went to the central library one day to draw out one of the plays of Pinero. I found that it was starred in the catalogue, which meant that it seemed lewd and lascivious to Gum-shoe Steiner and could be issued only with the express permission of a member of the staff. I applied for that permission, and was directed to one of the younger members. In fact, she was a girl who seemed to be no more than eighteen or nineteen years old.

There was I, a grown man and a professional dramatic critic, and there, across the desk, was that preposterous flapper, eyeing me critically and giving me a sharp examination. In the end she decided that I could be trusted to read the book without being seduced to sin, and it was accordingly handed to me, and I took it home. It turned out, when I read it, to be completely innocuous. Gum-shoe, I suppose, had picked up the notion, at the time of the uproar over The Second Mrs. Tanqueray in the nineties, that Pinero was an indecent dramatist, and so starred all of his plays. Gum-shoe himself never went to the theatre. His only recreation was Christian Endeavor.

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