Three stories from Pinkerton history show how our investigative experts helped businesses discover security gaps and vulnerabilities – and still do today.

Lady Pinkertons: vetted, trained, and shopping

Black and white image of an American street in the 1920s or 1930s. Four women are walking together, facing away from the camera, as they approach a fifth woman who is facing the camera.

Department stores in the United States burgeoned during the 1920s and 1930s, and so did crime. In addition to the Agency’s regular protective work, Pinkerton was frequently called by department stores that showed irregularities, large losses, and inventory shortages. The largest losses were regularly discovered in women’s clothing departments. In these cases, teams of vetted and highly trained detectives — Lady Pinkertons — were deployed.  

In true Pinkerton fashion, their discreet investigations exposed more than shoplifters. They discovered gaps and vulnerabilities in business operations, dishonest employees who padded receipts, and collusive practices at all levels from managers to buyers, clerks, suppliers, and delivery drivers. In 1929, one team uncovered an embezzlement scheme of more than $4,000, another for $1,800 — about $70,000 and $31,000 respectively in today’s market — and yet another team exposed a shoplifting ring that included 12 clerks all working in different stores across a major U.S. city.  

Christmas shopping services

Black and white photo of a busy city street in the late 1800s. An elevated train bridge runs off-scene to the left, while people on foot and horse-drawn carts dominate the street. To the right is a row of multistory buildings. There is snow on the ground and everyone is wearing coats.

In the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, the United States went through an economic shift that saw an explosion in manufacturing and marked technological developments that not only gave rise to the department store but also afforded more opportunities for shoplifters, sneak thieves, pickpockets, and swindlers. We no longer supply operatives for retail services, but at one time, Pinkertons were instrumental in protecting these growing marketplaces. We supplied uniformed and plain-clothes operatives as both deterrents to crime and detectives of crime. 

According to Pinkerton archives, our department store clients requested additional protective personnel to start right around Thanksgiving — the kickoff of busiest shopping time of the year — when store executives saw a marked increase in dishonest activity. Stores requested the increased presence for their shipping and receiving departments and warehouses.

Surprisingly, stores also requested more operatives for their toy departments, particularly those where Santa Claus visited. Now, we’re not saying Santa committed these crimes, of course not. Everyone knows Santa has his own toy factory and an endless supply of toys for good boys and girls. What we are saying is there were some not-so-good boys and girls, and Pinkerton was on the job. 

The one that almost got away…

Black and white photo shows a retail street in the 1930s. Two women stand in front of a candy shop, while a man on a ladder adjusts a banner for a store named "The Louvre" next door. A late 1920s Ford Model T Coupe enters the frame from the right.

And speaking of department stores…William A. Pinkerton, the squared jawed, solidly built son of Pinkerton’s founder Allan Pinkerton and who is often credited with being one of the country’s greatest detectives of his time, said that sometimes things were not as they seemed. When he was interviewed by a newspaper reporter in 1903, he told a story about one of his first detective assignments watching for jewelry thieves at a large Chicago department store. 

The reporter described the scene this way, “He [Pinkerton] spotted a well-gowned woman who appeared wealthy and wore furs. Adroitly she picked up a piece of jewelry and slipped it into her muff. Pinkerton pointed her out to the manager who replied, ‘Never mind her. She is the wife of a wealthy man, and she cannot help but steal. We keep an account of everything she takes, and he pays the bill monthly.’” New York Commercial, April 13, 1903.

We never sleep.

Published November 03, 2022