Before arriving in St. Louis in the fall of 1857, Hiram Cole had already traveled around 2,000 miles, crossed state and country borders, fled town, been arrested, escaped jail and, more likely than not, murdered his wife. St. Louis was supposed to be just another stop for Cole in a cross-country manhunt, but a day after his arrival his escapades were undone.
The reason for his downfall? One of the first mug shots.
Cole’s story is one of 37 narratives in Shayne Davidson’s new ebook, “Captured and Exposed: The First Police Rogues’ Gallery in America.” In total, Davidson chronicles 191 surviving photos from the St. Louis rogues’ gallery, which was the first of its kind in the United States, beating the New York police department’s version by about a month.
Published by the Missouri History Museum Press, the enhanced ebook allows readers to zoom in on the photos and examine these early prints. It’s the publisher’s first ebook.
The photos, taken from 1857 to 1867, have been in the Missouri History Museum’s Library and Research Center for more than 50 years. Commercial photography using the Daguerreotype process was introduced in 1839.
Rogues’ galleries emerged in the 1850s due to a confluence of utility, public interest and new policing mechanisms. (The term “mug shot” wasn’t used until the late 19th century.) While displaying pictures of dangerous criminals informed the public and mitigated the effects of criminal aliases, the galleries also served as a demonstration of the most advanced photographic technology.
Davidson, a former St. Louisan who now lives in Michigan, takes the reader on a guided tour of the photographs, first detailing the 37 known stories. The second half of the book presents the unidentified rogues only as face after face of those arrested and documented.
While utility and public interest played a large role in the history of the galleries, Davidson doesn’t shy away from the effect the galleries had on policing.
“It became a way to punish people. It became a way to threaten them,” Davidson says, explaining that the photos were used as a motivator to keep those arrested on the straight and narrow.
Reading through the individual stories of the rogues, patterns begin to emerge. For one, crimes of the 1850s seem less violent than today’s offenses. Hiram Cole’s alleged wife-murdering is the only instance of foul play; the other 36 are property crimes.
A man named John Regan was suspected of breaking into steamboat passengers’ rooms and stealing valuables. A suspect identified only as Miller was a “coneyman” — 19th-century slang for bank-note counterfeiter. And a German man named Charles Rammelsberg was arrested for “false pretenses” and counterfeiting.
Davidson attributes this trend to a simple resources dilemma. Police departments were funded by taxpayers, so property crimes were heavily emphasized. Vagrancy, pickpocketing, counterfeiting were all burdens on taxpayers, so the police either got perpetrators off the streets or out of town.
John Lockhart, the first rogue photographed, was told to leave St. Louis within 24 hours as punishment for pickpocketing. The philosophy was one of “let’s move them along,” Davidson says. “They can be the burden of taxpayers in another city.”
Another trend was the prevalence of the poor and newly immigrated. Many of the 37 identified rogues are either Irish and German immigrants or their children. While the ethnicities of the immigrants have changed over the years, moving from Irish and German to Mexican and Middle Eastern, the prevalence is the same.
Davidson is quick to acknowledge, though, that she is not an expert on policing and that “anytime you make an overall comment about (the rogues’ gallery), you do have to say we only know 37 identified people.”
While reflecting on the past can lead to revelations about the present, those takeaways aren’t necessarily what Davidson wants to be the book’s lasting impression.
“I’m hoping that it piques people’s interest,” Davidson says, adding that she would love for others to pick up research on rogues’ galleries and the stories behind the photographs.
Providing a “window to the past” is Davidson’s goal, but ultimately, “Captured and Exposed” is meant to be a launching pad of historical research, not the end of the road.