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Title page of "Professional Criminals of America" by Thomas Byrnes (New York: Cassell & Company, 1886)
As crimes against property are of so frequent occurrence in the cities and towns of this country, it was suggested to my mind that the publication of a book describing thieves and their various ways of operating would be a great preventive against further depredations. Aware of the fact that there is nothing that professional criminals fear so much as identification and exposure, it is my belief that if men and women who make a practice of preying upon society were known to others besides detectives and frequenters of the courts, a check, if not a complete stop, would be put to their exploits. While the photographs of burglars, forgers, sneak thieves, and robbers of lesser degree are kept in police albums, many offenders are still able to operate successfully. But with their likenesses within reach of all, their vocation would soon become risky and unprofitable.
Experience has shown me, during the twenty-three years of my connection with the Police Department of the City of New York, and especially the period in which I have been in command of the Detective Bureau, that bankers, brokers, commercial and business men, and the public, were strangely ignorant concerning the many and ingenious methods resorted to by rogues in quest of plunder.
With the view of thwarting thieves, I have, therefore, taken this means of circulating their pictures, together with accurate descriptions of them, and interesting information regarding their crimes and methods, gathered from the most reliable sources. Many mysterious thefts are truthfully explained, and the names of the persons credited with committing them are revealed; but as information merely, without corroborative proof, is not evidence, it would be valueless in a legal prosecution. In the following pages will be found a vast collection of facts illustrative of the doings of celebrated robbers, and pains have been taken to secure, regardless of expense, excellent reproductions of their photographs, so that the law-breakers can be recognized at a glance. By consulting this book prosecuting officers and other officials will be able to save much time and expense in the identification of criminals who may fall into their hands. In the compilation of this work, information obtained from newspapers and police officials of other cities was of great assistance to me, but all the matter and data were verified before being used.
Hoping that this volume will serve as a medium in the prevention and detection of crime, I remain, respectfully,
New York, September, 1886.