About nineteen years ago, I was enjoying a short relaxation from
the usual press of business in Chicago. I had only one or two
really important cases on hand, and I was therefore preparing to
take a much needed rest. At this time, my business was not nearly
so extensive as it has since become, nor was my Agency so well
known as it now is; hence, I was somewhat surprised and gratified
to receive a letter from Atkinson, Mississippi, asking me to go to
that town at once, to investigate a great crime recently
perpetrated there. I had intended to visit my former home in
Dundee, for a week or ten days, but, on receiving this letter, I
postponed my vacation indefinitely.
The letter was written by Mr. Thomas McGregor, cashier of the
City Bank, of Atkinson, and my services were called for by all the
officers of the bank. The circumstances of the case were, in brief,
that the paying-teller had been brutally murdered in the bank about
three or four months before, and over one hundred and thirty
thousand dollars had been stolen. Mr. McGregor said that no expense
should be spared to detect the criminals, even though the money was
not recovered; that would be an important consideration, of course,
but the first object sought was the capture of the murderers of
poor George Gordon, the late paying-teller.
Having already arranged my business for a brief absence, I was
all ready for the journey, and by the next train, I was speeding
southward, toward Atkinson.
I arrived there early in the morning, of one of the most
delightful days of early spring. I had exchanged the brown fields
and bare trees of the raw and frosty North, for the balmy airs,
blooming flowers, and waving foliage of the sunny South. The
contrast was most agreeable to me in my then tired and overworked
condition, and I felt that a few days in that climate would restore
my strength more effectually than a stay of several weeks in the
changeable and inclement weather of northern Illinois. For
sanitary, as well as business reasons, therefore, I had no occasion
to regret my Southern trip.
My assumed character was that of a cotton speculator, and I was
thus able to make many inquiries relative to the town and its
inhabitants, without exciting suspicion. Of course, I should have
considerable business at the bank, and thus, I could have frequent
conferences with the bank officials, without betraying my real
object in visiting them. I sent a note to Mr. McGregor, on my
arrival, simply announcing myself under a fictitious name, and I
soon received a reply requesting me to come to the bank at eight
o'clock that evening. I then spent the day in walking about the
town and gathering a general idea of the surroundings of the
Atkinson was then a town of medium size, pleasantly situated
near the northern boundary of the State. The surrounding country
was well watered and wooded, consisting of alternate arable land
and rolling hills. The inhabitants of the town were divided into
two general classes: the shop-keepers, mechanics, and laborers,
formed the bulk of the population; while the capitalists, planters
and professional men were the most influential. Most of these
latter owned country residences, or plantations outside of the
town, though they kept up their town establishments also. A small
water-course, called Rocky Creek, skirted one side of the place,
and many of the most handsome houses, were situated on, or near
this beautiful rivulet. The whole appearance of Atkinson, and the
surrounding country, indicated a thrifty, well-to-do
Having roamed about to my satisfaction, I spent the latter part
of the afternoon at the hotel, where I met a number of the
professional men of the county. I found that the hotel was occupied
by many of the best families during the winter and spring, and I
soon formed the acquaintance of several of the gentlemen. They
greeted me with characteristic Southern hospitality, and I was
pleased to see that my role as a Scotch speculator was
quite an easy one to play; at least, no one ever appeared to
suspect my real object in visiting Atkinson.
At the appointed hour I went to the bank, and was met outside by
Mr. McGregor, to whom I had been introduced during the day. He took
me in through the private entrance, and we were joined in a few
minutes by Alexander Bannatine, president, and Peter A. Gordon,
vice-president, of the bank. Mr. Bannatine was about fifty years of
age, but he looked much older, owing to his continuous and
exhausting labors as a lawyer, during the early part of his life.
Having made a large fortune by successful practice and judicious
investments, he had retired from the active pursuit of his
profession, and had joined several old friends in the banking
business. Mr. Gordon was, also, about fifty years old. He had
become wealthy by inheritance, and had increased his fortune by
twenty years of careful attention to business. He was unmarried,
and George Gordon, the murdered bank-teller, had stood in the
relation of a son to his uncle; hence, there was an additional
reason for the capture and conviction of the murderers. The
recovery of the large sum of money stolen, would, alone, have been
an important consideration, but Mr. Gordon was willing to spend a
very extravagant amount in the detection of the criminals, even
though the money might never be discovered.
We seated ourselves at a table in the cashier's room, and I
prepared to take notes of all the facts then known by the gentlemen
"Now, Mr. Bannatine," I said, "please tell me everything
connected with the case, which may be of service to me."
"Well, Mr. Pinkerton, I have not been connected with the bank so
long, or so closely as Mr. McGregor," said Mr. Bannatine, "and
perhaps he had better give a short sketch of young Gordon's
connection with the bank first."
"George Gordon was taken into our employ about five years ago,"
said Mr. McGregor. "He had previously acted as our agent in one of
the interior towns, and when he became of age he was offered the
place of paying-teller. Since then his obliging disposition,
courteous manners, and faithful performance of duty, have endeared
him to all his associates, and have given him the confidence of all
persons with whom he came in contact. His character was spotless,
and his devotion to duty was superior to all allurements; he would
never sacrifice one moment to pleasure which should have been given
"Had he any associates among the fast men and women of the
place?" I asked.
"No, sir, not one," was the prompt reply; "we have not been able
to learn that he had any acquaintances even, among that class."
"Well, please proceed to state all the circumstances connected
with the murder," I suggested.
"I was not at home at the time," said Mr. McGregor, "but I can
give you many facts, and Mr. Gordon can add thereto. George was in
the habit of remaining in the bank after office hours for the
purpose of writing up his books, as he acted as book-keeper also.
During the very busy seasons, he would sometimes be kept at work
until long after dark, though this was unusual. Occasionally
customers would come to the bank after the regular hours, and
George would accommodate them, or I would do so, when I was
present. We were both very careful about admitting outsiders after
the bank had closed, and we never allowed any one to enter except
well-known business men and old customers of the bank. We had large
sums on hand at times, and George frequently said that we could not
exercise too much care in managing our business. I mention this to
show that he was not careless in his habits, but that, on the
contrary, he always took the greatest precautions against fraud or
"Were there any customers who were in the habit of coming in
late?" I asked.
"Yes, there were several," replied Mr. McGregor; "for instance,
Mr. Flanders, the jeweler, used to bring over his more valuable
jewelry every afternoon to put into our vault; he would put it into
a small box and leave it here about five o'clock. Then, our county
clerk, Mr. Drysdale, used to stop frequently to make deposits in
cases where other parties had paid money to him after banking
hours. He was very intimate with George, and he used to stop to see
him sometimes and walk out with him after his work was finished.
Walter Patterson, also, was one of George's particular friends, and
he has often stayed with George until nine or ten o'clock in the
evening. Besides these there were several of our leading planters
who would come in as late as eight o'clock to deposit funds, or to
obtain cash for use early the next day."
"Did young Gordon have the keys to the vault?" I asked.
"Oh! yes," replied Mr. McGregor; "I was often called away on
business for several days, and he used to act as cashier in my
absence. He was in the habit of carrying the keys with him at all
times; but his uncle advised him not to do so, as they might be
taken from him by a gang of desperate characters, and the bank
robbed. He had, therefore, given up the practice of taking the keys
home with him after night-fall. Just about the time of the murder,
we had one of the busiest seasons ever known; the cotton crop had
been enormous, and sales had been very rapid, so that our deposits
were unusually large. One morning I found that I must go to
Greenville for several days, on business of great importance.
Before going, I gave George full instructions upon all matters
which might need attention during my absence; yet I felt, while on
my way to the depot, that there was something which I had
forgotten. I could not define what it was, but I hurried back to
ask whether he could think of any thing further upon which he might
wish my advice. I found him chatting with his friend, Mr. Drysdale.
Calling him to one side, I said:
"'George, is there anything more upon which I can advise
"'No, I guess not,' he replied; 'you will be back so soon that
if there should anything new turn up, it can wait until you
"'Well, be very careful,' I continued, 'and don't allow any one
to come in here after dark. It may be an unnecessary precaution,
but I should feel easier if I knew no one was admitted to the bank
during my absence.'
"'Very well,' he replied, 'I shall allow only one or two of my
personal friends to come in. There will be no harm in admitting
them, for they will be an additional protection in case of any
attempt on the bank.'
"I could offer no objection, and so we parted. I was gone about
a week, when, having settled my business in Greenville, I returned
here. The first news I received was, that George Gordon had been
found murdered in the bank that morning, the crime having been
committed the night before. I will now let Mr. Peter Gordon,
George's uncle, tell the circumstances, so far as he knows
Mr. McGregor was a careful, methodical man, about sixty years of
age. He always spoke directly to the point, and in his story, he
had evidently made no attempt to draw conclusions, or to bias my
judgment in any way. Nevertheless, he showed that he was really
affected by young Gordon's murder, and I saw that I should get more
really valuable assistance from him, than from both of the other
two. Mr. Gordon was greatly excited, and he could hardly speak at
times, as he thought of his murdered nephew. His story was told
slowly and painfully, as if the details were almost too much for
him. Still, he felt that nothing ought to be neglected which would
assist me, and so he nerved himself to tell every little incident
of the dreadful crime.
"I remember the day of the murder very distinctly, Mr.
Pinkerton," he said. "Mr. Bannatine was obliged to visit his
plantation that morning, and Mr. McGregor being away, as he has
already told you, I spent most of the day at the bank with George.
He was perfectly competent to manage all the business himself, Mr.
Pinkerton, for he was a very smart and trustworthy young man, the
very image of my dear brother, who was drowned twenty years ago,
leaving me to bring up George like my own son; but, as I was
saying, I kept George company in the bank that day, more as a
measure of safety, than because he needed me. Well we received a
large amount of money that day in bank notes and specie, and I
helped George put the money into the vault. When the bank closed,
George said that he should work until five o'clock and then go home
to dinner. I was anxious to go to my store, as business had been
very heavy that day, and I had had no opportunity to attend to my
own affairs; I therefore left the bank at four o'clock. George and
I boarded at the hotel, and at dinner time, he came late, so that I
finished before he did. About seven o'clock, George came down to
the store, where I had gone after dinner. He sat a little while and
smoked a cigar with me, and then said that he must return to the
bank, as he had a great deal of work to finish up on the books; he
told me, also, not to sit up for him, as it might be quite late
before he came home."
"Were there any other persons present when he said this, Mr.
Gordon?" I asked.
"Yes; there was a shoemaker, named Stolz, whom George had just
paid for a pair of boots. Mr. Flanders, the jeweler, was there
also, and he had his box of jewelry for George to lock up in the
safe. There had been so many customers in his store that afternoon
that he had not been able to take the box over before. There were
several other persons present, I recollect now that you ask me
about it, but I had not thought of the matter before, and I cannot
recall their names."
"Well, I guess we can find out," I replied; "please go on. By
the way, one question: had George drank anything at all during the
"No, sir, nothing whatever. George used to smoke a great deal,
but he never drank at a bar in his life; all his young
friends will tell you the same. He sometimes drank wine at meals at
his own or a friend's table, but he never drank at any other place.
He left my store about half-past seven o'clock, and Flanders went
with him to leave his jewelry. Flanders' store is near mine, and he
soon came back and chatted with me a short time. He has since told
me that he did not enter the bank, but that he simply handed the
case of jewelry to George on the steps of the private entrance, and
George said to him: 'I won't ask you to come in, Flanders, for I
have too much work to attend to, and I can't entertain you.' These
are the last words that George is known to have spoken."
Here Mr. Gordon's agitation was so great that he could not speak
for several minutes, but at length, he continued:
"I went to bed about ten o'clock that evening, and came down
late to breakfast next morning. I did not see George anywhere
around the hotel, but I thought nothing of that, as I supposed that
he had gone to the bank. After breakfast, I got shaved, smoked a
cigar, and then went to my store. In a few minutes, a man named
Rollo, who has an account at the bank, came in and said:
"'Mr. Gordon, what is the matter at the bank this morning? It is
now after ten o'clock, and everything is still shut up.'
"'What!' I exclaimed, 'the bank not opened yet! My nephew must
be sick, though he was quite well yesterday evening. I will go to
the bank with you at once, Mr. Rollo.'
"One of my clerks accompanied us, and on arriving at the bank,
we found a cabinet-maker named Breed, trying to get in. I went and
pounded on the front door several times, but no one came. I then
went to the private entrance and gave the signal by rapping, to let
those inside know that one of the bank officers was at the door. We
had a private signal known only to the officers, so that I was sure
there must be something wrong when I found it unanswered. I had a
dreadful feeling in my heart that something horrible had happened,
and I was about to hurry away to the hotel, to see if George was
there, when I casually let my hand fall upon the knob and turned
it; to my surprise, the door yielded.
"By this time, quite a crowd had gathered outside, attracted by
the unusual spectacle of the closed bank, and the knocking at the
doors. I therefore left Mr. Rollo and Mr. Breed to keep the crowd
from entering the side entrance, while my clerk and I threw open
the heavy shutters of this room where we are now sitting. We then
entered the main bank through yonder door, and while I went to open
the outside blinds, which excluded every particle of light, my
clerk walked down behind the bank counter. He suddenly stumbled
over something and fell, and as he got up, he said that the floor
was wet. At this instant, I flung open one of the shutters, and
simultaneously I heard a cry of horror from my clerk. Running to
the counter, I looked over and saw a terrible sight. My poor
Again Mr. Gordon's feelings overcame him, and it was some time
before he could go on. Finally he was able to resume his story,
though he was frequently obliged to pause to wipe away his
"My nephew's body was lying midway between his desk and the
vault door; he had evidently been standing at his desk when he was
struck, as was shown by the direction in which the blood had
spirted. He had been murdered by three blows on the back of the
head, the instrument used being a heavy canceling hammer, which we
found close by, clotted with blood and hair. The first blow had
been dealt just back of the left ear while George was standing at
his desk; he had then staggered backward two or three steps before
falling, and the second and third blows had been struck as he lay
on the floor. Although it was evident that the first blow alone was
sufficient to cause death, the murderer had been anxious to
complete his work beyond any possibility of failure.
"The scene was most ghastly; George's body lay in a pool of
blood, while the desks, chairs, table and wall, were spattered with
large drops which had spirted out as the blows were struck. I shall
never forget that terrible morning, and sometimes I awake with a
horrible choking sensation, and think that I have just renewed the
sickening experience of that day.
"Well, I immediately suspected that the murder had been
committed to enable the murderer to rob the bank. I knew that
George had no enemies who would seek his life, and there could be
no other object in killing him inside the bank. The outer door of
the vault stood slightly ajar, and as soon as I had satisfied
myself that my nephew was dead—as indeed was evident, the body
being quite cold—I sent my clerk to call Mr. Rollo and Mr. Breed
into the bank, while he remained at the door. I told him to send
any person whom he might see outside for the sheriff and the
coroner. As I was saying, the vault door stood slightly open, and
when the other gentleman joined me I called their attention to the
position of everything before I entered the vault. I found the keys
in the lock of the inner door, and on opening the latter we saw
that everything inside was in great confusion. Without making any
examination, I closed and locked both doors, and sealed the
key-holes with tape and sealing-wax. I determined to leave
everything just as it was until the inquest should be held. The
sheriff and coroner soon arrived, and a jury was impaneled
immediately, as, by that time, the news had spread all over town,
and the bank was surrounded by nearly all the best men in the
place. In summoning the jury, the coroner put down for foreman the
name of Mr. Drysdale, George's most intimate friend, but it was
found that he was not in the crowd outside, and when they sent for
him he begged so hard to be excused that he was let off.
"The inquest was held in this room, but nothing was moved from
the bank except the body and the canceling hammer. The jury
elicited nothing more than what I have told you, and they therefore
adjourned to await the examination of our vault when Mr. McGregor
and Mr. Bannatine returned, in the hope that some clue might be
found therein. I forgot to mention that we found in George's hand a
bill of the Planter's Bank of Georgia, of the denomination of one
hundred dollars. It was clutched tightly, and he had fallen on that
side, so that the murderer had not noticed it. Here it is, partly
stained with blood," and Mr. Gordon handed me a bank note. He then
"A messenger had been dispatched to inform Mr. Bannatine of the
disaster, and he arrived in town almost simultaneously with Mr.
McGregor, who was already on his way home when the murder occurred.
As Mr. Bannatine is well acquainted with all the subsequent events,
I prefer that he should give the account of our action since that
It was clearly very painful to Mr. Gordon to talk upon the
subject of his nephew's murder, and Mr. Bannatine willingly took up
the thread of the story. He had practiced at the bar so long that
his style resembled that of a witness under examination, and he was
always careful to give his authority whenever he stated facts
outside of his own observation. His testimony was of the greatest
importance to me, and I took very full notes as he went along.