Guest Author - Vance Rowe
Kate Warne became the first female detective for the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the first detective of any kind in US History. Not much is known about Kate Warne before joining the Pinkertons except that she was born in 1833 in Erin, New York and became a widow at the age of 23. She became a Pinkerton Detective by answering an ad in a newspaper. Alan Pinkerton, the founder of the soon to be famous detective agency, met with Warne. He was surprised to find out that she wanted to work as a detective instead of a clerical position. When Pinkerton told her that he was not in the habit of hiring female detectives, Kate Warne swayed him by telling him that a woman detective would be able to get information where a male detective couldn’t. Pinkerton decided to give her a try.
In 1858, Alan Pinkerton put his new female detective to the test. This would be known as the case Adams Express Company embezzlement. She gained the confidence of the wife of Mister Maroney as he was the prime suspect in the case because he was an expressman working for the company in Montgomery, Alabama. Befriending the expressman’s wife, Warne was able to gather evidence that led to the conviction of Maroney for stealing 50,000 dollars. 39,515 dollars was eventually returned, thanks to Kate Warne. Maroney was then convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison.
In 1861, the president of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, Samuel H. Felton, hired Alan Pinkerton to investigate possible secessionist activity and feared damage done to the railroad in Maryland. Pinkerton proceeded to put detectives at various points along the Maryland railroad and soon discovered that secession trouble also included an assassination attempt on President-elect Lincoln. Kate Warne was one of the five agents to investigate in Maryland on February 3, 1861.
Kate Warne went undercover as a southern lady visiting Baltimore. This enabled her to successfully infiltrate secessionist gatherings and social events. She was also able to soon to verify that there was indeed a plan to assassinate Lincoln before he took office. As the details unraveled, it was discovered that Lincoln was supposed to be assassinated on his way from Springfield, Illinois to Washington D.C. and was supposed to happen in Maryland when he changed trains to get to D.C.. Lincoln did not believe there was a plot against his life but when it was confirmed Fredrick Seward, the son of William Seward, the Secretary of State- designate, Lincoln thought it best to take precautions. It was Kate Warne who reserved four sleeping cars on the train and said they were for her family and sick brother. Lincoln was disguised as the sick brother. As history tells us, the ruse was successful and Lincoln went on to be president.
Kate Warne would also go on to be a spy in the Civil War for the Union and able to infiltrate southern social gatherings and get the southern women to talk about secrets that they wouldn’t talk about with men. After the Civil War, Kate continued to work for Pinkerton and was given some high profile cases.
Kate Warne died in 1868 from complications due to pneumonia and Alan Pinkerton had her buried in his family plot at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.