October 1937: Pittsburgh’s extraordinary mail order detective
Earle Waugh’s eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw the advertisement in one of those crime magazines he loved so much.
“Be a detective in 16 easy lessons at home!” the ad read. “Help America combat the scourge of crime. Start now!”
Waugh lowered the magazine. A dreamy look came to his eyes. He envisioned the headlines:
Waugh Nabs Killers
Waugh Nips Crime Wave
Soon, he sprung from his chair and mailed $10 to Capt. Aloysious Duffy, director of the Wide World of Crime Detection of Scroggins, Wyo.
The end result was a wacky, days-long series of newspaper stories detailing Waugh’s attempts at learning detective work by mail order. Waugh was a night police reporter for The Pittsburgh Press, but he also was a wonderful goofball, as this series clearly demonstrates.
We at “The Digs” are astonished that the ever-serious Press turned over the front page of its second section for six straight days to Waugh’s bizarre tongue-in-cheek adventure tale.
Waugh started off by shadowing his postman. Why the postman? Well, thought Waugh, you never know who might be a criminal. So he hid behind a tree on his street early one morning. Four hours later, along came the postman.
Waugh dashed through alleys, ducked behind hedges and hopped from pole to fence to doorway while following the postman along his route. None of this escaped the notice of the postman, who scratched his head and wondered if Waugh had lost his mind.
“Earle,” said Waugh’s wife, “you’ve got to get a grip on yourself.”
But Waugh was just getting started.
He opened his 48-page instruction book, entitled “An Encyclopedia of Crime Detection,” and tackled the next lesson, a test of observation skills. “Describe in detail someone you know,” read the book.
Waugh decided on his landlord.
Name: J. Brown
Occupation: Chiseler and loafer
Shape of ears: Batwing or Aileron type
Any missing: Upper plate
Waugh was then instructed to engage a suspect in conversation and gain his confidence. So he wrote Capt. Duffy, “What am I supposed to do with the suspect’s confidence after I’ve got it?”
Interrogation is serious business, so Waugh invented what he described as the “infallible Waugh Persuader Method.” It involved a two-foot length of rubber hose. The suspect would first be seated in a darkened room, then Waugh would sneak up behind him and blow through the hose like a trumpet.
“It frightens some of ‘em almost to death and makes lots of them break down and confess right away,” he bragged.
Next, Waugh needed fingerprints. His plan: Carry with him a highly polished beer mug. He entered taverns, asked the bartender to fill the mug, then handed it to a suspect, who was happy to accept a free beer.
Afterward, Waugh had trouble distinguishing the suspect’s fingerprints from his own and the bartender’s. His solution: “Getting some gloves for myself and an extra pair for slipping to the bartenders just before the trap is sprung.”
Finally, after six days, Waugh announced he’d received a package, sent by special delivery. “It’s my diploma,” he raved. “Gilt-edged, it is, too, with my name typed on the dotted line. I’m a detective — a DETECTIVE!”
Criminals across Pittsburgh cheered. Postmen shuddered.