HISTORY'S BLOTTER

A look back in time at a moment in law enforcement history

For a long time, if you entered any police or sheriff’s department in the country, you would be greeted at the front desk by a sergeant presiding over a large bound book. Everyone who came into the station, every call patrolmen answered—it was all documented in that book, called a blotter. The National Law Enforcement Museum has acquired blotters from all across the United States. They are an important part of our collection—teeming with information about day-to-day law enforcement activities and touching on national events as they affected specific agencies. Find below our version of a national blotter: History’s Blotter draws from events in many places and times to present the collective experience of law enforcement in America. Take a look at the entry featured this month (below), and scroll down to explore the History's Blotter archive.

Kefauver Investigates the Mob | May 3, 1950

Senator Kefauver leading a committee hearing [U.S. Senate Historical Office]

“Through the country the crime committee became. . . a national crusade, a great debating forum, an arouser of public opinion on the state of the nation’s morals.”
—Senator Estes Kefauver, 1951

Americans were glued to their televisions like never before. In hair salons, movie theaters, schools, and neighborhood parties, they watched, mesmerized. In 1951, when only about half of American households owned a TV, 30 million people tuned in to the Senate hearings of the Special Committee on Organized Crime and Interstate Commerce.

Led by Senator Estes Kefauver, the hearings consisted of five senators who traveled to fourteen cities to investigate the extent of organized crime in America. In other words—they were exposing the mob.

The senators interviewed about 600 people, from small time gamblers and local police officers to mob bosses and J. Edgar Hoover, trying to flesh out what was going on. During one especially vivid moment, the committee grilled New York City Mafia boss Frank Costello. He refused to show his face, so the footage fixed on his hands as he nervously crumpled a handkerchief.

Senator Rudolph Halley: Mr. Costello, what is your net worth?

Frank Costello: I refuse to answer. It might tend to incriminate me.

Senator Herbert R. O’Conor: The committee directs that you do answer. And are we to understand that---

Costello’s lawyer: ---I understand that a direction is made and a refusal is made by the witness. I suppose so? Is that not so, Mr. Costello?”

Frank Costello: Yes.

Senator Herbert R. O’Conor: Alright, next question.

During the Kefauver Committee hearings, a spotlight had landed on organized crime—allowing Americans to consider the extent to which bribery and manipulation had influenced American businesses, police departments, and politics. J. Edgar Hoover acknowledged the findings of the committee, although he resisted using FBI resources to battle organized crime. The highly publicized hearings were a wake-up call to law enforcement and caused a shift in priorities to cracking down on the mob and weeding out corruption within local departments. The next question was how to do it.

History's Blotter Archive

1611
First Lawman in the Colonies? | May 1611

1775
New-Gate Prison | December 11, 1775

1788
Ben Franklin on How to Improve the Nightwatch | August 1788

1819
Night Watchmen | January 1819

1841
Mary Cecilia Rogers, The Beautiful Cigar Girl | July 25, 1841

1844
Eliza Farnham, head matron at Sing Sing | March 18, 1844

1844
Cherokee Light-Horse | November 13, 1844

1852
Irish Police in Boston | January 5, 1852

1858
Boston Police Get New Uniforms | November 1, 1858

1865
Abraham Lincoln Authorized U.S. Secret Service | July 5, 1865

1871
National Police Convention | October 21, 1871

1872
Tragedy at Going Snake | April 15, 1872

1874
Apache Tribal Police | September 1874

1875
Ranger Daniel Webster Roberts' Colt Revolver | September 13, 1875

1877
US Marshal Frederick Douglass | March 17, 1877

1880
Revenuers and Moonshiners | April 30, 1880

1884
Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves | February 8, 1884

1886
Haymarket Riot | May 4, 1886

1892
Borden Murders, Fall River, Massachusetts | August 4, 1892

1898
Marie Connolly Owens | March 14, 1898

1908
The Dog Squad | January 19, 1908

1908
Pat Garrett Assassinated | February 29, 1908

1909
Police Autos | June 1909

1911
US Marshals in Alaska Territory | January 14, 1911

1915
Aletha Gilbert, City Mother, LAPD | May 26, 1915

1915
The Black Hand | April 15, 1915

1919
Boston Police Strike | September 9, 1919

1920
Wall Street Bombing | September 16, 1920

1923
Izzy and Moe call on Governor Al Smith | January 18, 1923

1926
Eliot Ness | August 26, 1926

1931
Calling Dick Tracy! | October 4, 1931

1934
Deputy Ted Hinton | May 23, 1934

1941
Agent Robert L. Shivers | December 7, 1941

1942
Saboteur Trial | June 13, 1942

1950
Kefauver Investigates the Mob | May 3, 1950

1950
Truman Assassination Thwarted | November 1, 1950

1956
The Mad Bomber | December 2, 1956

1957
Dragnet and Police Procedurals | July 26, 1957

1957
Apalachin Mafia Summit | November 14, 1957

1958
Morris Childs | October 22-23, 1958

1963
Medgar Evers | June 12, 1963

1966
Texas Tower Shooting | August 1, 1966

1968
First 911 Call | February 16, 1968

1971
Phone Phreaking | October 1971

1980
ABSCAM FBI Sting | February 3, 1980

1981
FBI Agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco | July 26, 1981

1982
Broken Windows Theory | March 1982

1985
Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Kidnapped | February 7, 1985

1986
FBI Miami Shootout | April 11, 1986

1989
US Invades Panama | December 20, 1989

 

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