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Byline: Erik Nelson Staff Writer

WESTLAKE VILLAGE - The rap sheets of desperado Jesse James and his gang. A New York studio portrait of the Sundance Kid's mysterious mate. A leather-bound book about the foiled plot to kill President Lincoln in Baltimore.

All will soon see the light of day after nearly a century in storage.

Those records - cataloged, reboxed, filed and even restored in some instances - will be loaded onto a truck today and moved from the headquarters of Pinkerton USA in Westlake Village to Washington, D.C., where the company will donate the collection to the Library of Congress.

``The library's delighted to have it because it's a very unique collection, it really broadens our law enforcement collection,'' said John Sellers, a 19th century history specialist with the library. ``I was afraid it would end up in private hands, sold and dispersed.''

The bulk of the Pinkerton Archives consists of 195 binders, each containing reams of historic criminal investigations. They include photographs and illustrations of suspects and their tools; wanted and reward posters; press clippings; penciled daily detectives' reports; and communications between offices, with sheriffs and even foreign contacts and Pinkerton outposts.

If it had been broken up and sold at auction, Sellers estimated the collection could have fetched about $1 million.

Founded in 1850, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency became synonymous with America's most important police work in the second half of the 19th century.

Pinkertons, as the company's detectives became known, chased bandits hundreds of miles across the country to recover loot for client banks, investigated the beginnings of organized labor and even provided security for the president. Both the Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were inspired by the Pinkertons' organization and crime- fighting methods.

The company's old records have occasionally been used by scholars - and once in the 1940s for a series of 60 articles in True Detective Magazine - but the company's acquisition by three different parent companies since 1982 left historians wondering what had happened to the documents.

Sellers sent a letter asking Pinkerton USA for the collection 10 years ago, but never received a reply, he said.

So he needed no convincing when Jane Adler, hired by Pinkerton to organize the disheveled dossiers, photographs and newspaper clippings, walked into his office in Washington two years ago and offered the collection to the library.

``He said he'd take it sight unseen and he'd send a truck immediately,'' Adler said with a mischievous, English-accented chuckle. ``When I tried to explain to him what we had, he said, `We know what you have,' and waved his arms wildly about.''

Sellers was one of many who would have liked to have snatched a peek inside some of those rotting brown cardboard boxes years ago. Adler said she has upset ``banditry guys'' with the company's refusal to let them examine the records, because the collection has files on a number of famous desperados, including Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch, Jesse James and the lesser known but intriguing Missouri Kid, who wrote to company founder Allan Pinkerton pleading for his life after he shot a company detective in the head.

And battalions of Civil War buffs would fight their own brothers for a chance to hold the official War Department telegraph form with a handwritten cable from Pinkerton, code named ``E.J. Allan.'' Dated April 18, 1865, the anguished message to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton follows the killing of President Abraham Lincoln.

``How I regret that I had not been near him previous to this fatal act. I might have been the means to arrest it,'' the message says.

The archives also have been sought by labor historians doing research on the beginnings of unions in the late 1800s.

Adler found crinkled, yellowed and cracked papers detailing detectives' investigations of the Molly Maguires, a secret group founded by coal miners in Pennsylvania that used terrorist tactics against mine owners until it was infiltrated by the Pinkertons.

The records contain few other references to that most controversial use of the agency's investigative might, however. On the wall of the storage room in Westlake Village are journalists' drawings of a bloodied Pinkerton ``army'' of 300 that made an attempt to stop an 1892 revolt at a steel mill in Homestead, Pa., which was later investigated by Congress.

Pinkerton is now owned by the Swedish security services company Securitas and its services include security guard patrols, commercial security systems, employment screening and investigations.

Company officers and Adler will visit the Library of Congress next week to officially hand over the archives - which span from 1853 to 1937 - in recognition of two anniversaries: The company's 150th and the library's 200th.


2 photos

Photo: (1 -- 2) Items in the Pinkerton Archives include an 1862 photo of company founder Allan Pinkerton with President Lincoln and Civil War Gen. John McClernand, above, and the only known photo, taken in 1901, of Harry Longbaugh, a k a the Sundance Kid, with his girlfriend Etta Place, left. Far left is a Pinkerton wanted poster for Frank and Jesse James.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 24, 2000

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