THE JEWEL DETECTIVE.
Workings of a Secret System by Which American Importers of Precious Stones Keep Tab Upon Tourists Abroad and Hold Up the Hands of the Government in the Suppression of Smuggling.
She was a handsome, middle aged woman of evident taste and refinement and that decided something of air and manner which inevitably indicates the wealthy American to the calculating eye of the European shopkeeper, A glimpse of her as she moved slowly down the jewelry section of the Rue de la Paix, in company with her slender, fresh faced daughter, was enough to start a flutter behind each glittering store front.
Suave, frock coated proprietors, smiling, buxom proprietresses along that famous street beyond Cook’s watched her eagerly, sometimes even going so far as to murmur a respectful invitation from the doorway as she paused a moment before some wondrous display. To them she was the legitimate summer prey, one in the annual flight of the gold laden from the Golden Republic across the seas. For such they were accustomed to spread, their nets and prepare their lures.
“Will Madame be pleased to enter? Madame is not obliged to purchase.”
But Madame gave no answer, intent singly upon the windows and pursuing her way like one who knows her own mind, until she stopped before a certain shop near the end of the row”.
“This is the place,” she announced.
“Yes,” nodded her daughter. “We saw it here, and you remember he asked a hundred francs less than the woman in the Piaza Spagna, in Rome, wanted for hers, which was ten stones shorter and awfully skimpy. Oh, mother, I do hope he hasn’t sold it!”
They entered, to the despair of neighboring rival dealers and the delight of the one. A question brought relief, for “it” had not been sold, and the proprietor, shrewd, named the former price to a centime.
“It” was revealed as a shimmery, resplendent necklace of pearls and diamonds, and the two women presently embarked upon the operation, dear to the feminine soul, of allowing a clever salesman to sell to them something they already had decided to buy.
While they were engaged in examining the gorgeous rope of jewels, comparing it with other inferior pieces laid out for background, listening to the soothing patter of the proprietor and prolonging the negotiation in divers pleasant ways, a man sauntered in from the street.
He was dressed in respectable but unobtrusive style. A casual observer would have set him down indiscriminately as a German, a Hungarian or a Continent travelled Englishman of moderate means and would have forgotten him the next moment. The one definite note in his appearance was the absence of any. He was eminently ordinary, retiring and colorless–except as to his eyes. A close observer might have dwelt upon those eyes, which were habitually lowered. They were small, clear and sharp as flashes from polished steel. The face in repose was commonplace behind its trim Van Dyke. With the eyes open and at work it was wonderfully alert, nervous and ferretlike.
Making the Bargain.
The assistant in the shop left the fascinating game in progress with a sigh of regret and came forward to attend the new customer. It appeared that he desired a watch charm, something novel and not too expensive. The assistant produced a tray of trinkets and the stranger took a seat at the further end of the counter, where he began a deliberate and silent selection. The assistant, scenting a long sale and a small one, gave to him only perfunctory attention, absorbed in the masterly tactics of the proprietor.
“No, Madame, I could not make it less than forty thousand francs. But remark the saving. I can give you a bill of sale for half the amount, which, at sixty per cent. will mean a payment of only twenty-four hundred dollars in duty. Thus the necklace will cost you a trifle more than ten thousand dollars, and you could not duplicate it in your country for fifteen–no, not for twenty. But Madame, attention! I have something else here. Observe this magnificent pendant. As an inducement I will add this for two thousand francs, which is absolutely worth ten.”
And so it went. The women compared, discussed, bargained in a well bred, distinguished manner; the proprietor plied his trade; the assistant watched breathlessly and the odd customer attended strictly his search for a three franc watch charm that suited him. None of the others considered him for a moment; a state of affairs with which he was quite content. He remained in the shop until the women had completed their purchases, when he finally chose a trifle and departed as inconspicuously as he had come.
The women had not recognized the stranger, and they would have been properly astonished had they known the amount of miscellaneous Information he possessed concerning them. It would have been a distinct shock to them had they learned that this same quiet person had been at their elbows, through half of Europe; that he had followed them into jewelry stores in Rome, Genoa, Interlaken, Vienna, Innsbruck and Berlin; that he was familiar with every chapter in their hunt for a stunning necklace at a bargain; that he was aware of the date on which they were booked to leave for home and the name of the steamship.
They would have been somewhat uneasy could they have guessed that after leaving the Rue de la Paix the mysterious nondescript hied himself to the private office of the special agent of the United States Treasury department resident in Paris, with whom he left a memorandum embodying all the essential facts concerning the transaction of the day.
Two weeks later the handsome, middle aged American woman and her daughter, after signing declarations for the revenue officers to the effect that they were bringing nothing dutiable, landed upon a Hoboken pier. A search of their baggage revealed nothing of special interest to the officers, but they were not permitted to leave with other fellow passengers in like case. Inspectresses took charge of them, and in spite of protests they were subjected to a search. The result was humiliating and disastrous, for the necklace was discovered, together with lace and other valuables worth some $25,000. In addition to confiscation of the property they were compelled to pay a heavy fine, besides enduring arrest, unwelcome notoriety and court hearings.
When the affair with its attendant lessons for such an attempt to defraud the government of its legal dues had passed, the two women, mortified and shamed, remained in ignorance of the method by which customs officials had so unerringly detected them for smugglers among the hundreds of first class passengers. In New York there were, and are, four men who could have told them that method in all its details Those men are the employers of the keen eyed watcher, and no one of them had, or has, the slightest official connection with the government.
The End of the Trail.
A luxurious, mahogany furnished office, at No. 182 Broadway, forms the rendezvous once or twice a week, for the group. They are all serious minded business men and they meet behind the sober sign board of a dignified business concern. While there they transact certain affairs with all the secrecy and precaution of Nihilist plotters. By training and profession they are importers of jewels; by necessity and enterprise they are directors of one of the most remarkable detective systems in the world. They come together to confer in their capacity as officers of the Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association.
From this quiet office, apparently given over solely to the common concerns of commerce, is controlled a band of secret agents which covers the highways and byways of Europe, and in which the man with the ferret eyes is a trusted member. From here issue orders which place every wealthy American tourist in Berlin, Madrid, St. Petersburg, Naples and similar accustomed haunts under an espionage of which he is blissfully unaware. Here are read and discussed reports on the doings of hundreds of men and women who are wont to believe that for three months of the year at least their comings and goings are unnoted.
The “jewel junta” and its employe, the jewel detective, represent a most remarkable private attempt to hold up the hands of the United States government. Smuggling has cost American dealers millions of dollars, but no others have suffered so heavily and so consistently as the dealers in precious stones. Now the importers have entered the game in person and are actively engaged in running down the perpetrators of a species of crime which was threatening their very existence.
Their aim is not to interfere with or to supplant the regular official machinery already in operation for the detection of smugglers. But for years they have seen the government fight a losing fight against disregard for certain laws among a large and growing class of prosperous Americans. The government was pretty well able to take care of the professional smuggler–the man or woman who took up the hazardous occupation of a goods runner and braved the gauntlet of the customs habitually. With the vast increase in foreign, travel during recent years, however, a new and very much more complex element was introduced. What of the well-to-do citizen, or, more especially, the wife and daughters of the well-to-do citizen who could see no wrong in swearing falsely and would adopt any expedient to evade the payments upon articles purchased abroad which the laws of the land declare must be met?
It was through the unprofessional and pre-eminently respectable smuggler that the importers of precious stones began to feel the heaviest losses. They were confronted by promise of a time when every prospective purchaser of gems would save the money against the summer trip abroad, spend it there and bring back the property in defiance of all safeguards. The government, in response to repeated complaints, added to its secret service force abroad and attempted to watch the jewelry firms and other sources of smuggled valuables. But the result was far from satisfactory and the importers themselves finally conceived the idea of lending a hand in aid.
Then was formed the Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association, which undertook to furnish the government with additional information concerning foreign purchases of jewels. The association discovered that there was ample opportunity for its activities, and slowly it built up its present competent system. It now has feelers all over the ground where American tourists annually expend vast sums far from home. It is responsible, though its “junta” and its agents, for scores of arrests each year, and it is making smuggling a much less attractive and profitable occupation for the homecomer who considers himself or herself exempt from the law.
The Eye Always Open.
When you walk down the Rue de Rivoli or Rue de la Paix next time in search of that diamond tiara for your wife, remember that you are being watched as closely, if with less deadly purpose, as you would be should the Parisian police trail you for a desperate criminal. As long as you are in the jewelry district and you bear the outward marks of prosperity, you are an object of intense interest to some lynx-eyed individual who sees in you a possible smuggler.
And you may be sure that if you make a considerable purchase you will be no stranger to the customs men when you land in New York. They will know all about that tiara, and so probably will the members of the “jewel junta” at No. 182 Broadway. If you declare the purchase and pay the legal duty, well and good. Otherwise—look out.
Should you decide to procure your valuable gift in some other of the centres of the jewelry trade, at the marvellous shops of Venice or Florence or Lucerne, you will run an equal chance of surveillance. In the Parisian shopping districts agents are particularly numerous, for here the wandering American is most likely to be tempted by the gorgeous window displays. But the jewel detective is omnipresent.
The detective may be either a man or a woman. In either case you seldom will be made aware that you are being watched. The agents employed are persons whom the “junta” can trust implicitly and who understand their business. Many of them are engaged exclusively in the work of detection. Others work on cases that fall directly under their notice. All, or nearly all, mingle unsuspected with the tourist horde. They may be themselves in the guise of wealthy Americans or they may be natives and residents of Europe. The “junta” needs many sharp eyes and is quite indifferent to the personal tactics of its agents so long as results are produced. Sometimes an agent bungles, but not often.
An excited gentleman rushed into the office of the American Consul General in a European capital one day this summer and demanded explanations, protection, trouble and battle ships all in a breath.
“I’m being followed, I tell you,” he shouted. “I want to know what it all means. Things have come to a pretty pass when a citizen of the United States is dogged all around Europe by a scamp who watches him wherever he goes.”
The Consul calmed him and heard his story. It seemed that the citizen’s wife and daughters had noticed a red-faced man who seemed much interested in their shopping expeditions during their stay in Paris. His interest had not ceased there, for he had turned up again when they made the tour of the stores in Brussels, and again in Budapest he was still at their heels, appearing mysteriously whenever they approached a jewelry shop.
When the Consul understood the situation he smiled. “There is a very simple process by which you can rid yourself of this particular follower,” he said.
“When you catch sight of him next time just shake your finger at him. I’ll go bail he never bothers you again.”
“I can’t expect that to frighten him,” protested the citizen.
“Yes, you can,” returned the consul. “When he seems that he’s been noticed, that you are aware of his espionage, he’ll leave you quick enough.”
“You do you make out he is?”
“You’d have to ask that question of a few estimable gentlemen in New York,” returned the Consul. “Unless I’m much mistaken he is one of the agents of the precious stone importers, and it is very rarely that they pick one so stupid as to allow himself to be discovered. He’s been watching you in expectation of witnessing a purchase of jewels. Let him know that you have noticed him and he will disappear, for his usefulness has ceased so far as you are concerned.”
“Do you think that will end the matter?”
“No,” said the Consul. “Frankly, I don’t. It will end it for him, but some other agent, more circumspect and skilful, is quite likely to be on your case to-morrow.”
“It’s an outrage,” exclaimed the citizen.
“Very likely, from your point of view,” said the Consul, with a shrug. “But you certainly can’t blame the agents and I don’t see how you can blame the importers. The enforcement of the revenue regulations means life or death to them. They are simply rendering efficient aid to Uncle Sam, in their own interest, of course, but incidentally in the interest of law and order.”
Usually the jewel detective works on a roving commission. It is his custom, on reaching a large city, to obtain lists of those who are stopping at the leading hotels. The detective, being versed in his craft, soon winnows out the useless names and finds the available material among the Americans who are likeliest to make considerable purchases. These he watches, and if any are wont to linger in the vicinity of the jewelry stores he is keen on the scent immediately. Probably some one party or individual will attract his particular attention. Observing that Mrs. Blank is intensely interested in the subject of diamond stomachers, and is in the habit of pricing them wherever she goes, he comes naturally to the conclusion that Mrs. Blank is very apt to buy a stomacher before she leaves Europe.
He accordingly attaches himself, unobtrusively, to the company of Mrs. Blank. He may follow her for a month or two months, even longer. Whenever she has any negotiations with a jeweller the detective makes it his business to find out what that negotiation was. When he finds a sale he promptly notifies the Treasury agents, who are hunting for just such information themselves, and the news is transmitted to the port at which Mrs. Blank will land in this country. In New York it is Collector Loeb who ultimately receives all such reports. Then the detective transmits a full account of his efforts to the “jewel junta” and casts about him for fresh opportunities.
The Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association is a country-wide body and seeks to strengthen the barriers against jewel smugglers on all the borders of the United States. Most of its members have their businesses in New York, where ninety percent of the precious stones imported into the country pass in. But the discoveries made by its secret agents have frequently found full fruition far from the metropolis.
A woman jewel detective employed by the “junta” once stumbled upon a large transaction involving a sapphire and diamond necklace. The sale took place in Paris and, as usual, she attempted to discover the steamship by which the wealthy Chicagoan who made the purchase would return to the United States. She watched him during his stay in the French capital, but without learning anything of his plans. He did not visit Cook’s or any of the steamship offices and he was upon the eve of departure by train for the South when she was forced to present her incomplete case to the Treasury agent. A government revenue man was put upon the Chicagoan’s track and followed him to Marseilles, thence by P. and O. steamship to Bombay, then to Colombo, Singapore and Yokohama, where he lost him.
He picked up the trail again where it led aboard a chance tramp to South America, followed, found the scent at Valparaiso, hurried on to Panama, Vera Cruz and Mexico City, and was in time to notify the proper officials on the Mexican frontier when his man started by train for Chicago. The necklace was found neatly sewed inside the Chicagoan’s straw hat and was promptly confiscated.
Their Own Police Bureau.
Thus a case started by a jewel detective is likely to be finished far from the beaten path of travel. Numerous instances of attempted smuggling from Canada have been prevented. The smuggler is traveling chiefly for pleasure, of course, but having heard direful tales of the strict custom supervision in New York he bethinks him that he might just as well return by a roundabout route where the officials are less curious. He does not know, poor man, that the detective “spotted him at the time he made his purchases and that a warm and intimate reception awaits him.
The “junta,” as members of the trade have come to call—or miscall—the executives of the Precious Stone Importers’ Protective Association, is composed of Mr. Ludwig Nissen, president; Mr. Alfred Krower, vice president; Mr. Arthur Henius, treasurer, and Mr. George Whitehead, secretary. These four constitute the association’s directing bureau in its real work, the maintenance of the foreign detective force. They have acquired the subtlety and shrewdness of so many successful police chiefs in the course of their effective co-operation with the government.
Mr. Nissen, the president, has been the formulative force in the association. It is he who keeps the books wherein the names and reports of the various agents are recorded. Those books would make interesting reading if they should ever be opened to inspection. Mr. Nissen has but recently returned from Europe, where he was occupied with the reorganization of the staff.
“We have been subjected to some criticism in certain quarters for our participation in the enforcement of the revenue laws,” said Mr. Nissen a few days ago, “but the fact remains that our efforts cannot possibly annoy any one except actual violators of those laws. The smuggler, private or professional, is a criminal, and we are bound to do all we can to suppress him.
“The spread of smuggling as a general practice among American tourists has reached an alarming extent. It is due, I think, to the American tendency toward lawlessness and has found its readiest growth in the very class where it should have found the least. The prosperous man looks to the laws of his country to protect his property. When such a man takes to breaking laws himself he is undermining the efficiency of the very thing he demands and leans upon. It was to check private smuggling that we entered the field to lend what assistance we could to the government.
“In this I think I can say we are serving not only our own interests and those of the government but those of American merchants at large. If we are able to deter a traveller from spending abroad it means so much more money in this country, not necessarily for the jeweller but for all tradesmen, and hence for artisans and workingmen.”
Smuggling Poor Business.
In regard to smuggled jewels Mr. Nissen made a remarkable point, which was emphatically concurred in by the two other association officers who were with him in his office. He stated flatly that jewel smuggling, even if successful, did not pay in actual dollars and cents.
“I have never seen an article of jewelry purchased abroad and smuggled into this country which could not have been duplicated right here in New York for less than the purchase paid,” he declared. “The foreign dealer invariably charges an American a higher price than the American dealer would, and the article, moreover, is usually inferior. He plies his trade by representing to the tourist that American dealers have to pay sixty per cent duty on all goods and hence have to add that sixty per cent to their sale price.
“That is not so. Unset jewels are imported at but ten per cent duty and rough jewels come in duty free. These are the only kinds that we importers handle. The American dealer consequently fixes his price at the wholesale cost of the stone, plus ten percent duty, plus workmanship and a reasonable profit. The European dealer has the same wholesale and practically the same workmanship items to start with, but he expects a hundred per cent profit from the free handed, credulous tourist.”
Mr. Nissen and his associates were one in declaring that whatever improvement has been brought about recently in the matter of the prevention of jewel smuggling has been due to Collector Loeb, without whom, they said, most of the work of their detective force would be unavailing.
“I cannot emphasize too strongly,” said Mr. Nissen, “that we are under the greatest obligation to the man who is now Collector of the Port of New York. Before he entered the office the association was of slight value in the warfare against smuggling. Frequently in the past we have presented perfectly reliable information concerning private smugglers only to have it set aside or to stand helplessly by while a settlement was effected and the criminal went his way rejoicing.
“Mr. Loeb, on the other hand, has welcomed our co-operation and has acted vigorously and honestly with every case we have called to his attention. As long as he is in office we have a fair chance of putting an end to the pernicious and dangerous practice of smuggling.”
The Fort Wayne [IN] Sentinel 24 September 1910: p. 27
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: When one thinks of the enormous expense involved in hiring a vast network of invisible jewel detectives—their commissions as well as travelling and lodging expenses—one wonders if those millions of dollars of trade and duties lost to smugglers were ever actually recouped. Mrs Daffodil does not like to spoil a thrilling story, but she has a nasty, suspicious mind and suspected that stories like these were designed as more of a deterrent than an actual account of gemological espionage. If ladies thought that every nondescript stranger was surreptitiously noting their purchases, they might be less likely to sew diamond necklaces into their underthings. Mrs Daffodil, who likes to be thorough, has found some evidence, in the form of sworn testimony in hearings on gem tariffs in 1922, that there was, in fact, no such network of lynx-like eyes. At that hearing, Mr Roland G. Monroe, representing the Precious Stones Importers Protective Association, complained of a lack of smuggling convictions, and asked for an appropriation of money so that the Customs department could hire “a special squad of at least six men” to assist with enforcement. While there really was a Precious Stones Importers Protective Association lobbying for lower duties on gemstones, one suspects that any “special squad” of the U.S. Customs Department was not given an unlimited expense account to dog the steps of rich Americans from Paris to Vienna.
Mrs Daffodil has written about smuggling before in “I’m a Smuggler,” and The Widow’s Baby.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.
an excellent tale
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