Blackmail by Carrier Pigeon: 1903, 1910

pigeon blackmail


Blackmail by carrier pigeon is the very latest novelty in Paris.

On Sunday night during the past summer a tradesman received an anonymous letter, the writer of which desired that he would disclose certain secrets of the tradesman unless he received 4000 francs to be sent by carrier pigeon.

“On Tuesday morning,” he was told, “four carrier pigeons will be sent to you. Each bird carries under its wing a little case, in which you will place a 1000-franc note. You will then set the pigeons free, and if they do not return to me by midday I shall know what to do.”
The pigeons arrived from four different railway stations in Paris on Tuesday morning, as stated. The tradesman handed them over to the police, who set them free, weighting them lightly enough to allow them to fly, but heavily enough to make them fly slowly. They followed on bicycles in the hope that they thus might betray the blackmailer into the hands of justice, but he had also flown when the police arrived.

Los Angeles [CA] Herald 2 January 1910: p. 31

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One wonders what kind of secrets the blackmailer had to report about the tradesman, but perhaps even the most upright tradesman has a skeleton or two in the cupboard. Mrs Daffodil is reminded of the joke about a man who sent twelve of his most respectable friends an anonymous telegram reading: “Fly at once! All is discovered!” All twelve disappeared and were never seen again.

One young Frenchwoman found herself the victim of pigeon-blackmail with some very high stakes:

Blackmail by Aid of Homing Pigeon.

Latest French Style in Crime Beggared an Heiress and Didn’t Help the Blackmailer.

Paris, Feb. 6. The latest thing in crime is blackmail by carrier pigeon. The police do not know how many rich persons have fallen victims to it and are completely puzzled by the case of the one victim who has reported her loss. She is, or was. Mlle. Lucile de Beaupre of Rouen. The attempt at blackmail has cost her her whole fortune of 500,000 francs ($100,000) and has not enriched the blackmailers.

Mlle, de Beaupre was to inherit the amount from her grandfather when she became 25 years of age. Under the will, the money was to go to another branch of the family should the girl marry before that age. During a visit to Paris she fell in love with a lieutenant named I.ebrun. Being ordered to Algiers, he persuaded her into a secret marriage.

Two days after she returned home, believing her secret save in the keeping of only her husband and herself, she received a large package. Supposing it was from Lebrun, she opened it in her room. It contained a live pigeon. Having heard from I.ebrun something of the use of these birds and still believing he had sent it, she searched the pigeon and was horrified to find, neatly rolled in a quill under one wing, the following message: “To Mme. Lebrun, formerly Mile. Lucile de Beaupre; I am aware of  your recent marriage and I happen also to know the sum of money you will forfeit if the matter becomes generally known. If you value my secrecy and have confidence in my discretion, the fact shall go no further. As a testimony from you that you have such confidence, I suggest that you place within the quill which contained this letter, two 1000-franc notes. Having done that, I shall expect you to liberate the bird within the next 12 hours.”

The note bore no signature and was not even in handwriting, being composed of letters cut from some printed matter and carefully pasted on. Unable to get 2000 francs ($400) without her parents’ knowledge, the girl consulted the priest who had been her confessor from childhood. He persuaded her to confess the whole affair to her parents. They were highly enraged and Papa de Beaupre declared the money must be raised and remitted per pigeon at all hazards. The priest with difficulty induced the irate parent to call in the police and give up all hope of getting the 500,000 franc legacy in the family.

The Spokane [WA] Press 6 February 1903: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil has a nasty, suspicious mind.  She would suggest that the blackmailer was Lieutenant Lebrun himself–young Lucile would have recognised his hand-writing, hence the pasted letters–who found himself in financial embarrassment and knew that his new wife had a lucrative secret that her family would pay to keep hidden.

Strangely, the pigeon-blackmail method was not a short-lived fad.  As late as the 1930s and 1940s, blackmailers were still trying to collect via pigeon, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “flying squad.”


German police have successfully employed an airplane to foil a blackmail plot, although the criminal was ingenious enough to use a carrier pigeon in his operations. A Hamburg resident received a package containing the pigeon and a letter, instructing him to attach notes amounting to 5,000 marks to its neck and release it. Two pilots in an airplane trailed the pigeon and photographed from the air the dove cote in a suburb on which it alighted. Confronted with this evidence, the criminal confessed.

Popular Mechanics December, 1929  

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.



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