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A clever girl detective
Betty Cooper turned detective to expose a corrupt private eye in 1920s America
We're heading over the Atlantic for a short tale today. This one dates from 1920, when Miss Betty Cooper of San Francisco saw an advertisement in the local paper. It had been placed by private detective Frank McMullen, who had been advertising for a young woman to help him in his detective business.
However, Frank McMullen was also using his agency as a cover for another, more lucrative, business in blackmail and extortion. As we’ve seen on this substack before, on both sides of the Atlantic, there were some private detectives who used their agencies to commit blackmail, as it could pay off handsomely if done correctly… although this greed more often resulted in ignominy.
The wording of his advert seemed strange to Betty, and so she turned detective herself, aided by the San Francisco police, who she reported the matter to. She arranged a job interview with McMullen at her home; McMullen duly turned up and told Betty that she would be helping him to blackmail wealthy guests at the Hotel St Francis, and also extorting money from the owners of hotels in downtown San Francisco. He offered her a salary of £5 (equivalent) per week, and expenses - plus part of the "big hauls" he was confident he could make. As he was telling Betty this, police detectives burst out of Betty's closet to arrest him.
The Hotel St Francis (now the Westin St Francis): McMullen wanted to blackmail its guests
Betty gave evidence in the subsequent court case, and was clearly unfazed by her experience; in fact, she gave the impression of being an excellent, hard-headed detective. However, the press and police used the case to critique 'young girls' who wanted to have 'romantic professions' such as private detective work - with the police launching a campaign against the glamorous advertising of the profession. Male private detectives such as McMullen were seen as 'preying' on women like Betty; yet the ability of such women to give as good as they got was ignored.
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