Flying Police Outwit Crooks of the Air (Aug, 1933)
I story about the criminal of using a homing pigeon to get extortion money. The victims were supposed to attach the money to the pigeon and let it fly away. The cops painted it orange and then followed it by plane. Poor little orange pigeon.
Flying Police Outwit Crooks of the Air
HURLED into the pounding surf, a thousand yards from shore, seven members of the crew of the navy blimp, J-3, were righting for their lives. It was the morning after the loss of the U. S. Navy dirigible Akron. This second tragedy had occurred as the blimp returned to Beach Haven, N. J., after an unsuccessful search for survivors. A forty-five-mile an hour gale had caught the lighter-than-air craft, driven it out to sea, and sent it crashing into the water with ripped bag and disabled engine.
Spectators crowded the shore. They knew the men would be smothered by the gale-lashed waters long before a boat could reach them. Suddenly, overhead there was the high whine of an aerial motor. A silver-winged amphibian was scudding under the low, black clouds, heading for the wreck. It swooped, landed like a seagull on the tossing ridges of water, and the two occupants began dragging the floundering men to safety within the craft’s cockpit.
One, two, three, members of the crew were hauled onto the slippery hull of the amphibian. Spray was drenching the motor. Three of its five cylinders went dead. A fourth swimmer was pulled on board, then a fifth. The two others had disappeared beneath the waves, a fate which would have overtaken all seven but for the quick action of the flying lifeboat. As it worked its way to shore and slid up on the beach, the cheering spectators saw painted on the side of its drenched hull the word: POLICE.
In this dramatic fashion, a few weeks ago. Pilots Otto Kafka and John W. Forsythe, of the New York City Police Aviation Service, focused attention upon the work of the flying patrolmen. In a dozen American cities, the police have added wings to their crime-fighting equipment. Aerial cops are patrolling regular beats, trailing kidnapers, fighting gangsters of the sky. All over the country, flying law officers recently have been active in their pursuit of criminals.
A few days ago, they swung into action near Laredo, Texas, in a thrilling, 150-mile race which ended in the capture of an outlaw plane. Two crack members of the U. S. Border Patrol were cruising at 5,000 feet over the Mexican line when they saw a plane below them streak across the Rio Grande and head north with engine wide open.
They dove their ship and signaled the plane to land. The only answer was an added burst of speed. For more than a hundred miles, the two planes battled nip and tuck before the patrol ship nosed abreast. This time the law officers signaled the fugitive to land with the muzzle of a machine gun. He landed. A search of his ship revealed that it was laden with narcotics. The pilot was a World War ace who had fallen upon evil days and had succumbed to the lure of easy money offered by a dope-running syndicate.
Equally spectacular are a score of other encounters aloft.
Take the experience of the air police at Long Beach, Calif., not long ago. High over the surf, one of their planes battled a speedy gangland craft which attempted to force it down with machine-gun fire! The fast monoplane of the outlaws had made a daring landing at Vail Field with two Chinese it had flown across the border from Mexico. Dropping the aliens at the far end of the field, it had roared into the air again before anyone could stop it.
A police plane took up the chase. In a flash, the flying gunmen turned and bore down on their pursuer with bullets streaking from a machine gun. Diving and twisting the two planes engaged in a dogfight rivaling the air battles of the Western Front. Finally, the monoplane dived into a bank of pea-soup fog, rolling in from the sea, and disappeared.
Near Monrovia, Calif., law officers took to the air in a chase of an entirely different kind. This time, they were trailing, not a plane, but a fleet-winged carrier pigeon.
Extortionists had demanded $10,000 from a wealthy citizen. He was instructed to release a pigeon, which had been sent him, with ten one-thousand-dollar bills tied to its back. He notified the police, who released the bird and followed it with two fast planes. They traced it to the loft of a well-known pigeon fancier. He reported that he had sold the bird, a short time previously, to two strangers whom he later identified at the rogues’ gallery as ex-convicts. A police alarm was broadcast for the men. They were arrested in a shack on the edge of town, still waiting for the pigeon to bring them the money. They had miscalculated the time necessary for the bird to become accustomed to its new home. Instead of coming to the shack, it had returned to the loft where it had been bred.
In a similar manner, another extortionist was trapped in New York City. In this instance, to aid the flying cops, the pigeon was painted bright orange!
The bird had been sent to a Brooklyn judge with a note demanding $2,500 for the return of his missing son. The jurist showed the pigeon to Air Patrolman Otto Kafka and a fellow pilot.
“Can you follow it?: he asked.
They examined the bird. It was gray-blue in color. The pilots saw it would be almost impossible to keep it in sight against the gray background of city buildings.
“We can, if we can paint it orange,” they told him.
It was done. Then the bird was released from a high building over which the two police pilots were cruising. Twice the painted pigeon circled in the air and then it headed due east with the flying cops close behind.
At Jamaica, L. I., it fluttered down to the roof of an apartment building. The owner said he had rented a dovecot on the roof to a man who came every day to care for his pigeons. When the man turned up, later in the day, he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary for attempted extortion.
This brilliant bit of aerial strategy was reported in papers around the world and soon afterwards it was duplicated at Bochum, Germany, and in Argentina. In both places, the air police were able to shadow colored pigeons and solve extortion plots.
In New York City, the air unit of the police comprises four planes and fourteen men. During the three years of its existence, this unit has flown daily patrols which have rid New York of air accidents and stunting over the city. In addition, a number of rescues in the East River and on the bay have been credited to the aerial patrolmen. In New Jersey, the state police have used aircraft to search for escaping criminals, to plot territory in establishing police dragnets, and to transport officials, witnesses, and anti-toxins in emergencies.
DURING a parade in New York City, last year, the blimp, Resolute, floated for five hours 2,000 feet above the marchers to enable police officials to direct traffic below. Following the course of the parade with field glasses, they radioed instructions for straightening out snarls in traffic to special receiving stations set up along the line of march. Ten radio cars and as many motorcycle cops were standing by to carry out the orders.
When the recent earthquake struck Long Beach, Calif., telephone service was interrupted and wild rumors of fire, tidal waves, and terrible destruction ran rapidly over the city. Jimmy James, police pilot of a two-way radio-equipped ship, flew over the stricken territory and gave police the only authentic information they had during the first hour and a half or more. James was constantly in touch with headquarters and reported the conditions, vastly aiding in rushing emergency supplies.
Attached to the aerial police at Los Angeles, is a volunteer aero squadron made up of special deputy sheriffs subject to call in emergencies. All hold transport, military, or naval licenses and wear distinctive badges and carry special insignia on their ships. Among the members of this squadron are: Ross Hadley, round-the-world flyer, Charles M. James, Superintendent of Western Air Express, and Howard Hughes, well-known moving picture producer.
IN ADDITION, there is a Federal Emergency Detachment, acting in an advisory and cooperating capacity with the air police. Membership comprises commanding officers of army, navy, and national guard units. Nowhere else in the world, the police say, are the military and police forces of the air so organized for cooperative purposes. Some 2,000 flyers and 650 planes are thus placed on call for use in an emergency.
Other cities, Philadelphia, Pa., Chicago, Ill., Denver, Colo., are giving special attention to building up air police units and several states, notably New Jersey and California, are equipping state troopers with planes. In the far north, red-coated officers of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police are using wings to get their men.
Transporting prisoners to trial or to the penitentiary is another job which sometimes falls to the lot of the flying patrolman. One of the first instances of the kind occurred in New York where a murderer, condemned to the electric chair, was flown to Sing Sing. He protested violently that flying to the prison.
Not long ago, a suspect in a California murder case was seen boarding a train bound east. In order to interrogate him before he crossed the state line, police raced by plane after the train, stopped it, and examined the suspect.
An army plane equipped with machine guns is used to guard the payroll of government employees at Wright Field, Dayton, O. The truck which transports the money from a Dayton bank, accompanied by an armored car and an open machine carrying crack-shots, has a yellow insignia painted on its top. This distinguishes it so the pilot can hover overhead during the trip to the field, ready for an emergency.
PROBABLY the hottest sector in the battle between the air police and flying gangsters is along the Rio Grande on the Mexican border. One underworld ring, charging a thousand dollars a head for smuggling aliens into California, is said to own a dozen high-powered transport planes.
Although government agents work extensively from tips obtained from the underworld, the aerial police sometimes spot a smuggler’s plane by the way it flies.
In this way, four U. S. Border Patrol pilots, Clem Hensler, Jack Tulley, Roy Wall, and Buddy LeVine, recently spotted a big cabin plane south of Los Angeles. Noting it was flying with an unusually heavy load, they cruised after it, ordered it down and found it carried a cargo of aliens. The pilot was arrested and the ship was confiscated.
A recent addition to the aerial army fighting smugglers is a fleet of five huge flying boats in which crack Coast Guard pilots patrol the Atlantic seaboard, with stations at Gloucester, Mass., Cape May, N. J. and Miami, Fla. Each of the blue and silver planes carries two 420-horsepower Wasp motors and is equipped with special apparatus for saving lives at sea. In addition to first-aid and fire-fighting equipment, they carry rubber lifeboats which can be inflated quickly with carbon-dioxide and will support six men.
On a number of occasions, these aerial cutters of the coast patrol have picked up fishermen blown out to sea and have taken sailors, dangerously ill, from vessels and transported them to hospitals on shore. Their oddest job so far has been seeing how high in the air they could gather pollen sporesâ€”for the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
Another new craft which offers great possibilities in crime-fighting from the sky is the autogiro. With its ability to hover over one spot and to descend vertically, it has advantages over ordinary planes in trailing and attacking criminals. This was demonstrated in a dramatic way in Pennsylvania, a few weeks ago.
NEAR Philadelphia a crack shot of the Pennsylvania police took off in a flying windmill. On the field below, a “bandit car” was sent racing over the ground with nobody in it. The autogiro pilot swooped down on the car and the police officer riddled it with machine gun fire. Of seventy-seven bullets fired, thirty-five struck the car and stopped it by tearing through the gasoline tank.
One important part of the work of the aerial patrol is outwitting the strategems of criminals who take to the air. New tricks are constantly being tried. Recently, for example, a plane landed with an innocent-looking cash register which the pilot said he had ferried from another town for a friend. Unfortunately he slapped down in a hard landing and the drawer of the cash register popped open, revealing inside a dozen packages of opium, smuggled over the line from Canada.