In 1856, a slender brown-haired woman by the name of Kate Warne walked into Allan Pinkerton’s detective office and requested a job as the first female detective. Little is known about her past other than she professed herself as a young widow without children and born in New York, circa 1833. She convinced him of her potential effectiveness as a woman investigator and obtained the job. Kate, or “Kitty” as Allan Pinkerton called her, told him a woman detective could infiltrate places where men detectives could not go. She could use her feminine wiles with other men, influencing them to divulge information they otherwise wouldn’t tell a male stranger. As with other females, she could quickly gain their empathy and trust, thus obtaining the information she desired. She did not mind wearing various disguises, changing her accent to a wealthy Southern belle, or portraying assorted levels of social status, including a Union soldier and fortune-teller. A corporate legend in the Pinkerton Agency said nobody knew her real name because she used twelve different aliases. Sometimes she and Allan Pinkerton would pose as husband and wife, which later led to speculation she and Allan Pinkerton were lovers, although Pinkerton had a spouse, Joan, and two small sons.
Warne gained an early successful reputation as the first female detective in America who solved a case, in Montgomery, Alabama. It involved an express company employee by the name of Nathan Maroney, who stole $40,000 from the Adam Express Company of Montgomery Alabama. The express company hired the Pinkerton agency and Kate Warne, disguised as a wealthy businessman’s wife, arrived in Montgomery along with three other disguised detectives. Soon after arriving, Warne gained an introduction to Maroney’s wife. Then shortly thereafter Mrs. Maroney confided in Kate and said her husband increased his wealth by forging documents. Quickly, Kate Warne and her co-workers tricked both Nathan Maroney and his wife. They used phony amorous letters, a fictitious lawyer, and a fake cellmate that convicted both Maroney and his wife, with Kate Warne helping to retrieve most of the $40,000.
Kate Warne’s historical claim to fame started with the Great Baltimore Conspiracy of 1860-61. Abraham Lincoln became the President of the United States in November 1860 and wouldn’t take office until March 1861. During the four months before Lincoln assumed office, the Pinkerton Detective Agency had as their clients several major railroads. Shortly after Lincoln’s election, stories started filtering back to the Pinkerton Detective Agency in Chicago. These rumors purported Lincoln’s assassination at some point on his train ride from Springfield, Illinois, commencing on February 11, 1861, and before arriving at Washington City (now called Washington D. C.). To make matters more difficult to control, at that time, there were no Secret Service or military escorts for the President. In addition, Lincoln sought to travel 1,900 miles to reach Washington City while doing whistle stops along the way in 11 major cities. Allan Pinkerton saw this as a security “nightmare.”
In early February 1861, Allan Pinkerton sent Kate Warne incognito to portray a young, wealthy Southern belle who lodged at the Barnum Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. There she infiltrated the Baltimore high society and the fifth columnists of the Secession movement. Warne used her feminine charm and high fake social status to gather accurate information from both female and male conspirators. While in Philadelphia, she received definitive information of Lincoln’s assassination threat when his train stopped in Baltimore to change trains to Washington. Lincoln would have to leave one station, board a carriage and travel to another train station. During this time, he would be subject to assassination at the Calvert Street train depot when crowds would surround him. A phony fight would draw away the Baltimore police protecting Lincoln, and thereafter a mob would give the assassins the cover to murder Lincoln. Numerous men had drawn lots to kill Lincoln, yet not one of them realized they drew the same lots, thus increasing Lincoln’s chance of assassination.
Kate devised a plan to purchase four tickets on a clandestine train with sleeping berths on the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad. She told the ticket agent she wanted them together to help transport her invalid brother and immediate family. She and Allan Pinkerton convinced Lincoln to take a different secret train to Baltimore. Before leaving Philadelphia at 11 p. m., Allan Pinkerton had his men clear the tracks and cut the telegraph wires between Philadelphia and Baltimore while strategically placing Pinkerton men along train trestles, bridges, and sharp curves of the route. His men would give coded lantern signals in the night to indicate the tracks were clear, and no saboteurs were present, which enabled Lincoln’s train to reach Baltimore at maximum speed.
Allan Pinkerton, Kate Warne, and Ward Lamon, Lincoln’s former law partner, and a sizable bodyguard carried knives, brass knuckles, and pistols. The train arrived at the President Street Station of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad at approximately 3:30 a. m. From this station, horses pulled Lincoln’s car to the Camden Street Station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (a Baltimore ordinance prevented any steam train travel through the city at night). From there they left for Washington City in total darkness. Once they safely reached Washington City on February 23, 1861, their ordeal did not stop. Four people in disguise (including Lincoln) disembarked, and a lone man stepped out from behind a column. Warne and Pinkerton drew their weapons fearing the worst. Quickly, Lincoln explained that Representative Elihu B. Washburne from Illinois and a political supporter of Lincoln could not harm him.
Kate Warne and the Allan Pinkerton Detective Agency formed the beginnings of the U. S. Secret Service, thus making her their first unofficial female Secret Service officer to guard the President of the United States.
The Pinkerton Company lore said that Allan Pinkerton never saw Kate Warne sleep the entire time she guarded President Lincoln on his trip to Washington City. He got the idea from her for the company motto “We Never Sleep,” with an open eye for his business logo.
Shortly after the defeat of the Federal Army at the Battle of First Bull Run, Allan Pinkerton and Kate Warne were appointed to start the first official Secret Service for General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. Once again, Kate Warne portrayed a wealthy Southern belle and infiltrated the Confederate spy network. She would occasionally dress in male clothes while in the Union camp to keep her identity unknown. Both she and Allan Pinkerton were to observe traitorous Union officers and stop prominent members of Washington City society from spying on the Federal Army. Their top challenge required following and observing the most influential woman in Washington City the infamous Confederate spy “Wild Rose” Greenhow.
Allan Pinkerton, by stealth, obtained the code book of Rose Greenhow and had Kate Warne learn the Confederate code and duplicated Rose Greenhow’s handwriting after Rose’s imprisonment. Shortly thereafter Kate Warne and Allan Pinkerton composed phony cipher-coded messages and had them sent by double agents to the South.
After the Civil War Kate Warne became the superintendent of the expanded female detective branch of the Pinkerton Agency. She successfully used female detectives to arrest major criminals, traitorous spies, and murderers, thus showing the effectiveness of women detective agents. Kate’s advanced detective skills propelled her gender as the first lady detective in the United States. Not until 1903 that a woman became a detective on a major police force.
Kate Warne died a few years after the end of the Civil War, passing away at the age of thirty-five from complications of pneumonia on January 28, 1868. Shortly after Kate Warne’s death, Allan Pinkerton buried her in his family plot, leaving historians wondering if she was Allan Pinkerton’s mistress. However, this question may never be answered.