Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Kate Warne: First Female Detective

The Baltimore Plot

Kate used a Southern drawl, a false name, and the hoop skirts of a wealthy lady to create a good impression on the Baltimore elite. She hoped to exploit the way men saw her as a fragile member of the weaker sex to deflect their attention from her actual goal. If they thought she didn't understand them, they might speak freely. In fact, she might even get one or two to brag a little. She was quick to assess a situation, savvy about men, and had a flair for adventure. Thus, she was fearless as she posed in disguise, played a role, and learned the best sources of information available, in whatever environment she happened to be.

No matter where her boss sent her, she strove to do her best, but she was also determined to exercise her penchant for drama. If not for her, it might have taken women much longer to make inroads into the field of law enforcement. Even with her example it was a slow process, but according to at least one version of the story, Kate Warne was the first to boldly make the move, and within five years of her unique employment with Allan Pinkerton's equally unique agency, among her assignments was the protection of the president-elect of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Allan Pinkerton
Allan Pinkerton

It was the end of winter in 1861. Eleven of the southern states, where slavery was the norm, had seceded once it had become clear that Lincoln would be the sixteenth U.S. president. He'd recently made a speech that a house divided against itself cannot stand, a veiled intimation that for America, slavery was on its way out. He most certainly had enemies deadly ones.

President Elect Lincoln
President Elect Lincoln

As Lincoln prepared to enter Washington, D.C., for his inauguration, he planned several stops along the way. Since railroad companies offered executive cars for his use, his circuitous route was hardly a secret. If someone wanted to make an attempt on his life, there was plenty of time for planning it. Thus, with no Secret Service organization established as yet, Pinkerton's private security firm had been called to scout around, and they were quick to spot trouble.

On February 22, Lincoln had made a speech in Harrisburg, PA, and was preparing to go by train through Baltimore to the nation's capital. He planned to spend the night in Maryland, but for him, something ominous loomed. Kate Warne was among those who had learned about the risk and helped to devise a plan.

Book Cover: Allan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye
Book Cover: Allan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye

But how did this young woman come to play a significant role in such a historic event? To understand that, we must learn more about Kate. What we do know comes from Pinkerton's reminiscences and letters, presented in biographies such as James Mackay's Allan Pinkerton: The First Private Eye, Pinkerton's own books, and a few articles devoted to gathering information specific to Kate.

Let's go back to the beginning. How did Katherine "Kate" Warne become a Pinkerton PI?


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