Frank Geyer arrested Annie McCraken for larceny on May 19, 1880.

Research Trip for Detective Geyer Book

Early in the month of May, I made another research trip to Philadelphia, Washington DC, and surrounding cities and was honored to meet with Detective Geyer’s amazing family. Unlike troubling claims that Geyer’s wife and daughter were tragically killed in a house fire prior to his assignment to the H. H. Holmes case as told in two popular books (Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City and Harold Schechter’s Depraved), Geyer’s wife and daughter lived on and were never involved in a fire to begin with. In fact, the names of Geyer’s wife and daughter were incorrect in those books as well. It is puzzling to Detective Geyer’s family as to why such statements were ever printed.

Most of my research time was spent at the City of Philadelphia Archives. I can’t say enough about their professional and knowledgeable staff! While there, I poured through old police employment roll books and files, criminal records, Rogue’s Police gallery, rare books, and many other valuable documents.

I set aside time to travel to Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington DC. Parking is few and far between so after driving in circles, I found a parking spot an hour walking distance from LOC (good thing the rain stopped). But it was worth it. I combed through Pinkerton Detective Agency files looking for information on the H. H. Holmes case and Pinkerton’s involvement in the investigation prior to the City of Philadelphia assigning Detective Geyer. Some Internet sites identify Detective Geyer as a Pinkerton Detective, which is not correct. Detective Geyer had a long employment history with the City of Philadelphia. Even so, I checked Pinkerton’s employment cards to verify Geyer was not an employee (which he was not) and came across a rare letter from Pinkerton officials who responded in 1940 to a request for information on their involvement in the H. H. Holmes case. In the letter, they describe reviewing their Pinkerton files and documents and very specifically state Geyer was with the City of Philadelphia.


Pinkerton Involvement in HH Holmes Case
Pinkerton Detective Agency officials review their H. H. Holmes case file in 1940, and respond to a request for information from Mr. Dudley. Page 1 of letter. (Source: Library of Congress, Pinkerton Files)
Pinkerton Involvement in HH Holmes Case, page 2
Page 2 of letter.  (Source: Library of Congress Pinkerton Files)


All in all, it was a much needed research trip. I want to give a special shout out to Detective Geyer’s wonderful family for sharing precious photos and memories with me, and especially Geyer’s great great grandson, who drove over twelve hours one way to be there. I also can’t say enough about the City of Philadelphia Archives staff and the Library of Congress personnel. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Detective in the White City: The Real Story of Frank Geyer

on sale November 14, 2017!