Diamond Dick Fan Outwits Burglar
A cold Chicago evening, three days after Christmas, 1908. Sixteen year old Albert Beck, a messenger for the A. D. T. Company, slipped between the cold sheets of his bed. His mother snored softly in the next room of the apartment. Outside, a bone-frosting wind blew off Lake Michigan, rattling the panes in Beck’s window. A long day behind him, another ahead — Albert hoped for a quiet night.
He fell asleep.
Unfortunately, he was not to enjoy the uninterrupted sleep that nature often grants a tired teenager. At 2:00 A.M., Albert woke to an unusual sound. He heard stealthy steps as a large man moved in his bedroom. “He was about twice as big as I am and a full grown strong man,” said Albert later.
The intruder spotted the boy in the bed. He walked over and stared down. Albert feigned sleep. Satisfied, the burglar began searching the bedroom for valuables.
Albert lay in bed, considering his options. “I thought I would have a hard time taking him red-handed and single-handed without any gun or knife…He was probably armed to the teeth, and would put up a desperate battle.”
What to do?
Fortunately, Albert was an avid reader of the Diamond Dick Weekly, a detective series that ran from from 1896 to 1911. For as long as Albert had been able to read, he had followed the adventures of the intrepid Richard Wade (Diamond Dick) and his son Bertie (Diamond Dick, Jr.) as they pursued criminals across the American West. Obviously, if Albert were to thwart the intruder, he would need to rely on his wits, following the example of Diamond Dick.
Albert settled on a ruse. Dropping his voice as low as he could manage, he broke the silence: “Aha, you’ve got into the wrong place this time,” he barked. “It’s all up with you. I’m a police officer and I’ve got you where I want you. Don’t you move or you’re a dead one.”
The boy clambered out of bed, simulating the sound a large policeman would make as he emerged from concealment. The burglar froze in the bedroom, his back to the boy.”
“Hands up there,” said Albert. “Hands up and don’t move a muscle or I will fill you with lead.”
As Albert later explained, he pointed his thumb and finger at the burglar. The room was so dark that the thief was deceived. He raised his hands.
The only problem, Albert thought, was keeping the deception going. Should the burglar realize that Albert was unarmed, the boy would be helpless. He decided to heighten the thief’s uncertainty by introducing a partner. “Cap,” called Albert, raising his voice as if speaking to someone in the next room, “Hand me that forty-four Colt and that pair of handcuffs and jump into your clothes. We’ve got a little job here to look after.”
The burglar flinched. You could almost hear the sweat dripping down his spine.
Although the trick was unfolding splendidly, Albert worried that his mother would awaken and shatter the deception. “I was afraid that she would scream and butt in,” he explained later.
Speed was essential. “Now you, Mr. Burglar,” said Albert. “You turn around to the wall and keep your hands up till I dress.”
The burglar complied. He faced the wall, hands shaking as he held them aloft. Albert skinned into trousers and a shirt. “Now, Mr. Burglar,” he growled with vocal cords badly strained by the charade, “we’re going to the station now and it all depends on your actions whether you get there alive or so dead your mother wouldn’t know you.”
The pair passed through the apartment, the burglar in the lead. He pushed open the front door, and they descended the stairs. Albert grabbed a wooden stave from a broken barrel as they emerged on the street. “Don’t shoot him, Cap,” he said. “I’ve got my billy [club] now and that’s generally all I need. March on, Mr. Burglar.”
The improbably trio — the housebreaker, a sixteen year old boy, and the invisible Cap — walked down the street. Albert planned to convey his prisoner to the Twenty-Second Street Police Station, but within a block, they met a real police officer who took charge of the burglar.
George Wall, the burglar, was stunned when he realized that he had been gulled by an unarmed teenager. He continued to believe that a burly police officer had captured him, an illusion that was not dispelled until he saw his captor under the electric lights of the police station. He had been completely fooled.
Wall was sentenced to a six month jail term. Albert Beck had his story printed on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. His elders predicted a bright future for the young man, who had managed to convert his study of Diamond Dick into a brilliant capture.
Source: Chicago Tribune, Feb. 3, 1909.
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