Anonymous Letters to the Victorian Detective

I’m beginning to notice a certain similarity between many of the old criminal cases I write about.

In unsolved crimes, the detectives working the case would often receive unsolicited help from the community, in the form of anonymous letters. This happened in Cold Heart, in Has it Come to This?, and in my new book that isn’t out yet (more to come on that soon!)

This is how it would work: A detective would receive an anonymous letter with a tip directing them to a certain person: “Detective, if you want to find the perpetrator of this horrible murder, look into so-and-so.”

Sometimes the writer would claim to know for a fact this person they named committed the murder. In each instance I’ve been able to trace, the police would investigate and inevitably find that the person who was named in the letter had nothing to do with the crime… what they did have was a former friend, lover, spouse, etc. who had a grudge against them and probably enjoyed writing anonymous letters.

That’s pretty wild, isn’t it? What would make a person contact a police detective and suggest, with no evidence, that their acquaintance committed a gruesome murder? I suppose it’s possible some tips were sincere but in general I would guess the letters were motivated by tremendous level of personal animosity. All this comes to mind because recently put the Buffalo Evening News collection online. I looked up Edwin Burdick to see if there was anything new I hadn’t read before. Even if I never update Cold Heart, I’m still interested in any new details about the Burdick murder.

Ed Burdick and Alice


The Buffalo Evening News did cover the crime pretty closely since it was a local murder. I found a small article I hadn’t seen before, which contained two letters received by one of the detectives on the case. Here’s the article with the text of the letters in bold:

“As great storms stir up the mud from the bottom of the harbor, no such a crime as that of the murder of Edwin Burdick brings to the surface all kinds of notions on the part of freaks. The police particularly are favored with all kinds of advice and criticisms with reference to the conduct of the hunt for the murderer. In one letter which Supt. Bull received last week the writer said calmly:

“Supt. Bull:

Pardon me for saying it, but you are a damned fool for looking outside the house for the murderer. Why don’t you look in the place where there is some motive for Burdick’s death,” etc. The writer then goes on to point out so-called reasons for suspecting certain persons.

Another correspondent wrote:

“Supt. Bull:

Why don’t you consult a person who can tell you who killed Burdick? I can tell you such a woman. Her name is Finekunz and she lives in Cleveland, Mark Hanna consults her on all his undertakings and so does Congressman Scott. She is no clairvoyant and she is no medium. She is the seventh daughter of a seventh son. Go and see her and know something.”

This doesn’t change my opinion about the case, but the first writer made a great point. There was no one outside of the house–or intimately connected with someone living in the house–with a motive to kill Ed. I suspect this letter was written because the newspapers ran with the idea that police were sure the murderer was a robber, who just happened to break in to the Burdick home, commit a brutal murder, and melted into the darkness. That seems silly. The crime was very obviously a personal one.

Here’s one other anonymous tip from the Burdick murder that did make it into Cold Heart. It’s a totally different kind of tip, but isn’t it fascinating that anyone would actually sit down and write this letter and afterwards mail it to a police detective?

You want to know who killed Burdick? I did it! Burdick was lying on his couch when I struck him. He only let one groan out of him. It was about time that such a man was put out of the way! Goodbye till we never meet again.