A Subtle Clue in the Personnel Records

I find the most wonderful things when I’m looking for something else.

Today I was looking for information about anonymous letters in criminal cases for my upcoming book, Has It Come to This? Google sent me to a completely unrelated but very interesting piece about the DC Metropolitan police on Archive.org by John P. Deeben. I’ll include a link to the full article at the end of this post, if you’d like to read it.

One anecdote in the article was so delightful though, I have to tell you about it.

Imagine it’s 1888, and you work at the DC Metropolitan Police Force. You are in charge of hiring, and this handwritten application by a man called Frederick Voelbel lands on your desk.

Voelbel was undeniably an attractive candidate. He was a veteran. He was born in Germany but had become a naturalized citizen. He had connections in the district. He had a blameless record–at least, he had never been indicted–and he had a letter of recommendation from a U.S. Marshal. Best of all, he was not subject to rheumatism, epileptic fits, nor “the piles,” aka hemorrhoids. Sounds pretty good, right?

Before extending an offer, though, you might want to consider a subtle clue or two in his application. The accompanying paperwork Mr. Voelbel submitted showed he had served in the military under an assumed name, for reasons that weren’t clear. He implied that he moved somewhat frequently, which might be seen as a sign of instability. He had no applicable experience. Also, the last time he drank intoxicating liquor was that morning, before he submitted his application.

So, how would you advise the Metropolitan police: hire Mr. Voelbel or no?

Imagine if a modern company asked these questions on their employment application


The D.C. Metropolitan Police knew a good thing when they saw it: Voelbel was hired.

With a profile like this, we can take it for granted that Voelbel was a brilliant success. And he seemed to be, at least until late January 1892. While on duty and presumably in uniform, Patrolman Voelbel disappeared inside a liquor store for about 10 minutes and had a few relaxing drinks.

Inexplicably, the Metropolitan Police frowned upon this, and when the disciplinary board met a couple of weeks later, they decided to terminate Voelbel. The patrolman, however, sensed things were not going to go his way, and decided to quit before he could be fired.

So all’s well that ends well!

The article has lots of interesting info in it, if you’re interested in learning more. The Records of the D.C. Metropolitan Police, 1861–1930 by John P. Deeben.