The Dangerous Lives of Postal Inspectors

Postal Inspector

Current postal inspector’s badge.

The other day, a commenter to a thread that mentioned a US Postal Service .357 for sale, asked:

Why on Earth would a Postal Inspector be issued a firearm? Am I missing something obvious?

Postal Inspectors are sworn law officers, who make a lot of arrests, we replied, but we couldn’t remember when we’d heard of one having a shootout. Well, Google found us one.

Postal Man In Hot Gun Fight

Chicago Inspector Shoots One Money Order Bandit and Is Wounded Himself

Chicago, April 23. (AP) Evan Jackson, an ace among Chicago postal inspectors, and four men he sought for an $18,000 post office robbery fought with guns in a room at the Hawthorne Arms Hotel early today.

Jackson was shot three times, and may die. Clyde Markin, one of the robbery suspects, was slightly wounded and was captured. A woman companion of the four men, Marion Courtney, leaped from a first floor window and was found, painfully hurt, on the alley pavement below. The other three escaped.

Jackson would have carried a similar badge, and credentials like these (from 1937)

Jackson would have carried a similar badge, and credentials like these (another inspector’s, from 1937)

Jackson had lured the suspects to the hotel with the help of what we’d now call a CI, and lurked in an adjacent room with a stenographer taking notes on the suspects’ conversation, when the suspects began to suspect something and started to walk out on the CI, Morris Stein. Jackson burst into the room and ordered the crooks to give themselves up. They didn’t.

Instead, they drew guns and opened fire.

Jackson, with a reputation in the Postal Service for daring, tossed a pistol to Stein and told him to defend himself. He then opened fire, dropping Mackin before three bullets brought him down.

Later, at the hospital, Jackson dictated a statement to his secretary, to be used in the event of his death. The names of the men who escaped were given by Mackin as Harris Travis, Eddie Courtney, and William Doody.

Stein told police that $1100 worth of money orders stolen in the robbery of a postal sub-station April 4 had been cashed in the account of his wife at a department store. Jackson… enlisted Stein’s aid in trapping the robbers.

Yes, there were Postal Inspector hero movies -- this one with Alan Ladd, and a 1936 "Postal Inspector" with... Bela Lugosi!

Yes, there were Postal Inspector hero movies — this one with Alan Ladd from circa 1957, and a 1936 “Postal Inspector” with… Bela Lugosi!

And some things never change. For one, the best guide to future behavior…

Federal authorities said the three who got away are all former convicts.

You don’t say.

We wonder what became of Johnson — and if he appreciated what a keeper he had in that secretary, who’d follow him through a stakeout, a gunfight, and even to the hospital to take a deathbed statement. We do know he recovered from his wounds, or he’d be listed on the Postal Inspectors’ Memorial Page. There’s quite a long list for an organization focused on non-violent, mostly white-collar crime. (Among their more famous busts are televangelist Jim Bakker and class-action lawyers William Lerach and Melvyn Weiss).

You should go to the original source, not only for the bits we left out, but because the same page also has a story that begins, “A mysterious electrical device, capable of developing a “death ray” of 3,000,000 volts of dynamic energy, its whereabouts clothed in deepest secrecy, is housed somewhere in San Francisco, it was revealed today.”

But that’s WeaponsMan for you. Come for the Postal Inspector derring-do, and we’ll throw in a steampunk death ray!

10 thoughts on “The Dangerous Lives of Postal Inspectors

  1. TRX

    Back in the 1970s and 1980s my Dad was a USPS postal inspector. Mostly, he dealt with bulk mail, nothing very glamorous.

    Every now and then his supervisor would hand him the .38 and holster and tell him to go with the mail truck to Memphis to pick up the food stamps and Welfare checks, which were routed in from the larger facility there. Escort duty was rotated among all the inspectors.

    No training of any kind, no “LEO” status, just the instruction to shoot anyone who tried to stop the truck; he was acting as a Federal agent, and the Post Office would back him up.

    It’s probably *considerably* more formalized now…

    1. Hognose Post author

      Yeah, they go to the same training as other Federal Agents do at the FLETC in Glynco, Georgia. Then each agency does specific thing for their agents, but the basic training received by all 1811 Criminal Investigators is the same. Because a lot of the process of LE is the same. An ATF agent has to get a warrant the same way as HSI or DEA, or for that matter an IG’s agent in some obscure agency.

      1. Dan F

        I thought the ATF just went to the secret judge for the classified warrant to do whatever. Just like the NSA and all the other homeland security heroes we have nowadays.

        1. Hognose Post author

          You’re thinking of the FISA court. Because that’s basically an espionage/terror court, it’s FBI’s show. (Specifically, national security division). IF the rubber-stamp FISA court fails to authorize a bug (which happens perhaps once in 10,000 requests) the FBI does it on an in-house National Security Letter. They prefer the warrants in case they ever have to take a case to court.

          NSA does not operate under warrants or any kind of Article III court authority. They’re all Article II (executive) all the way.

          Everybody else’s wiretaps have to be court-ordered or they’re not admissible. First step in getting the tap is selling your supervisor. (That’s first uphill). Next step is selling the AUSA or USA and that’s where most desired wiretaps fail. IF you get the USA behind it, some blind judge will give it to you every time no matter how jacked up your application is. And even if the courts finally rule it was an illegal tap, you get to keep and usually use the tapes.

          Yes, some agencies use illegal wiretaps to get information, which they then write up as coming from a CI, so that they can get a legal wiretap. That is definitely playing by “catch me, F me” rules, and sooner or later one of these guys is going to prison.

  2. DAN III

    Chicago….? Chicago….? A shootout in Chicago ? In the 21st century ? Was that story taken from a headline 90 years ago ?

    Seems to me Chicago is one of the most regulated, anti-2A cities in the country. But here we have it….more bad guys committing violent crime with a highly regulated item forbidden to the common, law-abiding folk, that all by itself, never commits an act of “violence”. In the meantime, good ol’ Rahm has signs posted at this residence warning folks that the ruling elitist Emmanuel is protected by firearms-toting security guards. Shall I say, hypocritical.

  3. Harold

    I retired from the PO and most of the Postal Inspectors I knew had very hum-drum jobs. Paperwork concerning bulk mailers under-paying, postal employees stealing, drug dealing on postal property, and fraudulent disability claims took up the majority of their time.

    Another group that were also armed when the occasion arose were mailhandlers. Item #7 of the official MAIL HANDLER, MH-04, DUTIES AND RESPONSIBILITIES, Document Date: 11-02-94 reads, “With approval of the Chief Postal Inspector, acts as an armed guard for valuable registry shipments and as a watchman and guard around post office building.”

    By 1994 it had probably been 3 or 4 decades since any mailhandler had been handed a .38 or 12g shotgun and told to ride in the cab of a mail truck taking a valuable shipment to a local bank or train station or airport. I did know mailhandlers that had worked with old-timers who had ridden shotgun for registered mail deliveries in Missouri during the ’40 and ’50s.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Yeah, that’s why this 1920s story of derring-do really jumped out. I suspect this guy’s superiors would have rather had him working the usual white-collar fraud cases than engaging in wild gunfights!

    1. Hognose Post author

      Because some insecure SES went to a party in Georgetown where all the other cool kids had their own SWAT teams?

      Because if they’d pigpiled on Ernst Stavro Blofeld for that first overdue library book, a lifetime of crime would have been forestalled?

      Because nothing makes a scofflaw reconsider resistance to Common Core quite the way a six-man breaching team does?

      No, wait, I’ve got it: Because they’re actually in the pay of some shadowy cabal promoting home schooling!

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