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In How Many Ways Did Tod Hall Love His Wife?

by Matthew-Daniel Stremba

An earlier web-page devoted to this 19th-century detective — TOD HALL AT CITY HALL, or THEFT: A BALTIMORE TRADITION concerned my search for the whole story of one of his cases that I called the grain caper. When, after a long career, Hall died in 1908, the obituary in one of Baltimore's newspapers listed his police accomplishments, including that one case, a real treat of a story, yet — with its sparse detail — a storyteller's aggravation. Amateur library research turned up nothing more.

In a footnote to that earlier web-page, I mentioned two police histories published in Baltimore — one in 1888, the other in the early 20th century not long after Hall's death — which I had only then heard about. One second-hand book-dealer told me both were rare finds. If I could locate either one, I hoped, I could, maybe, thereby, fill in some of the gaps in the Detective Hall story.

I already knew where he'd lived, his marital status, actually tracked his son's growing up to be a small businessman. Even had an impression of what he looked like in his last years: "genial man with sharp eyes, white hair and a closely cropped white mustache" [The Sun, 19 Jan 1908]. Enough to make a storyteller, a hundred years later, long to know even more. More, please, like — how did Mrs. Hall relate to her husband's profession? how warm was their marriage? Surely there are no privacy issues at this distance in time, eh?

In 1899 he Tod Hall settled into this home at 227 North Ave in Baltimore
Between 1872 and 1877, Hall was living on McMechin Street. I have no idea where number 68 was then, since Baltimore City houses underwent a major renumbering later in the century. In 1877, he moves his family to 269 Biddle; 1893, to 1602 Guilford; 1895, to 2309 McCulloh; 1897, to 2134 Oak (which is now north Howard above North Avenue). And in 1899 he settled down into his last home, pictured above in a recent shot: the three-story building immediately to the left of what is now a print shop; in 1899, 227 east North Avenue was practically spanking new.

This new page on Detective Hall is here to announce that I finally found a copy of that rare 1888 history, OUR POLICE (it had not occurred to me earlier that these rare tomes have been, all along, sitting in the Pratt's Maryland Room), and to lay out what I found out in that book.

From the start I was taken with the different ways Detective Hall's name appeared in print — newspaper articles, city directories, and the U.S. census. And now, yet another variation: this 1888 history spells his first name: Theoderick; not Theodorick.

With no further ado I provide below an excerpt from OUR POLICE: A HISTORY OF THE BALTIMORE FORCE FROM THE FIRST WATCHMAN TO THE LATEST APPOINTEE, edited by de Francias [sic] Folsom, copyright by J.M. Beers, 1888, printed by J.D. Ehlers and Company and Guggenheim, Weil and Company.

Three chapters narrate the history of "The Detective Force." The following is from Chapter IX, my own remarks italicized and within brackets [ . . . ].

"Detective Theoderick B. Hall was born in Baltimore on August 20, 1838 [it's not too early to convene a committee to prepare for his 170th birthday in 2008], and was educated in the public schools of this city. He was apprenticed to and learned the trade of a bricklayer.

"At the breaking out of the civil war [sic] in 1861 Mr. Hall enlisted in the First Regiment Maryland Volunteers, U.S. Army, and was commissioned Lieutenant Co. C. He served one year, when he was honorably discharged by reason of disability contracted in service. [Well, that answers the question of which side he fought on, but only makes more intense my interest in how fighting for the Union may have affected relationships with fellow cops, many of whom appear to have been of the Confederate persuasion.]

"In January, 1863, Mr. Hall was appointed to the police force, and after serving one year he resigned to accept the position of conductor on the City Passenger Railway, tendered him by President Tyson of that company. [That sentence corrects my imagined chronology: I had pictured him returning to bricklaying after the war, then graduating to streetcars, and only later topping off his life with a full-fledged law-enforcement career. Now I wonder: did his leaving police work in 1863 have anything to do with the severity of Union controls in the city, or was it strictly a matter of wages?]

"In this capacity [streetcar conductor] he served thirteen years, during which time he personally apprehended nine pickpockets on his car. He also assisted the detective of the railroad company in arresting others.

"Mr. Hall became an officer in the City's detective department, April 23, 1875. It was he who, in 1877, 'turned up' the thieving barge captains who for years had been systematically robbing the grain merchants of this city. [Ah, here it is — at last! — the grain caper.]

"For a long time complaints had been made of the enormous 'shrinkage' in the barge cargoes of grain shipped to consignees, but nothing could be learned to account for it. Finally, in March, 1877, Detective Hall was detailed to investigate the matter. After much trouble [mmm, how many interesting details must come together to constitute much trouble!!!] he found that Captain William Deffendorf [hah! A name! A name of a villain!] and four other grain barge captains were engaged in a scheme whereby from two to three hundred bushels of grain were stolen of a night. The men had a sloop, and lying up to the barges, they would load the plunder, a quota being taken from each of the barges of grain entrusted to their care, run the stolen property to Chesapeake City, exchange it for flour, and then sell the flour.

"The first man against whom Detective Hall secured any evidence was Captain Deffendorf, who made a confession to the officer inculpating his comrades in the crime. In order to accomplish the arrest of all, Deffendorf was allowed to remain at liberty for the time being, of which he took advantage to advise his confederates of their danger and the whole party 'skipped.'

"Detective Hall arrested Deffendorf stowed away in a canal barge between Weehawken and Hoboken, after a most exciting chase of seventeen days [a chase! a 1877 chase! yet another moment in the case crying out for disclosure of details], which carried him nearly all over the States of New York and New Jersey. Another of the fugitives he arrested in Philadelphia, one in New Brunswick, N.J., and another in Baltimore.

"The prosecution saw that no conviction could be had unless one of the guilty men was used as States' evidence, and Deffendorf had consented to tell all he knew. After the accused had remained in jail for eight months, on the very day set for the trial . . . Deffendorf died. There being no other evidence forthcoming, the State's Attorney entered a nolle pros and the men were discharged.

"One of them, years afterward, came to Detective Hall and told him that his arrest was the most fortunate thing that had ever happened to him, as a career in crime had been checked and he had since been an honest man."

The chapter includes more narratives of Hall's police exploits, but with every additional piece of information even more questions rise up. And where there are no answers — e.g. why was grain sitting in barges overnight? or what measuring device was so keenly calibrated as to notice 60 to 75 bushels missing from one bargeload? or how about his wife Annie, did he kiss her before going off for another day's work? — where there are no answers to be had, a storyteller feels that impulse to fill the gaps with details invented from imagination.

The final paragraph in that chapter of OUR POLICE concludes Hall's part in the history so:

"Detective Hall is a devout member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and belongs to many of the societies connected with that denomination. To many unfortunates who have been arrested by him he has given good counsel and advice, and some hardened criminals have through him been reclaimed to a better life."

This was a theme running though all the 1908 Hall obituaries. Though a detective pursuing criminals, he was also a good Methodist pursuing their rehabilitation, or, in religious terms, their redemption. One of the obits presented Hall almost like a figure in an ikon, a Bible in one hand and a revolver in the other. His colleagues on the force, it was said, came to calling him "The Parson." The Baltimore News named him the "evangelist-detective." No plain old hard-boiled dick this man.

This story will come live in a parlor production you yourself can arrange as easily as ordering home delivery of a pizza. Ask for the series: "SOFTBOILED: The Adventures of a City Detective in Old Baltimore." Feel free to write to us to make inquiries.

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