Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Most people in this area have heard about the famous detective from Chicago, Allan Pinkerton. He is considered to be America’s first Private Detective. Pinkerton was born in 1819 in Scotland where his father, William worked as a policeman. Allan was only nine years when his father was killed by a prisoner. The death of his father forced Allan into work as a boy to help support his family.

Allan was very active in the political and social justices of the time and was asked to become a Cook County Deputy in the late 1840’s. He soon earned a reputation as an honest and tough lawman. Early in his career he became involved in a case that was resolved on the streets of Rockford.

In 1852, a man named Albert Blinn was living with his family in Jackson, Michigan. His wife, Huldah came from a respected family in the area. The couple married on January 1, 1846. By February of 1852, they had a son Edwin who was 3 years old and a daughter, Ellen who was 2.

Albert owned and operated a tavern for a living. Though Huldah helped as much as she could, raising a young family plus managing the business proved too much for the young couple. Albert hired a man named Swift to assist him. Later, people would speculate whether Swift led Albert astray or it was the other way around. But soon the men would become partners in crime.

Blinn had two young sisters working for him; one was 14 years old and the other 16 years old. They were invited to live with the family and helped out in the house as well as the tavern. Blinn soon became enamored by the girls and set out to seduce them. He filled their heads with stories of lavish dresses, travels to exciting cities, and promises of a better life. According to the newspapers of the day, the girls shared these details with their closest friends.

The girls were described as good girls with unsullied reputations prior to meeting Blinn. Later the sisters shared that they resisted Blinn but told no one of his advances. This would prove to be sad mistake on their part. Blinn eventually grew tired of waiting and forced the girls into a compromising situation. Blinn kept them quiet by threatening to tell their family that it was the girls who seduced him.

Blinn must have become concerned that his secret would be revealed because he decided to kidnap the girls and take them where no one knew them. He enlisted the help of Swift to carry out his plan. Blinn took Huldah and the children for an extended visit with her family. While Blinn was delivering his family, Swift took the girls and headed west. When they reunited, Blinn headed north with the older girl while Swift headed toward Chicago.

Meanwhile the girls’ family was desperately searching for them. They believed that Blinn treated their daughters like they were his own. They questioned the girls’ friends and were devastated to learn of Blinn’s real intentions. The girls’ older brother began his search for the girls in Chicago. He enlisted the help of the Cook County Sheriff Green Arnold and Allan Pinkerton who was a detective on the force by this time. Pinkerton had gained quite a reputation for his skill at tracking missing persons.

Blinn, using a different name rode into Rockford with the older of the sisters. In an act that showed the blackness of his soul (as the papers put it), he had decided to use the young girl to make some quick cash. He had started to look for clients and the news traveled quickly to Pinkerton and Sheriff Arnold. They set out for Rockford immediately. The newspapers made a big deal that usually the Rockford citizens handle these delicate matters on their own.

Apparently, Rockford’s townsfolk would give the less desired citizens “a new suit and a quick ride”. This was a nice way to say that they would tar and feather certain men and give them a ride (or drag them) out of town on a wagon.

Pinkerton arrived in Rockford and quickly found Blinn. He forced Blinn to send a message to Swift with instructions to make his way to Rockford. Before escorting Blinn to the jail, Pinkerton warned him that he was armed. Despite the warning, Blinn broke away from Pinkerton, punched him in the face and began to run. Pinkerton fired a warning shot into the air and Blinn turned to him and shouted, “Shoot and be d____d.”

Pinkerton fired again and the ball slammed into Blinn’s back between his shoulder blades before coming to rest inside one of his lungs. Blinn staggered on for a few yards before he fell. He begged Pinkerton not to fire again before passing out.

Swift arrived in Rockford and was quickly apprehended. Sheriff Arnold and Pinkerton left Blinn in the custody of the Winnebago County Sheriff P.B. Johnson before they returned to Chicago. The men joined the family in thanking Sheriff Johnson and his men for assisting in the quick arrest. Papers in several states carried the story along with sharing the gratitude toward Rockford for the authorities’ assistance.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending though. The oldest girl was quite ill by the time her brother got her home. Apparently, she was pregnant and Blinn forced her to take some medicine that would cause a miscarriage. She became ill from the medicine and died shortly after the reunion with her family. The newspapers showed a great amount of respect for the family by keeping the girl’s identities secret.

Blinn was severely injured by the bullet fired by Pinkerton. Doctors and authorities did not expect him to live and they must have been surprised when Blinn escaped a few days after his arrest. Authorities in the immediate area were put on high alert but the last sighting of Blinn occurred in April of 1852. He attempted to get treatment at the Charity Hospital in St. Louis. The doctors at the hospital grew suspicious of the man and reported him to the authorities. By the time they arrived, the man was long gone. Further research for Blinn in newspapers or other records has not revealed any other information.

Blinn’s wife, Huldah was only 21 when Blinn deserted her at her parent’s house. Huldah continued to live with her parents until she married Gilbert Parmeter sometime after 1870.

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events