Archivists are guided by collecting policies, also called acquisition policies, when it comes to deciding what to add to our collections. These might be determined by the geographical area that an archives covers, or perhaps by subject matter. In the case of the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County, our general remit is a geographical one: we collect materials which reflect the activities of people in our area. If materials are brought to us that would be more appropriately kept by another archival institution we normally advise the owner to take it there, or send it there ourselves.
But there are always exceptions to rules and when this old volume arrived at the archives a few weeks ago, it became clear that this was going to be one of those cases.
The volume is ‘Circular Book 2’ and it was originally created by the Toronto Police Service, between 1929 and 1931 (and is therefore clearly outside of our collecting area!). However, the owner did not want to donate the book to an archives; they were just looking for some advice.
The book has seen better days: the spine is in a sorry state and the pages are very brittle, acidic and crumbling. We were concerned that the volume would only deteriorate further and suggested to the owner that we photograph the pages, so that the information could be saved and made available to researchers before the condition of the book got any worse. They agreed and were happy for us to share the images online.
Pasted on to 273 pages of this book are wanted posters (or circulars) from police departments and private detective agencies across North America. Sometimes the pages were annotated with information on the date and location of the arrest of the suspect. The photographs of these pages have now been added to our collection as digital files (2017-70) and are all available on Flickr.
There are many posters about men who escaped from prison, including Frank Grigware, who escaped from the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas in 1910 (on a hijacked locomotive) and ultimately settled down in Alberta under the name James Fahey.
The faces staring up from these posters are overwhelmingly male: there are only two female criminals out of around 500 identified in the book. One of these was Dorothy Cherris, who was wanted in Houston, Texas for involvement in gang murders.
Dorothy and her husband, John were members of a gang of bank robbers. John was shot in the head by fellow gangsters on August 30th, 1931 and his body was dumped in the Brazos river near East Columbia, Texas. Two weeks later, Dorothy was killed in a car accident near Bonne Terre, Missouri.
Cross-references from inside the volume suggest that there were at least three other ‘Circular books’ maintained by the Toronto police service. This one somehow ended up in Belleville and was rescued by its current owner during someone else’s house move. We don’t know if any of the other volumes survive, but at least the contents of this one are now available for research. Its pages give us an interesting glimpse into police procedure and criminal activity across North America between 1929 and 1931.