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As soon as W learned the town of Melrose was good for gossip he set into motion a series of plans for pursuing leads. The first place one of the locals directed W to was Smith’s, the town grocer, and the agent headed there at once to begin exploring the gossip networks and setting his plans into motion. Pinkerton’s report from March 5, 1874 states, “…he [W] found the place nearly full of men, and soon engaged in conversation with them, he told them that he was an agent for the Post Office department and was sent there for the purpose of seeing whether it would pay to start a government or money order office there.” This explanation was met with great enthusiasm as the town apparently had no bank and the townsfolk agreed it would benefit both their community and neighboring towns as well. This was exactly the response W was hoping for because he further explained that in order for such an office to be built he would need to circulate a petition for signatures from “all persons male and female receiving and sending mail” from the current post office to demonstrate the town’s desire for such an establishment. He told them he would start collecting signatures in a day or two, and “in a very short time” news of the coming petition and money order store had spread all over town. W meanwhile did some preliminary investigating by searching through the logs of hotels, incoming/outgoing envelopes at the post office, and catching up on the gossip concerning unsavory characters in town. None of the signatures in the hotel logs matched, nor did any of the letters. The decoy letters Brown had sent continued and would continue to sit in the Post Office with no sign of A.A.A. at all.
It soon became evident that the town was almost too rich with gossip. Many people in the area who W questioned would drop a possible suspect’s name, but W would quickly discover that their handwriting did not match or learn other bits of information that would exclude them from requiring further investigation. About a dozen such false leads made the investigation stall for weeks. Peacock, the CB&Q agent that Brown told W he could trust, was constantly on the lookout for various people who he knew to be potentially troublesome and was a key ally to W during his investigation. Since Peacock was familiar with the area he was an important figure of support for W as he could subtly look into different people’s comings and goings without raising much suspicion. On occasion Peacock himself would even suggest a few names he thought were worth looking into. Unfortunately, though, they were routinely unable to match the handwriting from the letters and the origin of the penmanship continued to remain a mystery. Worse still was the fact that A.A.A. had become suspiciously silent, both in terms of leaving the decoy letters untouched as well as not continuing to contact Brown or other CB&Q officials. Was A.A.A. catching on to W’s investigation and keeping a lower profile?
One man that some of W’s allies in town had indicated may be guilty of writing the extortion letters was a man named Pomphrey. W had already acquired Pomphrey’s signature and it did not match A.A.A.’s writing, but there was growing tension and clear suspicion on Pomphrey’s part towards W’s prolonged presence in town. One day as W was getting petitions with the help of another local man, Mr. McCoy, Pomphrey began to cause a scene and outright declared his suspicions in public as we see from Pinkerton’s report below:
Pomphrey’s anxious behavior certainly drew W’s attention, but the outburst had potential to jeopardize W’s investigation if others also became wary of his true motivations behind the petition. Had the entire investigation just been compromised? Was Pomphrey actually the guilty party or just an exceedingly nervous and vocal character? W would need more clues to determine Pomphrey’s guilt since he knew the handwriting was not a match, which meant that if Pomphrey was somehow involved he was not working alone. Could Pomphrey be the culprit or would this be yet another false lead?
Keep checking back here for the exciting conclusion of this investigation!