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John M. Short

Policeman, Deputy U.S. Marshal

-- from History of West Virginia, Old and New and West Virginia Biography -- Chicago: American Historical Society, 1923. v.2, p. 342

JOHN M. SHORT, Deputy United States Marshal at Wheeling under United States Marshal C. E. Smith of Fairmont, has a great record as a criminal expert and criminal officer, detective and secret service agent.

John M. Short, Policeman, Deputy U.S. Marshal

Mr. Short was born at Wheeling, Une 11, 1853, son of Henry Short. His father was a native of Birmingham, England, but spent his long and active life at Wheeling as an iron worker and molder, for a number years being an employee of A. J. Sweeney's foundry. He died at a good old age, and his wife died at the age of fifty-five. Both were active members of old First Presbyterian Church at North Wheeling. Their family consisted of three sons and two daughters: Saline, a widow living in Ohio County; John M.; Rose, a widow, whose home is in Martin's Ferry; Alfred, who was killed in the mines early in life; and Robert J., a retired resident of Aetnaville, Ohio.

John M. Short was reared and educated in Wheeling learned the molder's trade and followed it two years, and left his trade to become a patrolman. He was on duty at North Wheeling, and he was the first plain-clothesman appointed on the police force of Wheeling. In 1893 Governor MacCorkle appointed Mr. Shortto represent the state at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He was soon made chief of the night force of plain-clothesmen, who at times numbered 125 men. His record at Chicago attracted the notice of the officials of the Baltimore & Ohio Railway, and from 1893 for fourteen years he was captain of the Baltimore & Ohio police, having jurisdiction over all the lines of that system in West Virginia and portions of Ohio and Maryland. He held the highest positions of responsibility in the railroad detective service. It became his duty to apprehend and arrest men for every offense in the catalog of crime, including several murderers. Among his early duties was an assignment to break up the thieving gang between Wheeling and Grafton, where other officers had failed. In a short time organized thieving ceased altogether, and he sent several offenders to the penitentiary. During his first year he was captain of the Baltimore & Ohio police force he apprehended eighty-five per cent of all depredators, while forty percent had long been considered a good record. Later he organized the Short Detective Agency, operating it for several years and finally selling it. Subsequently Mr. Short was with the Whitaker Glessner Mill Company, and as a private detective handled a number of important cases. As a democrat he received his appointment as deputy United States marshal.

At the age of nineteen Mr. Short married Ella W. Scroggins, of Wheeling. They have two children, Robert J. and Rosa, the latter Mrs. Arthur Chance of Wheeling. Mr. Short is affiliated with Baltimore Lodge No. 6, Knights of Pythias.

Mr. Short recounts many interesting experiences and stories of his associations with crime and criminals. Many years ago Wheeling citizens were aroused to great indignation against the Gas Company officials. Many persons had their meters sealed, though gas bills were presented as usual. The gas office was in the rear of the McLure Hotel. One Sunday evening fire was discovered there, and Mr. Short, being on the ground, went to the door, pushed it in, and fell on a pile of burning books saturated with kerosene, while thousands of gas bills were exposed on a counter, also saturated with oil. The blaze was stamped out and the books saved and also several thousand dollars of currency in a slightly open safe. Arrests were made, but trials resulted in acquittals. Another case that attracted great attention in the newspapers for a time was a diamond theft that occurred in a Wheeling resort. Mr. Short traced a suspected girl to Pittsburgh, and after some days of grilling procured from her information that the stolen diamonds, valued at $6,000 were pinned under the wardrobe of the police matron at Pittsburgh. Mr. Short secured the jewels, much to the consternation of Pittsburgh's detectives.

During his services at the Chicago World's Fair a robbery occurred in the Mines and Mining Building, a silver brick, weighing 150 pounds, and a number of opals and amethysts being stolen from a case in the building. The chief of detectives detailed Mr. Short for an investigation. He discovered an underground conduit for electric wires opening by a hatchway in a niche covered by a water sprinkling cart in the rear of the exhibit, and leading outside. Mr. Short secured a confession from the man who operated the cart and from a man and woman who had charge of the exhibits.

For all his long experience in meeting and handling criminals Mr. Short is an optimist rather than a pessimist and it has been his sin to treat fairly and especially to guard the reputation of those who have committed their first criminal offense, permitting them a chance to reform rather than remaining permanently branded. He is an advocate of prison reform, and believes that half the prison inmates should not be there.


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