Meet Isabella Goodwin, New York City's first female detective

By: Start TV Staff     Posted: September 11, 2019, 1:33PM

Image: New York Times

Sometimes the best way to break down a barrier is to get behind it and collect the information, before using it to take down the bad guys. Introducing Isabella Goodwin, New York City's first female detective and an undercover officer for the early NYPD. 

Goodwin was born on February 20, 1865 in Greenwich Village, New York. Up until 1885, she lived a textbook life for many women of the time; she married, had children and appeared to follow the status quo. Sadly, her husband, John W. Goodwin died in 1886, leaving Goodwin widowed and in need of a job to support her family. She applied to the New York City Police Department to be one of their police matrons, a position in charge of overseeing all-female and child inmates, victims and visitors to the department. She passed her exam and was given employment by none other than then police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt (the very same who would become the president of the United States).

In 1912, the city was being terrorized by burglars known as the "taxi bandits". These criminals were said to have hijacked a cab full of bankers and made off with a sum of $25,000, with no leads to help police find them.

The crime was suspected to be the work of mobster Eddie "the Boob" Kinsman, but with no solid proof to bring him in on, there was no way to pin him for the crime. All the NYPD knew is that Kinsman had taken an interest in a particular boardinghouse in the city, where he would meet with his mistress and, potentially, his cronies. All they needed was someone to overhear those conversations, someone who could blend in undetected. 

Luckily, they had Goodwin. She was assigned to go undercover as a scullery at the boardinghouse and learn all that she could about Kinsman and his plans. With the help of a fake accent and a ragged wardrobe, Goodwin was able to learn enough information to lawfully arrest and convict Kinsman of this and a slew of other crimes in the city. 

This wasn't the first time that Goodwin had use these skills to take down a criminal. Leading up to this career-making assignment, she had been using her undercover skills to take down what was were referred to as "fakers"; fortune-tellers, healers, and so-said mystics that aimed to swindle the public. After her involvement in the major downfall of Kinsman, Goodwin was promoted to full-time detective, and this promotion kicked off the rest of her career.

According to an article in the New York Times, through the 1920s, Goodwin oversaw the development and growth of the newly developed Women's Bureau. This new branch handled cases involving prostitutes, runaways, truants and victims of domestic violence. In 1924 she helped secure several high-profile arrests by working with prosecutors to investigate fraudulent medical practices. This was her final year of service, quite an end to a monumental career. 

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