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COLLECTION Identifier: HOLLIS004386789

Wood Detective Agency records


The collection comprises correspondence, clippings, case notes, photographs and notes relating to cases that the Agency investigated, as well as brief accounts of famous historical crimes and criminals and some photos and materials dating from the founder's career as a member of the Boston Police Force. This collection includes graphic images of crime scenes including images of murder victims.


  • 1865 - 1945

Conditions Governing Access

Access to these papers is governed by the rules and regulations of the Harvard Law School Library. This collection is open to the public, but is housed off-site at Harvard Depository and requires 2-day advance notice for retrieval. Consult the Special Collections staff for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Harvard Law School Library holds copyright on some, but not all, of the material in our collections. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Special Collections staff. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Harvard Law School Library are also responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations who hold copyright.


14 boxes

The Records of the Wood Detective Agency span the years 1865-1934. The collection includes accounts, articles, biographies, cartes-de-visite, case notes, correspondence, clippings, photographs, speeches, statements, tintypes and wanted posters. The main body of the material relates to criminals and criminal activities occurring in the United States, particularly New England.

The written collection of James Rodney Wood, Sr. provides first hand encounters with criminals including Chastine Cox, Dr. David Razer Brown and Jesse Pomeroy. The photographic material in the collection offers glimpses at both the criminal and victim. The subject of abused children is well documented in the collection, with over fourteen photographs depicting young "padrone slaves," who were Italian immigrants forced into a form of slavery that existed in Boston between 1878-1881.

The materials of James Rodney Wood, Jr. consists mainly of typewritten notes on various crimes that occurred in the United States and abroad, from 1778-1934. The collection offers a wealth of information in the form of statements, biographies and accounts on over four hundred cases, criminals and notable personalities. The biographical materials retained by James Rodney Wood, Jr., found in series five of the collection, offers an invaluable perspective into the lives and interests of both Wood Jr. and Sr. The photographs of the James Rodney Wood, Jr. offer visual documentation of over twelve murder scenes taken from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. Included among the scenes are: the Hayward murder of Winthrop, Maine (1925); the Gerrish murder of Amherst, Maine (1924); and the Broadwell Murder of Barre, Vermont (1919). Additional material in the photographic collection includes ballistics readings, handwriting analysis and portraits of infamous murderers such as Jesse Pomeroy, Russell Noble and Byron Pettibone.

The original order of the collection is unknown. The present arrangement was imposed after the Harvard Law School Library acquired the collection.

Biographical / Historical

  • 1838 b. 12 August, Brookfield, Vermont; son of Lucius and Juliette Wood m. Mary Collins of Gardiner, Maine, Susan A. Hale of Haverhill, Massachusetts; children: James R. Wood Jr., Maud Wood Park, Gertrude L. Dean.
  • 1865 February, appointed member of the Boston Police Force
  • 1879 Resigned from Boston Police Department
  • 1879 Established first private detective agency in New England
  • 1914 d. 28 September
James Rodney Wood, Jr.
  • 1908 Succeeded father in detective agency
  • 1939 Retired
  • 1948 d. 19 November

James Rodney Wood, Jr.
Succeeded father in detective agency
d. 19 November

Series Description

  1. Subseries A. Photographs, wanted posters and miscellaneous paperobjects, 1841-18871841-1887

    Contains photographs, wanted posters and miscellaneous paperobjects. Most of the material is comprised of photo-portraits ofcriminals and suspects and is undated. A noteworthy connectionbetween three images within this sub-series centers on the murder ofJennie E. Cramer of New Haven, Connecticut (1881). Images includephoto-portraits of Asa Curtis, responsible for finding the body(2-37); James Malley, murderer (2-70); and Blanche Douglas, who wastried as an accomplice (2-68). The ordering system for the followingwas based on the numbers appearing on the reverse side of the eachobject, handwritten in pencil. It is believed that the materials weredonated to the Harvard Law School Library as part of a scrapbook andthe numbers verify the order in which they were found. Gaps betweennumbers do exist.

  2. Subseries B. Photographs of the "padrone slaves," 18791879

    The "padroneslave" was an Italian man, woman or child that was brought to theUnited States under the agreement with the Padroni, or "employer" whowould receive their wages for one to three years. A minimal pittancewas earned for jobs that included selling newspapers, flowers andfruit; shining shoes; begging, and prostitution. In the 1880's, withthe aid of philanthropic and political organizations, this padronesystem ended.

    Iorizzo, Luciano John. Italian Immigration andthe Impact on the Padrone System. (New York: Arno Press, 1980)75.

    The seven photographs reveal young boys in groups oralone, posing with furnishings or musical instruments. Evidencerevealing the years of padrone activity is shown through the Prescott& Whiting, stamp on the reverse side. This studio was listedamong A Directory of Massachusetts Photographers , as being active between 1877-1881. Most of the photographsare undated.

    Steele, Chris and Ronald Polito, Researchers. ADirectory of Massachusetts Photographers 1839-1900. (Camden, Maine:Picton Press, 1993) 111.

  3. Subseries C. Unidentified or unnumbered photographs andmiscellaneous paper objects from James Rodney Wood, Sr., 1841-18771841-1877

    Most ofthis material documents the injuries of children that have beenseverely beaten or killed.

Physical Location

Harvard Law School Library, Special Collections

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Records of the Wood Detective Agency were presented to the Harvard Law School Library as a gift from the Suffolk County Archives on 11 May 1961.

Processing Information

Processed by Amy E. Moore, May - August, 1999.

Wood Detective Agency. Records, 1865-1945 : Finding Aid.
Harvard Law School Library, Cambridge, MA 02138
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Law School Library, Historical & Special Collections Repository

Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections (HSC) collects, preserves, and makes available research materials for the study of the law and legal history. HSC holds over 8,000 linear feet of manuscripts, over 100,000 rare books, and more than 70,000 visual images.

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