By Margaret Smith
In the summer of 1938, shoppers and pedestrians were amazed to see a couple fighting in New York’s Herald Square in broad daylight. Even more surprising was the fact that the woman involved was welled dressed and who, after being pushed in the face by her male assailant, quickly subdued him by swinging her pocketbook at him.
What the onlookers didn’t know was that the man was a suspected jewel thief and the woman was an undercover policewoman who quickly told two patrolmen who had arrived on the scene that as she had “got him” she would “take him in.”
The woman’s name was Mary Shanley, born in Ireland in 1896. After her family moved to America, she decided she wanted to join the New York Police Department. She became one of the first female police officers to carry a gun and the first policewoman to use her gun whilst capturing a miscreant, though she had only fired it into the air as a ‘warning shot’.
Her prowess with a gun earned her the nickname ‘Deadshot Mary’. Her gun was a 16 ounce revolver, only half the weight of those used by men and female officers who did carry guns had to practice on the range, often at the same time as men.
Initially, Mary worked undercover like most female officers, trailing shoplifters, pickpockets and frequently impersonating drug addicts and getting involved with fake matrimonial bureau. At this time, fortune-telling was illegal and policewomen regularly posed as clients in attempts to arrest the ‘soothsayers’.