Deadshot Mary: a 1930s Undercover Cop Superstar

This is just too great to miss!!

Nicholas C. Rossis

A couple of days ago, I mentioned one of the greatest fences of all times, Marl Madelbaum. Today I’ll introduce you to a counterpart of hers, “Deadshot” Mary Shanley, an early 20th century undercover supercop. Hadley Meares of Atlas Obscura has unearthed the story of this fascinating woman.

Women’s beats

“Deadshot” Mary Shanley | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books Mary Shanley, 1937. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-USZ62-134714)

“Deadshot” Mary Shanley was born in Ireland in 1896. Her family immigrated to America, and in 1931, Mary joined the NYPD. This was an unusual step for a woman of her time, though not unheard of.

During the first half of the 20th century, policewomen in America often worked undercover, on so-called “women’s beats.” “They are called upon regularly to trail or trap mashers, shoplifters, pickpockets and fortune-tellers; to impersonate drug addicts and hardened convicts, to expose criminal medical practice, find lost persons, guide girls in trouble, break up fake…

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