Thomas Byrnes, Nemesis of Victoria


In researching the sequel to The Renegade Queen, I’m meeting several new characters that I will be introducing to the readers. One of them is Thomas Byrnes, the ruthless head of the New York City police detectives. This is how Victoria characterizes him:

Thomas Byrnes. Monster. Prude. Powerful. Tall, dark, and powerful. A man without any sense of priorities, the head of the New York City Police detectives will spend three hours of his day hunting murderers and then spend six hours chasing off women who have been sitting in hotel lobbies for too many minutes, “stealing comfort they did not pay for.” Considered a psychological master, he coined the term “third degree” which somehow gives him the license to simultaneously physically pummel a suspect while lying to him about the purity of his mother. In one case, Byrnes beat a suspected murderer within one inch of his life, then placed him in solitary confinement in the Tombs for five days. When he was brought out of solitary confinement, Byrnes was dressed in a black hood and had a noose in his hand. The man wept and confessed, but the court discovered that there was no evidence against this poor man. The third degree is, I am quite certain, illegal, but no one seems to notice. If I had stayed in the country of my birth, I would be on a crusade to stop the barbarian. Byrnes is one of the wicked bastards that held James down while his goons destroyed our printing presses. Rumor has it that Byrnes is writing a book about me titled The Adventuress, a Professional Criminal. The man objects, from a moral high ground, to every action I’ve ever undertaken, but what he objected to the most was the reprinting of The Communist Manifesto. Oh he pretends at his swanky Manhattan cocktail receptions that he is most concerned for my views on “free love” and how I will corrupt the youth and destroy the family, but what he is really afraid of is free property. If property is free then no one has any power. And power is the only fuel for a man such as this. He pretends to be a public servant but even the most ignorant, casual observer can see that he lives above his station in life, his pockets lined with ill-gotten gains of the rich who want to insure they are never subjected to the third degree.

In 1881, three years after criticizing British police officials for their handling of the Jack the Ripper investigations, Byrnes was charged with hunting down a serial killer in New York. Byrnes accused an Algerian, Ameer Ben Ali, of the crime, and Ali was convicted despite scant evidence (eventually being pardoned a decade later). Byrnes also obtained a confession from gang leader Mike McGloin, who was convicted and executed for the murder of a tavern operator during a robbery. Byrnes was promoted again to Superintendent of Police in 1892, but just three years later, the new president of the New York City police commission, Theodore Roosevelt, forced Byrnes to resign as a part of Roosevelt’s drive to rid the force of corruption. Later on, Byrnes became an insurance investigator, opening a detective business in lower Manhattan. He died in 1910.