Few people need to worry about their horses being stolen anymore, since we’re more likely to drive a car and have an alarm installed. But in 1911, the most you could do is get horse thievery insurance. And once your horse is stolen, it’s unlikely you’ll see it again because it quickly goes to a chop shop and you wouldn’t recognize it if you saw it. I don’t mean it gets chopped up. Just altered a bit. Here’s how Norman Moray of the Great Easter Casualty insurance company describes it:
“No man’s horse is safe. The horse of the big department store is as likely to disappear as the horse and wagon of the small grocer or butcher. Detectives say that the theft is easily covered up. Within six hours after the horse and wagon disappears, a transformation is made, which is so complete that few owners can identify their property. The horse is shorn of his mane and tail, white legs are dyed a color corresponding with the body of the horses, and cases have been known where a stolen horse was described as having a bobbed tail, where the horse when finally recovered was found to have had a very beautiful tail, attached to the former stub.”
Here’s how horse thievery worked. This is useful to know if you plan on making a period version of Gone in 60 Seconds:
Zito’s method was to work with two assistants. He would usually locate a likely looking horse and wagon, and then after watching the route and habits of the driver would find a quiet cross street. He would then have one of his men in the middle of the block, or at the place where the horse usually stopped, and a man at each avenue corner. When the driver left the wagon to deliver his goods the man in the middle of the block would get a signal from the man stationed at the corner that the coast was clear, jump on the wagon, drive it to the corner, where he would be relieved by the man there who would drive the horse rapidly away. The idea of making this change was that in case of an arrest the man found in possession of the rig would have the excuse that he had been hired to take the horse to some certain point if it so happened that the man who had actually stolen the horse from where the driver had left it had been seen by any one, the person who witnessed the theft being unable to identify the man in whose possession the rig was found.
A stolen horse was worth an average of $300 each. But you don’t need to worry about this kind of crime anymore. Unless you drive a Mustang.
Because a Mustang is a car made by Ford, and also a kind of horse.
Just a little joke there.
You can visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau to see what the most stolen vehicles are in your state.
MORE HORSE THIEVERY IN NEW YORK THAN THE FAR WEST: So Easy to Do and Hard to Detect That Detectives Are Puzzled What to Do — Looks Like an Organized Industry. (PDF)
From April 23, 1911