Honors Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Mullin, C. (2019). 'Equipped to Do All Legitimate Detective Work: The Early Private Detectives of Los Angeles.' Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Connor Mullin 2019.


This thesis discusses the activities of several private detectives in Los Angeles, California, roughly in the two decades between 1910 and 1930. Although a popular topic in works of fiction, the real detectives of the time and place are poorly researched despite the fact that their activities mirror the major changes in the city of Los Angeles in this era. By tracing the actions of detectives such as Nick Harris, Marie Firman, J.N. Pyles, and J.B. Armstrong, it is possible to see the consequences of how Los Angeles developed in social, economic, and cultural spheres. Individual cases are examined as ‘case studies’, discussing, for instance, how Nick Harris’s involvement in the Aimee Semple McPherson kidnapping case reflects the role of religion in Los Angeles in the 1920s, or how Marie Firman’s investigation into corruption in San Diego shows the impact of governmental corruption in the greater Southern Californian region. Additional details are given to place these cases in the context of the growth of the city, and, where possible, information on the detectives is provided to give a more complete picture of them as persons. The reality underlying this often-fictionalized topic is thus examined through the presentation of numerous cases these detectives handled.