Likes Murderers: Sheriff Veale Down Under

By Kathleen and Bill Mero

Richard Rains Veale, the famous sheriff of Contra Costa, was first elected in 1895 and held the office more than 40 years. Certainly he held the elected sheriff office longer than any man in California, perhaps in the country. Our sheriff was a powerful political figure in the state and was friends with senators and presidents. He loved "putting on" eastern newspaper men and foreign journalists. They in turn loved getting a good story.

The sheriff took great pride in the fact that over the course of 40 years, he never harmed or killed a criminal in making an arrest. Sheriff Veale also took pride in the number of famous robberies and murders he helped solve. The following is the exact transcript of the original newspaper article from a leading Australian newspaper - spelling and original punctuation intact. Sheriff Veale had traveled to Australia to pick up a criminal wanted in Contra Costa for embezzlement. The clipping is dated sometime in the early 1920's.

The Real Thing
From Contra Costa Co., Cal.
Likes Murderers

Everybody know the American sheriff who gallops through the wild west decorated with a big brass badge, cowboy boots and ferocious spurs, with six-shooters, and a determined frown, ready to pull a gun on every desperado hitting up the one-saloon town or carrying off the rancher's beautiful daughter or his prize cow.

We have meet him so often on the film that he does not even need a sub-title. But the movie is spoiling him; he is becoming self-conscious and discarding his beautiful boots. The modern sheriff works over the telephone wire, and identifies his man by his finger-prints. In short, as the Sheriff of Contra Costa County, Cal., who is over here on international business puts it, "The wild west stuff is still going some, but the modern sheriff don't shoot up the town. He works like your Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mitchell-only not so efficiently."


But Sheriff R. R. Veale carries his big brass badge-has carried it for 27 years-and is ready at any moment to produce his beautiful nickel-plated handcuffs, that fit as closely and as neatly as a woman's glove, and his six-shooter that cannot miss his man in the dark. For this revolver is fitted with a little electric torch that in a darkened room or an unlit alleyway flashes a little circle of bright light on to the human target, into the centre of which illuminated spot-light the bullet must inevitably go.

Our visitor has graduated from the wild west champion of the law, in the days when he pulled gun on a murderer in the wilds and brought him home single-handed, because he did not want to share the 12,000 dollars reward, dead or alive-and it was less clumsy to bring him home alive that dead. Now he is the modern gaol warden and expert in finger prints.

"Murderers aren't such bad people, after all. I have a soft spot for murderers. They don't make a profession of murdering. It just happens that they have a gun handy, and it goes off. No; I like murderers. The worst men are the hold-u. gangs, the bank robbers, and the safe-crackers. There are of a different class; It's their profession, and they get expert at it.

"Yes, those safes that you see in the movies, circular thing hidden behind pictures on the wall, are really in American houses. But they aren't opened quite as slickly as the celluloid heroine does it with her dainty fingers. No. Sometimes there are built in the floor, and you have to pull up the carpet to get at them. But those kind wouldn't be any use for the movies."


Another habit of the American film hero is his partiality for get-aways from gaols. That really happens, too. Sheriff Veale once had two men in his gaol on a minor charge. The sheriff was away on holiday, when he discovered from their finger-prints that they were no ordinary criminals; they were "bad actors" which is the appropriate American name for "crooks.". He wired his son to look carefully after them, as he had a "hunch" that these men would break even his gaol. And his son one midnight found them sawing through the last steel bar between them and freedom and brought them down with a shot-gun.

This man from Contra Costa County, Cal., recalls with zest one of his famous cases. A Hindoo had murdered three other Hindoos, and escaped. A year later he was captured, and the sheriff had worked out and reconstructed the case so accurately that he took the Hindoo, stood him on one spot of the room where the murders took place, and told the prisoner that that was where he shot the first man. The he made the prisoner move about the room, and informed him of every movement he had made, and the positions he had occupied to complete his murders.

The dazed prisoner could only gasp his surprise and confess.

Sheriff Veale is a short and nuggetty gentleman, a keen critic of Australia, and a keener admirer of our people and our continent. "Why should anybody look for any other place to liv. in than Windsor, N.S.W.?". he asked. "If my friend out there would give me his ranch I'd come right back and live there."


Australia would be perfect, he says, if it were only steam-heated. He found the excellent country hotels and our railway "coaches" lacking in steam warmth. "You put your foot on a tin of warm water, which gets cold," he remarked pathetically. "and that's all there is to it.". Jenolan Caves, Sydney Harbor, one of our roads, our city hotels, our police efficiency, our law and lawyers, our chickens - "the ones with the feathers on"- our climate, and our products-these aroused his unstinted admiration. He did think we should have more than one road.

And he wistfully wondered why the bricklayers in a near-by building didn't seem to want to lay more than a certain number of brick a day. "Those workmen are spilling their own money," he remarked. "If by refusing to lay more bricks they make the building cost 2000 pounds instead of 1000 pounds, the landlord has to charge rent on a 2000 pound proposition instead on a 1000 pound one-and the working man has to pay twice the rent. Why shouldn't the workman lay twice as many bricks and get twice as much wages?". And he wondered why, growing the wonderful fruits we did and the prolific lucerne, we did not make more use of the former by canning them, and of the latter by conserving our fodder. But he liked our double track railroads, our overhead crossings, our well-kept stations, and civility.

"Politeness!". he said. "The Australian is more than polite. When he shaves me he says: 'Thanks!' before he gets his tip. Over our way the barber waits to thank you till he sees the size of his tip. And then what he says isn't always 'Thank you!. An American wants to get shaved any time; but out here you find the barbers' shops shut some afternoons. It's just driving people to safety razors!". he gloomily concluded.

The original clipping can be found in the large Veale Collection held by the Contra Costa County History Center, Martinez, California.

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