Boy! They don’t make them like this any longer! Deadshot Mary was a 1930s NYC undercover cop. A tough undercover cop!

This story about her first appeared on the atlasobscura website.

tough undercover cops


On June 20th, 1938, pedestrians near bustling Herald Square in Midtown Manhattan were treated to a scene right out of a dime store novel. A well-dressed middle-aged woman was fighting with a man, attempting to subdue him. He pushed her in the face, and she retaliated, knocking him into submission with a swing of her long strapped pocket book. The man was lucky she did not use the gun tucked carefully into the folds of her dress.

The man was a suspected jewel thief, and his captor was an undercover policewoman with the press sobriquet of “Deadshot” Mary. “Well, I got him,” she told two patrolmen who had rushed to the scene to help, “and I can take him in myself.”

“Deadshot” Mary Shanley was born in Ireland in 1896. Her family immigrated to America, and in 1931, the boisterous and brave 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 matrimonial bureaus and perform special detective duty,” wrote the New York Times.

For most of her career, Mary would be assigned to the NYPD pickpocket squad. By the time of her retirement in 1957, she would be a first grade detective, with over 1,000 arrests under her belt.

Read the rest of her story at Atlas

Follow Me On Facebook, other Social Media, or Amazon, Goodreads or BookBub