Running Afoul the Law

(an excerpt from A Sourcebook for the 1920s)


About Arrests

The idea of arrest implies a hierarchy of authority and function: were there only one person, then that person would be policeman, jury, jailer, and executioner all in one, and the idea of arrest would be pointless.

Every arrest will vary, but commonly each arrest will present one or more hypotheses or assumptions on the part of the arresting officer:

  • The officer doesn’t know what the investigators are doing, but it looks suspicious (preventative arrest)
  • The investigators committed a crime of property
  • The investigators committed a crime of violence.
  • The investigators outraged local custom and public decency
  • The authorities wish to confiscate something (or everything) that the investigators own/carry
  • Information that the investigators have or have obtained may be embarrassing, compromising, etc. to individuals, a group, a government, a nation, etc.
  • The investigators are obviously insane and society must be protected from them
  • The investigators are dangerous in some manner to the authorities
  • The investigators are in danger, and need the protection the jail offers

Any policeman making an arrest additionally must weigh factors such as what he individually stands to gain or lose by making the arrest, the apparent status and probable wealth of the investigators, the visibility of the offense, and the apparent danger posed by the investigators.

Procedures of Arrest and Prosecution

  1. The arresting officer will identify himself or his authority, so that the investigators know he has the backing of law or society. Depending on the custom or the strength of the evidence, the arresting officer may or may not bother to tell the investigators why they are being arrested.

  2. If the investigators resist, the police will use the force appropriate to make the investigators conform to the needs of the state.

  3. If the investigators go quietly, they will be disarmed and secured in some manner, then will be taken to some station, court, or superior official so that the arresting officer can transfer the responsibility of his prisoners and record the fact of their apprehension.

  4. The investigators will be questioned en route to and at the station, and may be required to make a statement.

  5. Even after being jailed, the investigators may be unable to learn the reason for their arrest. They may or may not be allowed communication with the outside. The fact of their arrest may be kept secret. They may be kept imprisoned separately, rather than as a group. They may be tortured for information.

  6. The authorities may or may not allow a trial. They may refuse to allow witnesses favorable to the investigators.

  7. If found guilty, the penalty may reflect the crime, or it may reflect the danger the investigators pose to an individual, a group, or the state.

  8. Sentences may split up the investigators, or otherwise be designed to force them to lose cohesiveness. Investigators who cooperate with corrupt authorities may not live long because they then become evidence of that corruption.


Officials are most likely to be bribable if they are in small towns and rural areas (where pay is low and the consequences possible from a bribe are well-known) or in large cities (where the bribee constantly contrasts his expectations with the affluence around him).

Bribes usually are weighed in terms of a day’s wages for the bribed official, and are usually accepted along these lines. Minor matters might cost 1-4 hours pay as a bribe; major matters may cost a day to a month or more, depending on the seriousness of the matter. The higher the level of the bribed official, the more money he or she will expect.

Bribes will also differ depending on the degree of the offense in the eyes of the bribee. A country sheriff who is glad to see the old Farnsworth place burn to the ground because the local kids were always getting hurt there will want less (or nothing at all) from those who burnt it. The same sheriff may react differently if the only hotel in town is burnt to the ground, along with four odd but peaceable guests who the investigators insist were vampires.

If an investigator over-bribes, the bribee may become alarmed and think that they do not fully understand the situation, and refuse the bribe. Alternatively, the bribee may believe the investigators are fools, and will hold out for twice as many dollars.

Bribe to rural policeman

  • $2.00 (misdemeanor, etc.)
  • $5.00 (more serious matter)
  • $100.00 (capital offense)

Bribe to urban policeman

  • $4.00 (misdemeanor, etc.)
  • $10.00 (more serious matter)
  • $250.00 (capital offense)

Bribe to Government Official (Police Chief, District Attorney, Sheriff, small-town Mayor)

  • $50.00 (misdemeanor, etc.)
  • $200.00 (more serious matter)
  • $1,000.00 (capital offense)

In some cases, investigators attempting to bribe their way out of a serious situation may have to bribe several different people or a whole layer of civil servants.


Running Afoul the Law

Cthulhu Supremus Est FrankSirmarco