Tuesday, August 19, 2008


If the President is protected by the Secret Service, who protects the Pope?

The Swiss Guards, of course.

The Swiss Guards celebrated their 500th anniversary in 2006, founded in 1506, and at one time consisted of several different military commands.

The Papal Swiss Guard is the only Swiss Guard that still exists.

Is the Papal Swiss Guard actually Swiss? In a word, very.

To be more precise, the Papal Swiss Guard is mostly German Swiss. In 2006 the Papal Swiss Guard, responsible for the pope's personal security and the protection of the Vatican, could look back on 500 years of history.

Established in January 1506, the Papal Swiss Guard (there were other Swiss Guards in France), an official Vatican City security unit, is still made up of Swiss volunteers.

Although it is over 500 years old and its members wear colorful uniforms dating back centuries, the Swiss Guard is a highly trained security unit, much like the U.S. Secret Service that guards the U.S. president.

Following the 1981 assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, the level of training for the Swiss Guard was intensified even more. The official languages of the Swiss Guard are German and Italian.

The elite corps is famous for its distinctive yellow-and-blue uniform which, as the first official history of the Guards recently stressed, was not designed by Michelangelo, as widely believed.

The colors which make the uniform so attractive are the traditional Medici blue, red and yellow, set off nicely by the white of the collar and gloves.

The blue and yellow bands give a sense of lightness as they move over the red doublet and breeches. The Guard's every-day uniform is completely blue.

With the passing centuries there have been a few minor changes, but on the whole the original dress has been maintained. It is commonly thought that the uniform was designed by Michelangelo, but it would seem rather that he had nothing to do with it.

Why Swiss, you ask?

During the Middle Ages and in Renaissance times, the Swiss had the reputation of being Europe's most reliable mercenaries - tough fighters who hardly ever changed sides.

They famously proved their worth during the Sack of Rome in 1527, when 147 Guards laid down their lives to protect Pope Clement VII from the rampaging army of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

The 110-strong Swiss Guards have strict recruitment terms.

The Guards get their recruits from a group of Swiss towns and villages which for centuries have provided the pope's personal corps.

Candidates have to be single males over the age of 18, and practicing Catholics ''of stainless character''.

At one time there was also a height requirement, of 1.74m tall (OK, who can compute that into “American” measurement?), although this has recently been relaxed.

They also have to have completed their compulsory military service in Switzerland.


Following the recent posting on this site regarding the investigation of art-related crimes, I received some follow-up concerning this department’s history, and the Detective who was known as “The Art Cop” – Robert Volpe. I’d like to thank Ret Det Capt Frank Bolz for his contribution to this, which I am passing on for your pleasure.

The New York Police Department had an Art Crimes Unit that operated under the Detective Bureau's Special Investigations Division that at the time was the nation's premier art theft unit, and consisted of one investigator - Detective Robert Volpe.

Volpe ran the unit from 1972 until 1982. Volpe wasn't only a street wise cop, he was an artist as well, and being such, actually connected to art world habitu├ęs with ease (people who don't usually feel comfortable around law enforcement). This approach to the art world facilitated numerous high-profile recoveries.

Detective Volpe, who was retired, passed away in 2006 at the age of 63. Much was written after his death concerning his exploits in policing.

He was not any ordinary detective: Volpe specialized in art thefts and frauds, tracking down paintings by Matisse and Raphael, Greek sculptures, and Tiffany glass, all while continuing to paint, teach and lecture about art.

With his dungarees, long hair and thick, handlebar moustache, he looked less like a cop than an art school bohemian, and he endured peer ridicule.

A former art school student and narcotics investigator, Mr. Volpe was asked in 1972 to gauge the usefulness of an art squad. Until then, art thefts were lumped into burglary or larceny caseloads. Asked to make a survey, he came back with actual arrests instead of a report — underlining the need for a special effort.

"Instead of coming back with a report, I started coming back with arrests and recoveries," he told the New York Times.

He became that effort, making the New York Police Department at that time the nation’s only one with a separate bureau for art crime. For years, Mr. Volpe was a singular figure in police work as the only detective in the country assigned full-time to investigate stolen or forged artwork as well as dealer fraud and vandalism in museums.

Around the department, Mr. Volpe was known as Rembrandt.

Robert Volpe studied art at the High School of Art and Design, Parsons, and the Art Students League. Fresh out of the Army, he joined the police to have an “offbeat” job while he painted, he said in an interview with The New York Times in 1977.

He first walked a beat on the Lower East Side, did undercover work on organized crime cases, and was part of the narcotics squad that investigated the heroin-smuggling operation known as “The French Connection.”

As “the Art Cop”, he scoured auction houses; raided homes of collectors suspected of going bad and sometimes went undercover to negotiate with thieves about returning art.

Once, he portrayed a gay Rhode Island art dealer named Damien Renar. When he arranged to meet the thieves, he was dressed in a white linen suit, and he relished the dramatic showdown, he said, when he could pull his police revolver from its holster and shout, "Freeze, you [expletive]!"

"Grade B movie stuff," he told the Times. "You find you have to behave that way. You don't come off with authority, you're done."

A book about Volpe, written by Laurie Adams in 1974 called “Art Cop”, which described his heroics in pursuing his tasks. (Of course, this was part of The Minister’s library, and was read and re-read before carrying a badge of my own, but unfortunately fell prey to one of those texts that was “borrowed” and never returned).

When he retired in 1985, he estimated that he had recovered tens of millions of dollars worth of Byzantine ivories, Oriental rugs, Greek marble heads, Tiffany glass, Matisses, Raphaels and other treasures. For a period, he noted a particularly high trade in counterfeit antique French furniture.

"If all the old French furniture was real," he told the Christian Science Monitor, "there would never have been a French Revolution. Everybody in the country would have been too busy making furniture."

Overall, he said, the recovery rate for stolen fine art was at best 10 percent. He lamented to Time magazine that judges rarely gave harsh sentences to art thieves.

"An art thief is entertaining, romantic," he said. "I've seen cases where the thief has pleaded guilty and gotten no sentence at all."

As a detective and later as a private art-security consultant, he shared information regularly with Interpol and other police agencies in London, Paris and Rome. He added that thieves were just as likely to help in order "to knock out the competition."

In 1997, Mr. Volpe reentered the news when he came to the defense of his son Justin, a New York police officer who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in a Brooklyn police precinct station house.


A reader has recently contacted me, after reading over some of the archived postings, with a contribution concerning the possible derivation of the term – “hairbag”.

A term that we have all heard, and probably used, is certainly one of those that has an uncertain point of origin.

Could the following synopsis have some truth to it?

The story goes like this.

"Back in the day" an officer was permitted to get a haircut while on duty.

After finishing the haircut, the barber would sweep up the loose hair that was now on the floor and put it into a bag. Later, if a supervisor inquired as to why an officer was not on post (occurred more often in cold/inclement weather), or touched an officers shield
and felt that it wasn't cold despite frigid weather, the officer would inform the supervisor that he had been getting a haircut.

The supervisor would then ask the officer to produce his "hairbag" or go to the barber himself and request to see the officers "hairbag."

So long as the cop or the barber produced a hairbag, the cop was ok.

After a while, veteran officers would often carry a bag of hair with them so they could produce it when requested to do so, such as on the times when they were found to be off-post and needed an excuse as to why. Over the years, this policy became less common and only savvy veterans would attempt to pull off the "hairbag" excuse when confronted by a supervisor.

Possible derivation or just another tall-tale by an “old hairbag”?


August 16, 1988 PO Joseph Galapo BSNarco, Shot during arrest
August 17, 1947 Ptl Thomas Gargan 6 Pct, Shot-burglary in progress
August 17, 1969 Sgt Cornelius McGowan 114 Pct, Line of duty heart attack
August 17, 1979 PO Thomas Schimenti, MTS Pct, Shot-robbery

August 19, 1974 Ptl Thomas Pegues, TPF, Shot-auto check

August 20, 1971 Ptl Kenneth Nugent, 103 Pct, Shot-robbery

August 20, 1987 Det Myron Parker, BxNarco, Assaulted

August 21, 1931 Ptl Walter Webb, 40 Pct, Shot-Robbery in progress

August 21, 1931 Ptl Edwin Churchill, McyDist, Shot-robbery in progress

August 22, 1924 Ptl Harry Blumberg, 10 Pct, Auto accident on patrol

August 22, 1925 Ptl David Sheehan, 4 Pct, Shot-burglary arrest

August 22, 1941 Ptl Harold King, TrafficB, Shot-GLA arrest
August 25, 1864 Ptl John OBrien, 19 Pct, Arrest-robbery
August 25, 1928 Ptl Joseph Dursee, 8A Pct, Shot-robbery in progress
August 25, 1946 Ptl Michael Zawoltk, Traffic K, Shot during arrest
August 26, 1918 Ptl William Barrett, 13 Pct, Thrown from horse
August 26, 1936 Ptl Richard McCormack, 20 Pct, Injured on patrol
August 26, 1971 Sgt Joseph Morabito, 1Div Narco, Shot during investigation
August 27, 1921 Ptl Daniel Neville, 23 Pct, Shot during investigation
August 28, 1939 Ptl Clarence Mihlheiser, Hwy3, Auto accident on patrol
August 28, 2002 PO Disdale Enton, 113 Pct, LOD injury chasing perp
August 29, 1977 Det Joseph Taylor, 83 Pct, Shot during investigation
August 31, 1962 Ptl Nicholas Panico, 62 Pct, Shot by EDP
August 31, 1969 Ptl Kenneth Keller, 19 Pct, LOD heart attack
September 1, 1891, Ptl John Sherman, 26 Pct, Stabbed during arrest
September 1, 1923 Ptl John Egan, 51 Pct, Shot by perp
September 1, 1954 Ptl Anthony Balga, PBBklyn, Auto accident on patrol
September 2, 1953 Sgt Saul Starett, 50 Pct, Electrocution
September 2, 1956 Ptl William Long, 103 Pct, Shot-arrest
September 2, 1982 PO Robert Seton-Harris, 122 Pct, Heart attack LOD
September 3, 1932 Ptl Peter DeCarlo, 32 Pct, Shot-Robbery in progress
September 3, 1967 Ptl John Darcy, 28 Pct, Auto accident on patrol


Hoping that all are enjoying the summer, and having an opportunity to spend some time enjoying the nice weather. Having a week off in August is a thrill, and makes one long for the "european" tradition of taking the "month" of august for "holiday". Monthlong holiday in August, and a daily nap time each afternoon - how inviting European traditions can sound at times! Enjoy the summer - Labor Day (or "West Indian Day" for those in the Borough of Kings) is right around the corner!!

The Minister of Investigation invites comments and contributions (of a literary nature only, no gifts!) to the e-mail address: