Billy Funston? It’s a cinch!

After the murder of Captain Youmans and the ouster of Chief Rynex in 1924, Schenectady needed a new police chief to establish order, crack down on vice and straighten up the police department. They turned to Billy Funston, a New York City detective who was well-known for being tough on crime and for escorting royalty, attending society weddings and protecting the jewels displayed at the opening of Metropolitan Opera seasons. He was loaned to Schenectady (later transferred by act of the State Legislature) where he was to “clean up the town; reorganize a personnel of 150 men, co-operate with all classes of the citizenry, and do all this without stirring up undue trouble or making any more enemies than necessary. Can he do it? Those who knew him say: ‘Billy Funston get away with it? It’s a cinch!'”

He came well-recommended. It was New York Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, who went on to do some other things, who appointed Funston, who had served in Cuba and the Philippines. “Mr. Roosevelt at that time was shaking up the department and looking for men of exceptional fitness … There was something about the tall and good-natured middle Westerner which made his progress in the department rapid from the first. Six feet in his stockings, broad-shouldered, blond-haired, with something of that school girl complexion of which we read, quick-witted and yet a man of few words, ‘Billy’ Funston was soon chosen for tasks which required tact and common sense …

“He knows every inch of the underworld, and when it is necessary for him to trail gunmen and yeggs he knows where to go. His memory for faces is photographic.”

Of course, criminal elements who were willing to ambush a police captain were unlikely to simply close up shop because a famous detective from the big city was coming north. The New York Herald Tribune reported on Jan. 4, 1925, that “Underworld threats against the life of Captain William H. Funston, New York detective, were reported on the streets here to-day following his arrival to take charge of the Schenectady Police Department … Captain Funston, who was met by Mayor William Campbell and a delegation of city officials, was inclined to treat the reports with little seriousness. Every effort will be made to guard the officials in their movements.”

Next: Willie the Wop squeaks

2 thoughts on “Billy Funston? It’s a cinch!

  1. Hi,
    I was doing some family history research and stumbled across this article – very interesting! We new William Funston was Chief of Police but none of the fascinating details you provided. What were your source? What do you know about the “Matter of Funston” when a grand jury in Schenectady was trying to get Funston removed? Thanks!

    1. Elizabeth, thanks for the comment. It’s been a long time since I did this research, so I don’t remember what else I knew about Funston then, but I know there was a lot. Search, a repository of old area newspapers, and you’ll probably come up with a LOT more.

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