Midnight Sun was a purebred German shepherd owned by a local oil man by the name of W.H. Gragg. Gragg frequently brought the dog into town with him, and Sun was a very handsome dog who made quite an impression with his creamy tan coat and his coal black saddle and black nose.
Some of the higher-ups on the police force knew that other cities were experimenting with using dogs to aid with police work, and Okmulgee’s high number of burglaries had gotten police attention. However, dogs used in police work were not common at the time. (The first police dog is thought to have been used in New York City in 1907.)
When Okmulgee’s crime problem became such that they felt they needed extra help, the choice of turning to a canine was not made lightly. Someone suggested approaching Gragg about adding his dog to the police force. Gragg agreed, and the dog was sent to Herr Benno Stein, a well-known trainer of shepherds.
The force’s Captain Stewart became Midnight Sun’s primary handler, and Sun was described as obedient and affectionate with those with whom he worked.
Midnight Sun’s Esteemed Record
Midnight Sun quickly earned an excellent reputation. According to an article in the American Kennel Club Gazette (8-31-1927), eighteen criminals captured in Okmulgee during one of Sun’s first years on the force (1926) were due to the addition of the dog. Because of the drop in the crime rate, he became beloved by the citizens of Okmulgee.
Midnight Sun was soon in high demand by other police forces both within Oklahoma and outside the state. The article noted that the criminals were now “giving Okmulgee wide berth,” so the police force was willing to loan him out on an as-needed basis.
Several stories of captured criminals were included in the AKC Gazette article about Midnight Sun, but my favorite was the description of what happened with the “ice pick burglar,” Henry Clay.
The Ice Pick Burglar
Clay’s primary burglary tool was an ice pick that he filed down to be needle-thin. From the sound of his work methods, he must have razored around the edge of the window screening so that he could lift a flap of the screen to get into a window.
Once inside a home he had a very consistent methodology. He removed from the house men’s trousers and ladies’ pocketbooks. He never tinkered with safes or opened a drawer looking for jewelry. He simply tossed trousers and pocketbooks out into the yard until he was satisfied he had them all.
When he climbed back out of the window, it seems he put the screen back more or less in place. He then sorted through the purses and the pockets in the pant looking for valuables which he then took with him.
That occurred in the days before Midnight Sun.
Sun was brought to a house following a job done by the “ice pick burglar.” He picked up the scent of the burglar from the screen and proceeded to follow Clay’s trail. Clay appeared to have run out of the residential area into the heart of the city where there was heavy traffic. Despite the fact that many cars and people had crossed and re-crossed the route Clay traveled, Sun trailed Henry Clay for more than 15 blocks.
Clay was captured and later sentenced to 18 years.
Midnight Sun received a gold medal for his work, and the police received a $1,000 reward for their work (there is no explanation as to why a police force was eligible for a reward).
Midnight Sun’s scent work was first-rate and effective in a day when a criminal was likely to travel by foot, and certainly Sun’s success was to help pave the way for the advanced police work now done by dogs for search-and-rescue, bomb detection, arson, and cadaver dogs as well as plain old guard dogs.
For another story out of Oklahoma, see Catch’em Alive Jack.