The U.S. Postal Inspection Service

Popular Culture

Poster of the 1951 film Appointment with Danger
The 1951 film Appointment with Danger is a crime noir thriller. A brave postal inspector, assisted by a beautiful nun, investigates a co-worker’s murder. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Postal inspectors typically work in the shadows, without the fanfare of other agencies. Nicknamed “The Silent Service,” the drama and intrigue of the Postal Inspection Service caught the eye of writers and filmmakers. Since the 1930s, the service has been a subject of books, films, radio, and television.

Author Doris Miles Disney placed her creation, postal inspector David Madden at the center of three novels: Unappointed Rounds, 1956, which has Madden investigate the murder of a Connecticut letter carrier; Black Mail, 1958, features a young woman tormented by a series of obscene letters; and Mrs. Meeker’s Mail. Author Kendell Foster Crossen, writing under the pseudonym Clay Richards, also penned a trio of postal inspector mysteries, The Marble Jungle, 1961; Death of an Angel, 1963, which features an inspector investigating a mail bombing; and Who Steals My Name, 1965, pits Inspector Blake Morgan against a forger. Anne Wingate wrote about a postal inspector investigating murders in Texas Darling Corey’s Dead, 1984, using her Martha G. Webb pseudonym.

One of the most complex postal inspector mystery novels has to be Nature of Midnight, written by Robert Rice in 2003. Rice blends the tale of three undelivered letters from 1918 and the murder of a Montana postal worker in 2000 into a compelling mystery. Along with Rice, the novels by authors Carter Elliott (Riding a Blue Horse, 2003) and Jonathan Lowe (Postmarked for Death, 2011) demonstrate that postal inspectors continue to make riveting characters in mystery novels in the 21st century.

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Doris Miles Disney’s novel Black Mail.

Hollywood has placed postal inspectors at the center of movie mysteries from the 1930s to the present. In the film Postal Inspector from 1936, Inspector Bill Davis tracks down the villain (played by Bela Lugosi) who robs a mail truck of $3 million and kills the driver. Three westerns from the 1950s presented postal inspectors (known as “special agents”) busily protecting the mail in the Wild West. Wyoming Mail from 1950 features a mail train robbery at the center of its story. Gene Autry is an ex-Pony Express rider striving to protect the mail from treacherous villains who are trying to get a contract to carry the U.S. mail in 1953’s Last of the Pony Riders. Finally, from the same year, Iron Mountain Trail has Rex Allen (accompanied by Koko “The Miracle Horse of the Movies”) and Slim Pickens portraying inspectors sent to California to secure and speed up mail coming from the gold fields.

Postal inspectors were a natural subject for the gritty mid-20th century crime films. One of these, Appointment with Danger from 1951 told the tale of a postal inspector played by Alan Ladd hunting down his partner’s killer. The only person who can help him is, of course, a beautiful nun. An interesting side note for film buffs are two of the film’s wicked villains are played by none other than those future stoic cops Jack Webb and Harry Morgan of Dragnet fame. The Showtime network featured The Inspectors in 1998. In this film, Louis Gossett Jr. and Jonathan Silverman starred as postal inspectors working a case based on real events. The original crime involved a 1991 mail bombing that killed a suburban couple in Alaska. Two years later the pair returned for The Inspectors 2: A Shred of Evidence. This time the inspectors tracked down a con man who steals credit card offers from mailboxes and goes on buying sprees with the ill-gotten cash.

These are just some of the places you can find postal inspectors in novels and film. Do you know of some other novels or films that feature postal inspectors? Let us know!