Conrad Austin

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C. W. Austin

Conrad Wall Austin (born June 20, 1868 in Butler Springs, Butler County; died December 3, 1934 in Birmingham) was a saloon keeper and Chief of the Birmingham Police Department from 1898 to 1901, a period when the position was elected at-large by city voters.

Austin was the son of David Washington Austin, one of Birmingham's early patrolmen, and his first wife, Amanda. He graduated from Birmingham High School and followed his father's footsteps into the force at the age of 20, while also operating a saloon at 1720 1st Avenue North. He spent six years as a constable before being elected Chief in the 1898 Birmingham mayoral election that brought Mel Drennen's administration to power, partly on the promise to more strenuously enforce Blue Laws that kept businesses closed on Sundays.

As Chief, Austin announced the Anti-Spitting Law of 1899 and oversaw the department's move into the new Birmingham City Hall in 1901. In February 1901 he personally led raids of suspected gambling dens above the Dude Saloon and the Damon & Lee Livery Stable. After leaving office he managed the Commercial Detective Bureau with offices on the fifth floor of the Jefferson County Bank Building.

Austin ran unsuccessfully to return to office in the 1907 Birmingham mayoral election. In 1911 he had his own C. W. Austin's Secret Service Agency with offices on the 2nd floor of the Woodward Building. In 1914 he helped investigate corruption in the department in his capacity as a private detective, and claimed credit for the ouster of Chief George Bodeker on suspicion that he had accepted bribes from bordellos and gambling houses. In 1915 his agency had moved to the 4th floor of the Brown-Marx Building, just one floor above the newly-opened Bodeker's National Detective Agency.

Austin later headed the Alabama Law Enforcement Bureau, whose undercover agents were active in suppressing organized labor in the state. In 1921 he wrote to Governor Thomas Kilby to recommend allowing the sale of "non-intoxicating near beers", as permitted by the Volstead Act, under state license.

Austin died in 1934 and is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery.

Preceded by:
Thomas McDonald
Chief of Birmingham Police Department
Succeeded by:
William Wier


  • "Chief Austin Makes Two Raids" (February 7, 1901) The Sentinel (Montevallo)
  • "Will of People to be Expressed Monday: Wide Interest in Democratic Primary." (February 16, 1907) The Birmingham News
  • Austin, C. W. (December 19, 1914) letter to the publisher, published January 30, 1915 in The Freeman. Indianapolis, Indiana

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