this day in crime history: october 11, 1923

On this date in 1923, twin brothers Ray and Roy DeAutremont, and their younger brother Hugh, attempted one of the last great train robberies in the United States. The robbery started when the brothers hid in a railroad tunnel outside Siskiyou, OR. As the Southern Pacific Gold Special passed through the tunnel, they jumped onto the train and made their way to the engine. After forcing the engineer to stop the train, they planted a bomb on the mail car to open the door. The bomb, which was more powerful than they expected, blew the car to pieces, killing the mail clerk inside.

Once they concluded that the robbery was a total failure, the brothers fled into the woods. Before they left, they shot and killed the engineer, the fireman, and the conductor, leaving no witnesses who could identify the robbers.

The police investigation, with the assistance of early forensic science pioneer Dr. Edward Heinrich, quickly identified the perpetrators. Tracking them down, however, would prove a bit more daunting.

The brothers figured that their chances of escape would improve if they split up. Roy and Ray went their separate ways, eventually meeting up in Ohio, where they got jobs working under assumed names. Hugh’s escape was slightly more creative. He joined the US Army under an assumed name, and was eventually posted in the Philippines. He was shipped back to the United States in 1927, after an Army buddy saw a wanted poster and recognized his friend “James Price” as Hugh DeAutrement. Roy and Ray were arrested a short time later when one of the co-workers had a similar revelation.

After two trials (the first ended in a mistrial) Hugh was convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. His older brothers, seeing what was in store for them, pled guilty and received similar sentences.

Hugh DeAutrement was diagnosed with cancer while in prison. He was paroled in 1958 and died in early 1959. Roy went insane while in prison. He was transferred to a mental hospital, where he was given a lobotomy. He died of cancer while in the mental hospital. Ray DeAutrement, who had been described as a model prisoner, was paroled in 1961, on the anniversary of the robbery. His sentence was commuted by the governor of Oregon in 1971. He died in 1984, at the age of 84.

Further reading:

The Last Great Train Robbery

Oregon’s Trails: The “great train robbery” that wasn’t

Wikipedia – DeAutremont Brothers

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11 thoughts on “this day in crime history: october 11, 1923

  1. This was probably the inspiration for the train robbery and murders at the beginning of White Heat. In that movie, it was a pack of cigarettes that was used to finally identify James Cagney as the culprit.

    Like

  2. John D.:
    That was a great post about “the last train robbers”.
    And how they managed to evade authorities as long as they did.
    But, the arm of the law seemed to STILL have a long reach back then.
    Again, nice find.

    Stay safe out there.

    Like

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