this day in crime history: march 18, 1990

On this date in 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA was robbed. It was just after midnight when two men dressed as police officers appeared at the museum’s door, claiming they had received a report about a disturbance at the museum. One of the two guards on duty that night let them in. Minutes later the guards were overpowered, bound with duct tape, and stashed in separate parts of the museum’s basement. The two bogus cops went to work stealing various items, including works by Rembrandt, Degas, and Manet. The estimated value of their haul: over $300 million. It was the largest art heist in US history. To date, the case remains unsolved, and none of the stolen works of art have been recovered.

Further reading:

FBI – Art Theft program

Boston.com – Secrets behind the largest art theft in history

this day in crime history: february 20, 1892

On this date in 1892, upstate NY outlaw Oliver Curtis Perry robbed a train single-handedly. A daunting task to be sure, but Perry had reason to believe he could pull it off, he had robbed the same train once before in the summer of 1891.

By February 1892, the $5,000 that Perry had made from his heist of a train while it traveled between Albany and Utica, NY had just about run out. Being a practical man, he decided to go with what worked before and rob the same train he had robbed five months earlier.

On the evening of February 20th, Perry stood on the platform at the Syracuse, NY train station as the American Express Special arrived. Conductor Emil Laas noticed Perry standing on the platform and found it odd that someone would be there, considering that the Express carried no passengers. As the train left the station, Perry jumped onto one of the cars and climbed up to the roof. Once Perry had positioned himself accordingly on top of the express car, he donned a mask and affixed a makeshift rope ladder to the roof rail.

Shortly after the train left Syracuse, messenger Daniel McInerney heard glass break in the messenger car. He looked up to see a masked man holding a large revolver crashing through the window. The man ordered him to put up his hands. McInerney drew his own pistol, and both men exchanged shots. McInerney’s missed, while the robber’s shot hit McInerney in the gun hand. McInerney reached up and pulled the emergency stop cord, but the robber shot him in the thigh, then shot him again, grazing McInerney’s head.

As Perry rummaged through the car looking for valuables, the train came to a halt and crew members descended on the messenger car. Perry pointed his pistol at them and ordered them to get the train moving again. The crew complied, and the train continued on to Port Byron, NY. When the train stopped at the Port Byron station, the crew members, who had armed themselves, returned to the messenger car only to find that the robber was gone. Assuming he had jumped off the train, they continued on to Lyons, NY.

Unbeknownst to the train’s crew, Perry had not jumped from the train, but had retreated to the roof. When the train arrived in Lyons, it was met by the local constable and a doctor to treat Daniel McInerney. As they took the wounded messenger from the train, Perry jumped down and made his way to another platform. Conductor Laas saw the bespectacled man in a derby hat, and recognized him as the man who was standing on the platform in Syracuse.

When Perry realized he had been spotted, he jumped onto a locomotive, fired it up, and took off. Two rail employees and a local deputy uncoupled another locomotive and gave chase on a parallel track. Now, unlike a car chase, a train chase doesn’t leave you with too many options. You can go forward, you can go in reverse, and you can stop. There are no alleyways or side streets to duck into, and there’s no room for Steve McQueen-style driving. Soon after Perry had exhausted all of his options for evading capture (including exchanging gunfire with his pursuers), his train exhausted its steam outside the village of Newark, NY, leaving the robber to flee on foot.

Perry stopped at a local farm, where he stole a horse. When the horse was exhausted, he went to another farm where he stole another horse. Soon that horse too was unable to go on. Perry continued on foot with a posse hot on his trail. He then made his way into a swamp. Exhausted from hours of running, Perry holed up at an old stone wall where he prepared to make his last stand.

The posse eventually located Perry and surrounded him. After a long standoff, Perry called out requesting to speak with one of the lawmen. Deputy Jerry Collins agreed to lay down his gun and speak with Perry. Collins attempted to convince Perry to surrender, but the outlaw was hesitant to give up and face life in prison. During the negotiations, Perry became momentarily distracted by a noise behind him. Collins saw his opportunity. He overpowered Perry, disarmed him, and wrestled him into a pair of handcuffs.

Messenger Daniel McInerney survived his wounds, so Perry was spared facing a murder charge. He was convicted and sentenced to 49 years in prison for the robbery. After multiple escape attempts, and several long stints in solitary confinement, Perry went mad and was transferred to the state hospital for the criminally insane in Matteawan, NY. He escaped from Matteawan in 1895, but was captured the next week in New Jersey. He was later transferred to the insane asylum in Dannemora, NY, where he gouged out both of his eyes with pieces of metal, permanently blinding himself. Oliver Curtis Perry died in the mental hospital in Dannemora in 1930. He was 64.

Further reading:

Wanted Man, by Tamsin Spargo

Wayne County, NY – Office of the County Historian: Jerry Collins

this day in crime history: january 17, 1950

On this date in 1950, the Brinks Armored Car depot in Boston, MA was robbed of over $2.5 million in cash, checks and money orders. It took years for cops to solve the crime, but all eleven of the robbers were eventually arrested and convicted. The robbery inspired a 1978 movie starring Peter Falk.

FBI History: The Brinks Robbery

Wikipedia: Great Brinks Robbery

The Brinks Job (1978)

Friday Movie Quote – July 8, 2011

this day in crime history: october 20, 1981

brinks

On this date in 1981, members of the Black Liberation Army and several former members of the Weather Underground robbed a Brinks armored car in Nanuet, NY. The robbery resulted in the deaths of a Brink’s guard and two police officers.

The incident began when the Brinks truck was making a pick-up at the Nanuet Mall. The robbers ambushed the guards, killing guard Peter Paige and wounding his partner, Joe Trombino. Trombino managed to get off one shot before he was hit, but failed to hit any of the robbers.

After the attack on the guards, the robbers took $1.6 million and fled the scene in a van. The went to a nearby parking lot where they ditched the van and made their getaway in a car and a U-haul truck that were waiting for them. A college student who lived across the street saw the robbers making the switch and called the police.

Police spotted the getaway vehicles at an on-ramp to the New York State Thruway. As they approached the U-Haul, they suspected they may have had the wrong vehicle. The two people in the cab of the truck were white, but all of the robbers were described as black. The driver of the U-Haul, former Weather Underground member Kathy Boudin managed to convince the police that she was innocent. As they lowered their guard, several armed men emerged from the back of the truck and opened fire. Nyack Police Officers Edward O’Grady and Waverly Brown were killed. Officer Brian Lennon was injured. Lennon managed to return fire but wasn’t able to hit any of his attackers.

Boudin fled the scene on foot, but was apprehended by an off-duty corrections officer. Former Weather Underground members Samuel Brown, Judith Clark and Chris Dobbs were arrested after they crashed their getaway car while fleeing the shootout scene.

Police traced the license plates of the getaway car to an apartment in New Jersey. A search of the apartment yielded weapons, bomb-making materials, and blueprints for NYPD stations in Manhattan. They also found an address in Mt. Vernon, NY, not far from the robbery scene. When they searched that location, they found weapons and some bloody clothes.

After running the license plates of cars seen near the Mt. Vernon address, they managed to track down two of the robbers, BLA members Samuel Smith and Sekou Odinga. When NYPD detectives tried to pull the two men over, they crashed while trying to flee. After a shootout with police, Smith was killed, while Odinga was taken into custody.

The investigation continued with several more arrests following over the next few years. The last suspect arrested was former Weather Underground member Marilyn Buck, who had rented one of the apartments that the gang had used. It was Buck’s blood that was found on the clothes at the Mt. Vernon apartment. She had apparently shot herself by accident when she tried to draw her gun during the shootout with the Nyack police officers after the robbery.

The participants were all tried and convicted. All received lengthy prison sentences. Kathy Boudin was paroled in 2003. Marilyn Buck was released in 2010 and died of cancer shortly afterword.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Brink’s Robbery (1981)

ODMP pages – Waverly Brown and Edward O’Grady

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

this day in crime history: october 6, 1866


On this date in 1866, the Reno brothers committed the first peacetime train robbery. The Renos, a family of ne’er do wells, started their criminal careers as bounty jumpers (Army enlistees who collected the sign on bonus, then took off, only to enlist again elsewhere under another name and repeat the process) during the Civil War.

After the war, they searched for new ways to make money. On October 6, 1866, brothers John and Simeon Reno, and associate Frank Sparkes, boarded the east-bound Ohio & Mississippi train at the Seymour, IN depot. While the train was in motion, they stormed the express car and held the messenger at gunpoint. They broke open one of the safes and stole a large sum of cash from it. They pushed a larger safe off the moving train for other gang members to retrieve. Then they pulled the emergency stop cord and fled the train. The gang wound up abandoning the second safe when they were unable to get it open.

The Renos went on to commit several more robberies before most were captured by the law (and the Pinkerton Detective Agency). Most of the gang, including Simeon Reno and Frank Sparkes, died at the hands of vigilantes in three separate lynchings in Indiana. John Reno was tried and convicted. He was sent to prison in 1868, and was paroled in 1878.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Reno Gang

Legends of America – The Notorious Reno Gang

this day in crime history: july 21, 1873

RIandP

On this date in 1873, a group of western bank robbers known as the James-Younger gang tried their hand at train robbery.  The gang sabotaged the track just outside Adair, IA and waited for the Chicago Rock Island & Pacific train’s approach.  Around 7:00 PM, the locomotive derailed, killing the engineer.

Some of the robbers hit the express car while the rest guarded the train’s passengers and crew.  The gang believed that the train would be carrying tens of thousands of dollars in gold.  As it turns out, they were mistaken.  They left the scene about ten minutes later with a few thousand in cash.

Some have referred to the 1873 Rock Island &Pacific robbery as the first peace-time train robbery in US history, but this is incorrect.  The Reno gang beat the James-Youngers to it, robbing an Ohio and Mississippi train in Seymour, IN in 1866.

Further reading:

NY Times – “Daring Railway Robbery”

Old West Legends: The James-Younger Gang – Terror in the Heartland

Wikipedia – James-Younger Gang