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

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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 their 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 5, 1892

On this date in 1892, members of the Dalton gang — Bob, Emmet and Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell, and Bill Power — rode into the town of Coffeyville, KS. Their mission: a spectacular double bank robbery. It was a great plan, but for two serious miscalculations. The first being that Coffeyville was the hometown of the Dalton boys. In spite of attempts to disguise themselves, they were recognized when they entered the banks. The second miscalculation involved the tolerance of the local population for bank robbery (they had none), and the lengths they would go to in thwarting would-be bank robbers. Said lengths involved guns, lots of guns.

The townsfolk armed themselves and confronted the Daltons as the gang emerged from the banks. After a fierce gun battle, four of the townspeople lay dead. As for the gang, four of the five were killed, leaving a wounded Emmet as the lone survivor. After being tried and convicted, Emmet Dalton was sentenced to life in prison. His sentence was commuted in 1907. He moved to California, where he wrote a book and even acted in a few Hollywood movies. He died in 1937 at the age of 66.

Further reading:

Historynet – Dalton Gang’s Raid on Coffeyville

EyeWitness to History.com – The Dalton Gang’s Last Raid, 1892

Emmett Dalton – His Life After the Coffeyville Raid

this day in crime history: october 4, 1997

Masterminds

On this date in 1997, $17.3 million was stolen from the Loomis Fargo armored car company office in Charlotte, NC. At the time, it was the third largest cash robbery in US history.

The heist began just after 6 PM. After sending home a new employee he was supposed to be training, driver and vault supervisor David Ghantt loaded the cash into a company van and left the facility. He met up with former Loomis employee Kelly Campbell, her friend Steve Chambers, and several other accomplices. The money was transferred to other vehicles and the van was left behind.

The plan was for Ghantt to take $50 thousand in cash, then head to Mexico. Chambers would eventually wire him more money. But Chambers had other plans.

Kelly Campbell, at Chambers’s urging, manipulated Ghantt into carrying out the robbery. She had convinced Ghantt that she was in love with him. As the plan for the heist developed, she introduced him to Chambers, who she said could help in the heist. Once the theft was complete and Ghantt was in Mexico, Chambers planned to hire someone to kill him.

The morning after the theft, Loomis Fargo employees were unable to gain entry to the vault. It soon became apparent that they had been the victim of a theft. They called the police, who called the FBI. The van was soon found

Ghantt, who was the only employee who was not accounted for after the theft, emerged as an early suspect. The FBI quickly made the connection between Ghantt and Campbell and began surveillance of Campbell.

Two days later, the van was found with $3.3 million inside. The thieves had underestimated how much room the money would require (about $11 million was in $20 bills).

The FBI received a tip about Chambers, but could not connect him to Campbell or Ghantt. Their suspicions were confirmed when Chambers and his wife went on a spending spree. Mrs. Chambers even asked a local bank teller how large a deposit she could make before the bank was required to report it to the government.

The FBI eventually built cases on their suspects, but were missing one piece of the puzzle: the location of David Ghantt. That piece eventually fell into place when they traced a phone call Gantt made to Chambers asking for more money. Agent traveled to Mexico where, with the help of Mexican police, they arrested Ghantt.

The total number arrests came to eight: Ghantt, Steve Chambers and his wife, Kelly Campbell, and four friends and relatives (including Chambers’s lawyer). Steve Chambers was the only member of the gang not to plead guilty. He was convicted at trial and was sentenced to eleven years in prison, longer than any of his accomplices. He was released from prison on November 2006. According to the FBI, over 95% of the money was recovered.

The robbery inspired the 2016 movie Masterminds, starring Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig and Owen Wilson.

Further reading:

Creative Loafing Charlotte – The Imperfect Crime

Wikipedia – 1997 Loomis Fargo Robbery in North Carolina

this day in crime history: september 7, 1876

On this date in 1876, the infamous James-Younger outlaw gang attempted to rob the First National Bank of Northfield, MN. When some of the local citizens saw what was going on, they armed themselves and confronted the gang. A gun battle ensued, leaving two townsfolk and a couple gang members dead. The remainder of the gang fled, and several were captured a few days after the attempted robbery. Frank and Jesse James managed to escape, but the Northfield raid was the last hurrah for the James-Younger gang.

Every year, the city of Northfield holds a celebration called The Defeat of Jesse James Days.

Further reading:

The Defeat of Jesse James Days website

Minnesota Historical Society: Northfield Raid & the James-Younger Gang

Wikipedia: James-Younger Gang

this day in crime history: august 14, 1936

Bethea

On this date in 1936, convicted rapist Rainey Bethea was executed by hanging in Owensboro, KY. In addition to the rape, Bethea also confessed to robbing and murdering his victim, 70 year old Lischia Edwards, but was never tried on those charges. A crowd of 20,000 people were on hand to witness the hanging. His hanging was the last public execution in the United States.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Rainey Bethea

Murderpedia – Rainey Bethea

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