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: 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 23, 1927

On this date in 1927, Ferdinando Nicola Sacco (above right) and Bartolomeo Vanzetti (above left) were executed in the Massachusetts electric chair for an armed robbery that resulted in the deaths of a paymaster and a security guard. Controversy still rages to this day as to the guilt of the men, but their convictions have yet to be overturned.

Further reading:

The Sacco-Vanzetti Case

Wikipedia – Sacco and Vanzetti

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

this day in crime history: april 24, 1953

On this date in 1953, a crew of robbers held up the Southwest Bank in St. Louis. The robbers didn’t get far with their loot; police officers confronted them as they exited the bank. In the ensuing shootout, a police officer and one of the robbers were injured, and two of the robbers wound up dead (one by his own hand). The story attracted national attention and was made into a movie in 1959 starring Steve McQueen. Officer Mel Stein, who shot and killed one of the robbers, played himself in the movie.

Check out this video about the robbery. It includes an interview with Officer Stein.

Further reading:

stltoday.com: A Look Back: Fast action foils bank robbery in 1953

The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (1959)at IMDb