HISTORY'S BLOTTER

A look back in time at a moment in law enforcement history

For a long time, if you entered any police or sheriff’s department in the country, you would be greeted at the front desk by a sergeant presiding over a large bound book. Everyone who came into the station, every call patrolmen answered—it was all documented in that book, called a blotter. The National Law Enforcement Museum has acquired blotters from all across the United States. They are an important part of our collection—teeming with information about day-to-day law enforcement activities and touching on national events as they affected specific agencies. Find below our version of a national blotter: History’s Blotter draws from events in many places and times to present the collective experience of law enforcement in America. Take a look at the entry featured this month (below), and scroll down to explore the History's Blotter archive.

DeAutremont Brothers Train Robbery | October 11, 1923

United States Postal Inspectors at the Crime Scene, National Archives and Records Administration

“For nearly four long years they were sought in vain
To pay for the lives and the wrecking of this train
But God is always good and just, as we all know well
They were finally caught at last as the time will always tell.”

—“The Crime of the D’Autremont Brothers”
An American Folksong

Armed with a shotgun, Colt 45, and suitcase full of dynamite, brothers Ray, Roy, and Hugh DeAutremont staged a train robbery in the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon on October 11, 1923. Their target was a Southern Pacific train known as the “Gold Special” which, ironically, was carrying forty thousand dollars in cash rather than the gold the brothers hoped to steal. The brothers planned to separate the mail car from the engine to scavenge what they could. Instead, the robbery of Southern Pacific Railroad Train No. 13 ended in the murders of a mail clerk, a fireman, an engineer, and the train’s conductor.

What ensued was a manhunt that would last four years and involve the work of law enforcement nationwide. Some departments utilized airplanes in the search, one of the first examples of airborne surveillance. The case was finally broken by University of California professor, Dr. Edward Heinrich. Dr. Heinrich examined a pair of green overalls found by investigators. He discovered a registered mail receipt crumpled in one of the pockets signed by Roy DeAutremont. Using early forensics techniques, he was able to pinpoint that the wearer of the overalls was left handed, a lumberjack, and in his twenties. When police questioned the DeAutremonts’ father, he confirmed that Roy fit this description.

The DeAutremont Brothers case is considered to be one of the last great American train robberies, and for good reason. Efforts made by law enforcement to seek out and use the expertise of professionals like Dr. Edward Heinrich signaled a new age in forensic science and techniques to locate suspects.

DeAutremont Brothers Wanted Poster

History's Blotter Archive

1611
First Lawman in the Colonies? | May 1611

1775
New-Gate Prison | December 11, 1775

1788
Ben Franklin on How to Improve the Nightwatch | August 1788

1819
Night Watchmen | January 1819

1841
Mary Cecilia Rogers, The Beautiful Cigar Girl | July 25, 1841

1844
Eliza Farnham, head matron at Sing Sing | March 18, 1844

1844
Cherokee Light-Horse | November 13, 1844

1852
Irish Police in Boston | January 5, 1852

1857
New York City Police Riot | June 16, 1857

1858
Boston Police Get New Uniforms | November 1, 1858

1865
Abraham Lincoln Authorized U.S. Secret Service | July 5, 1865

1871
National Police Convention | October 21, 1871

1872
Tragedy at Going Snake | April 15, 1872

1874
Apache Tribal Police | September 1874

1875
Ranger Daniel Webster Roberts' Colt Revolver | September 13, 1875

1877
US Marshal Frederick Douglass | March 17, 1877

1880
Revenuers and Moonshiners | April 30, 1880

1884
Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves | February 8, 1884

1886
Haymarket Riot | May 4, 1886

1892
Borden Murders, Fall River, Massachusetts | August 4, 1892

1898
Marie Connolly Owens | March 14, 1898

1908
The Dog Squad | January 19, 1908

1908
Pat Garrett Assassinated | February 29, 1908

1909
Police Autos | June 1909

1911
US Marshals in Alaska Territory | January 14, 1911

1915
Aletha Gilbert, City Mother, LAPD | May 26, 1915

1915
The Black Hand | April 15, 1915

1919
Boston Police Strike | September 9, 1919

1920
Wall Street Bombing | September 16, 1920

1923
DeAutremont Brothers Train Robbery | October 11, 1923

1923
Izzy and Moe call on Governor Al Smith | January 18, 1923

1926
Eliot Ness | August 26, 1926

1931
Calling Dick Tracy! | October 4, 1931

1934
Dillinger is Killed | July 22, 1934

1934
Deputy Ted Hinton | May 23, 1934

1941
Agent Robert L. Shivers | December 7, 1941

1942
Saboteur Trial | June 13, 1942

1950
Kefauver Investigates the Mob | May 3, 1950

1950
Truman Assassination Thwarted | November 1, 1950

1956
The Mad Bomber | December 2, 1956

1957
Apalachin Mafia Summit | November 14, 1957

1957
Dragnet and Police Procedurals | July 26, 1957

1958
Morris Childs | October 22-23, 1958

1963
Medgar Evers | June 12, 1963

1966
Texas Tower Shooting | August 1, 1966

1967
In the Heat of the Night is released | August 2, 1967

1968
First 911 Call | February 16, 1968

1971
Phone Phreaking | October 1971

1980
ABSCAM FBI Sting | February 3, 1980

1981
FBI Agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco | July 26, 1981

 

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