October 11, 1923 | DeAutremont Brothers Train Robbery

 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