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POSTAL INSPECTORS: THE SILENT SERVICE
An Exhibit at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum
 
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ROBBING THE MAIL





Wanted poster for William E. Engler
Wanted poster for William E. Engler.
Courtesy of the Ron J. Pry Historical Collection

click to enlarge




Image:

Wanted poster for William E. Engler, 1923

William E. Engler was wanted for helping to rob and kidnap a mail messenger at Pocahontas, Illinois, on June 15, 1923.

Courtesy of the Ron J. Pry Historical Collection

 

The Post Office has called on its inspectors to investigate postal crimes and track down mail thieves. Inspectors have been on the trail of thousands of criminals. The money and valuables carried in regular and registered mail pouches have long been attractive targets for thieves. For many, it did not matter if those pouches were moving. Stagecoaches, trains and trucks have all been the attacked by mail thieves.

 

Robbing a Mail Train
Wanted poster for Nash, Spencer and cronies
Wanted poster for Nash, Spencer and cronies

click to enlarge

Image (left): Wanted poster for Nash, Spencer and cronies, 1923.

On September 6, 1923, the Post Office Department released a wanted poster for the train robbers who were still at large, announcing a reward of $2,000 for each of the five suspects: Al Spencer, Riley Dixon, Frank Nash, Grover Durrill and George Fallon.

Courtesy of the Ron J. Pry Historical Collection

Inspectors in tent  posse
Inspectors in tent posse

click to enlarge
Inspectors with rifles  posse
Inspectors in tent posse

click to enlarge
 

Image: Inspectors in tent - posse

On August 20, 1923, a group of men held up and robbed a Missouri, Kansas and Texas train. After stopping the train near Okesa, Oklahoma, they overpowered mail clerks Charles Weiss and Warren Burch. The group made off with about $2,000 in cash as well as bonds, and valuables from the registered mail. A posse, led by U.S. Marshal Alva McDonald and Postal Inspector Jack Adamson and comprised of local law enforcement officials, federal agents, and railroad detectives, was organized to track down the thieves.

Courtesy of the Ron J. Pry Historical Collection

Image: Inspectors with rifles - posse

By mid September, the roundup of the train bandits had begun. Postal inspectors arrested Whitey Fallon on September 13, 1923. Two days later, McDonald and Adamson’s posse shot and killed Al Spencer. The arrests of Grover Durell and Riley Dixon followed not long after.

Frank Nash was the last to face justice. Captured by the posse, Nash was convicted and sent to prison in 1924. He escaped from Leavenworth in 1930 and was recaptured on June 16, 1933. The next day, Nash was being led out of Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, on his way to prison. The group, which included four federal agents and two city detectives, was attacked by three men armed with machine guns.

Local detectives W.J. Grooms and Frank Hermanson were killed along with federal agents Raymond Caffrey and Otto Reed. Federal agent Joe Lackey was paralyzed for life. Frank Nash, the target of either a gangland hit or a botched escape attempt, was dead, apparently the first to die in what became known as the Kansas City Massacre.

Courtesy of the Ron J. Pry Historical Collection
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