In his annual report to Congress in 1921, the Postmaster General noted that there had been "a sudden & unusual increase in crimes committed in the 'hold-up' of railway mail trains, mail messengers, etc." That past year had seen at least three dozen mail robberies, resulting in a theft of over $6.3 million.
Two of the most notorious train robberies took place in the 1920s. On June 14, 1924, the four Newton brothers, Dock, Jess, Joe, and Willis, stole $3 million in cash, jewelry and negotiable securities from the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul mail train. Dock was shot during the robbery, and a doctor who patched him up turned the brothers in. The robbery was depicted in the 1998 film, "The Newton Boys."
The year before, on October 11, 1923, another set of brothers robbed a mail train. Hugh, Ray and Roy DeAutremont ambushed Southern Pacific train #13 near the Siskiyou Mountains in southern Oregon, just as the train was emerging from a tunnel. After they stopped the train, the brothers shot and killed the train's brakeman, engineer and fireman. The trio used dynamite to blow their way into the car. They used too much. The explosion killed the mail clerk and sparked a fire that destroyed the mail car. Much of the mail was burned or charred, leaving nothing for the bandits. The $40,000 was nothing more than an unfounded rumor.