The attempted train robbery and the murders at Tunnel 13 had a tremendous impact on many, especially those in the communities of Southern Oregon and Northern California where the four victims, their families, and co-workers resided. The crime, the long but successful search for the perpetrators, and their trials garnered public attention throughout the 1920s. Since then, the stories have been told and retold in song, film, comic books, history books, documentaries, and podcasts. The collections of museums and archives, including those from which the materials here have been drawn, continue to be sources for new research and analysis of this complex and tragic history.
There are two copies of the “Picture Story of the Holdup of Southern Pacific Train No. 13, October 11, 1923, Capture and Conviction of the DeAutremont Brothers” about the case known to exist in the National Archives and Library of the US Postal Service. Images from the album are featured in this exhibition and many history books, including Bert Webber’s 1974 publication, Oregon’s Great Train Holdup. The captioned photographs document roles of individuals involved, the crime, investigation, circulation of wanted posters, arrests, trials, and convictions. (Folder 7, PO Inspection Service, Record Group 28, National Archives, Washington, DC)
Professionals and hobbyists associated with postal and railway organizations continue to commemorate the events of October 11, 1923, and honor the lives of the victims that were lost that day. This group from the Southern Oregon Philatelic Society visited the Tunnel 13 site as part of their P.O.S.T. trip in 1979. Wreath-laying ceremonies have become a common occurrence at the site in recent years. (Southern Oregon Historical Society 2019.54.40)
This ‘Gold Bug’ straight razor was donated to SOHS in 2021 with a story relating its provenance to the DeAutremont family. As the story goes, the razor was left in the Russ House boarding house in Albany, Oregon, by one of the DeAutremont brothers in the months prior to the crime. We can verify that Paul DeAutremont, the boys’ father, worked as a barber in Albany at Bud Stover’s Nonpareil Barbershop from 1921-1922, and that Roy was employed in the same shop for a short time. While it’s impossible to verify the razor’s ownership beyond these details, the richness of its story lies in its embeddedness in local lore. The Tunnel 13 tragedy still looms large in Southern Oregon history, and community members continue to feel connected to the stories surrounding the event. In August 2023, this razor was the subject of forensic analyses at the National Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon; you can listen to the results of that process in our Underground History podcast. (Southern Oregon Historical Society 2022.89.1)
The involvement of forensic criminologist Edward O. Heinrich, who was based in Berkeley, California, led to identification of the three DeAutremont brothers as suspects in the case. The analysis of the overalls, registered mail receipt, gun, cabin in the vicinity of Tunnel 13, other equipment and debris, and handwriting samples from the perpetrators helped crack the case and ensure convictions. His papers and many artifacts from the DeAutremont case and others analyzed by Heinrich are maintained by UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. The archival finding guide is searchable online and the project to process and prepare access to the collection is described in the university library’s podcast and online article: https://news.berkeley.edu/2019/04/30/heinrich-collection-at-the-bancroft-library.