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Robberies

photos of the three DeAutremont brothers- Roy, Ray, and Hugh
The three DeAutremont brothers

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." 

Detonator used by the DeAutremont brothers to blow up the mail train
Detonator used by the DeAutremont brothers to blow up the mail train

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. 

The brothers were eventually brought to justice after an extensive manhunt was rewarded in February 1927 with the arrest of Hugh DeAutremont. He had joined the army under the name James Price and was serving in the Philippines, where he was recognized by a barracks buddy. Hugh claimed he did not know where his brothers were, but his arrest revived media interest in the story and Ray and Roy were recognized and apprehended in Steubenville, Ohio, a few months later. They were living under the name of Goodwin. All three were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

Hugh DeAutremont received a parole in 1959 and died roughly two months later in San Francisco. Roy was given a frontal lobotomy while in prison and was paroled in March, 1983. He died three months later in a nursing home. Ray was paroled in 1961 and died on December 22, 1984 in Eugene after working for years as a custodian at the University of Oregon. 

Additional Imagery

  • $15,900.00 Reward in Gold! Train Hold-up and Murder of Three Trainmen and a Mail Clerk in the Siskiyou Mountains of Oregon- wanted circular
    The manhunt for the trio utilized bloodhounds, airplanes and teams of armed postal inspectors. Over two million wanted circulars, printed in various languages, were produced for world-wide distribution. The reward was set at $15,900. 
  • four Post Office clerks practicing shooting small .38-caliber pistols
    Railway Post Office clerks were required to carry small .38-caliber pistols. These clerks are practicing their shooting. The guns came in handy on occasion. When the Salt Lake City mail train was stopped en-route, the clerks on duty fired a hail of bullets and drove off the prospective thieves. 
  • A piece of badly burnt mail recovered from the mail train destroyed by the DeAutremont brothers
    A piece of badly burnt mail recovered from the mail train destroyed by the DeAutremont brothers