Agent Shallcross and the Hunt for General Hinton

In 1849, a series of alarming mail depredations came to light in Ohio. Several large deposits from banks and businesses disappeared from mail pouches before reaching their destinations. The case remained cold until a Special Agent of the Post Office had a chance encounter with Otho Hinton from the Ohio Stage Company.

The Crime

In 1849, when special agents discovered the large number of deposits disappearing in Ohio, they went straight into action. They discovered quickly that the mail bags were locked upon departure and remained locked until arriving at their destination with no apparent tampering. It was concluded that whoever was stealing the deposits had access to the mail bags while they were still in transit. The case remained a mystery until Special Agent Thomas P. Shallcross met Otho Hinton from the Ohio Stage Company.

Hinton was the general manager of the Ohio Stage Company and a politically connected former general in the Ohio State Militia. Shallcross grew suspicious of Hinton and began to investigate. Another robbery occurred between Zanesville, Ohio, and Wheeling, Virginia, but much to Shallcross’ amazement, Hinton was not on that coach when it arrived.

The Crime and Investigation

This outcome did not satisfy Shallcross, and he stopped at in inn near Morristown, Ohio, inquiring if Hinton had taken a room there at any point. He had, just one day after the last robbery. Upon investigating, Shallcross discovered the scorched remains of letters, post bills, and sealing wax in the fireplace of the room.

Shallcross then interviewed Jake Fricker, the driver of the robbed stagecoach. According to Fricker, General Hinton had ridden along with him on the last leg of the journey but had slept during the trip, using a mailbag as a pillow. Agent Shallcross concluded that General Hinton must have stolen a set of keys to the mail bags and was using them to secretly steal mail. Since he was a trusted citizen, he was often allowed to be in close proximity of the mail bags. The final clue came when Shallcross matched a package of banknotes General Hinton had cashed to the description of the mail missing from the mail pouches.

Investigation and Manhunt

General Hinton was taken into custody on September 3, 1850, but escaped later that night. Shallcross relentlessly pursued Hinton and brought him back to jail. Bail was set at $10,000 (almost $330,000 today). Hinton had powerful friends who posted his bail, and he thanked them by skipping town and going on the run again. A few weeks later, Hinton sent a suicide letter to a friend to fake his death. Shallcross didn’t believe the claim and went again on the hunt for Hinton.

General Hinton was discovered in Cuba, which was under Spanish control at the time. Unable to extradite the criminal, Shallcross was forced to leave. Hinton then fled Cuba for Oregon, and then Hawaii, and eventually Australia. He died in Australia from an unnamed “incurable disease.” General Hinton’s body was sent back to the United States and his possessions and property were sold to cover some of the losses of his bondsman.

Shallcross went on to solve countless more crimes well in to the 1880s. He later died in 1891 in Wheeling, West Virginia.


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