Smart Corpse

In 1950, renowned Postal Inspector John Streich devised a unique plan to capture thieves stealing large quantities of clothing from mail cars. Disguising himself as a corpse, John Streich added another arrest to his already impressive record as an Inspector.

The Crime

The crime began in Seattle, when post office clerks found that clothing mailed to Alaska from Chicago had been stolen from the mail cars. As postal inspectors began to work on the case, they received similar complaints from Spokane and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Inspector John Streich, a resident of St. Paul, was called in to the case. With nearly 400 arrests to his name, he was one of the best postal inspectors of his time. As inspector Streich studied the reports, he realized that all major west-bound shipments went through St. Paul, and that the robbery was likely occurring between St. Paul and Chicago.

The problem was that St. Paul received shipments from so many trains, it was hard to tell just what train, or what mail car, contained any arriving shipments.

The Plan

To begin, Inspector Streich developed a system where clerks would make a special mark on the mail bags, indicating the railroad, train, and car which carried each mail bag. Before long, he discovered the thefts were taking place on the Milwaukee Road's No. 75 train from Chicago and were taken from the last car on the train.

He knew he had to hide on the train to catch the culprits, but there were limited places to hide in an empty mail car. So instead, he ordered a coffin to be placed on the train. He dressed as a mail clerk, and as the train was about to leave, he slipped into the car and climbed in the coffin to wait for the perpetrators.

According to Streich, it was a sweltering July night and "was so cramped and hot" that he was "drenched with perspiration." He stayed for over four hours, and as the train reached portage, Wisconsin, someone opened the door.

The Capture

Three men came in with flashlights beaming. One man took out a key and began opening the mail bags. As they did so, Inspector Streich leaped from the coffin proclaiming they were under arrest. The shortest, and ringleader, sprang at Streich until finally subduing. Postal Inspectors had been stationed along the routes, and as Inspector Streich turned on his light in the mail car, they were notified that Streich had completed the task.

When they arrived at the next station in New Lisbon, Wisconsin, two other inspectors helped to arrest the men, two of whom were railroad brakemen The third was an express messenger. They admitted that two other postal employees were involved. Inspectors quickly apprehended them. Large amounts of stolen merchandise were found in their homes. The men pleaded guilty to mail theft and possession of counterfeit mail keys and were sent to federal prison.


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