Rondout Train Robbery

In 1923, the DeAutremont brothers attacked and robbed a mail train. This lead to the infamous title “The Last Great Train Robber.” However, the next year in 1924 the largest and most successful train robbery took place in Rondout, Illinois. This event sparked the 1998 movie starring Matthew McConaughey, The Newton Boys.

The Robbery

On June 12, 1924 around 9:00 p.m. two bandits climbed over the engine tender of R.P.O. train 57, 30 miles outside Chicago. The two men covered the engineer and firemen at gun forcing them to stop the train near Rondout, Illinois.

Four other bandits were a Rondout, staked out in black Cadillacs. As the train approached, the four rushed and forced 12 workers out of the train. They proceeded to threaten the workers with gasses and weapons, while securely armed with masks and explosives. Together, the six bandits emptied the mail car of all 52 pouches containing over $2,000,000 in goods.

During the attack, one fatal mistake was made. The engineer had stopped the train too far past the designated spot; one of the bandits left his post, and was shot five times by one of his own. The man survived, but was badly wounded. This near fatal mistake would eventually lead Inspectors to those responsible.

The Culprits

Dion O'Brian, a notorious gangster in Chicago, was quickly questioned regarding the robbery. He pointed inspectors to an apartment in the West side of Chicago where the wounded man was being cared for.

The wounded was Willie Newton. One of four brothers that made up the Newton Boys. James Murray, a well-known mob boss, ended up visiting Newton where inspectors also found Joe Newton. The three were arrested, and the rest of the gang quickly fell to law enforcement.

What was suspicious to inspectors, was the lack of prior success in train robberies from the culprits. The Newton Boys and their accomplices were well-know bank robbers throughout the Midwest. Robbing a train of this magnitude was out of their realm of expertise.

The Success

The Rondout train robbery was the largest looted amount the U.S. had seen. The robbers were well-versed in the contents of the train and exactly where, when, and how to proceed without being caught. During the investigation, Postal Inspectors were stumped trying to understand how this particular gang of criminals were able to undertake such a successful venture.

It became apparent that the bandits had help from an inside source. in the months leading up to the robbery, several Postal Inspectors had taken note, and reported suspicious activity on one of their own, Inspector William J. Fahy.

William J. Fahy - Postal Inspector

William J. Fahy began his career with the Postal Office as a railway mail clerk. In September 1917, he was appointed to the position of Post Office Inspector. Fahy was once a highly respected Inspector and was considered "bad medicine for train robbers."

He was responsible for the arrest of infamous Chicago robber Timothy "Big Tim" Murphy after the 1922 Dearborn Station Robbery and the 1923 Pullman Robbery in Chicago. Fahy was given credit with solving nearly every important mail robbery over the previous five years. Since Fahy began his career as a clerk, he was knowledgeable about all aspects of trains going in and out of Chicago. He was also well connected throughout the Postal Service.

When the Rondout train was robbed in 1924, William J. Fahy was the first Postal inspector assigned to the job. He was on the scene quickly, examining each piece of evidence closely.

Fahy's Downfall

At some point, Fahy fell into financial troubles, and it was obvious to his colleagues that he was struggling - until a point in 1923, when he and his wife began wearing lavish styles and flaunting new income. William Fahy, particularly, began to associate with "women of easy virtue" and was clearly spending more than his salary allowed, especially considering his two young children at home.

Fahy told a few of his questioning colleagues that he had entered into a whiskey business (during prohibition) with James Murray. This put him on the radar, as Murray had a bad reputation among law enforcement.

When James Murray was arrested by Inspectors with Joe and Willie Newton, the investigation pointed towards William J. Fahy as the internal source responsible for the Rondout Train Robbery. It took no time for the Newton Gang and Murray to admit Fahy's involvement as the mastermind behind the attack.

Fahy's Conviction

Throughout the entirety of the court hearings, William J. Fahy claimed innocence, stating he was framed by his fellow Inspectors, due to jealousy. Nonetheless, the proof of his involvement and connections to James Murray was evident. George S. Evenger, a clerk for Train 57, also testified against Fahy, claiming he visited the station asking questions regarding that specific train.

He was found guilty, deemed the mastermind of the entire operation, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

William J. Fahy is the only Postal Inspector convicted on federal mail theft charges.

The Rondout Train Robbery is often overlooked in Postal Inspection Service history, due to the collusion of a former Inspector. While no organization is immune from corruption, all Postal Inspection Service employees today are held to rigorous standards of conduct. We are committed to adherence to our four guiding principles: Accountability, Integrity, Respect, Excellence.


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