The Last Great American Train Robbery of the West
Three brothers, Roy, Ray, and Hugh, violently rob a mail train in Tunnel 13 on the Southern Pacific Railroad in southern Oregon and flee into the Siskiyou Mountains. Their use of explosives and inexperience in train robberies led to the deaths of a postal clerk and three railway personnel. What followed was one of the largest and most expensive manhunts in U.S. history.
Postal Inspectors converged on the northwest and were among the first federal agents to arrive at the scene. Postal Inspector in Charge of Spokane, Washington, Charles Riddiford, led the investigation, alongside Special Agents of the Southern Pacific Railroad & local law enforcement.
After arriving on the scene, forensic expert Edward O. Heinrich was able to determine the build, hair color, and job of the perpetrators through analysis of the remains in the train car and a small cabin discovered deep in the woods near the attack. The biggest clue was a pair of overalls left in the cabin. Inside the pocket was a registered mail receipt for Roy DeAutremont, who had sent $50 to family in New Mexico. Inspectors now had a name to follow - DeAutremont.
The DeAutremont brothers were nowhere to be found, however. The investigation turned into an international manhunt, and the Post Office Department sent over 2.4 million wanted posters across the United States, Canada, Latin America, and Europe. They offered a reward amount of up to $15,900, over $250,000 in today’s dollars, to attract more tips.
After four years of searching, in 1927, postal inspectors located one of the brothers, Hugh, in the Philippines who had enlisted as a private in the US Army under an alias, James C. Price.
Following the arrest of Hugh, it wasn’t long before the twins, Roy and Ray, were apprehended in Steubenville, Ohio. The trial was quick and became a national sensation. All three brothers were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In collaboration with the Smithsonian Postal Museum and Southern Oregon University, the history department of the Inspection Service worked on a virtual exhibit to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the crime, its victims, and the manhunt for the DeAutremont brothers. To learn more, visit https://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibition/tragedy-at-tunnel-13/exhibition.
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