Topeka Joe: The Safe-Blower
During the 1890s and 1900s a common burglary tactic was using nitroglycerin to crack open safes in banks and post offices. These criminals were called yeggmen and often traveled railroads, committing their robberies along various routes. Joseph B. Evans (aliases Joseph Radley or Topeka Joe) was an active yeggman for several years before being caught by postal inspectors.
The Beginning of Topeka Joe
In May of 1900, Topeka Joe, was identified by Postal Inspectors James and Jacobs in Brooklyn, New York. He had been investigated for years for a slew of post office and bank robberies across Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. In July, agents of the Pinkerton Detective Agency picked up that Topeka Joe was heading for the NW coast and notified authorities in the region.
On July 16, a suspicious man and woman were located in a cheap light-housekeeping building, where they had rented a room for two weeks. Immediately, authorities began to watch the residence and its occupants. It became clear almost instantly that this character was the infamous Topeka Joe and his wife. Then, on July 19, 1900, an attempted safe-blowing occurred at the post office in independence, Polk County, Oregon.
Robbery in Oregon
It had been noted that on July 18, Topeka Joe had left the light housekeeping residence, leaving his wife there alone, and did not return for several nights. On July 20, the woman left for Tacoma, Washington, heading towards the train station. Word was sent to Tacoma to watch for the woman, and the possible sighting of Topeka Joe. On July 23, he was seen crawling from a Southern Pacific Railroad freight car in Portland, Oregon.
He was immediately followed and was seen re-entering the light housekeeping room and then followed to the Northern Railway Express in Portland, where a brief shootout with authorities occurred. Topeka Joe was arrested on July 23, 1900. He was then transferred to Williamsburg, Virginia.
Continuation of Topeka Joe's Criminal Activity
On September 3, while awaiting trial, Topeka Joe escaped from prison using a wooden key and was at large again. He stayed relatively quiet in the criminal world until March 1901. On March 21, 1901, a post office in Toledo, Ohio, was robbed. Through investigation, it became clear that the criminal responsible was the escaped prisoner, Topeka Joe.
It didn't take long for authorities to catch up with Topeka Joe, and he was arrested on March 23, 1901, and indicted on May 16, 1901. But once again, the clever yeggman escaped from the prison in Toledo, Ohio, on July 20, 1901, and was once again on the run.
Topeka Joe was finally arrested, and convicted, in 1905 for a post office robbery with fellow yeggman, Frisco Slim.
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