Oct. 5, 2023
Investigation of Robbery Gone Wrong Paved Way for Modern Day Forensics
On October 11, 1923, just outside of Ashland, Oregon, in the Siskiyou Pass, three brothers, Roy, Ray, and Hugh DeAutremont staged what became known as the last “great” train robbery in the west.
The brothers mistakenly believed Southern Pacific Train #13, called the Oregon-California Express, carried $500,000 in gold. But the robbery didn’t go as planned, and four men were killed — postal clerk Elvyn Daugherty, Southern Pacific train engineer Sydney Bates, brakeman Charles Orin Johnson, and fireman Marvin Seng.
Post Office inspectors, law enforcement agents now known as postal inspectors, began an immediate search for the three brothers. They worked with other law enforcement officers from Oregon and California, and investigative teams from Southern Pacific railroad and the Oregon National Guard. The brothers were eventually found and arrested in 1927. Some of the innovative techniques forensic science used in the investigation were ahead of their time. They helped lay the foundations for current investigative methods.
“It’s been 100 years since the DeAutremont brothers robbed train #13 and killed a postal clerk and three others,” says Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale, “Many things have changed over the years, but some haven’t. Postal Inspectors left no stone unturned as they headed up the largest manhunt in history and brought the killers to justice. While theft of mail from trains is not as common today, the safety and security of postal employees remains a top priority for the Postal Inspection Service.”
In the 100 years since the iconic event, postal inspectors continue to operate both domestically and abroad to enforce more than 200 federal statutes related to crimes involving the Postal Service and networks, its employees, and its customers. The US Postal Inspection Service aggressively works to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the U.S. They investigate mail and identity fraud, prevent mail theft, aid in disaster response, investigate suspicious mail, and many other crimes involving mail and packages.
“I have always held the Inspection Service in the highest esteem for their efforts,” says William Schwartz, USPS district manager Idaho, Montana, and Oregon, “Our inspectors are out there on a daily basis ensuring not only the security and the sanctity of the mail, but they also protect our employees. It is because of their hard work, that our employees are able to do their jobs and serve our customers.”
As part of the centennial observance, the Ashland Post Office, located at 120 N 1st St., Ashland, OR, is offering customers a special pictorial postmark from Oct. 9 - 13. The image was designed by retired postal inspector Dan Mihalko.
For more information on the history of the Tunnel 13 incident, please see the virtual exhibit on the Smithsonian National Postal Museum’s website.