This Day in the Law
October 11

A Train Robbery Gone Bad… (1923)

On October 11, 1923, a mail car of a Southern Pacific train was blown up. This particular train was transporting passengers through the state of Oregon when three men attempted to orchestrate a train robbery. As the train entered a tunnel through the Siskiyou Mountains, two armed men attacked the engineer, while a third man attempted to use a bomb to open the door to the mail car. But the men underestimated the power of the bomb. In the blink of an eye, the ENTIRE mail car exploded. As the three men fled, they shot several people, and left a trail of some clothes and a detonator.

In an attempt to solve this deadly crime, Southern Pacific decided to bring in Edward O. Heinrich, a chemist from Berkeley who used science to solve complex crimes. His first order of business was to examine the clothing and items that the three criminals had left behind at the scene of the blown-up mail car. Within a very short period of time, and after careful examination and chemical analysis, the "American Sherlock Holmes" was able to articulate a profile of at least one of the men. Heinrich was able to show that the stains on the overalls were from fir trees, which indicated that this individual was a lumberjack in the area. The fact that there was more wear on the pocket on the left side, and the fact that the overalls buttoned on the left, signified that the lumberjack was left-handed. The individual’s race, age, and hair color were able to be determined by a strand of hair that was found on the overalls. Finally, a piece of paper turned out to be a sales slip, which allowed authorities to track the identity of the individual who signed it. All of this evidence led to the conclusion that the three D’Autremont brothers were the culprits of the botched train robbery.

Four years later, the D'Autremont brothers finally paid for the crimes they had committed. One brother was found in the Philippines. The other two brothers were found in the state of Ohio. All three brothers plead guilty, and were sentenced to life in prison.