Victims killed during 1923 train heist remembered on postmark
Postmark Pursuit by Molly Goad
The 100th anniversary of a botched train robbery where four innocent rail workers lost their lives is the focus of this week’s Postmark Pursuit.
Late in the morning of Oct. 11, 1923, three brothers — Ray, Roy and Hugh DeAutremont — attempted to hold up Southern Pacific Train 13 at Tunnel 13 as it entered Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains. During the confrontation, the brothers shot and killed railway personnel Sidney L. Bates, Charles O. Johnson and Marvin B. Seng.
In addition, a postal worker on the train lost his life in a horrific explosion. Oregon Encyclopedia author Jeff LaLande said postal clerk Elvyn Dougherty refused to unlock the mail car for the brothers, so Roy tried to enter by blowing up the door.
“Instead of wiring a few sticks of dynamite to blow open the door, Roy used the entire box, and the explosion killed Dougherty instantly,” LaLande said. “The mail car — full of mail but carrying no currency or gold — became a fiery, smoke-filled inferno.”
The three brothers fled the scene, but it wasn’t long before forensic scientist E. O. Heinrich, from the University of California, Berkeley, figured out who had committed the crime.
The scientist examined stains on a pair of coveralls left at the scene and found a faded, weathered receipt stuffed into a pocket. LaLande said Heinrich used iodine vapor to determine that it was a registered mail receipt signed by Roy DeAutremont.
The criminals remained at large for four years before they were finally caught in 1927. Hugh had joined the U.S. Army under a different name and was recognized by his sergeant while stationed in the Philippines. Roy and Ray were found in Steubenville, Ohio, shortly thereafter.
The Smithsonian National Postal Museum has developed a virtual exhibit called “Tragedy at Tunnel 13: The Crime, the Victims, and Legacy.”
The pictorial postmark was designed by retired United States postal inspector Dan Mihalko.
To obtain the postmark, address your request to:
TUNNEL 13 Station, Postmaster, 120 N. First St., Ashland, OR 97520-0821, Oct. 11.
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