“Murder on the Southern Pacific” chronicles Oregon’s most infamous train holdup, and examines the myths and mysteries still associated with the case.
On October 11, 1923, three brothers tried to rob a Southern Pacific train as it made its way over the Siskiyou Summit of Southern Oregon. Before it was all over four men would be dead, and three brothers on the run. The incident would be the basis of movies, songs, comic books and even trading cards.
Twins Ray and Roy DeAutremont, along with their younger brother Hugh, wanted to be like Jesse James and other famous outlaws they had read about. They planned to rob a train, rumored to carry tens of thousands of dollars. But the DeAutremonts did everything wrong. They managed to stop the train at gunpoint, but when they tried to break into the U.S. Postal railway car, they used too much dynamite, killing the mail clerk. The mail car, and everything in it, was destroyed. Not wanting to leave any witnesses, the brothers then shot and killed the train engineer, the brakeman and fireman before escaping into the mountains.
The bandits left behind plenty of evidence, but police were at a loss. Authorities sent the material to forensics expert Edward O. Heinrich at the University of Berkley - known as the “American Sherlock Holmes.” Within days he had an amazingly accurate description of the outlaws, and even a name. His work on the case became famous and prompted the establishment of the nation’s first crime lab just a few months later.
By most accounts, the robbery was a failure, with no money taken and four men senselessly killed. But some questions still remain. Could the brothers have gotten away with anything? And what made events go so wrong?
Oregon Experience uses rare images, historic film of the brothers and expert interviews to examine the case of “Murder on the Southern Pacific.”
- Art Chipman, Tunnel 13: The Story of the Deautremont Brothers the West’s Last Great Train Hold Up, 1977.
- Margaret LaPlante, The DeAutremont Brothers: America’s Last Great Train Robbery, 2009.
- Scott Mangold, Tragedy at Southern Oregon Tunnel 13: DeAutremonts hold up the Southern Pacific, 2013.
- Larry Sturholm and John Howard, All For Nothing: The True Story of the Last Great American Train Robbery, 1976.
- Bert Webber, Oregon’s Great Train Holdup: The Deautremont Case No. 57893-D, 1973.
- Bert Webber and Margie Webber, Oregon’s Great Train Holdup, Bandits Murder 4 – Didn’t Get a Dime!
- Brad Williams and Henrie Paul Blane, Legendary Outlaws of the West, 1976.
- James Yuskavitch, Outlaw Tales of Oregon: True Stories of Oregon’s Most Infamous Robbers, Rustlers and Bandits, 2006.
- Jeff LaLande / Historian
- Larry Mullaly / Railroad Historian
- Scott Mangold / Author
- Tony Johnson / Archive Historian, Southern Oregon Historical Railway Society
- Finn J.D. John / Author
- Ed Espinoza / Forensics Criminologist
- Noreen McGraw / Attorney
- Southern Oregon Railway Historical Society
- Southern Oregon Live Steamers
- Oregon Rail Heritage Center
- History of the Siskiyou Line
- California State Railway Museum
- Southern Pacific Historical and Technical Society
- National Postal Museum, Danger on the Rails
- Offbeat Oregon History
Funding Provided By: Arlene Schnitzer and Jordan Schnitzer, Robert D. and Marcia H. Randall Charitable Trust, Oregon Cultural Trust, Clark Foundation
Additional Support By: Decherd Charitable Trust