Detective Edward O. Heinrich and the Mail Train Murders Part 2

About the famous detective Edward O. Heinrich and the Mail Train Murders, history and solution of the crime.




The Chase

The first thing Heinrich did was to make a microscopic examination of the overalls and their "contents," such as the dried grease stains and lint from the pockets. He then ordered the mechanic released. "The stains are not auto grease. They're pitch from fir trees. The man you are looking for," he told awed detectives, "is a left-handed lumberjack who's worked the logging camps of the Pacific Northwest. He's thin, has light brown hair, rolls his own cigarettes, is fussy about his appearance. He's 5 ft. 10 in. and is in his early 20s."

None of this was guesswork. Heinrich had found everything out during his laboratory tests. He readily identified the stains as pitch from firtrees, and in the pockets he found bits of Douglas fir needles, common to the forests of the Pacific Northwest. The pockets on the left side of the overalls were worn more than those on the right, and the garment was habitually buttoned from the left side. Hence, the man was left-handed. In the hem of a pocket were two or three fingernail trimmings, carefully cut, indicating that the man was fussy about his appearance. On one button, the scientists found a single light-brown hair. It indicated the man's coloring, of course; even more important, though, through special techniques Heinrich had devised, he was able to compute the man's age by the thickness and character of this single hair.

Heinrich had a final clue, which other investigators had totally overlooked. Wedged at the bottom of the narrow pencil pocket was a small wad of paper, apparently accidentally jammed down by a pencil and washed with the garment several times. The printing on the slip had been blurred past all legibility, but by treating the paper with iodine vapor, Heinrich succeeded in identifying it as registered mail receipt #263-L, issued at Eugene, Ore.

The Solution

Heinrich's work was now completed, and postal and other detectives took over. They found that the mail receipt had been obtained by Roy D'Autremont of Eugene when he sent $50 to his brother in Lakewood, N.M. Authorities located Roy's father in Eugene. It turned out that the elder D'Autremont was worried about his twin sons, Roy and Ray, and another son, Hugh, who had disappeared on Oct. 11, the date of the train holdup. Left-handed Roy fit all the characteristics Heinrich had cited. What followed was one of the most intensive manhunts in American history. Over the next three years and four months, half a million dollars was spent searching for the trio. Circulars were printed in 100 languages and mailed to police departments around the world. Records of the wanted men's teeth, eyeglass prescriptions, and medical records were supplied to dentists, oculists, and doctors. Finally in March, 1927, Hugh was captured in Manila in the Philippines, and a month later the twins were found in Steubenville, O., working in a steel mill under assumed names. Faced with Heinrich's evidence, the three brothers pleaded guilty and were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Edward Heinrich went back to his laboratory. By the time of his death in 1953 he was credited with having solved 2,000 major and minor mysteries for the police, when they had been baffled by what they considered a lack of clues.

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