Jun 25, 2007, 04:11 PM
Rondout, IL-Home of America's largest train robbery-Who Knew?
I am not a native Illinoian (is that the correct term)?, and that's probably why this is so fascinating to me. I found a historical marker on Rte. 176 in a little town near Waukegan/Lake Forest (that's way up north by the Lake for all you southerners) called Rondout. Unfortunately, I couldn't stop because there was a line of cars behind me. In any event, I did some looking on line and this is what I came up with:
Pretty neat, eh?
Now, if someone could tell me how to post it as a link...
We never killed anybody and we never wanted to. All we wanted was the money.
Willis Newton, 1976
The Newton Boys are America's most successful bank robbers. The four brothers from Uvalde, Texas,
Dock, Jess, Joe, and Willis Newton, robbed over eighty banks and six trains from Texas to Canada
between 1919 to 1924. The most notable thing about the Newton Boys was the fact they never killed
anyone or robbed women or children. They decided that it was okay to rob banks because they
weren't taking the people's money. The banks were insured, and the insurance companies and banks,
in the minds of the Newton Boys, were the biggest criminals of all.
Their career ended with America's largest train robbery, a three million dollar mail train heist outside
of Chicago, Illinois. It happened on the morning of June 14, 1924, when the four brothers from Texas
and some Chicago gangsters robbed a Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul mail train that held three million
dollars in cash, negotiable securities, and jewelry at Rondout, Illinois. Below are excerpts from an
interview with Joe Newton, conducted by Jack Maguire, explaining how the largest train robbery in
American history came to life...
Looking back, Joe said there was no way the Newton Boys could have planned and then pulled off the
mail train robbery alone. "We didn’t need no brains for that job," Joe would point out decades later.
"All we needed to do was to show up with our guns and our fast cars and follow orders. You can’t lose
when you’ve got a real-life cop bossin’ the job. It had to be the work of an ‘insider’—somebody
smarter even than Willis," Joe said. "We didn’t even know anybody like that."
However, such an "anybody" did know of the Newton Boys. His
name was William J. Fahy, a Chicago postal inspector rated as
one of the best detectives in the business by his superiors. He
had started his career with the Postal Service as a railway mail
clerk, worked his way up to inspector, and had achieved an
impeccable record of catching criminals.
Fahy spread word around the underworld that he knew when
every big money rail shipment moved out of Chicago. This
impressed J. Mahoney, a one-time beer baron and Chicago
politician, Brent Glasscock, a nitroglycerin expert, and Herbert
S. Holliday, another gangster with some experience in robbing
Fahy told Glasscock that he could provide a complete list of all the mail sacks stuffed with cash,
jewelry, and negotiable securities on any mail train moving out of Chicago. When Glasscock heard, he
didn’t hesitate to act upon the news. He rushed to Kansas City where Willis Newton was operating at
the time, and persuaded him to come to Chicago.
Once Willis and his brothers were in Chicago, Fahy was ready. He took Glasscock and the Newton Boys
to the Union Station and pointed out to them how shipments were handled. He told them that all
registered mail would be in the third car of the train and that only three of the guards aboard would
be armed. Joe said that Fahy told Willis not to worry about the guards, "Fahy said, ‘They won’t shoot.
They don’t know how!’"
Willis and Glasscock were old hands at robberies and knew from experience that the actions of those
involved cannot always be predicted. Guns were useful, but they decided extra protection was
necessary, so they equipped themselves and their companions with their own version of a poison gas.
"This was formaldehyde, the same stuff they used to embalm the dead," Joe said. "It’s kind of like a
home-made tear gas bomb. Willis and Brent thought it would smother the mail clerks and send `em
chokin’ to the doors and we could just walk in and pick up the mail sacks."
Joe remembered the details of that robbery as if it had happened only yesterday... "Willis and Holliday
went to Union Station wearing overalls," Joe recounted. "They wanted to look like railroad workers.
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When the engine and tender had been coupled to the train, they leaped onto the back of the tender. It
was 30-odd miles to Rondout where the heist had been planned. When the train got close, they
climbed over the tender and pulled their guns on the engineer and fireman.
"The rest of us had driven to Rondout. When they saw our flashlights, Willis and Holliday forced the
train to stop. From then on, it was easy goin’. We jumped on the mail cars and yelled at the clerks to
open the doors. Another gang member pulled one of the Cadillacs alongside car No. 2105 where Fahy
said the loot was located."
It wasn’t as easy as Fahy had said it would be, however. The clerks refused orders to open the car and
those who were armed fired some shots. "That’s when we tossed our home-made bombs through the
windows," Joe said. "The windows had bars but the stuff got inside anyway, and you can bet your
boots them clerks piled out of there coughin’ and tryin’ to breathe. We all had on gas masks and
somebody thought to put one on the chief mail clerk so he could see to open the car and toss out the
To that point, Fahy’s careful planning had worked perfectly. However, there was one slip-up that
almost proved fatal for Dock Newton. The brakeman, following railroad rules, asked, and was given
permission to go to the rear of the train with a red lantern to warn any oncoming traffic. Dock was
ordered to move to the right rear to stand guard and keep an eye on the brakeman. Dock, however,
started back on the left side, discovered his error and, gun in hand, crossed the tracks between the
cars. Glasscock, who hadn’t worked with the Newton Boys before, thought that Dock was a member of
the train crew or a mail clerk and fired five shots. "Every shot hit Dock," Joe said. "Two went into one
side and one each into his jaw, right hand and shoulder. As you can guess, we was pretty mad. No
Newton had ever hurt anybody and no Newton had ever been hurt."
Joe and Jess Newton placed their brother in the back seat of one of the gang’s Studebakers and
headed for Chicago. Dock was near death, but the brothers drove around the city for two days before
they could find a physician with underworld connections. They finally found one, but to protect
himself, however, the doctor made the required report to police that he had treated a patient for
gunshot wounds. That broke the case.
Within days, Dock, Willis and Joe Newton had been arrested. Jess, the youngest brother, managed to
get out of Chicago and to San Antonio with part of the loot. "Jess had about $35,000," Joe
remembered. "Then he got drunk one evening and decided to bury it. He hired a cab to take him into
the country and he hid most of it. When he sobered up the next day he decided to dig up the money
and head for Mexico. The problem was that he couldn’t remember where he buried it." Jess still had a
little bit of money that he had not buried, so he went on to Mexico where he spent most of his time
drinking with friends in Via Acuna, across the border from Del Rio. A Federal agent located him there,
but couldn’t extradite him under Mexican law at that time. Eventually the Federal agent tricked Jess
into coming back to the United States and Jess was arrested, ending the bank robbing days of the
Except for about $100,000, their loot in the Rondout robbery was returned to the government. Joe
insisted that except for the cash that Jess had buried, the brothers got nothing from their $3 million
haul. He said they traded their share of the theft for lighter sentences.
William J. Fahy, the postal official who had master minded the robbery, was sent to Federal Prison at
Leavenworth, Kansas, for 25 years. Willis and Dock Newton were given 12-year sentences. Joe
Newton got a three sentence and Jess Newton got 1 year and a day in jail. The reason Jess received
such a light sentence was reported to have been because the engineer of the robbed train gave such
sympathetic testimony at the trial. He said that when Jess had approached him with demands to stop
the train, Jess smiled and said, "Isn’t this a hell of a way to make a living?"
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I refuse to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death
Jun 30, 2007, 05:11 PM
Re: Rondout, IL-Home of America's largest train robbery-Who Knew?
Great story. I live in Florida now but was born and raised in Illinois. The correct term is "Illini", not an "Illinoian", ha, ha.
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