Who were the DeAutremont brothers?
Twins Ray and Roy were just twenty three when they attempted one of the most daring robberies in America. Their brother Hugh, who accompanied them, was a mere nineteen.
The crime they committed in 1923 would have been laughable in its ineptitude had they not happened to kill four men during the debacle.
But what of their earlier criminal career? This too proves without doubt that the DeAutremont brothers should have stuck to a more legitimate career – it seems that they just weren’t cut out to be criminal masterminds.
Crime attempt number one
The first attempted robbery took place in July 1922. The twins – their younger brother Hugh was yet to join them – were staking out a bank they intended to relieve ofits funds.
One July day, they huddled across the road of the bank in a bush, they studied the movements of the staff. Although it was July, the weather was cold and it was raining and their day-long vigil outside the bank was uncomfortable to say the least.
They knew that the policeman who was guarding the bank – this was in a small one-horse town – went home at 5.50. All they would have to do was stroll into the bank when the cop left, take the money and get away. They planned the robbery for the next day. They saw the policeman leave at five o’clock and made their final notes. They were anxious to get out of the cold and rain and were eager to holdup the bank the following day.
As they were preparing to leave, full of their plans for tomorrow, they didn’t see how their plan could fail. As they emerged from their foliage hideout, Roy was annoyed when a large Buick pulled up outside the bank, blocking his view. He saw three men emerge from the car and enter then bank premises.
Suddenly he realised that through the bank window he could see that the staff were holding their hands in the air. The three men emerged from the bank with their booty and sped off down the road and disappeared. The twins figured that their plan had been perfect – except they had left it a day late. Another gang had beaten them to it.
The DeAutremont twins try again
They then moved on to a town called Seaside, where huge July 4th celebrations were planned. The twins’ logic was that a robbery would be easy in the chaos that would be brought about by the Independence Day festivities. They checked out the town’s bank. It looked promising. But the problem was that it was so close to the police station.
Having had a lesson from the gang who had robbed ‘their’ bank, Ray decided that the should steal a car. Because the police station was so near, they’d need wheels to escape. But there was one problem. Neither of the boys knew how to drive. The bank idea was abandoned. They drifted south to another community, a town called Cannon Beach. The weather had changed and it was a beautiful warm day.
Thinking that a bank was too risky without the advantage of a vehicle, they spotted a confectionery store that was doing great business. And because of the July 4th holiday, they reckoned that by the end of the day, they could rob the store and get hundreds of dollars – maybe even a thousand. They had lowered their sights a bit because they had been relying on a bank heist, they had no money and hadn’t eaten for two days.
They decided to lay low opposite the store and attack the owner when he left with the day’s takings at closing time. They hid in a ditch right across the road – this time thankful that the weather was warm and that it wasn’t raining. they watched as the store got busier and busier – the owner was so run off his feet that he didn’t have time for a lunch break and the money was pouring in.
It was perfect. The man was old and they reckoned that all they had to do was wave their guns at him when he left the store for the day and he’d hand the money over. As the sun started to go down,the store owner closed the blinds. He was pleased with his day’s takings and the business he had received on that lovely sunny day. He decided it was time to go home. He gathered up the money he had taken that day, placed it in his bag and left the store, locking the door behind him.
In the ditch across the road,overcome with hunger and the warm sunshine, the DeAutremont twins were fast asleep. They awoke the next morning having missed their chance.
The big job
Their younger brother Hugh now joined them and in October, the trio robbed a mail train. Or tried to. They had planned it meticulously, or so they believed. This time, they were prepared. This time, they were going to steal enough money to keep themselves and their unsuspecting parents for the rest of their lives.
Two of the brothers jumped the mail train. The third was waiting in a tunnel down the track with dynamite. Threatening the engineer with their guns, Hugh and Roy ordered him to stop the train in the tunnel. When the train came to a halt, Ray used his dynamite to blow the doors off the car that was carrying the valuable cargo. But he used too much.
The dynamite blew the railway car to bits and caused an inferno – the railroad employee inside being ‘burnt to a crisp’ in the process. The robbers panicked. With the fire, there was no way that they could reach the cargo, even if it had survived the blast. All their planning and preparation had been for nothing. They fled, but not before they had shot the three railroad employees who could identify them.
On the run
The crime sparked off one ofthe greatest manhunts in history. The brothers were on the run for four years. Ray married and had a child. At times, his twin brother lived and worked with him. Hugh, using a false name, joined the army and ended up in the Philippines but they could not evade the law.
In the ‘trial of the century’ the boys initially pleaded their innocence and the event was a media circus, which the brothers loved – laughing, joking and posing for photographs. But they were told that if they admitted the crime they would not be sent to the gallows. Because of their confessions and despite the fact that there was no concrete evidence that they had been one ones in the tunnel that day, the three brothers were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Were the DeAutremont brothers innocent?
We’ll never know. They are all long gone now as are those who were involved in the investigation and the trial.
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