Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 10, 2018

Today’s Detailed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

One of the most spectacular examples of successful early forensic investigation was that conducted by Edward Heinrich, who was in charge of the forensic laboratory at Berkeley in California after a hold-up gang had attempted to rob a mail train on the Union Pacific Railroad in 1923. The crime scene was a remote stretch of track in the mountains of southern Oregon. The mail coach had been blown up with dynamite and entire train crew murdered in cold blood before the killers panicked and fled with nothing to show for their crimes.

Aftermath of “The Siskiyou Massacre”

All that was found during a careful search of the spot was a revolver, a battery-powered detonator that had been used to set off the explosives, a pair of shoe-covers made of sacking soaked in creosote to blot out the fugitives’ scent in case tracker dogs were used, and a single pair of overalls. Having been unable to trace any useful leads, the police eventually sent the overalls to Heinrich, who examined them in the most minute detail.

Heinrich took samples of the debris from the overall pockets, some of which showed traces of grease. Initially the grease had led investigators to suspect the owner might be a garage mechanic, but Heinrich’s analysis showed that the grease came from fir trees. Once he had scrutinized every detail of the overalls under a powerful microscope, he was able to describe in extraordinary detail the characteristics of their owner. Heinrich told astounded officers that they should be looking for a left-handed lumberjack who was about five feet ten inches tall, had light brown hair and weighed around one hundred and sixty-five pounds. This man was in his early twenties, rolled his own cigarettes, was careful with his appearance, and worked in the logging camps of the Pacific Northwest.

The presence of the greasy pitch from pine trees, and chips of Douglas fir found on the overalls, indicated a lumberjack working in the Pacific Northwest where Douglas firs were plentiful. The pockets on the left-hand side of the overalls showed more wear than those on the right, and the garment had been buttoned from the left, indicating that the wear was left-handed. A light-brown hair stuck to one of the buttons showed the pigmentation and indicated the subject’s age, and the size of the overalls revealed his height and approximate weight.

Strands of tobacco found in the pockets suggested that the wearer rolled his own cigarettes. Nail clippings found in one of the seams suggested someone who cut his nails regularly – an unusual characteristic among lumberjacks. Finally Heinrich found at the bottom of one inaccessible pocket a piece of tightly folded paper which had been almost destroyed by being washed with the overalls. When carefully unpicked and treated with iodine to reveal the printing, it proved to be a U.S. Post Office receipt for a registered mail package sent to a Roy d’Autremont of Eugene, Oregon. When the police checked his last known address, neighbors verified that d’Autremont fitted Heinrich’s detailed description in every respect. They also found that he had been missing, together with his twin Ray and brother Hugh, since the day of the robbery. Descriptions were also obtained for Ray and Huge, and all three were posted as wanted men.

Tracking down the brothers proved more difficult. It was four years before a sergeant in the U.S. Army identified Hugh d’Autremont as a fellow soldier serving with him in the Philippines. He was arrested in Manila, and his brothers were tracked down to an Ohio steel mill where they were working under false names. All three confessed, and were sentenced to life imprisonment.

All for nothing, boys.

Culled from: Hidden Evidence


Ghastly: Workplace Safety Edition

They weren’t fooling around with workplace safety videos in the 90’s, as Atlas Obscura points out.  (Thanks to Michael Marano for the link.)

Workplace Safety Videos Got Pretty Horrific in the ’90s


  1. There is a book about this case called “All For Nothing” by Larry Sturholm. Bonus morbid fact: Larry Sturholm, a Seattle-area TV personality, was quite brutally murdered along with his girlfriend (he was married at the time) in 1989, by her other boyfriend, who then tried to kill himself. Ann Rule writes about this in one of her true-crime collections, and that’s actually how I learned about the train massacre. What I remember about the Sturholm murder is that the killer slashed his wrists in a bathtub full of cold water, and when the police first got to the crime scene they thought there were three dead people, but the cold water prevented the suspect from bleeding out and he revived and sat up in the tub, giving a terrible scare to the officers on the scene.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *