Friday, May 9, 2014

Ogden’s Great Train Robbery Mystery of 1911

By Lynn Arave

THE Golden Spike in Utah completed the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. However, one of the Ogden area’s most dastardly of train robberies actually happened almost 42 years later and more recently than in most Hollywood versions of the wild west -- just over 103 years ago, on January 2, 1911.
According to the Jan. 3 Ogden Standard-Examiner of that year, “Train held up, one man killed and passengers robbed just west of Ogden” was the key headline. This may have been one of the last of the area’s big train robberies and was referred to at the time as “the most daring train robbery ever planned and executed in the west.”
Thieves robbed the Overland Limited, at Reese, about nine miles west of Ogden. Besides the robbery, the two masked men with short-barreled rifles, shot and killed a porter and wounded another porter. Both those shootings appeared racially motivated.
The robbery happened shortly before midnight and word of the robbery reached Ogden about two hours later.
The men had tried to steal the engine of the train, to reach Ogden, but were thwarted by a freight train following the limited. They robbed two girls in Warren, en route to Ogden and were believed to be somewhere in town. The men appeared to have intricate knowledge of the operation of the railroad and their only shortcoming was in failing to account for a train following their train. 
Posses set out in every direction but failed to find a trace of the bandits the day after the robbery.
However, the bandits, W. Lewis, 39, and Peter Murphy, 37, were caught 11 days later sleeping in an Ogden lodging house at 2417 Grant Avenue.
The Jan. 14, 1911 Standard said, “Holdups make no effort to resist officers,” as they were caught napping by officers. One of the men captured immediately held out his wrists to be handcuffed.
A “great crowd was attracted to the scene of the arrest.” Their landlady said they had been gambling with their new wealth. Two other men, who acted as a fence for the thieves, were also arrested.
Police reported they believe the same two men held up the Oregon Short Line, near Ogden, in the summer of 1910 and had also robbed an Ogden pawn shop.
“All afternoon the (Ogden) police station was besieged by persons desiring to catch some sight of the bandits,” the Standard reported.
However, that wasn't near the end of it. Soon, the police released Murphy, kept W. Lewis, but decided Thomas O'Dell was the other culprit (Standard-Examiner Jan. 16, 1911).
Yet, within days those two suspect were released for lack of evidence.
"Suspects are to leave the jail" was the Standard's Jan. 23, 1911 headline.
Next, the Weber County Sheriff's Office received tips and extradited Bryan O'Hara and Victor Clore from Michigan for the crime, as prime suspects.
But on May 22, 1911, those two men were also released because of a lack of sufficient evidence against them.
So, no robbers were ever found for that great crime. It remains an unsolved mystery to this day.

                                                                     Photo courtesy of Weber County Sheriff's Office Archives.

This historic photograph, taken May 22, 1911, shows Bryan O'Hara and Victor Clore (left side) with two Sheriff's Deputies as they were released from jail after a District Judge cited a lack of evidence.

”Trains are to carry guards” was an aftermath of the train robbery and a Jan. 7, 1911 headline in the Standard. All Harrison Company passenger trains would now include heavily armed guards to prevent future such robberies.
Yet, the 1911 train robbery wasn’t the last for the Ogden area, as occasional, much smaller railroad thefts still took place. For example, in March of 1916, a so-called “Gentleman robber,” whose “commands were mild in good language” stole mail off a train in Roy. The lone robber missed taking the local mailbag and walked off with two out-of-state mailbags, according to a March 29 Standard report. There was no report indicating this train robber was ever caught.

(-Revised and originally published on-line and in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on May 8-9, 2014.)

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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