6/12/1924 - Worried that the mob violence exploding in Chicago might be directed his way, gangster Jimmy Murray successfully moves from the bootleg brewery business to armed robbery by masterminding the largest mail-train heist in U.S. history ... a job that briefly gifts the bandits involved a cool $3,000,000 in cash, bonds, and jewelry (roughly the equivalent of $22 million in 2014).
Using inside information secretly provided by postal inspector William F. Fahy, the Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad's #57 is targeted to be hit just outside the small hamlet of Rondout, Illinois, about thirty miles north of Chicago. Plan readied, the men contract the best bandits available for the job's muscle, the Newton Gang out of Uvalde County, Texas ... the Newton brothers, Willis, Dock (Willie), Jess, and Joe, and their friend, explosives experts, Brentwood "Brent" Glasscock and Herbert Holliday.
L to R - The Newtons - Dock, Willis, Jess and Joe
Moving from stealing bales of cotton to robbing banks (they will claim to hit eighty-seven before the authorities shut down their operations) and trains (six confirmed pilferings) from Texas to Canada, by the time the group is contacted by Murray, the brothers and their friend have stolen more money than the Younger-James Gang, the Daltons, Bill Doolin, and Wild Bunch did combined ... and the thefts are all accomplished without killing anyone (most of the robberies take place at night, safe cracking or blowing open vaults in small towns lacking patrolling police). On the 12th the gang is ready to add another train to their tally of paydays.
On a run to Milwaukee that has the #57 pulling eleven cars filled with mail and treasure, in Chicago, Willis and Jess sneak aboard the train disguised as part of the crew, make their way forward, and at around 10:30 in the evening, force the engineer and fireman to stop at a grade crossing where the rest of the gang is quietly waiting with an assortment of pistols, rifles, sawed-off shotguns, formaldehyde bombs, gas masks, dynamite, and nitroglycerin. Seemingly prepared for any eventuality, the men hurl gas bombs into the cars that incapacitate the guards, then help themselves to over sixty sacks of mail containing millions of dollars of loot.
Some of the looted mail sacks
The job is over in just under twenty minutes and comes off almost without a hitch ... almost.
Nervous with a gun pointed at his head, the engineer overshoots the crossing and is forced to back up and re-position the train ... in doing so, the gang is forced to move out of the way in the darkness to new spots along the line, and in resulting confusion, Glasscock mistakes Dock Newton for a guard, and shoots the bandit five times with his .45 revolver (the outlaw is hit in the jaw, the right hand, his shoulder, and twice in the side). Dominoes tumbling, the blood left at the scene tells the authorities to be on watch for a wounded thief, knowledge that causes them to bully Chicago's underworld for information on the missing miscreants, and to escape a prison term, one shady sawbones talks. In the raid that results, Joe Newton and his wounded brother are arrested at a "safe" house owned by Jimmy Murray, Willis Newton is arrested the next day when he stops by for a visit, the police then grab Murray, and Fahy is put in manacles when he drunkenly brags to the wrong woman about planning the robbery. Fleeing south with the loot, Glasscock and Jess Newton are eventually captured in Texas (hiding in Mexico, Newton is tricked back over the border by an undercover Texas Ranger, the brother of Bonnie & Clyde killer, Frank Hamer) who makes a barroom bet that the former cowboy turned crook can't stay aboard a bucking bronco at the town of Del Rio's 4th of July rodeo) ... but not before a drunken Jess buries thousands of dollars of the take near San Antonio, and then forgets where the hole is.
Everyone involved eventually in custody (some sources say all the money but $100,000 is recovered, but no one knows for sure ... at least $1,247,000 is placed before a jury as evidence during the trial the robbery brings on)t), facing long hard time, the Newtons agree to testify against Murray and Fahy. Guilty the verdict for all, mastermind Murray and his source, Fahy, are sentenced to 25 years behind bars, Joe Newton gets 1.5 years, Jesse Newton gets 3 years, Dock Newton gets 10 years, Willis Newton gets 12 years, Brent Glasscock gets 12 years, and Herbert Holliday ... all will receive early release from prison (in large part because they tell authorities where various amounts of loot from the robbery has been hidden).
Mobster James Murray
Gangster Murray has his sentence commuted to 12 years by President Hoover and is out and running around Chicago again by 1931 ... in time to become a fence for loot stolen by the Dillinger Gang in 1934 (he is back out of jail for that offense in 1937, the year in which he dies in Chicago, shot in the face by persons unknown), the man that recommends the Dillinger Gang hide out for awhile at the Little Bohemia Lodge of Emil Wanatka. Inspector Fahy dies in Chicago at the age of 60 in 1943, protesting on his death bed that he has been framed by the Newtons. Reformed, Glasscock is released for good behavior in 1937, moves to Arizona, and lives out his life quietly, committing no further crimes. Not reformed whatsoever, Holliday is shot and killed during a botched bank robbery after he is released from Federal prison. Jesse and Joe Newton return to Ulvalde, Texas, after their release and lead respectable lives ... Joe becomes an owner of a small cafe and dies at the age of 88 in 1989 (at the age of 79 he appears on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and discusses his wild youth), Jesse dies in a VA hospital (he served in WWI) in 1960. Dock Newton spends time in Leavenworth, and goes back to being a robber ... pulling his last job in 1968 in Rowena, Texas (due to his old age, charges are dropped, but he takes a beating from the local police that he never fully recovers from, dying in 1974 at the age of 83), at the age of 77. Willis Newton, the leader of the bandit brothers, returns to Tulsa where he runs a series of gas stations and nightclubs ... and continues his involvement in crime ... in 1934 he allows Bonnie & Clyde to hide at a house he owns after the Oklahoma murder of Constable Cal Campbell, he will survive an assassination attempt by "persons unknown" while shaving one night in the bathroom of one of his clubs (the bullet shot through an open window at the nightclub goes wide), and along with his brother Joe, will help with a book and documentary about the Newton Brothers ... he dies of old age at the age of 90 in 1979.
And the Newton Brothers and the holdup at Rondout are back in the news in 1998 when The Newton Boys is released by 20th Century Fox, starring Matthew McConaughey as Willis, Skeet Ulrich as Joe, Ethan Hawke as Jesse, Vincent D'Onofrio as Dock, and Dwight Yoakam as Glasscock.