Train Robbery in Doddridge County

The Doddridge County Republican
October 14, 1915

Great Train Robbery at Central Station.

Daring Holdup Rivals Deeds of James, Jennings and Dalton.

Perhaps the greatest train robbery in the annals of American crime was committed between Central Station and Greenwood in this county during the early morning hours of Friday, October 8th.

No. 1, the through passenger train from New York to St. Louis, due at Central Station at 1:45, had taken water and was starting to climb the long hill west of Central to Duckworth Summit. Engineer Grant Helms of Parkersburg was whipping his engine into shape and fireman C. R. Knight of Grafton was at his accostomed [sic] place, when two masked men were seen crawling towards them over the tender. Helms made a pass at one of the men, thinking that someone was playing a joke on him, but his illusion was quickly shattered as each masked figure instantly presented an ugly, 38 calibre automatic, assured him it was no jest, ordered himself and fireman to face their engine and commanded them to stop at the Rock Cut about a half-mile farther west, at the same time warning them that any disobedience meant instant death.

On reaching the Rock Cut the train was stopped. A masked man knocked on the door of the mail car and Cecil H. Plummer of Ludlow, Ky., one of the assistant clerks, opened it, thinking that it was one of the trainmen. Instantly he was covered and with hands up, line up by the side of the other assistant clerk, Alfred Phillips of 132 West Union Street, Athens, Ohio, and Clerk-in-Charge Haines Huff of Leesburg, Ohio. The three were ordered to the storage end of the car, were questioned as to where they got on and as to which was the Clerk-in-Charge. This information being given to the bandit in a satisfactory manner, assistant clerks Phillips and Plumber were ordered off the car, met at the door by a second bandit who flashed a light on them, told them he did not wish to hurt them and ordered them back to the passenger coaches.

In the meantime the bandit covering the fireman had ordered him to the rear end of the mail car and to uncouple it from the express car, after which he was ordered back to the passenger coaches with the two assistant clerks. The engine, tender and mail car, bearing two bandits guarding Engineer Helms and one guarding Clerk-in-Charge Huff were then run about a half-mile farther west, or near the Geo. R. Towner and H. W. Cowman residences, where a second stop was made and the engineer and Clerk-in-Charge were put off. Prior to this stop, however, Clerk-in-Charge Huff had been compelled to point out to the bandit guarding him, the "Washington packages" and the "three packages of money." Huff at first began pulling out some heavy pouches from the storage end of the car, but this did not seem to entirely satisfy his captor, who ordered him to the letter end where a pile of registry matter lay on Huff's table for recording; the bandit then tore the ends off of two or three of the letters to assure himself that this was the money for which he was searching. Just befor[e] Clerk-in-Charge Huff left the car a second bandit came in and walked up to the end of the car where Huff and the other bandit were standing. He asked how they were getting along, turned around and walked out.

Engineer Helms and Clerk-in-Charge Huff were now ordered to stand by a railroad torch placed on the ground until the bandits pulled out with the engine and mail car. Quickly mounting the cab one of them pulled the throttle with the apparent skill of a master and the little mechanism on the engine recorded a 45-mile speed to the top of Duckworth hill, where according to watchman Mike Fallon they slowed down and the tape records a 28-mile speed to the third stop which according to the distance recording tape and according to the report of a responsible resident who heard the engine, was near the mouth of the little ravine below the Carder farm, about three-fourths of a mile from Greenwood. From this point it is supposed the three bandits departed. The engine and mail car are believed to have been set adrift at this point and to have ran down the grade without steam to a point near the Toll Gate water station, a short distance west of the office and railroad station.

Amount of Loot Unknown.

There is no possible method of ascertaining the amount of money taken until the shipments reach the several national banks to which they were cosigned in Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, Colorado, and other Western States and the shortage is reported back to the Treasury department; but it is known that from three registered pouches ninety packages are missing. The shipments of unsigned bank notes on the car, is estimated by treasury officials at $500,000. Besides this there was a single shipment of $1,000,000 of reserve bank notes to Dallas. Postal officials after going over Clerk-in-Charge Haines Huff's official reports stated that the amount missing was "Not less than $500,000 and probably more:may be as much as $1,000,000." For the first time in human history:perhaps:bandits were confronted with more millions of cash than they cared to take. Yet the amount actually taken may have been less than $35,000."

The News Quickly Flashed.

When Fireman C. R. Knight was ordered back to the passenger coaches at the Rock Cut, he did not falter in obedience; moreover, he gained speed as he headed eastward for Central Station about a mile distant, and a few moments after 2 o'clock a.m., some fifteen or eighteen minutes after the first discovery of the bandits on the train, the night operator at Central Station flashed the news to Grafton and Parkersburg.

Finding the Engine.

Sometime after the robbers left with the engine and mail car, Engineer Helms and Clerk Huff left the passenger coaches and started out to find the lost engine. At the top of the hill they found watchman Mike Fallon, who joined them and they continued on to Greenwood and Toll Gate, inquiring at the former place for the missing rolling stock. Just west of Toll Gate, some five or six miles from the coaches, it was found, at about 5 o'clock a. m., with the water and fire very low. Steam was gotten up, the engine and looted car taken back and the train continued on its westward journey near 6:30 a. m. No. 2, the through east-bound passenger had been held at Ellenboro until the engine and car were found, they met at Pennsboro and No. 2 was the first train of any description over the road after the robbery, passing West Union sometime near 7 o'clock. It is said by railroad men that the self-recording tape showing the engine's speed while it was in the robber's hands, is one of the cleanest and straightest ever made on the grade, indicating a master-hand at the throttle, so far at least as regular, even running on this hill is concerned. This may prove an important clue to the hand that held the throttle on this eventful trip.

Behind With the Passengers.

Some colored train porters are noted for their bravery; others are not. On this particular occasion, those on No. 1 showed:along with the brakemen and Pullman men, too, so far as it can be learned:a decided tendency to keep inside the coaches and to keep trouble outside of them. Early in the game, before real trouble was suspicioned, just as the train stopped at the Rock Cut, Capt. Jim Morgan, train conductor stepped out to ascertain the cause of the halt. He quickly got all the information he wanted from some one that had been fired from the front end:fireman or assistant clerks. But he got farther information when he went to re-enter his train; every door was thoroughly fastened; the fellows inside had determined on a strict neutrality. The boys are telling that for a time at least, Capt. Morgan was interned under one of the coaches. After sometime, either Engineer Helms or Clerk Huff, succeeded in getting a coon to respond to a pet name which revealed to a certainty that it was only a friend who called, the door was opened and the shivering crew were allowed to enter. The passengers were not molested in any manner, and many in the Pullman knew nothing of the great robbery.

The Response.

Superintendent Scott notified the United States Marshal, C. E. Smith at Clarksburg, the sheriffs of Doddridge, Harrison, Ritchie, Tyler and Pleasants, practically all of whom organized posses of a few picked men and started for the scene of the crime. Among others who went out with Deputy Sheriff Marshall Nutter from West Union, were Dr. C. M. McCracken, Earl Kinney[,] Doc Platt, J. B. Ashburn, Perry Ingle, j. Clyde Jones, James Ingle, and Prosecuting Attorney, A. F. McCue.

The police forces in very town for 50 or 100 miles were notified and on guard for "strangers passing that way." Railway and postal inspectors also got busy with all possible haste and hundreds of men are constantly on guard throughout this entire section of the state, both day and night. The Clarksburg posse and B. & O. officials were on the ground as No. 1 pulled out. On trial of the hounds they brought, the dogs refused to take up any trail whatever. The West Union officials were the first on the scene, having procured a good car of Dr. C. M. McCracken, who accompanied them. The special train from Grafton, bearing B. & O. officials from that city, U. S. Marshal Smith and the Harrison officials from Clarksburg, covered the distance 52 miles and made the stop at Clarksburg in 55 minutes.

Continuing the Search.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday brought little results to the searchers in the field so far as is known. A workman's blouse with three "clips" of soft-nosed, half-steel-jacketed shells and a barlow knife in the pocket was found in a road near the old Leveall farm, some two and one-half miles north of Greenwood.

Later Developments; Millions Not Touched.

Later developments only tend to deepen the mystery of this remarkable crime, so far at least as the general public is concerned. Considerable evidence has been found around and near the W. A. Duckworth farm just west of the top of the hill, a detailed description of which, it might be best to omit until some later date. One or more strangers camped here some time just before the crime; but as it is a favorite stopping place for tramps, no general suspicion was aroused. Their effort to destroy certain articles in a fire is believed to point to a connection with the crime. Many seem inclined to the opinion that former local men are suspected, but we know of no evidence whatever that would tend to establish this theory.

That millions of dollars remained untouched is a mystery. The express car with its $2,000,000 dollar shipment was left unharmed from the first; and later reports from the treasury department announce that the $1,000,000 dollar shipment of reserve notes for Dallas was untouched, although it lay in the reach of the bandits, in the car of which they had complete possession for perhaps an hour or more.

Crime and Punishment

West Virginia Archives and History