How a botched train robbery led to the birth of modern American criminology

Edward Oscar Heinrich

UC Berkeley College of Chemistry alum and pioneer American criminologist Edward Oscar Heinrich’s crime collection opened at the Bancroft Library in December 2018. (Photo © the Regents of the University of California, The Bancroft Library, cubanc00005983_ae_a)

May 1, 2019

On October 11, 1923, three brothers — Hugh, Ray and Roy DeAutremont — boarded a Southern Pacific Railroad train called the Gold Special near the Siskiyou Mountains in Oregon. The trio planned to rob the mail car. But instead of making off with their fortune, they killed four people and blew up the mail car — and the valuables inside. A huge manhunt followed and authorities called in an up-and-coming forensic scientist Edward Oscar Heinrich (BS, 1908, Chem), a UC Berkeley lecturer and alumnus, to help solve what became known as the Last Great Train Robbery. He didn’t know that the case would put him on the map as a pioneer in modern American criminology. 

And now, nearly 100 years later, Heinrich’s collection of crime materials from this case — and thousands of others he worked on throughout his career — are available for research in the Bancroft Library’s archives at UC Berkeley. 

Hear the Fiat Vox episode about the exhibit and Heinrich collection from Anne Brice of the UC Berkeley news team.