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Throwback Thursday: When bandits held up the mail wagon

Throwback Thursday: When bandits held up the mail wagon

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Mail heist

Robbers got between the morning mail train and the Winona post office early Sept. 10, 1925 and made off with the morning's registered mail. 

This story originally appeared on Sept. 10, 1925, in the Winona Republican-Herald — a predecessor of the Winona Daily News.

Holding up the night messenger of the Winona post office at the point of revolvers and then binding and gagging him, five bandits rifled the mail wagon of four sacks of registered mail and escaped in a high-powered automobile about 4:30 a.m. today.

The amount of the loot cannot be estimated at present, but Postmaster E. B. Hicks said he doubted that the four pouches stolen could contain any great sum, adding that in any event the loot “couldn’t be worth much to the robbers.”

Local authorities did not attempt any pursuit because of the great start obtained by the bandits, but notified every surrounding town and the Twin Cities, toward which the band is believed to have headed. No trace of them has yet been obtained.

The robbers intercepted the mail wagon, driven by Henry Williams, at the corner of Main and King streets as he was driving north to the post office from the railroad station about three blocks away with the mail from Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul northbound train from Chicago arriving here at 4:25 a.m.

One man jumped out of the King Street alley facing west, directly beneath the window of Postmaster Hicks, and pointing a gun at Willlams’ head, commanded him to stop.

At the same time, a second bandit, also armed, came around from behind the wagon at the left and jumped into the seat, taking the reins away from the driver and ordering him to keep still and look straight ahead on pain of death.

With Williams between them, the bandits drove the wagon, followed by the bandit car, into the alley half way down the block on King Street and stopping in the rear of the residence or Paul Baumgartner, forced Williams to unlock the rear doors of the wagon.

As two of the bandits bound and gagged the driver with pieces of wire, two more threw out the mail pouches until they reached the registered mail sacks at the front of the wagon.

Woman calls police

Miss May Mills, assistant in the city health department, heard the wagon drive into the alley, which runs by the rear of her residence, and went outside to investigate.

While she was watching them, she said, two of them saw her as they were coming back toward the wagon and jumped into the car, which backed out of the alley and sped away.

Miss Mills went into the house and called the police, who arrived about five minutes later and about 10 minutes after the bandits had escaped.

Williams, in the meantime, had partially freed himself of his bonds and was heard calling for the police from farther down the alley by a crowd of residents of the neighborhood which had gathered by that time.

When Williams approached the crowd, he had wires still tied around his face which had been used to fasten his cap across his mouth as a gag.

He said that after binding him securely hand and foot, gagging him and laying him face downward on the ground, one of the robbers jumped on his legs and made him cry out to determine whether the gag was effective. His hands were tied so tightly that they pained him severely, he declared.

“Up to the time the robber jumped on my legs I had felt perfectly calm and collected,” he said today, “but that made me so mad that I wanted to kill the whole bunch of them.”

Robbers tie horses

Williams declared that he requested the bandits to tie up tho horses so that they would not run away and they complied with his request throwing out the weight used for hitching and tying one of the reins around a telephone post.

William Weinberger, who was awaiting the mail at the post office, became uneasy when it did not arrive as usual a few minutes after 4:30 a.m. and called the railroad station twice to learn that the train was on time and the mail wagon had left. At 5 a.m. when he went off duty, he took a gun and went up Main Street, discovering the robbery a few minutes after the bandits had left.

The remaining mail, consisting of between 50 and 60 sacks which the robbers had thrown on the ground in their search for the registered mall, was reloaded into the wagon and checked into the post office at 5:10 a.m.

Neither of the two first class mail pouches for Winona had been touched, Postmaster Hicks said, and apparently all that had been taken was the Winona registered mail sack and the registered mail sacks for Fountain City, Alma and Cochrane which are transferred here from the Milwaukee road to the Burlington railroad.

Contents unknown

“We have no way of knowing what was in these sacks,” Mr. Hicks said, “and we will not know until the numbers on the duplicate list in the mail car are checked back to the owners of the packages and they give us sworn statements of what the packages contained.”

Mr. Hicks declared that there was no reason to believe that the robbers knew of any especially valuable mail being shipped at this time, and it was believed that the robbery was planned on the assumption that registered mail always contains money and other articles of value.

Mr. Hicks mentioned that the train on which the mail arrived is the same involved in the Rondout mail robbery some time ago, in which armed bandits secured loot amounting to many hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of which was later recovered.

Although the bandit car was parked beneath his window, Hicks was asleep at the time and did not know of the robbery until he was notified of it from the post office shortly after 5 a.m. He immediately called the office of the postal inspector at Minneapolis, where it was said that two representatives would be sent here at once to investigate the affair.

Bandit car seen

A man from Lewiston who was coming into the city to catch the train upon which the mail arrived said a large touring car speeding rapidly passed him going toward Winona shortly before 3 a.m. His car broke down end he was forced to return for another one. When he was again on his way sometime later, the same car passed him coming from Winona, he said, traveling at the same rapid rate.

The bandits arrived in Winona about 3 a.m., according to information furnished the police by Gilbert Johnson, an employee of the Gibson Ice Cream Co., who met them on West Fifth street on his way to work.

“My light in making the bend at Leeb’s drug store flashed upon their car, which was a big black touring car with nickel on the front,” he said. “There were five men In the car, two in the front seat and three in the back. The car was traveling fast. I would say they were going between 35 and 40 miles an hour.”

“When I got up this morning at 5 o’clock,” Gus Verdick, living in Stockton valley, told the police, “I looked out the window and a huge black car with curtains closed tightly about it raced by. This was about 5:05 a.m.”

Police believe this was the bandits’ car.

Officials of the J.R. Watkins Company said today that they would be put to considerable inconvenience by the robbery, a number of their orders from branches of the firm in other cities being contained in the registered mail taken. These, they believed, the bandits undoubtedly would throw away and declared that a liberal reward would be paid to anyone finding and returning them to the company.

Editor’s note: The mail pouches taken didn’t contain enough to “pay for the bandits’ gas,” postmaster Hicks said later. The pouches and mail were found in a farmer’s field near Oronoco in early November. The crime remained unsolved.


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