• Rod Kackley

Shotguns, Dynamite and $133,000: A Shocking True Crime Story

Last week, we focused on bank robbers and burglars in true crime history. Today, I thought we would stay on the same track and look at train robbers.

These train-robbing outlaws are violent, psychopathic criminals, of course. But they are also dashing, daring, entrepreneurial, and have become legendary.

Their exploits are illustrious and infamous.

John and Simeon Reno take responsibility for pulling off the first train robbery on U.S. soil. It happened on October 6, 1866. Together, they ran off with $13,000 from an Ohio and Mississippi Railroad train in Jackson County, Indiana.

The Reno brothers are not much more than an asterisk in the annals of true crime. But they were the first and led a parade of legendary outlaws who robbed trains.

For instance, there was Jesse James. Although he is perhaps better known as a bank robber, he, his brother, and their gang robbed their share of trains, too.

Ten years after John and Simeon Reno robbed that Ohio and Mississippi Railroad train, Jesse held up a moving train on July 21, 1873, near Adair, Iowa.

To begin with, they did their research. The gang learns of a train carrying a stache of gold bullion. Jesse and his boys learn the train's route and find the best place to attack.

On the night of the raid, Jesse and his gang loosen a section of track on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway.

Then, as their target comes round a blind curve, the gang uses a rope to move the track so that the train's locomotive derails and crashes into a ditch. The train's engineer is killed, and another man is severely injured.

Jesse's gang is after a cache of gold bullion on the train. They found only $2,000 in bullion. Disappointed, they robbed the train's passengers to make up the difference between their expectations and reality.

While researching my next true crime book, I encountered the story of another train robbery that might not have made it into the history books. However, I found it to be a fascinating story that I call:



CHICAGO, February 25, 1928 — A Grand Trunk train bound for Port Huron, Michigan, makes an unscheduled stop to allow a man with a ticket to get off the train.

Good Samaritans are often punished. But even for Chicago in 1928, what happens next is beyond belief.

The instant the train stops, half a dozen men wearing khaki coveralls and masks run onto the train.

Five men, carrying sawed-off shotguns, immediately begin blasting away with their weapons.

The armed men are pumping their shotguns and squeezing triggers, BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM.

The sound is beyond deafening in the enclosed space of a passenger car. Everyone, even the bad guys wearing earplugs, feels like they're suffering a hammer blow to the head every time a shotgun roars.

They're also shouting, telling the terrorized, trembling passengers to get on the floor.

There's no need to yell. No one in this car can hear a damn thing. Their eardrums are trembling as fast as the rest of their bodies.

Some feel like blood is beginning to drip out of their ears.

Everyone's on the floor now, diving and falling without waiting to be told. Some are lying down in a fetal position. Others are cowering against the wall, with their knees drawn to their chest. Everyone's hands are pressed against their ears. All are trying vainly to stop the BAM BAM BAM BAM pounding their brains are taking.

All the windows are closed against the bitter cold of a February day in Chicago. The icy winds have been blasting off Lake Michigan for hours. So the train's windows are locked.

That doesn't help.

The acrid stench of gunpowder makes it tough to breathe. People are coughing and crying, and some are losing control of their bladders.

Everyone can smell that, too.

And all are shaking like a train full of puppies beaten with sticks.

As shotgun pellets ricochet above their heads, a sixth man, wearing a white mask instead of the black masks his buddies in crime used to cover their faces, ran to the end of the mail car. He planted a bomb to blast an opening in the back of the car.

Passengers and crew members clung to the floor as two of the shotgun-wielding gang ceased fire and shoved the engineer and fireman through the next passenger car and three baggage cars before getting to the mail car.

The five carrying shotguns followed and started shooting again, firing hot lead into the steel sides of the second passenger coach to stop any would-be heroes.

They convinced all but one that cowardice was the best choice.

In the mail car, John Kelley, a veteran mail clerk, who suffered a terrific concussion due to the explosion, decides to fight back. Less than a dozen years removed from the trenches in France during the Great War, he's not afraid of a shotgun.

But, John is outnumbered.

The outlaws beat him unconscious.

Then the gang overpowers the other mail clerk, George Peters of Battle Creek, Michigan, before tying both mail clerks up and stuffing gags in their bloody mouths.

In the mail car, two robbers calmly and quickly search the mail bags while the other four stand guard over the passengers.

"Found it!" The gang's leader waves the bag over his head.

Now that they have the money pouch, all six leave the train.

The gang makes its exit quickly, smoothly, and with style.

The white-masked leader whistles a happy tune, carrying his shotgun over his shoulder as he strolls through the train's cars.

The six men run to a nearby car, toss the money back in the vehicle, and drive off.

The whole operation lasts a mere twelve minutes.

Does anyone among the passengers or crew run to a telephone? You bet they do, but the gang had the foresight to cut all the telephone wires in the area.

So, they have a hell of a head start. But they are running from the Chicago Police Department's robbery squad, a group that doesn't take "no" for an answer.

The Windy City cops 'encourage' some low-level crooks and gangsters to start talking. It doesn't take long for the Chicago police to discover the bandits' meeting place.

Before the rest of the city's in bed, the detectives have handcuffs on sixteen suspects and figure at least eight of them were involved in the robbery.

The suspects face a long night of questioning, and you'd better believe it isn't a pleasant conversation for any of them. After all, this is Chicago in 1928.

Even now, nearly 100 years in the future, it doesn't take much imagination to hear the shouting of the detectives; to see the spittle fly from their mouths to the faces of the suspects, smell the blood, the sweat, the urine, to hear the sound of finger bones snapping and words being mumbled through broken teeth.

The Chicago P.D. has been here before.

It's not the first time a Grand Trunk train bound for Port Huron with money from two Chicago banks to be used to meet the payrolls of four manufacturing companies was robbed.

Less than a year before this shotgun-blasting, dynamite-exploding hold-up, a gang with the same M.O. held up a Grand Trunk train at the same spot.

And like this train, it carried the payroll for four factories in Harvey, Illinois. The only difference was the total at that time the gang got $135,000, not $133,000.

As the suspects are interrogated as roughly as possible into the early morning hours, Chief of Detectives Michael Grady talks to a reporter from the Associated Press. Grady admits he and his men have no clue what happened to the money taken in the robbery.

Not yet.

But, of course, they are working on solving that mystery in their own unmistakable style. Grady's confident his men will get the answer they're looking for.

One more thing.

Despite being robbed twice, the Grand Trunk Railroad will continue running this route, carrying that amount of cash next week.

But from now on, Grand Trunk bosses said a contingent of U.S. marines will be aboard that train and every other train hauling money in the Chicago area.

Live and learn.

While we are on the subject of robbing trains and legendary bank robbers, we can't forget Butch Cassidy, can we?

And guess what?

One of the main characters in the story shares my surname. He even spells it the same way as I do, and there are plenty who claim the name but misspell it.

Go figure.

Anyway, this is the story of:



It's a warm Spring day -- June 2, 1899, to be exact -- when Butch Cassidy's gang rides into Soda Springs, Idaho. They'd held up the Overland Flyer of the Union Pacific Railroad a few days ago, and it hadn't gone well.

One of the gang has been shot. Slumped over in a saddle on his horse, barely alive, the bandit's bleeding badly, but not so bad that his comrades would think about leaving him behind.

They need a doctor, fast.

With Butch in the lead, the bandits rode hard and fast into Soda Springs, looking for one man, a doctor, whose reputation is known throughout this part of the West.

It won't be hard to find the sawbones they need. Butch and the gang are no strangers to Soda Springs. It's become one of their favorite locales to hide out after a bank or train robbery.

Once in Soda Springs, they burst into Dr. Ellis Kackley's office, stick a gun in his face, and demand that he treat their wounded buddy.

He might have a gun in his face, but Ellis doesn't flinch. This is a guy from Nashville, Tennessee, who headed west straight from medical school and carved out a place for himself in Soda Springs before there was much of a town here.

And, this sure as hell isn't the first time Doc Kackley has looked down the barrel of a loaded a six-shooter with an outlaw's sweaty finger on the trigger.

He just looks the gunman in the eye and moves the barrel away with one finger. Ellis says he'll treat the outlaw just as he would anyone who was injured.

"But I won't do it with a gun in my face," Doc Kackley says.

Butch Cassidy comes forward, sizes up Ellis, thinks for a moment, and finally says, "Come with us." The outlaws make a path for Doc Kackley and Butch, together they go to the wounded outlaw.

Ellis takes a look at the bleeding teenager and sees he needs a lot more than a patch and a shot of whiskey. This guy's hurting. His chances are about 50-50 as near as Doc Kackley can tell.

They wait until nightfall, and then, under cover of darkness, Ellis and the gang decide to move the wounded bandit into an abandoned church near Freedom, Wyoming.

It's a hard, nighttime ride. Sixty-two miles of rough terrain, pitch black, a tough hour on horseback even for guys like these who are accustomed to the worst life in the West has to offer.

Miraculously, the kid who's been shot at least twice survives the ride. Now, he is laid out on a dirty table. A few candles are flickering. His life is in Doc Kackley's hands.

Then, with Butch and his boys breathing down his neck. Ellis looks back over his shoulder and asks everyone to stand back. "Or better yet, get the hell out of here and let me work."

Nothing about this night would be easy. The light isn't right for surgery. Hell, it's not even a good light for reading, "if any of these guys could read," Ellis mutters to himself.

Everybody in the old church had a six-shooter in his holster and most were also holding shotguns or Winchesters.

Doc Kackley was unarmed. He knew he was safe, at least for the time being. But if anything went wrong, well, Ida and their boy would be on their own.

Thank heavens the bandit's out cold. Ellis has to dig deep into his back to find the bullets that threaten the young man's life. "Good God," Ellis mutters, “you're just a kid. Couldn't you find a better way to spend your days."

Doc Kackley knows his life depends on the success of this operation as much as the kid going under the knife. Nervous, yes, but it isn't the first time he's operated under conditions this bad. Ellis removes two slugs from the boy and patches him up the best he can.

Butch and his boys come into what passed for an operating room. Ellis says the patient will live, but he can't be moved for several weeks. The outlaws wonder how they can get food to him.

Doc Kackley, of course, has an answer. He says they can wear his wife's clothes. "Ride through town in a wagon dressed as a woman, nobody will bother you."

Butch Cassidy, laughs, grunts, and nods his approval. And for the next several weeks, a member of the Cassidy gang — dressed in one of Ellis' wife Ida's dresses — rides out to the old church in Freedom with food and medicine for their buddy.

Doc Kackley sneaks out at night to check on his patient.

Eventually, the bandit recovers—the Cassidy gang leaves.

However, everyone knows the best way to keep a secret amongst three people is for two of them to be dead. So it's no surprise that word of Doc Kackley aiding and abetting the murderous Butch Cassidy gang leaks out.

The local sheriff is faced with a real dilemma. Doc Kackley is one of the most loved men in town. He and his wife, Ida Kackley, have delivered hundreds of babies in this small town. Before he died in 1943, Doc Kackley birthed more than four-thousand babies in Soda Springs.

So, even though everyone believes Doc Kackley helped Butch Cassidy, how is the sheriff going to find a jury willing to put Ellis in jail?

"There's hardly a soul in town who wasn't brought into this world by Ellis," the sheriff explains weeks later to a newspaper reporter from out of town.

"Besides," the sheriff tells the reporter, "what he did is understandable. The SOB's always had a problem with authority."

Thanks for reading -- Rod


A woman accepts a ride from a truck driver in Pennsylvania.

A teenager hops into a blue Chevy pickup truck for a ride home from school on a hot day in North Carolina.

In Denver, a woman and her boyfriend take their new dog for a walk.

These three innocent decisions prove fatal.



And that's just the first of more than 60 Shocking True Crime Stories waiting for true crime aficionados like you. For instance, there's the story of a man who wanted to serve his neighbor's almost-beating heart with fried potatoes to his family. Needed to "release the demons," he said.

Serial killers, serial rapists, teenagers planning massacres, bank robbers, stone-cold who-done-its, and the victims of these heinous crimes; you'll read about them all in Murder's Always Murder.

And then there's the story of a woman who believes she's receiving threatening messages written in her jailhouse peanut butter.

There are more shocking true crime stories like The Denver Suitcase Killer, Scottsdale's Torso Killer, Boiling Mommy's Head, and Poisoned at Church.

Let's not forget the Martial Arts Momma. She discovered a delivery driver taking a dump in her backyard.

You'll read a story about France's most prolific serial killer, The Ogre of Ardennes.

And, you'll wrap it all up by reading a warning about Your Brain on True Crime.

Murder's Always Murder: Shocking True Crime Stories that you'll never forget.

Click here now and start reading...

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