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July 14, 2013

Historical Perspective: The 1875 Long Point homicide and attempted robbery

TERRE HAUTE — It has been 138 years since an attempted train robbery at Long Point, a few miles east of Greenup, Ill., resulted in the tragic death of locomotive engineer Milo Eames.

Few, if any, crimes in Wabash Valley annals have been surrounded by more  sensational or bizarre facts.

This columnist first described details of the crime against Eames in July 1995, 120 years after two men brandishing pistols and shielded by custom-made steel armor vaulted into the engine cab of an eastbound St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute express train as it slowed to a stop 35 miles west of Terre Haute.

The homicide at Long Point was known for many years as one of the most spectacular robbery attempts in railroad history.

“Long Point” was the name of a railroad stop, a title corrupted from “Long Pond,” a lake near the railroad’s water tank and mail platform.    

Fireman James Snavely, like Eames a Terre Haute resident, was in the cab on the night of July 8, 1875 and watched the tragic events unfold.

One of the two assailants commanded Eames to relinquish control of the locomotive. The engineer apparently misunderstood and reached for his billfold in a hip pocket. The bandit reacted by firing two bullets into the Eames’ chest.

Torchlight allowed Snavely to observe the aggressors. One had a beard and a missing forefinger. An oval mask covered all but his hazel eyes and “slanted forehead.” Both men wore linen cover garments.  

The robbers uncoupled the passenger cars from the rest of the train and opened the engine’s throttle. The resulting jolt hurled Snavely out of the cab onto the ground.

Adams Express agent John Burke, alone in the adjoining express car, heard shots and barred the iron side doors to protect the train’s valuable cache. Soon, incessant gunfire ventilated the thick oak walls of the baggage car. Axes, sledge hammers and crowbars could not penetrate its massive oak walls to seize the safe and other valuables.

The train’s air brake remained on and the engine coughed as it sped east. When the locomotive finally chugged to a stop out of fuel, the outlaws abandoned the venture. Burke remained in the baggage car for an hour, uncertain they were not awaiting him.

Clatter of the locomotive prevented passengers from hearing gunshots before the uncoupling. Several riders were interviewed in the effort to identify suspects. Passenger Max Myerson believed that a coatless man he saw before the robbery attempt resembled Thomas Edmons, a Casey grocer who helped carry Eames’ lifeless body from the engine.

Edmons’ friend Jack Cochrane was believed to be an accomplice. Both were arrested and declared their innocence. Newspapers quickly announced that the “Long Point Murderers Have Been Caught.”

Journalists from metropolitan newspapers across the country boarded at Terre Haute hotels and were transported daily to the Cumberland County courthouse in Greenup to cover the proceedings. The case against the men was tried within two weeks. Both offered solid alibis and were acquitted.

Then a startling development occurred. The bandits’ “bullet-proof shields” were found in a cornfield near where the train stopped. “English & Over Foundry, Indianapolis” was etched in the metal. Rewards totaling $3,950 were offered, resulting in a new manhunt.

The armor with leather attachments was exhibited in a Greenup bookstore window. At least 10,000 people visually inspected it.

The search party stalked two suspects for a week through swamps of the Embarrass River, a criminal retreat since before the Civil War. The probe yielded desperadoes named Bridgman, from Oaktown, and Henry Farley, from Shelbyville, Ind. Both had amputated digits but both were able to explain their whereabouts on July 8.

Workers at English & Over Foundry and the Knippenberg Saw Works, where the steel suits had been cut, were grilled. Columbus Voorhees and Leander Kennedy, residing under assumed names at the Pig & Whistle at Ninth and Wabash, were arrested because Kennedy resembled the man who picked up the fabricated apparel.

Other suspects were detained and several were arrested. Among them were Alec Cauthorn, Charles St. Clair, Abram “Bud” Shewmaker, William Carr, Sam Cauthorn and Jennie Osgood, who ultimately were placed on trial. Daniel W. Voorhees was hired to represent St. Clair, said to be “the mastermind” because a foundry worker identified him as the man who ordered the breast plates made.   

Osgood, dressed in male attire, was accused of boarding the engine cab at Long Point and shooting Eames. She worked at a “boarding house” at 213 N. Second St.

At the time of the robbery, Shewmaker was employed as the baggage agent for the Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad, which operated the Vandalia Lines including the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute Railroad between St. Louis and Terre Haute..

Shewmaker, who resided at 1009 Elm St., was believed to be St. Clair’s closest friend. A horse dealer, St. Clair was the husband of Jennie Wining St. Clair, keeper of a well-known house of ill fame at 202 S. Second St. (at Second and Walnut streets)

The Cauthorn boys and their friends worked for St. Clair. Alec Cauthorn, who died in Terre Haute on July 22, 1916, handled St. Clair’s horses. He told a reporter for the Saturday Spectator that he was returning to Terre Haute from Ohio with several race horses when he was arrested and placed in an Indianapolis jail for more than a week.  

Vigo County Sheriff George W. Carico earned some negative publicity by aggressively interviewing suspects and potential witnesses before others had a chance. Since the crime occurred outside of his jurisdiction, he was eligible for rewards.

Carico so angered Terre Haute detective Ed Vandever and Vandalia railroad detective named Hennessey that they allegedly refused to turn over evidence they had collected to Illinois authorities.

The case went to trial with nothing but circumstantial evidence and the five men and one woman were acquitted.

 

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