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As It Was: Forensic scientists led authorities to the D'Autremont brothers

The botched train robbery at Tunnel 13 in the Siskiyou Mountains on Oct. 11, 1923, left four people dead and mangled car remains. To authorities, it was maddening that the crime couldn’t be solved.

It wouldn’t have been but for the work of Edward O. Heinrich, known as “the Wizard” for his pioneering work solving criminal cases using forensic science. A scientist at a University of California-Berkeley laboratory, Heinrich analyzed the scant evidence left behind: a single pair of coveralls and inconclusive passenger testimony.

Heinrich, also called the “Edison of Crime Detection,” determined that the overall’s “dirt” wasn’t grease, as the police thought, but fir pitch.

The owner was a left-handed logger, since his right-side pocket would face the tree and collect wood chips, as found in that pocket.

In a breast pocket, Heinrich discovered fingernail clippings, rolled-up cigarette butts, and mustache wax. The definitive clue was a crumpled-up mail receipt, buried deep in a pencil pocket, and signed by Roy D’Autremont in “Lakewood, New Mexico.” It took over four years based on these clues to locate the D’Autremont brothers. All three — Roy, Ray, and Hugh — were sentenced to life in prison in 1927.

Hugh was paroled in 1958 and died in 1959; Roy was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1949, lobotomized and died in 1983 months after being paroled; and Roy, released in 1961, died in Eugene in 1984.

Source: Miller, Bill. "The ‘Wizard of Berkley’ & the D’Autremont brothers." Medford Mail Tribune, Aug. 30, 2009. Web, May 23, 2014.

—As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.