‘Diamond Special’ train hijacking, 1913

Two audacious robbers hijacked the Illinois Central Railroad’s “Diamond Special” train near Glenarm on June 18, 1913.

The northbound train, which ran between St. Louis and Chicago, was due in Springfield from the south, bearing 150 passengers and an American Express car, about 12:30 a.m. As the train neared near Glenarm, the two robbers, wearing linen dusters, “light caps” and black masks, according to newspaper reports, confronted the engineer and fireman and directed them to separate the engine and express car from the rest of the train.

The gunmen then ordered the truncated train to be moved about a mile away. One robber, the bigger of the two, stood guard over the engineer, fireman and express messenger while the second gunman tried to blow open the safe contained in the American Express car.

Four shots of dynamite got the safe’s outer shell open, but failed to destroy the inner compartment, which held most of the valuables. However, the blasts alarmed a nearby resident, who telephoned police.

Sangamon County Sheriff Henry Mester and a carload of deputies drove to the scene. The officers started walking along the tracks toward the stopped train, but encountered a volley of shots from the on-guard robber. Mester’s posse returned to their auto and then tried to approach the train by a “circuitous route,” news accounts said.

In the meantime, another police officer, identified as Patrolman M.J. O’Leary, and newspaper reporter G.W. Marney reached the stopped engine on their own. For good measure, the heavyset bandit robbed them too. “You guys stick up your hands and drop your revolvers or I will kill you,” he said.

The second thief joined the first a few minutes later. “I got all I could,” he reportedly told his partner. The two robbers then boarded the engine and, leaving O’Leary, Marney and the fireman and messenger behind, ordered engineer Adam Schell to drive them toward Springfield.

The robbers had Schell drive the engine to about 19th and Laurel streets in Springfield, where they abandoned the train. Three days of searching, including with bloodhounds, turned up no sign of the pair.

In January 1914, however, investigators said they believed two men arrested for similar train robberies in Alabama and Louisiana were the same ones who hijacked the Diamond Special. The accused – Phil Tabor, an Alabama prison escapee and former express messenger, and William Growe, a “railroad conductor by trade” – were identified as the Sangamon County robbers by Schell and fireman P.S. Miller, according to a Jan. 28, 1914 Illinois State Journal article.

Miller asked that police put a mask on Growe. He then identified Growe as the man who held him and the others at gunpoint while the second robber tried to open the safe. “His eyes,” Miller reportedly said. “I could never forget them.”

Police also linked Tabor to a revolver found near the abandoned train, the Journal said.

Because the evidence against Tabor and Growe in the two southern hijackings was so strong, they were never tried for the Diamond Special holdup.schs logo (2)

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.


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