This week in history: Car Barn Bandits executed, bringing reign of terror to end
For four months in 1903, the Car Barn Bandits, a group of four Chicago men, murdered eight people and stole about $2,400. They were finally caught in November and hanged the following April.
As published in the Chicago Daily News, sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times:
On the morning of April 22, 1904, a crowd of over a thousand Chicagoans gathered outside the Cook County Jail. Inside, three men, all members of the infamous Car Barn Bandits, awaited their execution.
Between July and November 1903, the gang — Gustave Marx, Harvey Van Dine, Peter Niedermeyer and sometimes Emil Roeski — unleashed a crime wave across the city that left eight people dead, including two detectives, and another five wounded, according to Herbert Asbury’s “The Gangs of Chicago.” In total, the bandits made off with less than $2,400.
The crime spree began July 8 when the gang, also known as the Automatic Trio (Roeski never shot anyone and received little of the stolen money), robbed the Clybourne Junction station of the Northwest Railroad, Asbury wrote. They made off with $70 and shot one station agent, wounding him.
They then hit saloons where the payoffs turned out to be low — two robbed saloons on Addison Street and Sheffield Avenue on July 10 and 12 turned up just $25, Asbury said. Another saloon robbery on Aug. 2 left two people dead and the bandits just $8 richer.
The biggest haul came on Aug. 30 when the foursome robbed the Chicago City Railway Company at State and 61st streets, according to Asbury. They managed to steal $2,250 and killed a motorman and a clerk.
“Van Dine said that after this robbery they ran out of the car barn through the washroom and across a vacant lot, and then walked to Jackson Park, a few blocks away, where they sat and talked for several hours,” Asbury wrote in his book. “At daybreak they crawled into a clump of bushes and divided the money. Roeski’s share was five dollars and the promise of food until the next robbery.”
In November after months of searching for the bandits, Chicago police caught up with Marx in a saloon. After a shootout that left one officer dead, he surrendered and confessed. Having read in the papers of Marx’s betrayal, the other three escaped Chicago for the Indiana Dunes where they had a hidden dugout. Unknown to them, Marx had also told police about the hideout.
The cops tracked the bandits to their dugout, and a fierce gun battle ensued, Asbury said. All three bandits and two detectives were wounded, with one detective later dying from his injuries. The robbers escaped into the nearby woods, but by the end of the day, all three were caught and sent back to Chicago.
The Chicago Daily News covered the bandits’ exploits closely. A photographer snapped a photo of the dugout at the dunes, and another photographed the jury of the three bandits.
When the criminals finally faced their trials, prosecutors could only prove Roeski’s involvement in one murder. He was tried separately and given a life sentence.
The other three were tried together, found guilty and sentenced to die.
An afternoon paper, the Daily News published a full account of the executions that day.
“The men were executed in the order named,” the report said. “Neidemeyer went to his death without profession of repentance or religion. He entered the unknown beyond as he had lived his short career of blood — an atheist. His physical condition was such that he had to be wheeled to the gallows on a hospital truck. An ordinary kitchen chair was placed on the trapdoor for him, and in this, he sat while he was prepared for death at the end of the rope. No minister or priest accompanied him.”
The other two men, Marx and Van Dine, “died with prayers for forgiveness on their lips,” the paper said. The reporter noted that both men were Roman Catholic.