The History of Joliet – Chapter 24

By John Whiteside of The Herald News (used with permission)

Submitted by Nancy Vargo

“The bandits had killed the express manager and gotten away with $22,000 cash and a bag full of jewelry.”

By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News

From the very beginning, Joliet Police Chief Frank MURRAY told the Pinkerton detectives that the train robbery was an inside job. That’s what the clues and facts added up to, he said.

MURRAY, appointed police chief by Mayor Thomas KELLY in the spring of 1884, had been brought in to reform the city. The saloons on the city’s Whiskey Row were out of control with crime.

And the new chief did his job in cleaning up the criminal element.

MURRAY, who was born in Canada, had a background in prison work. Working first as a guard at the Joliet prison and later at the Chester prison, he remembered most of the names and descriptions of the convicts who had passed through his hands. This made him valuable as the chief dealing with the criminal element in Joliet.

That’s why the Pinkerton detectives came to see MURRAY in March 1886. They had a tough investigation on their hands.

On a Friday night as the Kansas City No. 5 train passed through Joliet on the Rock Island line, it had been boarded by a gang of bandits like the old Jesse James gang had done. The bandits had killed the express manager and gotten away with $22,000 cash and a bag full of jewelry.

After talking to the detectives, MURRAY told them the facts didn’t add up to a gang of bandits. No, he said, this was an inside job. Take a closer look at the train’s crew, he advised.

The Pinkerton men did. They started following Newton WATT and Henry SCHWARTZ, both brakemen on the train, who had shrewdly planned the robbery. But the two robbers didn’t count on having to murder the express messenger.

However, the unfortunate messenger, Kellogg NICHOLS, had jerked the mask off SCHWARTZ‘s face and fought with the bandits. SCHWARTZ had beaten the messenger with a heavy iron poker and WATT shot him.

As the train speeded on to Minooka, the two men had taken a key off the messenger’s chain and opened a safe to get the loot. Then they rushed out to find the rest of the train crew and announce the robbery.

They described a gang of six or seven bandits with guns boarding the train and killing NICHOLS. They said the bandits had jumped off the train into the dark winter night while snow was falling.

The train car with the victim was pulled onto a siding at Morris. Lawmen on horses rode up and down the railroad tracks looking for signs of this ruthless gang. But they figured the trail had been covered by new snow.

On March 15, 1886, The Daily News in Joliet carried a lengthy story of the train robbery and murder on its front page. The story praised the express messenger for fighting with the gang. The serious injuries on the dead man showed he had put up a heroic struggle, the story said.

“It is doubtful whether the true story of the fight will ever be told, unless it is by the confession of some one of the robbers,” the story said.

But the newspaper didn’t know then that the Pinkerton detectives, after talking to MURRAY, were already watching WATT and SCHWARTZ. One clue the detectives had picked up on involved the heavy poker used to beat NICHOLS. The bloodstained poker had been returned to its special hook near the stove, which meant the killer might have worked on trains.

The detectives eventually trailed SCHWARTZ to Philadelphia, where he started spending money freely on women, paying with $50 and $100 bills. He bought several guns and hunting equipment as he planned a tour of the West.

SCHWARTZ was arrested, and while in jail, talked about the crime to a cellmate, who was working for the detectives. SCHWARTZ and WATT went on trial for murder in Chicago. They paid generous fees to their lawyers from the stolen loot.

Both were convicted and sentenced to life terms in the Joliet Penitentiary, where both died inside the walls.

MURRAY resigned his job in Joliet and accepted a new position. Because of his help in the train robbery case, the Pinkerton Detective Agency stole him from Joliet. He became the assistant superintendent of the Pinkerton office in Chicago.

The Joliet News said in 1887, “Frank MURRAY is one of the few honest and great detectives in the United States … No man in America possesses such a memory as to the names and descriptions of criminals … Mr. MURRAY has become an expert detective. It is with genuine regret that the citizens of Joliet lost his services.”

Published September 8, 2001