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Big news: Train robbery in Stafford!
A daring holdup and a Hollywood production are just part of colorful connection between railroads and Stafford County history.

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Date published: 4/28/2004


IT'S NOT TOO often when something happens in Stafford County that makes national news.

But that was just the case after the night of Oct. 12, 1894, when two daring thieves robbed a Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac passenger train on an isolated stretch of track just north of the Aquia Creek bridge.

Just like a scene from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," this holdup included a bold ambush, masked gunmen, terrified passengers, a dynamite explosion to access the train's safe and a daring escape.

Initial estimates of the robbers' take went as high as $180,000 in money and valuables. The crime was front-page news in the Fredericksburg area, and was also widely reported in newspapers from Washington to New York City.

The incident was one of two notable events associated with railroads in Stafford that was part of a presentation by longtime county resident John Scott at a recent meeting of the Stafford County Historical Society.

(FYI, the second event involves a 1958 Hollywood movie. But more about that in a moment.)

Although there were only two men involved in the robbery, Scott explained that the thieves made lots of noise and fired shots in the air to give the impression that the train was at the mercy of a well-armed gang.

After threatening the engineer and fireman with drawn pistols, the two masked bandits used dynamite to blow apart the door to the express car and then forced one of the express managers to open the safe.

After filling a pouch with cash and valuables, the two men had the engineer uncouple the locomotive from the train and then made their getaway.

They stopped at the Arkendale road crossing in Widewater, where they opened the throttle, turned the engine loose and then started off on foot.

The runaway locomotive was approaching Quantico at 60 mph, when a quick-thinking RF&P agent threw a switch and sent the racing engine onto a side track where it crashed into several empty coal cars. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Both the railroad and the Commonwealth of Virginia offered $1,000 rewards for information leading to the arrest of the robbers. Within days, two suspects--Charles J. Searcy and Charles A. Morgan--were behind bars.

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