West McHenry Post Office Robbery

In the early morning of Tuesday, Aug 16, 1911, the West McHenry Post Office was robbed. It probably wasn’t too surprising, as there were a string of post office & bank robberies in the area at that time. About four days before the McHenry Post Office was hit, the South Elgin Post Office was robbed of about $300 dollars. Before that, there were break-ins at Roundout, Richmond, and Ridgefield. A few witnesses could provide vague descriptions of the suspects and that the bandits used a car, but little else.

On the night of the robbery in West McHenry, there were two witnesses. Between that and the evidence at the scene, the events of the incident can be fairly well laid out. Mary Doolittle was at home that night and was woken up by a neighbor’s barking dog. She looked out the window and saw three men at the corner next to the Northwest Hotel on Main Street. Alarmed by people out this late and their suspicious manner, she woke her friend Clara Freund who was staying with her. Initially they thought the men were trying to find the barking dog. The pair watched as two of the men walked eastbound on Main and stood in front of Nordstrom’s shoe store and walked north across the street. At the same time, the third man went down the alley between the Schiessle Building and John Wort’s saloon. They lost sight of all three, but stayed at the window in case they came back.

Main Street (5)[3]
Picture of Justen’s Furniture Store Taken About 1908. Compliments of the McHenry Landmark Commission.
At that time, the Post Office was connected to N.J. Justen Furniture store. The thief entered in a window of a back storeroom that connected the two buildings. He then had to go up and over a wooden partition that separated the post office and store. Once in the post office, he opened the front door and proceeded to work on the safe. Some tallow found at the crime scene that indicated upon entering the building, the robber used a candle to see what he was doing. The safecracker then used nitroglycerin to blow the safe open. Not being a newer dial model, a wick was inserted into the safe’s keyhole to detonate the explosives. Damage to the post office was slight, while the safe was blown open. In all, the thieves managed to take $150 in postage stamps and about $200 in cash.

People living nearby said the explosion sounded like a “shotgun blast” and while many people were woken by the blast, no one else managed to come forward. Mary Doolittle and Clara Freund were rightfully scared by the blast and without a telephone, they were too frightened to yell for help. However, they provided authorities with descriptions of the three men and a nice, detailed account of the perpetrator’s movements before the robbery. Initially, nobody investigated the incident and it wasn’t until Postmaster Mead went to open the office for the day that the robbery was noticed. The morning of the McHenry robbery, some farmers in Cary saw a car with about four men driving south-east rather quickly but that was about all for witnesses.

Route Robbers Took Based On Mrs. Doolittle’s Description



This was part of a string of post office robberies that hit the area and some information was starting to get gathered, vague as it was. Authorities thought that the three or four bandits were from Chicago and going to local towns, robbing the local post offices and then returning to the city. Yet, to this point there were no real leads. However about a week after the McHenry robbery, a body was pulled from the Fox River near Cary and all of that changed.

To Be Continued With Next Month’s Blog Post.



“W.S. Post Office Robbed.” McHenry Plaindealer 17 Aug 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Post Office At West McHenry Is Burglarized.” The Woodstock Sentinel 17 Aug 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Crackmen Loot McHenry Office.” The Belvidere Daily Republican 16 Aug 1911: 2. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Blow Safe and Flee.” Republican-Atlas (Monmouth, IL) 17 Aug 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Burglars Dynamite McHenry Safe.” True Republican (Sycamore, IL) 19 Aug 1911: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.