The streetcar heist

The Wells Street trolley replaced horse-drawn railcars.
Electrified streetcars like this one replaced Milwaukee’s horse-drawn railcars in 1890. In 1902, armed men robbed a trolley crew—then stole their streetcar. Photo courtesy Milwaukee County Historical Society

In a 1902 robbery described as “one of the boldest that has been accomplished in Milwaukee for some time,” two armed men boarded a late-night streetcar, robbed the crew, then made good their getaway—by stealing their streetcar.

The crew of the Greenfield Avenue trolley, Conductor Curtis Neydis and Motorman Edward Kane, were completing the final run of the night as they reached the end of the line at 26th Street at 1 a.m. on November 25th, 1902.

Out of the darkness appeared two men armed with revolvers who ordered the conductor to hand over the collected fares plus the unused tickets and transfers. The theft amounted to $30, the equivalent of about $900 today.

The Milwaukee Journal reported, “Keeping their men covered with the revolvers the robbers ordered them from the car, and while one of the robbers kept his gun trained on the men, his partner turned on the current and ran the car back towards the city.”

The robbers traveled two blocks, leaving the trolley at Orchard Street. In the meantime, the crew rushed to the streetcar company’s nearby phone box, where they found the robbers had stuffed the keyhole. “The robbery was evidently well planned,” the Journal noted.

Running after their now-abandoned streetcar, the crew jumped aboard and sped down the tracks to the next phone box, where they were finally able to report the crime.

The streetcar crew supplied police with detailed descriptions of the robbers and three detectives spent much of the following day at the scene.

A police inspector told the Journal he was satisfied that the men they were seeking were “tough characters” and vowed to spare no effort in apprehending them.

But just 24 hours after the theft, the police force’s attention would instead be turned to solving one of the city’s most sensational murders. You can read about it here.

Interested in learning more about Milwaukee’s fascinating (and occasionally odd) history? Check out my book. (Paid link)

Election year madness


There has never been a presidential election like this: The Republican Party is split into bickering factions and unable to unite behind its candidate, while the Democratic Party is in disarray following a bitter nomination process. Adding to the turmoil, candidates from two small parties are attracting unprecedented support.

Now one of those upstart candidates is coming to Milwaukee – where an assassin will fire a bullet into his chest.

It is Oct. 14, 1912, and Theodore Roosevelt is scheduled to speak at the Milwaukee Auditorium. Covering a city block, the auditorium holds 9,000. An overflow crowd is gathering, eager to hear the popular former president make his case as the candidate of the new “Bull Moose” party. John Flammang Schrank, a New York saloonkeeper, is also in Milwaukee. He had followed Roosevelt from city-to-city for nearly a month. There is a gun in his pocket. (more…)