Carla Charter is an author of three fiction novels, including Across Lots, which is based on the Kneeland Maids Murder in 1855. She is currently writing a non-fiction book based on the same crime. Her books are available at Amazon.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
It was a Saturday, May 15, 1869, when the robbery at the Douglas Axe Manufacturing Company was first discovered. The clerk who opened the company for business that day at 7 a.m., discovered the company’s damaged safe as well as the thieves tools including jimmies, cold chisels, wedges and hammers, spread around the counting room floor.
The safe’s original home had been in a room off of the counting room. However the thieves, and it was assumed there must have been more than two to lift the heavy iron safe, had relocated it to the middle of the counting room, passing over a door threshold on the way. It is believed the safe was moved to get it as far away from the adjoining buildings in the back of the office. And thus they would be less likely to be heard.
Someone should have heard it. The factory was in the center of the then village, with houses on either side. Yet no one saw anything. Several residents who lived nearby woke up that night several times but noticed nothing suspicious, although one passerby at midnight remembered hearing a succession of dull thumping sounds
The treasure of stocks and bonds sat locked firmly in the safe. As it was the day before pay day, there should have been a larger loot. The money used to meet payroll was always sent on the 15th of the month, approximately $25,000, but fortunately for the company payroll had arrived a little later than usual that month.
Once the safe was in the middle of the counting room, the thieves went to work, possibly using copper sledges to deaden the sound of their work even more. Once the outer door of the safe was opened they began to work on the inner door. This was more difficult, eventually the criminals even resorting to cutting off the hinges on this door.
Finally giving up on the door, they started working on the top of the safe driving iron wedges at the junction of the inner and upper plates of the inside compartments. Here they found some success and were able to reach in, taking government bonds and stocks.
Detectives from both Providence and Boston worked on the case over the weekend. The robbers it appeared had entered through an outside door by turning a key that had been left in the lock the night before, the crime. That same key was eventually found on the bridge below the office which led to the finishing shops.
The day before the crime, suspicious characters had been seen lurking around Douglas. These men had engaged a team, the evening before the crime to go to Worcester and then take a train to Boston. When asked why they didn’t wait until morning and take the train to Boston directly from Douglas, their responses were vague.
The group stayed at a hotel in Worcester using fictitious names, one of them even using the name of an axe company employee. The men, one of whom was described as having a broken nose and being a known burglar were to believed to have escaped on the boat train to New York.
On July 25th a New Yorker named Daniels was arrested and brought to town on suspicion of being implicated in the robbery no evidence was found however and he was discharged. So until this day, the mystery of who robbed the Douglas Axe Manufacturing Company remains unsolved.
More information about the Douglas Axe Manufacturing Company Robbery can be found in The History of the Town of Douglas, Massachusetts From the Earliest Period to the Close of 1878 By William A. Emerson
For more about Douglas History visit the Douglas Historical Society website at www.douglashistoricalsociety.org