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Eaton Post Office Robberies

An interesting item in the Heritage Collection is a set of brass knuckles that belonged to Joel W. Hamilton of Eaton, Indiana.  The story of why he had these is not clear although his son Herbert H. Hamilton related that a bank in which Joel had worked had been robbed and afterward he had the knuckles for discouraging further attempts.  A look at crime in Eaton during the early 1900’s may provide some insight as to why he had them.

Joel Hamilton was appointed Eaton Postmaster on August 10, 1900 and this was renewed January 31, 1901.

On April 18, 1902, burglars entered the post office and stole $2000 in stamps and cash and some jewelry belonging to the Hamilton family.  The incident was not discovered until the office opened at 7 a.m.  A blacksmith shop in town had also been burglarized and the tools stolen from that business were used to gain entry to the post office and safe.  The robbers then left Eaton, stole a horse and buggy from the pumping station in Albany and fled toward Ohio.  The horse and buggy were found abandoned about three miles west of Redkey.

In December 1902, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette reported that federal authorities had ruled that Joel Hamilton would be responsible for covering the $2000 stolen from the post office.  It had been discovered that he had not placed the stamps in an inner box of the safe as per regulations and therefore the burglars had easier access to them.

On November 23, 1909, the post office was robbed again.  This time the thieves stole $1200 to $1500 in stamps and cash.  Postmaster Samuel D. Morris entered the building at 6:20 a.m. to find the outer doors to the safe standing ajar. A window lock had been slipped with a chisel which the thief had left lying on a table.  The safe had not been blown but instead had been opened using the combination which led authorities to believe that it was the work of an expert safecracker.

The investigation turned up a possible lead when a restaurant owner in Eaton told authorities that a man dressed like a hobo inquired about the night watchman but was told there was only one on duty during the day.  It was thought that the “hobo” was casing the town in preparation for the robbery as he did not seek out the watchman and his appearance and manner seemed to indicate that it was not his normal persona.  News articles do not indicate whether the thief was ever caught or the stamps or money recovered.

The post offices in Roll and Upland were also robbed in 1909.   Dynamite was used at both locations and authorities had jailed the Baughman brothers for the Upland robbery.