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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Pinkerton Gold Heist, Utah National Bank, Jesse James?

Jesse W. and Sylvester Franklin James 1896

Late 1907 at the Utah National Bank at Bingham Junction, a robbery had taken place or so it would seem. This wasn’t a violent robbery with guns and such a blazin, who ever is responsible thought this out very well… in fact it wasn’t until suspicion was drawn upon the strongbox holding the banks reserves that wouldn’t open, it seemed either the combination lock had failed which didn’t seem possible or someone had changed it.

The reserve box was kept in a vault which was in a room which had a time lock, in fact 2 combinations and 2 time locks were required to get to the reserve and different people had the combination to each. There was only one person who had the combination to the reserve box and he was on vacation back east when it is believed the robbery took place. Before he left on vacation and knowing the possible need for access while he was away, or another intended purpose,  he wrote the combination down placed it in an envelope with a seal with instructions to only open it if needed. Or did he share it with someone up back east? Well it seems at least two times came up one in which the seal was broken and access to the reserve was made, once for the bank Examiner of which the contents were confirmed and later when they discovered they couldn't open it and called in a safe cracker who ended up cutting the Box open.

At this point in time they did not know they had been robbed but suspicion was high, the bank president hire an expert who just happened to be in town of which upon fiddling with the lock said it was clear to him that it had been changed. The bank president then authorized forced entry which took near two days to get through 3 layers of steel, at which time it was found that the reserve was short 43,000 in gold coin and another 63,000 in cash.

The Pinkertons were called into the scene to help resolve the mystery but it would seem the more time that was spent, the more they made themselves look like bumbling buffoons. After sending a request for a Pinkerton, someone showed up almost to soon to have been from the agency, in fact whoever he was posing as a Pinkerton for near two weeks when he disappeared and the real Pinkerton finally showed up. Several employees were suspect but as I recall, although they focused on one man he likely was not the guilty party. The investigation was a mess in fact the whole case, it was never resolved and the missing reserve was never recovered. A $10,000 reward was offered for the return of the reserve.

If you think you are good at resolving a mystery, this one has its challenges if you can follow it… as I recall it seems in one article it made reference to one of the suspect individuals who later built a home in Bingham Canyon area just over the mountain from Stockton. I also have some reason to believe that Jesse James himself may have been the driving force behind this… Someday I am going to have to give this story more attention.

Using key words you can find the majority of the articles that followed the story starting about January of 1908 in the Utah Newspapers digital collection.

I tell this story because of a strange story which came to my attention in 2011.


One Hundred years latter… 

Sometime in the fall of 2006 or 2007, a man believed to be in his late 30's to 40’s was hunting deer in the Oquirrh Mountains  East of Stockton. (It is unknown if he was hunting out of season) Not being unfamiliar with property ownership boundaries he had ventured into Kennecott Mining properties however knowing he may have done so, when he spotted a nice buck, knowing the possibilities he still took careful aim and fired anyway. After cleaning his dear and starting his trek to drag it down the mountain he stopped to take a rest, at this time he spotted a DWR truck down below and was certain he was likely caught.

While trying to decide what to do and resting, he looked to the side of where he was sitting and noticed a pile of rock like a mining claim marker. He noticed something odd sitting on top of the monument and if he had not seen it would likely have never walked over to look. When he got to the monument he saw that on top had been placed a brass button if I recall, picking the button up and looking closer, the word Pinkerton was written. Finding this odd he pulled a few rocks from the monument to discover inside was several mason jars each full of gold coins.

Knowing he had been made he decided to place the rocks back concealing the jars, grab the dear and continue down the mountain in hopes that DWR had not spotted him or knew of his deed. When he arrived at the bottom it was confirmed that he was spotted and was arrested and charged with poaching.

This man worked for a private contractor out at Dugway of which I will withhold the names… I spent a lot of time searching court cases of the suspect time frame but found nothing, it dawned on me that had he been convicted of a felony he would have lost his job, however with a misdemeanor he would keep his job and we knew he was still working in the years after the arrest, which means a plea bargain was made. His loose lips however caused his story to leak out, he said that the judge told him he had lost his hunting privilege's for 10 years and that he was to never go on Kennecott property again.

As of 2007 or 8 he had every intention of going back after he retired or after the 10 years had passed. He said it was his nest egg or ace in the hole… the 10 year period would have been up in about 2016 or 17. Did he go back? We don’t know but it would not be hard to find out with a little bit better detective work than the Pinkertons… $43,000 in gold coin would have fit nicely into 6 to 8 1 quart jars and today’s value at about 4 million. I wonder how this presumed former employee is living today? Or did he quit his job in 2016 or 17?

I have not yet found anything conclusive to tie Jesse James into this robbery other than It is believed that he was in the area of Butterfield Canyon due to mining interests around that same time frame,  the whole thing just stinks of Jesse James.

(The Black Book)
Jesse James was one of his Names

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