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Blog: The Last Stage Coach Robbery in San Mateo County

Everything that could have gone wrong - went wrong.

It’s really no surprise that this story features the last known stagecoach robbery in our county’s history. It was a comedy of errors and not something a self-respecting robber would attempt or repeat. This chronicle of the crime appeared in a 1905 edition of the weekly newspaper The Times and would later be reprinted in the August 1965 copy of La Peninsula, the Journal of the San Mateo County Historical Association.

Here’s the edited original article:

Right on schedule, the Levy Brothers stagecoach left the Occidental Hotel in Half Moon Bay at 6:30 a.m. on Aug. 17, 1905. When it lumbered into San Mateo about nine, the veteran driver, Ed Campbell, had a big hold-up story to tell. San Mateans were incredulous at first, but the pale and distraught faces of the passengers were convincing evidence. The experience had not been a pleasant one, but luck had been with the victims of the robbery, for no one had been hurt, and the terrible bandit had succeeded in lifting from the five passengers the whole sum of four dollars and thirty cents.

Immediately there was a pell-mell rush to catch the robber. Sheriff Mansfield with deputies Butts and Kelly went up Belmont Road to the scene. The hold-up scene was on Crystal Springs Road at the old Smith toll house. As the stage approached this point, a masked man had stepped from behind a tree, pointing a revolver at driver Ed Campbell commanding him with a great oath to halt, and Campbell halted.

“Hand out those boxes now and be blank quick about it you blankety blank blank!” cried the highwayman with a string of oaths that would frighten a mule driver.

Seated beside Campbell was Ollie Oleson, traveling for Langley and Michaels of San Francisco. The desperado ordered him to pass around the hat, while the frightened passengers were threateningly told to turn out their pockets.

J. C. Santos dropped a dollar in the hat, all he had except ten cents. Miss Annie Johnston, the only female passenger, threw in $3. She had managed to slip the balance of her money under the seat cushions. The scariest man in the bunch was Oleson, the hat passer, who had nearly a hundred dollars on him and a watch and ring valued at $100. He made as slow progress as possible, burning time, and it was good at this stage of the operation. A wagon was heard approaching, and seeing the jig was up, the robber ordered Campbell to drive and for no one to look back on the peril of their lives.

The wagon that interrupted the performance and deprived the highwayman of his booty was driven by E. Bertilotti, a gardener. Enraged by the incident, the robber began to pump lead at him, at which Bertilotti left his rig and took to the woods, with two more shots following him. The police, who also came on the scene, were likewise put to flight with bullets. With supreme audacity, the robber then proceeded to rifle with the mail and cash boxes without leaving the roadside. He shot away the locks of the boxes at imminent risk of killing himself and sliced open the mail pouch with a knife. But he secured no cash, for both boxes were empty - the total sum realized must be less than $5.

The robber was dressed in a long black overcoat, which reached to his knees, blue overalls, a black visored cap similar to those worn by railroad men, a black mask, beneath which at least two of the victims say were goggles, and feed bags which covered his shoes to leave no recognizable foot tracks. One passenger declared he was nine feet high and was armed with a small cannon, but this statement is received with some doubt.

Douglas MacGowan

About the Author: Douglas MacGowan

Doug MacGowan has authored seven books and countless articles, mainly about history and true crime. He has been a resident of Redwood City since 2000.
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