October 19, 1905 — On this day in history, Pinkerton detectives caught up with a daring employee who stole $100,000 from his station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was captured in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

At the end of his workday on October 9, George Edward Cunliffe, a trusted employee of the Adams Express Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, placed more than $400,000 into the company safe at the Pittsburg Train Station. He then picked up a package of cash containing $100,000, tucked it under his arm, and simply walked out, bidding his colleagues good night. He shortly boarded the first train heading east.

As soon as the heist was discovered, which was no more than a few hours after Cunliffe walked off the job, the Adams Express Company called in the Pinkertons. That night, agents traced their suspect as far as Newark, New Jersey, but everyone knew that it would only be a matter of time before they caught up with Cunliffe.

In this case, it was just a matter of a few days and some very clever detective work. After all, Cunliffe had no immediate connection to Bridgeport. When later asked why by a reporter, he said, “I reckoned New York would be too hot for me when my train got there, so I took the first train I could out of there. I don't know why I came here to Bridgeport.”

The capture: Cunliffe’s “extravagant” lifestyle and confession

Newspaper reports of the capture stated that Cunliffe had been living extravagantly at the Arlington Hotel since the day following his heist, spending his ill-gotten gains in the city's hotels and resorts.

After his arrest, he was asked, “Didn't you know that you would be caught if it took 10 years to find you?”

“I had signed for $400,000 earlier in the day and never thought of stealing it. It came into my mind finally about 10 minutes before I left the office the idea that I might take that package of $100,000. A half an hour after I took the money, I knew the Pinkertons would catch me, even if it took 20 years,” Cunliffe said. “A half an hour after I took it, I was sorry I wanted to put it back, but it was too late. That was the first dishonest act I ever committed, and I regretted it, too.”

“Can that money be gotten now?”

“Yes,” Cunliffe stated.

“Is it in safe hands?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Will you get it now?”

“Not now.”

The recovery: Tracking down the stolen money

Cunliffe had calmly confessed to the crime and was ready to face the consequence. However, he refused to disclose the whereabouts of the stolen sum.

It was reported that Cunliffe had only spent $500, leaving investigators to believe they could recover nearly the full amount. After some more brilliant detective work, the Pinkertons recovered the money from a dress suitcase found in a closet at the house of Cunliffe’s sister and brother-in-law in Bristol, Connecticut, where it had been shipped — with Adams Express charges prepaid by Cunliffe — two days after the heist. The case had been chucked into a closet, still sealed.

When the case was opened, agents found only $79,500, principally in bills of a large denomination, tucked in a pair of old shoes in the bottom of the case.

“What did you do with the rest of the money?” asked the Pinkerton Agent.

“I burned it,” said Cunliffe. “The money was all in bills of large denominations, and I knew that if I attempted to pass any of it, I should be caught at once.”

The mystery: Where did the rest of the money go?

Cunliffe stuck with his story although there was no evidence or witnesses to the fiery act. The Pinkertons believed it to be subterfuge and continued in their pursuit, following leads and questioning Cunliffe, until it paid off.

“The Pinkertons put me through a terrible racking experience lasting about eight hours.” Cunliffe told reporters, who splashed headlines across the country that he was tortured and given no food, water, or rest.

“On the contrary,” said Bridgeport police. “Cunliffe was treated with consideration, comfortable, and when everyone involved grew hungry, they sent out for food.”

Cunliffe remained steadfast in his confession.

Even so, two days after Cunliffe’s arrest, agents recovered a few hundred dollars hidden in Cunliffe’s hotel room. An additional $9,500 was discovered in a trunk in the home of a wealthy friend of a friend who was told the package was a laundry bundle, and another $5,000 was sewn into the lining of a baby carriage by Cunliffe’s wife. Each of these bundles were in smaller denominations of $5, $10, and $20 bills. The total including the amount Cunliffe spent was about $96,000.

When asked by a judge about the rest of the money, Cunliffe replied, “I know no more about it than any other man in this court.”

The sentencing and release: Cunliffe’s fate

In an interesting twist, the people of Bridgeport were torn in their opinion of Cunliffe. It was revealed that Arlington Hotel where Cunliffe stayed was a “cheap place to stay,” and Cunliffe bought a $10 suit at a local clothing store and spent nearly $500 on the needy citizens of Bridgeport.

“I bought clothes for everyone who looked needy, and bought drinks for everyone I thought needed one,” he said.

On November 11, 1905, a mere month after his heist, Cunliffe was sentenced to six years in Western Penitentiary, Pittsburgh. The fine people of Bridgeport rallied around Cunliffe and petitioned for his release.

He was released four years into his sentence on December 9, 1909, and he boarded a train to Bridgeport to meet his wife and family and his new friends.

Published October 05, 2023