— Debonair and Dangerous — 

On a cold night in late November 1891, a man wearing a derby hat boarded a train in Glendale, Missouri. Marion Hedgepeth led several accomplices to the engine cab, where he placed a gun to the engineer’s head and ordered him to bring the Frisco Express to a stop.

This was the third train robbery of the month for Hedgepeth and his gang. The first two netted about $6,000.

Hedgepeth escorted the crew to the Adams Express car, but the messenger refused to unlock the door. The gang leader ignited a couple of sticks of dynamite, and the explosion caved in the door. 

A Kansas City newspaper reported the express messenger was “seriously injured in the hip by the explosion and battered about the head by the butt end of revolvers.”

After pistol-whipping the messenger, the bandits ripped a gold watch from his coat.

The gang emptied the safe of between $25,000 and $50,000.

Marion Columbus Hedgepeth—born on a small farm in Prairie Home, Missouri, on April 14, 1856—left home in his teens and headed West.

Hedgepeth began making a name for himself before turning twenty. He found himself on the run from law enforcement officers in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming for cattle rustling, bank robbery, and murder.

He didn’t fit the profile of the run-of-the-mill criminal. Tall and dark-complexioned with wavy black hair, he dressed the part of an Eastern businessman.

In addition to the derby hat, he usually wore a conservative blue suit, white shirt, diamond stickpin, and—according to a wanted poster—polished shoes.

Detective William Pinkerton, who trailed Hedgepeth for years, described him as a man with “an incredible fast draw, bad clear through.”

He told the story of an incident in Colorado where Hedgepeth found himself facing off against another outlaw. Although the man had his pistol out and aimed, Hedgepeth drew his gun and killed the man with a bullet to the heart.

Hedgepeth used many aliases, including the Derby Kid, Montana Bandit, Handsome Bandit, and the Debonair Bandit.

He spent nearly half his life behind bars and served twenty-one years in eight jails and prisons.

After the Frisco Express robbery, detectives tracked the Hedgepeth Four into the heart of St. Louis.

Based on information from the public, authorities located and surrounded a small house where the gang holed up. With the odds stacked against escaping, all four gave up without gunplay. 

Twelve years later, Hedgepeth walked out of prison but couldn’t bring himself to go straight.

Before long, the man in the derby hat made the headlines again after committing another series of robberies and killings.

On New Year’s Eve, 1910, a well-dressed man walked into a crowded saloon on Chicago’s west side, brandished a revolver, and proceeded to rob everyone in the room.

Hedgepath filled a sack with money and valuables. But he pushed his luck too far.

Chicago police officer Edward Jaburek came onto the scene at 18th and Avers Avenue, and ordered the outlaw to surrender.

The two men exchanged gunfire, and Hedgepeth dropped to the floor, a bullet in his chest—shortly before reaching his 54th birthday.


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2 comments to “KILLER IN A DERBY HAT”

  • Shelley Sutton

    Interesting story Tom. As I was reading, it occurred to me that even back then, in simpler times, people chose money/greed over life. With all the money Hedgepeth acquired, he could’ve stopped his crime spree, settled down somewhere, had a quiet life. Yet, instead, he chose to continue to live a life of crime and lies. Seems like there is a common thread that has continued throughout the years. However, now it’s just a more sophisticated way of committing crimes for the sake of money and power.
    We have a tendency to think that life was easy and pure in years gone by.. but in reality, it’s just the same old thing, except now we have a larger population of people, living in a high tech world to choose good or evil.

  • Hi Shelley–More people, fewer horses, fast cars, more cyber crime than traditional robberies. As you suggested, things haven’t changed much in terms of greed. Just a lot more of it. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

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