Contributed by Gigimo
Description: COLFAX'S Brother in Law.Date: January 23 1874
Newspaper published in: Cairo, Illinois
One of the most astounding systems of mail robberies ever known in this state has lately been unearthed by special agents of the post office department, and the whole matter was made public yesterday by the arrest of Elisha COWLES, postal agent on the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroad. To begin at the beginning, suspicions were excited against COWLES last fall, for the first time. On October 6, 1873, Mr. Charles STEWART, the dry-goods merchant of the city, mailed a letter containing $20, directed to a party at Downey, Iowa. The letter left Davenport on the morning of October 7, on COWLES' run, but it never reached its destination. Postmaster RUSSELL immediately reported the case to the department at Washington, and he, together with special agents, J. E. SRAURT, of Iowa City, and J. B. FURRAY of Omaha, proceeded to investigate the case. It took some time to work up the matter so as to fasten the robbery directly on COWLES, but the agents were fully satisfied of his guilt a few days after taking the case in hand. So decoy letters were sent out, and other measures were taken to effect their purpose. On Monday morning last the special detectives STUART and FURAY arrived in Davenport and were in consultation with Postmaster RUSSEL for a long time. They also remained here Monday night waiting for COWLES to take his run, they having at last brought the case to a focus. On Tuesday morning COWLES left the city in charge of his car, and the detectives were also passengers on the same train. Yesterday morning Mr. RUSSELL received a dispatch from the detectives, stating that they had just arrested COWLES in his car near Avoca. It also stated that when arrested COWLES had one of the decoy letters in his hand and others in his possession. He made a full confession of all his robberies. The confession will not be made public, but it is stated that he has been rifling letters for years past, and that for several weeks he has been stealing letters at the rate of fifty a day. He appears to have exercised little caution in his operations, and to have broken into letters by the wholesale in a perfectly reckless and indiscriminate manner. The prisoner was taken to Des Moines and placed in jail.
Elisha COWLES has had an eventful life, and has seen much trouble and many changes. He is fifty-two years old, is a native of New England; he went from his native state to Michigan, where he went into business and amassed much wealth, being at one time one of the richest men in the town where he lived. At that time he owned and operated two large saw mills and was prospering finely, when misfortune came, and he was twice burned out, losing each time over thirty thousand dollars. About eight years ago he came to Iowa and bought a tract of land near Kellogg, Jasper county, and upon this farm he has ever since resided with his family. He has been married twice, his second wife being a half sister to Schuyler COLFAX. He has a large family, consisting of his wife and nine children, the eldest being a son twenty-one years of age. Mrs. COWLES is said to be a very fine woman, much superior to her husband in many respects, and has always been a good and true wife and mother. She deeply feels her husband's disgrace. COWLES has been mail agent on the Davenport run of the C. R. I and P. for seven years; he has always been regarded as a good, reliable clerk, but never as a very smart or efficient one. He had always been regarded as strictly honest up to the date of the disclosures, last October, and what incited him to choose a career of crime which he certainly must have known would result in disclosure and disgrace is not known, his actions cannot be accounted for. His case will come before the United States circuit court at its next term, and his punishment, not doubt, will be imprisonment for a term of years in the penitentiary.