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A sepia tone image of an old train with smoke bellowing from the top of the train

Train Heist Gone Wrong In Crowsnest Pass

Russians last train ride ended in a bloody mess

Crowsnest Pass is home to hundreds of wild stories, but one story stands out from the rest for being a bloody mess. Curious? Then all aboard! Because we are taking a train ride back to August 2, 1920.

On this day, three Russian men named George Arkoff, Alex Auloff, and Tom Bassoff boarded CPR No. 63 at the Lethbridge station. Little did they know, it would be their last train ride.

The trio sat quietly until the train had passed Coleman. At this point, it was showtime. The men robbed passengers at gunpoint and even assaulted the train conductor.

One of the items stolen from the train conductor was a pocket watch. This watch plays a vital role in bringing our story to a close, so don’t forget it!

By the end of their looting spree, the men stole $400 in cash and other valuable items. However, this wasn’t the payload our ambitious thieves hoped for.

According to Crowsnest Museum and Archives’ executive director Chris Matthews, it was rumoured that famous bootlegger Emilio Picariello would be on the train.

“The rumour was that they thought one of the local rum runners, Emilio Picariello, was on the train with a large sum of money — probably ill-gotten money — but he was not on the train,” Matthews told CBC News.

a black and white photo of Alex Auloff, George Arkoff, Tom Bassoff, from left to right
Alex Auloff, George Arkoff, and Tom Bassoff, from left to right | Glenbow Photo Archives | CBC News

When the train made an unexpected stop, the three men made their great escape. However, once the train arrived at the Crowsnest stop, police were notified, and a manhunt began.

Unlike Arkoff and Bassoff, Auloff decided to cut his losses. He left the group and decided to escape to the United States. Instead, Arkoff and Bassoff chose to stay in the area. A decision that would end bloody.

A few days later, on August 7, 1920, the pair were spotted at the Bellevue Café. However, their little coffee break didn’t go unnoticed by Alberta Provincial Police constables Frewin, Bailey, and RCMP corporal Usher.

With plans to arrest the thieves, Frewin, Bailey, and Usher entered with their guns drawn. When George Arkoff reached for his gun, he was fatally shot by Frewin.

Meanwhile, Bassoff was able to snatch Usher’s gun, but not before being shot in the leg. Bassoff was still able to use the stolen gun to fatally shoot Usher.

During the chaos, Bailey tripped over Usher’s body and was killed by Bassoff. Arkoff later died from his wounds, but Bassoff was able to flee.

But with a busted leg and the weight of the law on his tail, Bassoff wouldn’t get far. On August 11, 1920, Bassoff was found and arrested by a detective that had tracked him to the eastern end of Crowsnest Pass.

He was found guilty and sentenced to hang on December 22, 1920, in Lethbridge. But one thief remained. Auloff.

There wasn’t a trace of Auloff for three years. Not until a pocket watch turned up at a pawn shop in Portland, Oregon—a pocket watch with the engraving Sam Jones, the train conductor.

The appearance of the pocket watch allowed detective Schrappe to track down Auloff in Butte, Montana, where he was arrested.

He was sentenced to seven years in the Prince Albert prison, where he would eventually die. Today, the pocket watch used to track down Auloff is proudly on display at the Crowsnest Museum and Archives.

So thestory of Alberta’s only known train robbery comes to an end. A story of violence, tragedy, and, in the end, defeat.

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