The U.S. Postal Inspection Service

Tri-State Gang

During the gangster heyday of the 1920s and 30s, one of the favorite targets for gun-toting criminals was the U.S. mail, especially because Federal Reserve Banks made gold and currency shipments through mail. After committing countless crimes, the notorious “Tri-State Gang” (that operated in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Viriginia) of Walter Legenza and Robert Mais were arrested by postal inspectors in the early 1930s. In the course of their robberies they had killed a mail truck driver, police officers, and even acquaintances who knew too much. In addition to mail thefts, they had jail breaks, bank and military arsenal robberies on their resume. And these were just the actions that law enforcement officials were aware the gang had committed.

There were other cruel and merciless gangsters back then, but the Tri-State Gang were at the center of a series of fiction-novel-like events. They had uncanny luck in escaping from feds and police in many close call situations, from terminating a hit man they hired to silence Legenza’s girlfriend to Legenza’s mom smuggling guns hidden in a baked turkey into the jail where they were detained. After the jailbreak, they began running out of luck. A frightened nine-year-old school girl told her friends that she did not want to go home because her mother’s friends, Legenza and Mais, were staying there and these men had lots of guns. One of the girl’s friends told her own parents, and they contacted the Philadelphia police. Time was up for the gang.

As the media learned more details about the story, the more attention it attracted. Numbers of magazine and newspaper articles featured what had happened, and the media attention led to the gang’s story being featured in the 1950 movie Highway 301 (the title referenced the gang’s favorite escape route), an episode of the TV series The Untouchables that began airing in 1959, and even in a comic book in which the criminal duo battled Batman.