On this date in 1916, Joe Weinreis arrived for work as store clerk at the Farmer Supply Store in Beach, North Dakota only to discover that the lock on the front door was broken. He rushed to the office to find the safe badly damaged but still secure. Although the dial to the combination lock had been broken off with a sledge hammer, a quick examination showed that the burglars had been unsuccessful at gaining entry.
The authorities announced that the burglary attempt was the work of amateurs as the safecracking method was quite crude. After breaking off the dial, the burglars had poured nitroglycerine into the hole. The subsequent explosion had failed to open the safe.
The Golden Valley Chronicle referred to the thieves as “would-be yeggmen.” A yeggman was a criminal, specifically a burglar or safecracker. The term was popular in the early part of the 20th Century. It was popularized by Pinkerton detectives. It came about after an event in 1899, when a thief was so hounded by the detectives that he sent $540 to the Pinkerton agency. He told them to return the money to the Scandinavian-American Bank of St. Paul and signed the letter “John Yegg.” The name was almost certainly a pseudonym, but the detectives took a fancy to it and began using it as a term for burglars and safecrackers.
While nothing was stolen from the Farmer Supply Store, the manager noted the inconvenience and expense to repair the front door and the safe. Other businesses in Beach had also been targeted and showed signs of attempted break-ins. Businessmen told reporters that their safes were going to be guarded at night, and anyone breaking in would get a very warm reception. The newspaper hoped that those guilty of the break-in would be apprehended quickly. Convicting and sentencing the culprits would “make other men having like ambitions stop and consider before carrying them out.”
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Golden Valley Chronicle. “Would-Be Yeggs Blow Safe at Farmers Supply Store.” 4 August, 1916.