APRIL 15, 1920
Thursday mornings Shelley Neal, the South Braintree agent for the American Express Company, met the 9:18 local from Boston to pick up the payrolls of the Slater & Morrill and Walker & Kneeland shoe factories. Until January 1920, the payrolls had been sent down on Wednesdays, but recently there had been so many holdups around Boston that the head office had altered its delivery schedules.
It was an uneasy time, that year after the soldiers returned. In November the savings bank in the neighboring town of Randolph, a few miles west of Braintree, had been held up and robbed. A month later, on the day before Christmas, four men in a touring car had tried to rob the paymaster of the L. Q. White shoe factory in Bridgewater, sixteen miles to the south. An unknown gang had recently stolen several freight-car loads of shoes belonging to Slater & Morrill. Almost every week Neal received a notice from the Boston office warning him to take every precaution, particularly to watch out for suspicious strangers. He now carried his 38-caliber Colt in his pocket with the pocket flap tucked inside so that he could reach for it quickly.
South Braintree was the other side of the New York, New Haven & Hartford tracks, at the wrong end of town. Had there been a national-bank branch there, the payroll money would not have had to be sent down by train, but the triangle of factories and narrow streets and workers' houses was not commercially important enough. Braintree itself, lying ten miles south of Boston, was an undistinguished community of about fifteen thousand inhabitants that one passed through almost absent-mindedly on the old turnpike road to Cape Cod.
On Thursday morning, April 15, Neal, in his customary dark suit,