Robert Joseph Silveria Jr.
is a serial killer currently serving a double life sentence in Oregon
for the murders of 34 hobos and homeless men. He is also known as "Sidetrack."
He was arrested in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Robert Joseph Silveria
Suspected of being the "Boxcar
Murderer", Bob was part of the Freight Train Riders of America, a boxcar
gang that preys upon fellow rail-riding hobos. Arrested in March, 1995,
in a rail yard near Sacramento, California, Silveria was charged with
the murder of transient William Pettit, found dead in a boxcar in
Silveria has also been linked to 13 other boxcar
murders in Oregon, Utah, California, Arizona, Kansas and Washington
state spanning from 1981 to 1995. The victims, mostly drifters, were
stabbed or bludgeoned to death and robbed of their meager possessions.
While in custody Bobbie claimed all his kills were gang related hits.
Having betrayed his secret boxcar brotherhood by talking of the murders,
Silveria believes he will soon be executed by fellow rail-riding
Ex-cop's book profiles railway serial killer
December 26, 2004
The last time Bill Palmini walked this stretch of
railroad track, it was lined with dense foliage and trees -- camouflage
for a homeless camp. Today, the brush is largely gone. A tuft of pampas
grass remains; behind it, the parking lot of a recently opened Target
store. Nothing to muffle the drone of nearby Interstate 80. We are
standing on the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way in Albany about
1,000 feet south of the Buchanan Street overpass.
Palmini has written a book -- "Murder on the Rails''
-- about a multi-state series of murders. The book was co-written with
freelance journalist and publicist Tanya Chalupa.
Palmini was with the Albany Police Department for 26
years and is now retired. It was here on July 25, 1995, that Albany
police found James "J.C.'' McLean stabbed to death, beaten about the
head with a "goon stick,'' his boots and wallet gone.
What Palmini didn't know at the time was that
McLean's death was not isolated. It was part of a strange, violent
parallel world that ran right through Albany and other small towns along
America's rail lines: the brotherhood of the Freight Train Riders of
The violent group, which railroad officials say is an
urban myth, is peopled with men like Dogman Tony, Desert Rat, Arkansas
Bobcat, and Sidetrack -- real name Robert Joseph Silveria Jr. Palmini
interviewed Silveria, known as the Boxcar Serial Killer, who has
confessed to murders in dozens of states and was convicted in three.
The book provides an insider's view of the
investigator's trade and the workings of small-town police agencies..."Murder
on the Rails'' is also a personal story about a cop, a serial killer and
the strange circumstances that brought them together.
Silveria's criminality is rooted in a violent
childhood, drug and alcohol use, and a pivotal incident at a Vancouver,
Wash., mental health agency when an attendant told a desperate Silveria,
"everyone has problems'' and to take a number and sit down, Palmini said.
To conjure the rage necessary to bludgeon and stab
his victims, Silveria would summon the memory of the incident by
repeating the words "take a number'' over and over, Palmini said. The
FTRA functions much as a gang, Palmini said. Silveria, now 45 and
serving a double life sentence in Oregon State Prison, was part of a "death
squad'' that would collect debts and avenge perceived offenses, Palmini
The group ran drugs in railroad towns across the West,
using multiple identifications -- sometimes stolen from their murder
victims -- to collect food stamps, welfare and supplemental security
income at different locations. They lived in "jungles'' -- homeless
camps along the tracks, including the one in Albany, Palmini said.
He and other law enforcement officials say group
members, primarily Silveria, are responsible for as many as 100 murders
along the railroad tracks, including hobos thrown off trains or "executed
-- with a machete, ax or sharp buck knife'' and left on tracks at night
to be run over by oncoming trains.
Many of the killings were classified as suicides or
accidents. Few ever were registered outside the jurisdictions where they
occurred. So Palmini was unaware that in August 1994 a rail rider named
Michael Garfinkle was found with his skull bashed in along the railroad
tracks in Emeryville. Silveria confessed to six murders in California,
but has never gone to trial here, Palmini said.
Silveria was arrested without incident March 2, 1996,
by a Roseville railroad police officer. Silveria, who was carrying a gun
he had stolen from a victim, briefly thought of killing the officer, but
something stopped him, Palmini writes. "'It was God,' Silveria would
later tell me.''
Palmini interviewed him at the Placer County jail in
Auburn, where he readily confessed in great detail to killing McLean.
“He wanted to clear the slate with God for the old Robert Silveria,''
Palmini said. “He wanted to make peace with God and peace with himself.''
The Freight Train Riders of America
Where getting railroaded is even more ominous than it
By Richard Valdemar - Policemag.com
November 30, 2007
In the late 1980s, my LASD surveillance team was
requested by the Sheriff's Homicide to assist in staking out the turf of
a gang known as the FTRA or Freight Train Riders of America. Their turf
was trains and train right-of-ways from Seattle, Wash., to Mexico. It
seemed that a serial killer was murdering hobos who rode the rails and
camped in outdoor hobo jungle camps along the railroad tracks throughout
The victim vagabonds were commonly shot in the head
at close range with a small caliber pistol while they slept in homeless
encampments at night. The suspect had to be one of them, because he knew
the camps and was apparently able to closely approach these wary
travelers for a point blank shot to the head. Many of the victims were
physically handicapped in some way. The unknown serial killer had earned
the moniker "Bum Blaster." Profiles of the serial killer suggested that
he was a "mercy killer" who felt sorry for the poor homeless transients
and effectively put them out of their misery. Others suggested that he
was a cold blooded "thrill killer" who preyed on the most vulnerable
victims, knowing that nobody would demand justice in their behalf, or
even miss them.
My surveillance team was assigned to covertly monitor
some of these camps of sleeping transients to prevent any further
murders in Los Angeles and to watch for any suspicious activity.
Wanderlust and Rail Buffs
There are people who love trains and everything to do
with them. Behind the County Jail in downtown Los Angeles there are
railroad yards where cars are switched and locomotive engines pull in to
refuel and do maintenance. Early in my career, I had run into these
train enthusiasts, known locally as "the train freaks," while patrolling
the perimeter of the jail. They could recite the name, origin, and
destination of every train passing through the L.A. yards. They could
even tell you the scheduled arrival and departure times. Sometimes they
took photographs of the more famous engines.
This is when I first heard about the FTRA. Like the
muffled whispers about the "Black Hand" of the Mafia in the Italian
community, these "train freaks" whispered of a gang of outlaws that
lived to ride the freight trains in the West. They were robbers,
burglars, and hijackers with colorful names. Cross one of their members
and they would get you. These were desperate and dangerous men. At the
time, this "Homicidal Hobos" idea seemed a little far out for me to take
too seriously. After all, we dealt with some of L.A.'s most dangerous
local gangs. But I became a believer after the Bum Blaster case.
During our nighttime surveillances, I saw the signs
of the passing of Freight Train Riders under railroad overpasses,
switching yards, and along the tracks on boxcars, switching boxes, and
lean-to buildings. Strange monikers, swastikas, lightning bolts, and the
letters FTRA, FTW (F--- the World), STP (Start the Party or Stone Tramp
People), and ATAPAW (Any Time, Any Place, Anywhere) could be seen mixed
among the tagger and traditional gang graffiti. They leave their
messages in signs and FTRA graffiti to let fellow FTRA members know that
they were there, and possibly where they were last headed.
People who abandon our normal American way of life
and society do so for a reason. Who would choose to sleep along the
tracks and live in this underground world to ride the dangerous freight
cars? They are loners, and many are alcoholics, the mentally ill, drug
addicts, and outlaws on the run. They live by panhandling, selling scrap,
and through criminal activities like petty theft, burglary, identity
theft, and food stamp and welfare fraud. They carry weapons like clubs
and canes, knives and pistols. And whether they are the witnesses or
suspects, they can disappear by catching the next freight train out. The
FTRA are the most predatory of this lot.
Some railroad officials will deny that the FTRA
exists at all. Some say it is an urban legend. But law enforcement
investigators believe that the gang began in the early 1980s in a
Montana bar. Started by a group of homeless and disgruntled Viet Nam
veterans, the loosely knit original members were mostly white men who
rode the famous "High Line," the name they gave to the Burlington
Northern Santa Fe Pacific rail road line (BNSP). They swore to watch
their brother members' backs and to share their food, booze, and women.
They had monikers like Pennsylvania Pollock, Desert Rat, Moose, Muskrat,
Hotshit, Side Line, F-Troop, and women like Bubblehead.
Described by many as "bikers without bikes," members
of the FTRA who ride the original "High Line" often identify themselves
by wearing a black bandanna around their neck with a silver ring band.
The FTRA "Southern Corridor" or the "Midwestern" lines, riders who ride
the CSX out of Georgia or Kansas City Southern through Texas and
Oklahoma, are more recent offshoots of the original gang. The "Southern
Corridor" Freight Train Riders identify themselves by wearing red
bandannas with silver rings. The "Midwest" FTRA identify with blue
bandannas and silver rings. During the winter months many FTRA members
migrate to warmer states, such as California and Arizona. FTRA members
often posses several false identification documents for use in obtaining
food stamps and committing welfare fraud. They will usually give false
identifying information and deny they are members of the FTRA when asked
by the police or railroad authorities.
Nationwide an estimated 30,000 homeless freight train
hoppers annually "catch-out" somewhere on the 30,000 miles of railroad
track. Beside the hobos, tramps, and carneys, there are a growing number
of illegal immigrants and even entire migrant families. Recently it has
become a fad for college students and young adventurous Yuppies to hop a
freight car for "fun." Such activity is illegal, and is considered
highly insulting to most train hoppers and especially offensive to the
members of the FTRA. Many adventuring armatures have been robbed, beaten,
or worse by genuine transients. Each year nearly one hundred deaths
occur along the railroad lines. This number includes those transients
who die of natural causes. But this number also includes those whose
deaths are presumed accidental when the body is found after falling from
or under the train and there are no eye witnesses to tell us differently.
Finally, there are those who are the clearly the victims of foul play.
In the late 1980s, the FTRA began systematically
stealing high value merchandise from the trains. They also began doing
multiple burglaries around the train yards specifically targeting
firearms. The Union Pacific Railroad reported taking more than 30
burglary reports a day at the Colton Yard in San Bernardino, Calif.
Firearms and high value items could be sold for large profits in the
underground drug cartels in Mexico. Some FTRA members formed
associations with Mexican criminal groups to facilitate this trade.
Members of the FTRA were also known to commit armed robberies near the
railroad tracks and immediately hop a freight car out of town.
In 1996, a transient with the moniker of F-Troop was
found in a boxcar on a Montana Rail line, shot in the head five times.
His real name was Joseph Perrigo, a 30-year-old train hopper who wore an
FTRA tattoo. Just one of the more than 1,000 transient train riders
along the 1,500 miles of the High Line, he was the victim of fellow FTRA
member Martin Moore, also known as Mississippi Bones. The murder was
Bones' payback for F-Troop stabbing him more than a year before.
According to retired police officer Bill Palmini,
author of "Murder on the Rails," the most notorious murderer and FTRA
member was Side Track, or Robert Silveria. His book describes how
Spokane, Wash., Police Officer Bob Grandinetti had begun documenting the
FTRA gang early in the 1980s. He closely followed a series of reported
dead bodies along the High Line between Spokane and Sandpoint, Idaho.
Many of the victims had their shirts and jackets pulled up around their
heads and their pants pulled down. Bob Grandinetti didn't buy the
railroad's explanations of accidental deaths.
After a freight train derailed west of Spokane, it
was determined that the brake lines had been deliberately cut and that
the suspect had been killed in the resulting crash. He was wearing the
signature black bandanna and silver ring of the FTRA. Grandinetti
compiled documentation on 800 known and suspected FTRA members and noted
that in the1990s there were more than 300 unsolved murders along the
rails. He suspects that many of these murders can be attributed to
members of the FTRA, but the cases were especially hard to prove. In a "Stuff"
magazine article by Christopher Ketcham (2/28/03) Grandinetti is quoted
as saying, "The problem is the suspects and all the witnesses disappear."
Silveria was a scarecrow-looking heroin addict who
had a tattoo of the word freedom on his throat. Eventually Side Track
was connected to the FTRA and several of these unsolved railroad murders.
He was featured on "America's Most Wanted" and dubbed the "Boxcar Killer"
by the media. After his arrest, he confessed to a five-year nationwide
murder spree ranging from Florida to California. One of his victims was
college student Michael Garfinkle who was on a weekend odyssey when Side
Track murdered him in a hobo jungle in the switching yard outside
Emeryville, Calif. But mostly he preyed on the helpless homeless,
killing them for their clothing and social security cards. Perhaps it
was guilt that made him cover the faces of his victims with their
clothing. He confessed to 14 of the unsolved murders.
Back in Los Angeles, my surveillance team was unable
to cover all the hobo jungle camps, and the unknown railroad serial
killer murdered another victim. He probably disappeared after the
killing by "catching out" on an outbound freight train, but the LASD
Homicide detectives were pretty sure they had identified a suspect. A
few weeks later, they told us that their primary suspect had been killed
in Mexico. Was he an FTRA member? We may never know, but the railroad
murders in our area stopped.
Don't wait to be overwhelmed by the multiple burglary
or robbery reports in and around the railroad tracks snaking across your
jurisdiction. Don't wait for the lifeless unidentified body to be
discovered in some tramp camp or boxcar one fine morning. Check the area
for FTRA graffiti, photograph graffiti, learn the monikers and gang
symbols, and stop to talk to vagrants and hobos. Watch for the FTRA gang,
because the devil rides the rails.
SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: N MOTIVE:
MO: Transient who murdered other
DISPOSITION: Two consecutiva life
terms in Ore., 1998.