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Robert Joseph SILVERIA Jr.

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "Sidetrack" - "The Boxcar Murderer"
 
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Robberies - Member of the Freight Train Riders of America, a boxcar gang that preys upon fellow rail-riding hobos
Number of victims: 14 +
Date of murders: 1981 - 1996
Date of arrest: March 2, 1996
Date of birth: March 3, 1959
Victims profile: Male railroad-riders
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife or bludgeoned to death
Location: Several States, USA
Status: Sentenced to two consecutiva life terms without parole in Oregon in 1998
 
 
 
 
 
 

information

 
 
 
 
 
 

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 (14+)

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 Northern California.

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 gangster.

 
 

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 America.

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 said.

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 sounds

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 Southwest.

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.

Nomadic Terrors

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.

Death Tracks

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: PC/CE

VENUE: Ore./Mont./Utah/Wash./Calif./Ariz./Kans./Fla.

MO: Transient who murdered other hoboes

DISPOSITION: Two consecutiva life terms in Ore., 1998.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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