Posted: May 2nd, 2013
Death on the Railroad
About This Episode

Death on the Railroad is a classic story involving foul play, cover ups, a murder mystery and a voyage of discovery to understand what happened to a group of Irish men who came to America for a better life but found only misery. In 1832, railroad contractor, Philip Duffy, hired 57 Irish immigrants to lay railroad tracks in West Chester, Pennsylvania. But, less than two months after their arrival, all 57 were dead. Did they all die – as was widely believed – due to a cholera pandemic? Or, were some of them murdered? In 2003, twin brothers discovered a secret file among their grandfather’s papers that led them to investigate the deaths of these men and find the location of their final resting place in a valley now known as Duffy’s Cut. Using the latest forensic and scientific investigative techniques, DNA, forensic analysis, facial reconstruction and historical detective work in Ireland and the USA, modern detectives and experts will unravel this extraordinary story.

Preview this episode:

Death on the Railroad premieres Wednesday, May 8, 10-11 pm ET on PBS (check local listings).

  • Margaret McKitty

    Very powerful story , telling the often overlooked story of the Irish here in America at the time of the emergence of the No Nothing Party. In looking back, we get the chance to look ahead at this time of misunderstanding of the immigrants role in our current century. Excellent show. Very moving and appropriate ending Thank you.

  • Roger Glynn

    Very interesting show. What was not clear to me;what permitted the researchers to identify the one skeleton as being that of the young man Ruddy. (subsequently returned to Ireland).


    I found this “DEATH On the Railroad” to be intriqueing. Now after viewing the entire show, I have so many questions as my family name is “Byrns”. Most of our family members have been named in many different generations after the given names of those that came before us. I had an uncle John that was named after my one of my great grandfather’s brothers. I really do not know the genealogy of my father’s family, but have tried to trace it back some. I have learned that the spelling could be different than the one we use. I have been told that the Scottish/Irish used Burns, but that too has changed through the generations. I would appreciate if you would send me any more information that you have one the couple John and Kathern Burns that you migh have, as they could be part of my family. Unfortunately the children of the large Byrns family that came from Ireland have all died without leaving documents except oral history. The Byrns,Burns,Byrnes,Bern family et al is a very large extended clan from various counties in Ireland. It would have been nice for their remains to have been taken back to Ireland also. Thank you. And thank you for Making this story for us all to see. Their was a Byrns in the civil war. MJ

  • David

    Supposedly the Ruddys of today sometimes don’t develop a first molar tooth in the upper jaw and one of the skeletons was missing a first molar.
    Also I think that skeleton exhibited the youngest age of death and John Ruddy was supposed to have been only 18 years of age I think.
    Strangely I think I have heard that Irish people usually have well developed 3rd molars (wisdom teeth) while certain human groupings are supposed to sometimes not develop the wisdom teeth or they develop defectively (impacted or something)

    Did the Irish railroad workers speak English? I think that before about 1850 (the Famine cataclysm hit by then) it is said that many Irish only spoke the Irish language. Obviously the Boss man on the railroad gang probably spoke both languages. There are probably efforts ongoing in Ireland to preserve the language,it may be that people believe that the language is more expressive or poetic than the newer language.

  • Jean -Des Moines, Ia

    As I am originally from southcentral Pa and have an ancester,2 greats grandmother (O’Connor), who came to Pa about this time, I was absolutely fascinated and horrified with this event.
    How can I get a complete listing of the passengers on the ship, John Stand, manifests? As the video quickly ran over a few names, the name McAnamy caught my eye. Having had been married to a McEnaney and I am very interested in their history (for my 3 daughters information) – McEnaney has 26 variations of the spelling of the name. So, therefore, very interested in seeing the names and possibly what county this McAnamy came from in Ireland.

  • JP Howard

    Ruddy was the only youth in the record. One of the bodies found was determined to be that of a teenage boy, so they decided it must be Ruddy. What confused me was that they were surprised to find a female and summized it must have been a washer woman. However, there was a group of nuns that came to their aid. Why couldn’t it have been one of the nuns?

Produced by THIRTEEN    ©2014 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.