Small-time true crime from New Castle, Pa.

  • mugs
  • Ernest Pokersnik
  • Anthony Naples
  • Everett Ayersman
  • John Saul
  • Harold Kelty
  • Oakey Jackson
  • Robert Grim
  • Francis Grim


How Small Town Noir came to be


People often ask how I found these mug shots and why I chose to write about them, and I’ve usually given what I feel are rather inadequate answers (I suppose because I’m more interested in the stories behind the mug shots than the story behind the blog).  However, when the editors of the history journal, The Appendix, asked me to write an article for them about my research, I took the opportunity to set out my thoughts on the whole business for the first time. If you’d like to know more, go here: “Mug Shots: A Small Town Noir“.

Ernest Pokersnik, “B E Larceny”, 7 May 1946

Ernest Pokersnik

Ernest Pokersnik’s father left Slovenia at the turn of the century and worked for forty years in Bessemer’s brick and cement factories. Ernest’s mother died when he was young, and he spent some time in Morganza reform school for larceny. His sentence was lengthened when he broke into the Croatian club to steal two bottles of beer while on parole.

He became a mechanic. During the war, he repaired fighters and bombers in an air field in the south of England. Just after he returned home, in 1946, he was arrested for stealing scrap from the Pennsylvania railroad yard. He was caught by Charles L Reese, who had been appointed constable of the third ward when the previous incumbent had been elected to the city council. Reese had been trying to become a councilman since the thirties. His campaign advertisements, printed in the New Castle News every election, listed his virtues. He was always the youngest candidate. He understood the needs of returning soldiers. He had fought in the first world war. He had been posted in Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, China and Russia. He had wide experience of tree surgery and landscaping. His slogan: “If you live in a city, live for it. If you work in a city, work for it.”

Reese told Ernest that, if he gave him $200 and pled guilty, he would use his influence to make sure the judge kept him out of jail. Reese paid him what he asked and did what he said. He got an $85 fine and was sent to the county jail for four to eight months.

At the end of summer, when Ernest got out, he told the district attorney what Reese had done. Reese confessed and was fined $200 and given six months in the workhouse. He never achieved elected office.

Ernest died in 1988, at the age of seventy.

Sources: New Castle News (20 August 1938, “On Court House Hill”; 9 August 1941, “Charles L Reese Council Candidate”; 13 September 1944, “In U S Armed Service”; 16 June 1945, Charles L Reese For Council”; 16 October 1946, “Constable Is Given Sentence”; 24 December 1956, “Deaths Of The Day”).

James Dagres, “B & E”, 28 April 1934

James Dagres

In 1930, when James Dagres was twelve, his father, John, was given eighteen months to six years for breaking and entering and larceny, and so may not have been around in 1934, when James planned a robbery of his own.

One of James’s friends from school, Jack Cook, lived around the corner from an unoccupied furnished house on the north hill. Over a period of weeks, James, Jack and a third boy, LeRoy Shoaff, removed various items from the house—tables, chairs, a gas heater, a clock, a world atlas—and sold them to second-hand dealers in town. They were caught when the owner of the house, a local teacher, passed by and saw them carrying furniture out of the place. All three boys were minors. There is no record of any sentence. When James left school, he got a job at American Cyanamid & Chemical. LeRoy Shoaff went on to become a colonel in the US army. There is no further record of Jack Cook.

James got married in 1944. That summer, his father was sent to the Allegheny county workhouse for ten months for aggravated assault and battery, and so missed the birth of James’s son later that year.

James died in 1981, three years before his father. He was sixty-two.

Sources: New Castle News (6 Dec 1930, “Leasure Given 5 to 10 Years On Larceny Charge”; 25 April 1934, “Accuse Boys Of Taking Furniture”; 5 February 1944, “Minner-Dagres Ceremony Friday”; 24 June 1944, “Sentence Court”; 21 September 1944, “Births”).

Anthony Naples, “Murder”, 10 May 1937

Anthony Naples

Anthony Naples had been a sickly child until he was eight or nine, and his mother told people he was always a good boy who did whatever she told him. In May, 1937, when he was eleven years old, he took his father’s pistol to school. At lunchtime, in a field opposite the school on Pollock avenue, he shot a colored classmate, Robert McDowell, in the face. Robert died in hospital half an hour later. Police found Anthony hiding under his bed at home.

Anthony said he and Robert had been playing cowboys and Indians. He thought the gun was loaded with blanks. He aimed at Robert’s legs, not his head. It had been an accident.

The police kept at him until he told them Robert had hit him the previous two days at school, and he had used the gun to stop him doing it again. He told a psychiatrist that he was the leader of a gang that tried to keep the colored folks in line. The psychiatrist said that Anthony was emotionally deficient and was likely to do something similar again, if released.

In court, Anthony said the police had mixed him up with their questions. He went back to his cowboys and Indians story.

The jury found him guilty of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to six to twelve years’ supervisory custody. Throughout the trial, he had seemingly been unaware of the trouble he was in. When the verdict was delivered, he broke down. His mother sat with him for fifteen minutes, trying to stop him crying, before he was led from the court room.

He was sent to the Elmwood home for boys, in Erie. When it burned down a year later, he went to the Huntingdon reformatory. He was paroled on his eighteenth birthday and moved back in with his parents. A few years later, he was arrested for peeping in windows on Williams street. Just after he turned thirty, he spent three months in the workhouse for stealing and selling a $900 accordion.

Anthony was still living with his mother at the beginning of 1966, when he fell seriously ill. He died in the second week of January. He was forty years old.

Note: The picture of Anthony is scanned not from an original mug shot but from a photographic reproduction that was circulated by a press agency in 1937. The lines on the profile picture show where the picture was cropped for publication.

Click here to see a picture of Anthony taken after he arrived at the Elmwood home for boys in 1937. (Picture kindly supplied by New Castle local historian Mike Colella.)

Sources: New Castle News (11 May 1937, “Colored Boy Fatally Shot”; 12 May 1937, “Prefer Charge After Shooting”; 9 June 1937, “Ten-Year-Old Boy Must Face Trial In Court”; 15 June 1937, “Boy Faces Court Jury On Murder Charge”; 16 June 1937, “Jury Hears Boy’s Defense”; 17 June 1937, “Manslaughter Verdict In Boy’s Trial”; 12 August 1938, “Homes Sought For Seventy-Five Boys”; 12 February 1949, “Suspect Youth Of Being ‘Peeper’”; 9 December 1955, “Grand Jury In Final Return”; 23 August 1956, “Naples Arrested, Ending Long Search By Local Officers”; 29 August 1956, “Judge Powers Sentences 7 To Jail Terms”; 13 December 1956, “Naples Is Paroled From Workhouse”; 17 January 1966, “Deaths Of The Day”).

Everett Ayersman, “Intox driver”, 4 May 1954

Everett Ayersman

Everett Ayersman was arrested in 1954 for driving a truck while drunk. He was assigned the number 8017 and photographed before the police discovered that they already had him on file as prisoner 3362, the number he had been given in 1940, when he had taken a dollar bill from a cash register in Murphy’s store and the shop girl had wrestled him to the ground and sat on him until the police arrived. He had been unable to pay the $20 fine, so he had spent two months in jail. He was twenty-two, and newly married.

He was arrested on two other occasions in the forties: once, a few months after his release from jail, for shoplifting (the staff at the J C Penney store had seen him enter, put on a jacket and leave); and once, the following year, for drunk driving (two months after he passed his test). He was drafted in 1942.

In 1957, Everett’s wife divorced him for cruel and barbarous treatment and indignities. A month later, he lost his job when the paint shop where he was working burned down. Just after his forty-first birthday, he was picked up by the police in the Diamond, too drunk to walk. He was unable to pay the $10 fine, so he spent a week in jail.
In the winter of 1962, Everett walked into Moder’s grocery store, holding his hand in his pocket as though he had a gun. The shop girl handed over $90 from the till. He hid out in the old hobo jungle along the Shenango. The police found him there in August. He got six to twelve months in the county jail.

Two years later, he used the same trick to rob the Spur service station of $75. The clerk called the police, who enlisted the help of dozens of off-duty officers who were attending a Fraternal Order of the Police meeting in the court house, just up the hill. Everett was found drinking in a tavern about a block away. He got six months in jail.

In 1974, when he was fifty-five, Everett was found unconscious on the loading deck of Double R Enterprises on Grove street, with a deep cut in his forehead. Shortly after, he moved into the Campbell home for the elderly, in New Galilee. He died in 1981, at the age of sixty-three.

Sources: New Castle News (17 June 1940, “Charge Youth Took Money From Store”; 21 June 1940, “Pleads To Charges, Jailed”; 27 November 1940, “Confesses, Given Five Months for Shoplifting Here”; 25 June 1941, “Fifty-Nine Past Test To Operate Auto”; 22 August 1941, “Charge Auto Driver Drunk”; 18 July 1942, “List Of Men Who Passed At Erie”; 5 May 1954, “Placed Under Arrest”; 4 June 1957, “22 Divorce Cases Listed For Hearing”; 10 July 1957, “Fire Breaks Out After Explosion In Paint Shop Here”; 13 July 1959, “Sentenced On Charge”; 16 August 1962, “Two Charged In Holdup”; 28 September 1962, “Burglary Charges Lead Offenses”; 2 April 1964, “Teamwork Apprehends 2 Suspects”; 5 August 1964, “6 Receive Sentences”; 23 April 1974, “Injured, Discharged”; 21 December 1977, “Scouts Deliver Cheer To Residents Of Nursing Home”.)

John Saul, “Disorderly Conduct”, 28 July 1957

John Saul

Two weeks after divorcing his first wife, citing indignities against his person, John Saul got married again. His mug shot was taken seven months later, when he was arrested for disorderly conduct just three days after he began divorce proceedings for the second time. He was thirty-one years old, and he never remarried. He left his job at Bruce-Merrilees Electric and went to work for his friend, Gedio Filigenzi, of Gedio’s TV Service, as a color TV repairman.

In June, 1960, an eighteen-year-old woman named Beverlee Jean Ornelas came to New Castle. She had walked out on her husband, leaving him in Struthers, Ohio, and leaving her baby with her mother in Toledo. She asked for work as a waitress in the private bar of the Casa Savoia hall on South Mill street, the meeting place of an Italian fraternal organisation. John was on the club’s board, serving as the sergeant-at-arms. Gedio was the president. They gave Beverlee Jean the job.

A short time after she started working there, John, Gedio and some other club members—including Norman Cook, a Democratic state committeeman—took Beverlee Jean to a place known as Trott’s cabin, a cottage on the outskirts of town, and told her that she was going to work for them as a prostitute, and that they would break her arms and legs if she went to the police.

They put her to work in railroad cars in the Fenati brick yard. Later, they used a room in the Leslie hotel, where Gedio would wait in the bar and take money from the clients. There might be six or seven a night, at $8 each. One night, in the New Penn hotel, most of the members of the Earle Contractors softball team from Washington DC were sent up to her. After the first week, Beverlee Jean was given $15 to buy a new dress and have her hair done. She had no other money, but she got free liquor and had the use of an apartment on Long avenue.

A month after she arrived in New Castle, Beverlee Jean managed to contact Frank Park, the Shenango township justice of the peace, and asked him for help. He called Norman Cook, the committeeman, and told him what she had said. Cook and some of the other men went to the apartment she was using and pounded on the door, shouting to be let in. Beverlee Jean ran out onto the fire escape, partially clothed, and screamed for help. The men left before the police arrived, but were arrested after she identified them in her statement.

John and two of the others were released due to lack of evidence. Gedio and Cook were sentenced to three to six years and one to two years in the workhouse, respectively. After they returned home, they were elected to senior positions on the boards of other Italian fraternal organisations. Beverlee Jean spent seventy days in protective custody in the county jail while the trial took place. Her baby was made a ward of the court and was later given up for adoption, as was a second child who was born after she left New Castle.

John was re-elected sergeant-at-arms of the Casa Savoia. There is no further record of his life.

Sources: New Castle News (30 July 1943, “Twenty-Six Men At Fort Knox Starting Training”; 13 July 1956, “Courthouse News”; 27 July 1956, “Courthouse News”; 28 November 1956, “Man Hurt In Fall”; 12 December 1956, “Savoia Boosters Hold Elections For Coming Year”; 25 July 1957, “Not Responsible”; 19 July 1958, Classifieds, “Gedio’s TV Service”; 21 July 1960, “6 Men Charged In Morals Case”; 22 July 1960, “Six Men Arrested In Morals Case All Plead Innocent”; 26 July 1960, “Three Men Held In Morals Case”; 20 September 1960, “Morals Case Before Court”; 21 September 1960, “Cook On Stand In Third Day Of Morals Case”; 22 September 1960, “Cook Case Ends, Brothers Face Perjury Charge”; 30 September 1960, “Jury Finds Filigenzi As Guilty”; 5 October 1960, “Material Witness Released From Jail”; 28 November 1960, “Cook Leonelli Are Sentenced”; 5 Dec 1960, “Filigenzi Sentenced”; 13 March 1961, “Gedio Filigenzi Pleads Guilty”; 10 June 1961, “Criminal Court”; 28 November 1961, “Park Released”; 4 December 1962, “Merilillo Wins President Post of Casa Savoia”; 18 December 1967, “Cook To Head Abruzzi Club”; 16 April 1968, “Deaths Of The Day”; 14 March 1977, “County Report”); Commonwealth v Filigenzi, Opinion by J Watkins, June 15, 1961; Email from Ruben Ornelas to Robin Ornelas.

Harold Kelty, “Holdup”, 16 March 1934

Harold Kelty

On the back of Harold Kelty’s mug shot, a police officer wrote, “With Bill Harlan and John Hawk, stuck up Hutchinson Gas Station near New Wilmington, Pa.” The ink growing thin, he dipped his fountain pen in the ink pot, and continued a moment later, in darker script: “Age 17 at time. Married Capt Smith’s daughter—Golf Course. Much family trouble.”

Harold’s family trouble began early in his life. His mother and father lived with his paternal grandmother in a big house on Quest street. He was the last child in the family, with three older sisters. His father, a telegraph operator, beat his mother, knocked her down and abused her. When Harold was seven—just before his father secured a patent on an automobile carburetor mechanism designed to inject water, alcohol and heated air into the manifold—his mother left the family and married another man. Harold set fire to the lace curtains in his parents’ bedroom. A few years later, he set fire to the shingles on the side of the house. That same year—the year after one of his older sisters ran away, either to Youngstown, Cleveland or Detroit—Harold and a couple of friends were arrested for throwing stones through the glass front of the new sign in front of the Trinity Episcopal church. They had broken it several times already. A few months later, Harold and some other boys were arrested for robbing lard from a Boyles avenue home and smearing it over someone’s front porch, and for stealing dozens of eggs from the East street market and pelting North street junior high and Campbell’s undertakers.

In the midst of all this, when he was nine, Harold went to admire the Christmas tree that had been placed beside the bench in the police court—the first to be displayed in the city’s police station. He told the officers it was pretty. He liked the lights, which had been rigged so that they would twinkle on and off in a gentle rhythm. He asked to be allowed to leave a note with his name and address under the tree. He said that he hoped Santa Claus or the police department would remember him and that he would return on Christmas morning. There is no record of any such appearance.

At the age of eleven, Harold ran away. His father had to drive to Cleveland, Ohio, to pick him up. That summer, his father worked ceaselessly in his front yard. His neighbors noted that he spent every spare moment keeping his part of Quest street looking like the driveway through some private estate. They told the local paper that he deserved a medal for civic pride, not that New Castle had such a thing.

When he was seventeen—as the inscription on his mug shot notes—Harold and two other boys from the north hill held up a gas station eight miles north of town. They separated and fled the state. Harold was the last to be caught, in March, 1934, when he walked into the sheriff’s office and announced that he had been roaming the country for months since the robbery and wanted to get it over with. While on the run, he had married one of the young daughters of the golf pro at the New Castle field club, Captain V Arthur Smith. Evidently, they had recently separated. (Captain Smith, formerly of a Scottish regiment of the British army, shot himself in the head in a cubicle of the clubhouse toilets a few years later. The burden of wounds received at Gallipoli during the first world war was said to be to blame.)

Harold received no custodial sentence. He went back to school, graduating later than planned. When he was twenty, he married for the second time. He and his wife, Dora Mae, became involved in the Mahoningtown Methodist church, holding regular bible classes for young people in their home. They had no children of their own.

Harold died in 1995, at the age of seventy-seven.

Sources: New Castle News (26 September 1906, “Kelty-Watkins”;28 July 1922, “Two Small Fires Caused Last Night”; 10 May 1926, “Four Divorces Are Handed Down By Judge Hildebrand”; 20 December 1926, “Police Department Has Christmas Tree”; 18 April 1927, “Three Boys Damage Trinity Church Sign”; 12 September 1927, “Shingle Fire ON Sunday Afternoon”; 23 November 1927, “Boys Arrested For Hurling Eggs”; 24 September 1928, “Cleveland Gets Local Runaways”; 16 March 1934, “Youth Surrenders To County Sheriff”; 29 August 1934, “Pa Newc Observes”; 10 July 1937, “Morning Wedding In Third Church”; 11 April 1938, “Wound Fatal To Captain Smith”; 1 June 1939, “Here And There In Sports Land”; 21 September 1967, “Deaths Of The Day”; 28 August 1975, “News Flashback”).

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