Small Town Noir – the book!

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NEWS! For a long time, I’ve wanted to produce a book of New Castle mug shots — a handsomely designed hardcover book that would properly memorialise the people whose lives I’ve written about and the troubled town I’ve become fascinated by.

That might be about to happen.

Publishers have always told me that the problem with a Small Town Noir book is that simply not enough people care about New Castle, and that the manuscript really ought to include more murderers. I understand their point. If it were set in New York, or if it were about the Mob, there would be a much more obvious market. But I wouldn’t necessarily want to write that book. The thing that captured my attention about the mug shots and New Castle was precisely the fact that the people were unknown and lived ordinary lives, and that the town had slipped from the world’s thoughts.

So I’ve teamed up with an innovative publishing company called Unbound, which uses a crowdfunding model to produce books by proving that there’s a demand for them before the publication process starts. We’ve worked together on a proposed outline for the book, which is exactly what I’d dreamed about: 150 full-page photographs on good paper, with 70,000 words of text; the pictures arranged chronologically from 1930 to 1960, so the passage of time is evident as you flick past changing hairstyles, fashions and types of photographic film stock; with the stories building up one after the other into a fractured portrait of a particular place and time that there’s really no other way to access.

If enough people pledge to buy the book, we can do this!

To support the project — I’d really love it if you did — click this link:

http://unbound.co.uk/books/small-town-noir

James Grinnen, “Burglary”, 15 October, 1949

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The crowdfunding campaign for the Small Town Noir book continues! Please consider pledging to buy the book on the publisher’s website: https://unbound.co.uk/books/small-town-noir. And, if you decide you want the book, please tell people about it — the more people know about it, the more likely it is to happen!

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More than one New Castle local has told me that they think the town looks like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie. That’s not fair at all but, walking down certain desolate streets in the unluckiest neighbourhoods, you can see what they mean.

  New-Castle-Yinz-Kickstarter-22 (1)

(Photograph by Jeremy Michael Cohen)

What’s more, the area has a genuine and quite major connection to modern-day zombie culture, which comes up in the story behind the mug shot of James Grinnen.

Grinnen

James had been a local baseball hero. In 1947, two years before his arrest, he and another player, Robert Barber, had been invited to try out for the Boston Braves, spending a year in a farm team. The sports page of the New Castle News led with a story that said: “the players are well-known and liked by the fans here in Lawrence country, who will be pulling for them to make good in their first year of organized baseball. Their careers will be followed closely by their friends, who wish them the best of luck.”

It came to nothing. Neither was picked up. Their return to New Castle wasn’t mentioned in the press.

Sometime after midnight on the fifteenth of October, 1949, James parked his car alongside the Repman store in Wampum, just south of New Castle. Robert was with him, along with another young man, Robert Kirkwood:

Kirkwood

They tried to remove a small window to get at the front door lock. That didn’t work, so they removed the large pane of plate glass from beside the door and entered that way.

They stole cigarettes, cigarette lighters, a $69 Admiral radio, four Eastman cameras, 12 billfolds, an electric razor, several safety razors, pen and pencil sets, two Westclox pocket watches, three wristwatches, several other watches. They didn’t open the cash register but lifted several dollars that were on the counter.

The three boys carried everything to James Grinnen’s car. He drove them to an abandoned limestone mine in the wooded hills outside town and they stashed the stuff there. They were arrested the next day and immediately confessed. They were sentenced to five to ten months in the county jail and paroled after four.

The mines provide the zombie connection. Between the 1890s and the 1940s, the Crescent Cement Company dug more than thirty miles of tunnels into the limestone hills south of New Castle. Thirty-five years after the night James and his friends hid the stolen items in the entrance to the mine, George A Romero—Pittsbugh native and, through his 1968 movie, Night of the Living Dead, the father of the modern zombie genre—shot his third zombie movie, Day of the Dead, there, using the tunnels as the location for the underground bunker where scientists and soldiers hide out from (and are eventually eaten by) the hordes of reanimated corpses that have overrun the world.

zombie tunnels wide

Watching the film now, I can’t help but wonder how many of the people in the hundreds of New Castle mug shots I’ve collected once mined limestone in those same tunnels.

zombies in the tunnels

And whether any of their descendants, unable to find any real work after the town’s heavy industries shut down or shipped out, ended up painting themselves blue and shambling around down there for minimum wage. I’m sure there’s a metaphor around here somewhere—whatever could it be?

James died in 1982, at the age of fifty-five. Robert Kirkwood died in 1999, at the age of seventy-six. I have no further information on Robert Barber, and I don’t have his mug shot. It’s still out in the world somewhere. Perhaps I’ll find it, one day

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Please go to Unbound to support the publication of the Small Town Noir book. I can’t do it without you!

Larry Cardwell, “Desertion US Navy”, 8 January 1963

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The crowdfunding campaign for the Small Town Noir book continues! If you haven’t been to the book’s page on the publisher’s website yet, please have a look. Also, please consider sharing the page with anyone who might be interested in making the book a reality (and owning a copy themselves, of course). The more people know about it, the more likely it is to happen! Here’s the link again: https://unbound.co.uk/books/small-town-noir

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Larry Cardwell, an ordinary boy from New Castle, was arrested three months before his death. It’s strange to think that his mug shot was the last picture anyone took of him.

This video is two minutes long, and uses home-movie footage that was shot by Larry’s crewmates on the summer 1961 voyage of the USS Franklin D Roosevelt, the only tour that Larry completed. I’m grateful to ussfranklindroosevelt.com for making the films available.

Please share it, and point people to https://unbound.co.uk/books/small-town-noir where they can support a book of the true stories behind a unique collection of mug shots from one small American town.

Jack Robertson, “Drunk and Disorderly”, 9 December 1948

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The crowdfunding campaign for the Small Town Noir book continues! If you haven’t been to the book’s page on the publisher’s website yet, please have a look. Also, please consider sharing the page with anyone who might be interested in making the book a reality (and owning a copy themselves, of course). The more people know about it, the more likely it is to happen! Here’s the link again: https://unbound.co.uk/books/small-town-noir

While the campaign is on, I’ll be posting some less typical pieces that hopefully shed an interesting light on the way the site has come to be, and what the mug shots mean to me.

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Mug shots are tiny, ephemeral objects but they have an awful lot to say, as I suppose I’ve spent the past few years proving to myself.

Mostly, they speak to you through the gaze of the subject—the eyes that stare right into yours across the decades from one particular and very bad day in that person’s life. Some are ashamed, some miserable. You see expressions of regret, defiance, aggression, resignation—even laughter, from time to time.

And, of course, there are other fascinating details, some immediately apparent; others less so.

Jack Robertson doesn’t appear in the Small Town Noir book—there appears to be no information about his life—but I’ve always loved his mug shot, mostly because of his charming taste in knitwear.

jack robertson

When I first saw the picture, I didn’t know what to make of it. Was that a reindeer? The arrest (drunk and disorderly) was in December, 1948. Was he wearing an early version of the now traditional hideous Christmas sweater? With no other information to go on (his arrest wasn’t reported in the papers), I assumed he was just someone who really enjoyed the festive period—enough to dress up for the season and, on this occasion, get himself arrested.

Later, however, as I learned more about New Castle and the world that the people in the mug shots lived in, I realised that he’d been arrested right in the middle of Pennsylvania’s hunting season. Was that, therefore, a deer-hunting sweater? Perhaps Jack had been celebrating bagging a 300-pound buck when the police picked him up.

Later still, though—because research never ends—one of my periodic Google searches for “1940s deer sweater” brought up a vintage-clothing website that featured a photograph of the exact design he was wearing that night in 1948:

Catalina deer sweaters

It turns out that these sweaters were fairly exclusive items back then, worn by only the most fashionable young people. They were probably never touched by actual deer hunters, apart from unusually stylish ones. The company that made them was Catalina Sportswear, which sponsored the Miss America contest and was advertised by Ginger Rogers, Joan Crawford and Ronald Reagan.

Just like kids today wearing Lakers jackets and Yankees caps in any number of small towns across the world, Jack was simply associating himself sartorially with a glamorous lifestyle far removed from his everyday surroundings. He was dressed up for a good time. He hadn’t expected to be arrested. And it would never have occurred to him that strangers in the 21st century would be looking at his mug shot, trying to figure out what it might say about him.

But if it had, I’m sure he would have wanted us to appreciate that he was wearing such a stylish outfit.

Ernest Fickle, “Larceny”, 6 February 1940

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Ernest Fickle

Ernest Fickle roomed in Harry Perrine’s home on County Line street for a while in 1939. Early in 1940, he and a couple of other men broke in and stole $250-worth of tools. Ernest sold them in Youngstown. The police traced them back to him and he was fined $25

Ernest was arrested twice in the fifties for intoxication and disorderly conduct. One time, he was found begging in the Castleton hotel lobby. In 1958, when he was 43, police in Lock Haven, a hundred miles to the east of New Castle, found him sleeping under an apartment stairway, drunk. The court ordered him to leave town.

He died at the age of 52, in 1967. He’d been living in a rooming house on Division street with other out-of-work, single men who were arrested from time to time for public intoxication, theft and drunk driving. Ernest was the first of many tenants to die while they were living there. The following year, George Sanders died when his clothing caught fire while he was lighting a stove. The February after that, John Curry died of some sort of illness, not long before Angelo Marmo died in hospital. Two years later, Dewey Rineman died, followed by Elizabeth Marmo and Hubert Hahn in 1973.

That number of deaths in one house within only a few years appears to have been unremarkable. The place burned down in 1976. It was unoccupied at the time. The other houses on the block were demolished soon after.

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Would you like to buy a Small Town Noir book? Click here to find out more!

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Sources: New Castle News (7 February 1940, “Arrest Three For Tool Theft”; 19 February 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 3 May 1956, “Jailed 5 Days”; 20 March 1959, “Call To Castleton”; 23 October 1967, “Funeral Services”; 1 April 1969, “State Suspends 41 drivers’ licenses”; 19 may 1969, “Man Pleads Guilty To Motor Violations”; 8 July 1969, “Man Charged In Beating”; 24 December 1969, “Deaths Of the Day”; 23 February 1970, “Deaths of the day”; 1 June 1971, “Deaths of the day”; 20 December 1972, “Police”; 7 June 1972, “Man Admits Theft Implicates Another”; 16 January 1972, “Deaths of the day”; 7 April 1972, “Death Record”; 18 November 1974, “County Record”; 5 June 1976, “Fire Record”); The Lock Haven Express, 17 November 1958, “Two Men Arrested By City Police”.

Gladys Krause, “Drunk”, 10 June 1951

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Gladys Krause

Emma Krause was twelve years old when she set herself on fire while lighting the stove. She died after two days in hospital—“a release from terrible suffering,” said the doctors.

Gladys Krause was born exactly nine months later, having been conceived just before or—perhaps; such things are not uncommon—immediately after her sister’s death.

When Gladys was the age Emma was when she died, her oldest sister, Norma, was dating Norman Turner, a young man with what people called a weak mind. One evening, Norma told Norman about a big boy who wanted to make love to her. Norman took a butcher’s knife with him when he walked Norma home, in case he met the boy. They kept company on the back porch of Norma’s house until 11, when they started arguing. Norman ended up stabbing Norma in the chest. The knife just missed her heart, cutting an artery. Norman ran off but gave himself up at the police station later that night. He was sent to Huntingdon reformatory. Norma spent a week in hospital.

Gladys got married right after she left school. There were no children by the time she got divorced.

There is no further record of her life, other than her arrest in 1951 for being drunk. She died in 1956, after a short illness, at the age of thirty-five.

Sources: New Castle News (22 May, 1919, “Burned Child Dies Today”; 18 February 1933, “Hold Youth For Girl Stabbing”; 11 November 1939, “Deaths Of The Day”; 20 February, 1956, “Deaths Of The Day”).

Harry Scott, “Stealing Auto”, 22 June 1926

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Harry Scott1

He said his name was Harry Roberts. He said it was Harry Scott. He said it was John Roberts. He came from Greensburg, or maybe Latrobe. He was sixteen years old, or something like it. He had been living in Dave’s junk yard on South Mill street for three months, or maybe four, when he was arrested.

The number written in ink on his photograph shows that he was the fourth person to be processed after the police started numbering their mug shots. They had started a collection of photographs of habitual offenders in 1917. A few years later, the cupboard in which they were kept was so full that it collapsed under their weight. The photographs were kept in stacks on the floor of the office of the chief of police until 1922, when they were moved to a custom-built display cabinet that everyone called the rogues gallery.

On a Sunday night in June, 1926, Harry—or John—stole a Ford from Cascade park and crashed it into a picket fence on Pennsylvania avenue, two miles west. He asked a garage to tow the car away and told the owners of the house that he’d return on Monday to pay for the damage.

On Monday morning, he stole another Ford from the park and drove back to Pennsylvania avenue. A constable and a justice of the peace were waiting for him when he got out of the car. He escaped on foot.

His description was issued to the police—a young man with a round type of face, wearing a dirty white shirt with a red stripe and a light brown slouch hat. A plainclothes detective at Cascade park picked him up on Tuesday night. He was wearing a white hat and, under a plain white shirt, the dirty white shirt with the red stripe. Twelve witnesses on Pennsylvania avenue identified him. He pled guilty and was held for the September term of court.

There is no further record of his life, whoever he was.

Sources: New Castle News (17 March 1917, “Police Establishing Local Rogues’ Gallery”; 7 Dec 1921, “New Rogues’ Gallery Is needed At Police Station”; 26 June 1922, “New Rogues Gallery At Police Station”; 23 June 1926, “Auto Thefts Are Now Cleared Up”).

John Tomski, “Robbery”, 29 March 1947

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John Tomski

John Tomski was one of nine children who grew up on a farm outside New Castle. He was thirteen when his father, Frank Tomski, died. His mother kept the farm running, with the help of her sons, except for Gene, who joined the army and spent six years in Germany, and Chester, who was in jail most of the time.

When he was twenty-three, John followed Pete Baranski as he walked home from a bar on Long avenue and mugged him when he got to his front door, taking his wallet. Pete recognised him, and the police picked him up the next morning. He was fined $1 and jailed for two to four months.

A few years later, John got a job with Seltzer and Young construction. He worked there as a cement mixer for twenty-one years, until he died in 1974, at the age of forty-eight.

Sources: New Castle News (6 July 1940, “Deaths Of The Day”; 29 March 1947, “Arrest Youth On Holdup Charge”; 3 April 1947, “Sentence Court”; 2 July 1953, “Sgt Tomski Home After 6 years Away”; 30 May 1974, “Deaths Of The Day”).

 

William LaRue Hill, “Sec.628_E, Sec.718”, 4 May 1958

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William LaRue

A few days before his murder, a sixty-year-old man named Clark Rea told his brother that he had had a dream in which he was dead. They thought nothing more of it. He and his brother lived alone on their farm in the fields to the north of town, just off the Coaltown road. They were reclusive and no one knew them well. Everyone said they had huge sums of money stashed on their property, despite their ragged clothes and squalid house.

On the fifteenth of January, 1930, as Clark and his brother were getting ready to go to bed, all the windows of the house were smashed, and guns were fired from every side. Clark was shot in the head and died instantly. The robbers wore masks. They came into the house and took all Clark’s brother’s money, which amounted to fifty-four cents, and the $70 or so that they found in Clark’s pockets.

A few days later, the police picked up four local boys. They had believed what they had heard about the brother’s secret wealth. The killing was an accident. They had meant to fire the guns into the air to scare the old men, but one of them must have fired too low. None of them knew who fired the shot that killed Clark. All four were charged with murder and were given life sentences.

One of the jurors who found them guilty was a young tin-mill worker named Charles Hill, who would become the father of William LaRue Hill, whose mug shot was taken in 1958, when he was the same age as the boys who had shot Clark Rea.

William had received a bad conduct discharge from the marines. After he came home to New Castle, he broke into an old woman’s house and stole a .38 revolver. He loaned the gun to some friends of his who wanted to hold up a filling station. They had to abandon the job when the youngest of them, a fifteen-year-old boy named George Kordish, got scared and refused to go through with it. The boys drove around town for an hour or so, beating Kordish with the butt of the revolver. They dumped him at his house. He crawled into the back seat of his stepfather’s car, where he was found later, covered in blood.

The boys gave the gun back to William. He and a couple of other friends spent all the following Sunday drinking. By five in the morning, they were tired and looking for somewhere to sleep. They went to the Leslie hotel, where William pulled out the gun and threatened to shoot the clerk unless he gave them a room. He refused and they left. The police picked William up shortly after, as he was standing on his own in the middle of the East Washington street bridge, gazing into the water.

All the boys were given eleven to twenty-three months in the county jail and were paroled after serving the minimum time.

William was arrested again the month he was released, when he got in a fight outside the Washington Lunch. Two months later, he was jailed for disorderly conduct when he was found to be drunk in a car that crashed into a telephone pole on Sampson street. The following year, he got a year in jail for aggravated assault and battery. In January, 1971, he was fined $350 for driving while drunk and failing to stop at the scene of an accident. There is no further record of his life.

Sources: New Castle News (15 January 1930, “Assassins Kill Man”; 18 January 1930, “Boys Confess Murder”; 10 March 1930, “William Grimm First To Face Trial For Shooting Clark Rea”; 5 May 1958, “Man Jailed On Firearms Violation”; 9 May 1958, “Police Arrest 2 In Beating Charge Third”; 29 May 1958, “2 Sentenced In Beating Of Boy, 15”; 1 July 1959, “3 Youths Jailed After Disturbance”; 27 July 1959, “Six Injured As Car Rams Utility Pole”; 28 May 1960, “Paroled Granted By County Court”; 29 January 1971, “Five Get Weekend Sentences”).

Albert White, “Burglary and Receiving Stolen Goods”, 30 January 1941

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albert white

At the age of nineteen, while he was awaiting trial on charges of forgery and automobile theft, Albert White sawed through the steel bars of his cell using hacksaw blades that his mother smuggled into jail in a roll of butter. He was recaptured a week later and sent to the Ohio state reformatory for two to twenty years.

A young man named Frank Hardman was sent to the reformatory around the same time, serving a similar sentence for theft. When Frank was convicted, his wife, Dorothy, went to live on his parents’ farm on Red hill in Beaver County, twenty miles south-west of New Castle. The arrangement turned out poorly. Less than a year after her arrival, Dorothy brought charges against her husband’s father, Frank Sr, saying he had been abusive and had threatened to kill her and his wife. The court ordered him to keep away from his family for two years. He went to stay with his brother in Tennessee.

Shortly after his arrival at his brother’s farm, Frank Sr wrote to the Beaver County justice of the peace: “l am told that Dorthy and the old lady are keeping a lot of men laying around there day and night. Now, I am not gowing to be run out of my home for them to run a disorderly house. I bought that home and paid for it and I am going to tell you Dorthy has been the nigger in the woodpile. Rosa and I were getting along good until Dorthy cam there and then hell broke loose. I am not gowing to be down here for long. I am cumming home and I am going to find out why I haf to leave my home and giv up my bead to another man.”

A few days later, Frank Sr turned up at the farm. He pleaded with his wife to take him back. She refused. He sat down to lunch with the family, and ate with his arm around her. He pulled out a bottle of liquor and offered her and Dorothy a drink, telling them it might be their last.

A car drove up to the farm, driven by two young men whom Dorothy knew. She went out to sit with them. Frank Sr followed her. He drew a .38 pistol and shot all three, then turned and shot his wife point-blank in the head. He ran into an orchard, put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

He died instantly; the others lived. Dorothy and the two men had been only slightly wounded. Frank’s wife recovered, over time, as far as was possible.

Albert and Frank junior were paroled the same year, after serving their minimum sentences. Frank introduced Albert to Dorothy. Before long, Dorothy had broken off with Frank and taken up with Albert.

Two years later, when Albert was awaiting trial in New Castle following a burglary that he had committed with Ernest McDole, Dorothy smuggled hacksaw blades into the jail. The sheriff heard from another prisoner that Albert was planning an escape. He stationed himself on the roof of the jail and watched through the skylight as Albert began to saw through the bolt on the cell door. Albert was forced to admit where the hacksaw blades had come from and Dorothy was arrested the next time she came to visit. She was given a thirty-day sentence. There is no further record of her life.

Albert was sent to the Western penitentiary for three to six years, and was returned to the Ohio reformatory to serve a two-year sentence for breaking his parole. He was released around the time of his thirtieth birthday.

A few years later, he got a job at the Rockwell-Standard Axle plant in New Castle. He was still there in 1974, when he was mentioned in the local paper as one of the company’s longest-serving employees. There is no further record of his life.

Sources: New Castle News: (13 December 1938, “Shoots Four Then Suicides”; 17 Jan 1941, “Deputies Trap Man In House”; 18 Jan 1941, ”On Court House Hill”; 23 Jan 1941, “On Court House Hill”; 3 March 1941, “Enter Pleas To Burglary Charge”; 8 March 1941, “Charge Woman Took Saws To Jail Prisoner”; 5 April 1941, “Granary Robbers Are Sentenced”; 25 October 1943, “Former Sheriff Ingham Named To Take Post”; 27 June 1974, “We Salute Our Employees”); Lima News, 4 May 1936, “Fugitive Trio Is Hunted In Three States”; Sandusky Star Journal (9 May 1936, “Arrested At Canton”; Sandusky Star Journal, 22 June 1936, “Four Held When Hacksaws In Butter”); Massilon Evening Independent, 24 June 1936, “Jailbreaker Given Prison Sentence”; Pittsburgh Press (13 December 1938, “Farmer Shoots 4, Then Kills Self”; 14 December 1938, “Scant Hope Darlington Woman Will Survive”; 15 December 1938, “Mrs Hardman is Unchanged”); Beaver County Times, 10 September 1981, “Obituaries”.