Small Town Noir – the book!

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This post will remain at the top of the page while the book campaign is underway — scroll down for more recent updates!

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:

“I’d never seen a picture of my dad that young.”

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I was amazed by Ross Paswell’s life when I first researched his mug shot. He was arrested for highway robbery in 1945 and spent most of the next 10 years in jail, much of the time in solitary. By the 60s, he was something of a local political radical and, in the 70s, he became an inspirational penal reform campaigner whose work was recognised by the state.

I met Ross’s son, Jamie, on a trip to New Castle a couple of years ago. There’s a lot that Jamie doesn’t know about his father’s life — Ross wanted it that way, only letting slip the merest hints about covert involvement with the Black Panthers and other such groups when asked to explain where he’d been on his periodic disappearances from the family home. But it was fascinating talking to Jamie, looking through the souvenirs of his father’s life and listening to his theories about what made his father into the man he became.

The full story — well, as full as possible — of Ross Paswell’s life is featured in the Small Town Noir book. To support the book, and receive a copy when it’s published, go to the publisher’s website. Please do! And spread the word!


This video is mostly an excerpt from the documentary “MUGSHOT“, and is presented here with much gratitude to the director, Dennis Mohr.

Vincent Carbeau, “Armed Robbery”, 13 April 1940

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Vincent Carbeau would have been a well known figure around New Castle, but his photograph won’t appear in the Small Town Noir book (please click that link and pledge to buy a copy, or there won’t be any such book!), simply because he had the misfortune to be booked in another town: Mansfield, Ohio. His mug shot, therefore, bears the stamp of another police department and I’m too much of a purist to allow it to sit with the rest.

Sorry, Vincent.

Mansfield is a small industrial town about 140 miles west of New Castle. Its history is similar to New Castle’s—it was founded around the same time, grew rich through the same mix of industries and, just like New Castle, lost its wealth with the collapse of manufacturing in the north-eastern states in the latter part of the 20th century.

In April, 1940, though, it was prosperous enough. Philip Schmutzler owned a busy little café on North Park street. He and his father had run it for thirty-four years. For most of that time, he’d walked unguarded to and from the bank with thousands of dollars in cash in his pockets. One Friday morning, Schmutzler was coming back from the bank with $1,140 in a black leather pouch and more money in his coat when he was stopped by two men. He’d served them in the café earlier—as he’d left to go to the bank, he’d thumped one of them on the shoulder and said, “Some summer day, isn’t it?”

One of the men was holding a .32 revolver. He shielded it from people on the street by holding the flap of his coat over it with his other hand. The other man pushed Schmutzler against a lamp post and said, “Give us your money.”

Schmutzler assumed they were joking. He elbowed the man and said, “What do you mean?”

The man repeated, “Give us your money.” Schmutzler smiled and elbowed him in the ribs again. The other man hit him on the head with a blackjack and Schmutzler fell into the arms of a woman who happened to be passing. He yelled for the police. The men grabbed the pouch with the money in it and ran down an alley. People nearby chased them and saw them drive off in a maroon sedan that had been waiting on Walnut street.

The car had Pennsylvania plates with the number D3X409. Shortly afterwards, the police traced its owner: Vincent Carbeau, of Ellwood City, a few miles south of New Castle.

At the age of 28, Vincent was an executive of his family firm, the Ellwood Company, which manufactured bathtubs and toilets and was the second largest employer in town. He was a graduate of Carnegie Tech. He was a Kiwanis organiser. He was considered “one of the nicest and most promising young men in the city.”

He was also Philip Schmutzler’s nephew, by marriage.

He admitted he had driven the getaway car, and he gave up the names of the other two men: William Justine and Rocco Cusato. All three were arrested and taken to Ohio.


Left to right: Justine, Carbeau, Cusato.

The Mansfield News-Journal published an interview with him a few days after his arrest.


The lure of ‘easy money’ led Vincent A Carbeau … to the dismal cell block in Richmond county jail, where he awaits grand jury hearing on a charge of armed robbery.

Carbeau stood at the iron bars of the bull pen in county jail this morning, dressed in the blue overalls and striped shirt which all prisoners wear. Yesterday, when he appeared in municipal court for arraignment, he wore a well-tailored blue suit.

There is neither rhyme nor reason for Carbeau’s act. Nor can he explain it to himself. And he is bitterly resentful of the implication that he took his trouble with a flip or cocky attitude.

“Does that make sense?” he demanded this morning. “Believe me, I am anything but cocky about this. It seems to me I have made the worst blunder that any human being could make. I have thrown away a promising future, a comfortable home; I have deeply injured the people I love best in the world.

“I know better than anyone else what I’ve done,” he continued. “I not only committed a serious crime, but I did a despicable thing in betraying a man who was kind and generous. I have spent many happy days at Phil Schmutzler’s summer home on the lake. I know the penalty, too, and I’m human enough to hope that I and the other two boys will be treated with some leniency, even though we deserve and will undoubtedly get prison sentences.”

Carbeau bit his lip to hide his emotion. He was asked why, and how, he had become a hold-up man. He flinched at the appellation.

“That’s a tough word, isn’t it? I can’t believe that I come in that classification. I don’t know myself how it happened. Justine is a nice sort of chap—and I’ve only known him intimately for about six weeks. He’s never been in any kind of trouble either.

“We just got to talking the other night about ‘easy money’ and—“ Carbeau looked away and finished his explanation with, “I’m so ashamed I don’t want to talk about it. Believe me when I say that the minute it was over and we were headed out of this city back to Ellwood, I would have given my right arm if I could have undone it and could have returned the money. But the other boys were involved and it was too late.”

He denied that he had any gambling debts to pay, saying that he didn’t gamble, “except on a very small scale,” and that his entire indebtedness wasn’t more than $100. In his possession when he was arrested was a check from his company for $300. He said that he never had lived beyond his salary and didn’t need the money.

The article included the information that, “since his arrest in Ellwood City, prominent citizens of his home town have telegraphed a desire to help Carbeau in any manner possible.”

The three men were sent to the Mansfield reformatory with sentences of 10 to 25 years. They were paroled after less than two years.

Vincent kept a low profile after his release. In 1947, he and his wife left town and moved to Boston. With his brother, he started a small business making wooden kitchen cabinets. He died five years later, at the age of forty. The announcement of his death was made by Edward Schmutzler—his wife’s father and, perhaps more importantly, Philip Schmutzler’s brother. His Ellwood City family let the event pass without comment in the local press, which suggests that I’m not the only person to have wished to exclude Vincent from the public record.


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

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: 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!


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.

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(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.


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:


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


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:


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 for making the films available.

Please share it, and point people to 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:

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.


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.


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


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”).