Before the sale of fireworks was banned in Pennsylvania, as many as six people in the state had been killed by fireworks every 4th of July. By 1940, the second year of the ban, no one had. Firework injuries for the holiday were down from more than three thousand to fewer than a hundred. The state medical society, the fire departments and the police were happy, but others, nineteen-year-old Gerald Schooley among them, missed the excitement.
In the early hours of the morning, after a 4th of July evening spent drinking beer with his friends in the quiet streets downtown, Gerald set off on the long walk back to his home on Park avenue on the north hill. By two, he had reached Wallace avenue, a few blocks from his house, where it occurred to him to set off a fire alarm box. Minutes later, a fire truck arrived. When it was clear that there had been a false alarm, it drove back to town.
Not long after the fire truck had left, Mont Johnson of Reis street thought he heard someone doing something to his car, which was parked outside his house. As he went outside, he saw a young man in white pants running off up an alley. Mysteriously, on the floor of his car was a pile of torn papers. Shortly after, Joseph McIlvenny of Boyles avenue, who had been awakened by the false alarm, looked out of his window and saw someone wearing white pants striking matches outside his garage. He called out, and the figure ran away. Around the same time, E A Long, also of Boyles avenue, was woken up by his wife, who had heard a strange noise outside. He turned the light on and saw a man run out of the alley behind his house. Long’s car appeared to have been pushed halfway out of his garage.
At a quarter past three, Leonard Peterson of Wallace avenue raised an alarm—the garage behind his house was on fire. The fire truck returned. The captain of the fire department called the police to say that the fire seemed to have been deliberately started inside one of the two cars in the garage. The police sent a couple of cruisers up to patrol the area. Not long after they arrived, a call came through that garage in the rear of Boyles avenue was also on fire. Inside were two more cars, which were already totally destroyed. Before the firemen could get over there, they heard that another car, parked in front of a house on Boyles avenue, had burst into flames.
Two policemen who were standing on Boyles avenue, helplessly watching the burning car, heard someone running through the bushes in a nearby garden. They followed the noise and saw a young man, dressed in a spotted shirt and white pants, running into 312 Park avenue, just around the corner. Gerald had finally made it home, but he wasn’t allowed to stay there for long.
At first, he denied all knowledge of the fires, but by the time that Chief of Police McMullen came down to see him at city hall at half past five that morning, he had admitted that he had started them, although, he insisted, by accident.
Gerald told the police that he had only been trying to smoke a cigarette in peace. He said that, on his walk home, he had realised that he had no matches and had looked in parked cars until he found some, but that, every time he stopped to light his cigarette, someone yelled at him and made him drop his match. He said it was possible that those matches could have fallen on pieces of paper that might have fallen out of his pockets when he took out his cigarettes, and that might have started the fires.
The judge set bail at $3,000, which Gerald’s parents paid. When the case came up in October that year, Gerald pled no contest to charges of arson. He was fined $825 to make good the damage he had caused and given a two-year suspended sentence.
Before those two years were up, the Japanese had bombed Pearl harbor and Private Gerald Schooley was in an army training camp. He survived the war and came home unharmed. He moved to Youngstown, where he died in November 2005, at the age of eighty-five.Sources: New Castle News (3 July 3 1940, “Quiet Fourth For New Castle”; 5 July 1940, “Firebug On North Hill; Autos Burned”; 11 July 1940, “Schooley Is Held For September Court”; 21 Oct 1940, “Court Report”; 18 Sep 1943, “In US Armed Service”).
Just before midnight on 25th April 1948, Officer George Sigler saw a car smash into a parked car on South Mill street and weave on down the road. He caught up with it on Moravia street and arrested the driver, Andrew Masters, who was drunk and bleeding from the nose. Andrew was given the usual sentence of thirty days in the county jail, out in three if he paid the $100 fine and costs.
A decade later, when Andrew was fifty-eight, he was working as a conductor on a Pennsylvania Railroad train that was making its way from Toledo to Canton, Ohio, when it ran into the biggest storm to hit the county all year, which had blacked out neighbourhoods, flooded roads and houses and brought down telegraph wires. Just outside North Lawrence, a few miles before Canton, one of the carriages of Andrew’s train came off the rails, dragging with it seven other carriages, five box cars and three gondolas and tearing up two main lines. No one was killed, but Andrew was injured so badly that he was left disabled and unable to work.
A Youngstown attorney, John Ruffalo Jr, called on Andrew. He told him that the accident that had crippled him had had little to do with the storm that night and everything to do with negligence on the part of the railroad. The carriage had derailed because a fire had started in a poorly maintained part of the wheel mechanism and burned through an axle. Ruffalo specialised in that kind of case. He assured Andrew that he would get him a big settlement. He had taken on the railroads dozens of times on behalf of workers who had been injured and incapacitated due to the companies’ negligence—his most recent case had secured $112,000 compensation from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad for a railwayman who had lost both legs in a work accident. He told Andrew to expect a $150,000 settlement.
The case took two years to come to court. After a week-long hearing, the jury upheld Andrew’s claim—the Pennsylvania Railroad had been responsible for the derailment and, therefore, his injury. However, they awarded him only $8,500. Andrew wanted to appeal, but Ruffalo told him that it wasn’t worth it, that he should walk away. Andrew was furious, but there was nothing he could do.
Two years later, in 1962, Andrew was contacted by investigators working for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the American Association of Railroads. The railroad companies had tired of Ruffalo’s negligence cases and were digging around for something they could use to get him disbarred. They had already discovered that Ruffalo had been paying a railroad brakeman named Michael Orlando to act as an undercover agent to solicit and investigate cases that he could profitably prosecute. That was probably good enough to have him struck off, but they wanted a better case.
Andrew felt that Ruffalo had let him down badly, and was glad to help. When the investigators asked if Ruffalo had ever given Andrew money during the court case, he said that he had. Andrew had been out of work and had often had no money to live on. When that happened, Ruffalo had loaned him cash to tide him over, with the promise that he would be paid back when the case was won.
The investigators told Andrew that, although that might seem a reasonable thing for a lawyer to do when dealing with a penniless client, the bar’s ethics committee viewed it as buying an interest in a case, which was strictly forbidden. Andrew agreed to testify at a hearing in Youngstown, along with other former clients of Ruffalo’s who had also borrowed money from him but had been disappointed at the outcome of their cases.
A month before the hearing, just before Christmas, 1962, Andrew’s friend, Angelo Medura, dropped in for a visit. He explained that he had a chance of opening a bar, and that Ruffalo was going to back him in the deal. However, if Ruffalo got disbarred, the deal would fall through. He said, “Andy, what are you going to gain by going over to Youngstown to hurt this man?” Then, to cement the appeal to his conscience, he offered him $300.
Medura was an agent of Ruffalo’s and had visited all the former clients, offering cash—and, in one case, a bottle of whisky—if they failed appear in court. Andrew guessed as much, but didn’t blame him. He didn’t know what to do. He wanted to help Medura get the bar and he wanted the $300, but he still wanted to get back at Ruffalo.
The day after the hearing began, a representative of the American Association of Railroads took Andrew to lunch to talk about his dilemma. There is no record of exactly what was discussed, but the result was that Andrew decided to testify and, six months later, Ruffalo was disbarred due to professional misconduct. Andrew may have felt some degree of satisfaction. The train companies most certainly did.
Andrew died in October 1976, at the age of seventy-eight.Sources: New Castle News (Driver Is Held” April 26, 1948; “Andrew Masters Wins Verdict” Nov 10, 1960); Massilon Evening Independent (“School Hit By Lightning” May 11, 1957); Zanesville Times Recorder (“Traffic Restored After Wreck” May 11, 1957); McKean County Democrat (“John Ruffalo, Prominent Lawyer, Dies In Hospital” Feb 12, 1953). Details of proceedings against Ruffalo are from http://altlaw.org/v1/cases/850190.