In January 1948, a young woman called Anna Grace Robertson suffered fatal brain injuries when she fell from a moving truck – or was pushed out; no one knew for sure. What was certain was that she had been drunk when her skull cracked on the road, and that the man who she had been with, Martin Fobes, had been drunker still, as had most of the witnesses who testified that they’d seen Fobes and Anna Grace drinking until well after midnight in the Rex Café, Jim’s Place and the Square Deal Café.
There wasn’t enough evidence for a trial, and Fobes was released, but the inquest had focused New Castle’s attention on the lawless liquor joints in the industrial district, frequented by hard-drinking factory workers speaking a babble of old-world languages and run by management that wasn’t too particular about local liquor laws.
Something had to be done.
In the months following Anna Grace Robertson’s death, agents from the state liquor board quietly investigated the town’s bars and cafés, collecting evidence, filing reports and compiling lists of transgressions. Then, on a busy Saturday night, the police raided establishments across the centre of town – the West Side Café, the Lawrence Confectionery, the Grant Street Café, the Marathon and others – rounding up not only the drunks, but the bartenders and bar owners, who ended up in court facing heavy fines.
Elizabeth Miller worked in the Rex Café, “The Home of the Big Mug”, which had featured prominently in the inquest into Anna Grace’s death, as it was where she’d met Fobes and where Fobes had returned to get “pretty well loaded” the night after her battered body was found in the street. Elizabeth and the owner, Demetrios Proios, were arrested and charged with various breaches of the liquor laws, including serving liquor to intoxicated persons, and were fined $100 and $150, respectively.
However, perhaps because of its notoriety, the authorities seem to have gone after the Rex harder than the other places. The district attorney declared it to be a common nuisance, a haunt of undesirables and the source of much of the trouble in the area. He pointed out that, despite the fact that it was licensed only to sell liquor to accompany meals, it had done $33,808 worth of beverage business in the preceding year and only $699.80 worth of food business. State liquor board agents said they’d observed minors and men with criminal records being served alcohol and stated that the place was insanitary, that disorder was marked and that they’d seen no food ordered or served; and the city chemist testified that the whiskey glasses that he had examined were thick with “more bacteria than I could count.”
In August, the city padlocked the doors of the Rex Café, pending an appeal, which was lost. In September, the café was closed for good. Elizabeth Miller was out of a job.
Before the Rex Café opened, the building had housed Ginsberg’s kosher delicatessen on the ground floor with Faella’s barber shop – “25¢ any style any haircut” – and a Catholic boy’s club upstairs. Earlier still, in the twenties, it had been Bevan & Arthur’s magazine store and restaurant; and, at the beginning of the century, when it was still new, it was New Castle’s only kosher hotel, run by one Nathan Rabinovitz, whose annual application for a liquor licence was always refused.
The block was demolished in 1968. A Burger King sits on the site today.Sources: New Castle News (14 Jan 1948 “Cause Of Girl’s Death Is Mystery”, and other pieces that month on Fobes; 7 June 1948, “Fifteen Facing Liquor Charges”; 3 Aug 1938 “Seeks To Revoke Café License”; 12 Aug 1948 “Café Is Nuisance, Court Declares”; 11 Sep 1948 “Court News”; 1906 piece on Nathan Rabinovitz; 1915 piece on Bevan & Arthur; 1930 piece on Ginsberg.)
The arresting officer typed “Attemp Rape” on William Robert Taylor’s file card; William signed a statement admitting “molestation”; and the court charged him with “intent to commit morals offense”. Each phrase, from the blunt, abbreviated police term to the expansive, lawyerly phrasing, is stronger and says more than the one that follows it. As the charge becomes formalised, the words contain less and less meaning and take us further away from the night when a terrified sixteen-year-old girl, walking home just before midnight along Moody avenue, was attacked by a greasy haired bully and had to fight and scream in order to avoid being raped in the bushes in someone’s front yard.
The court suspended William’s sentence pending a mental health examination, and the case was never reported on again. William ended the year not in jail, as might be expected, but in the marines. He signed up for a two-year stint just after his trial; a reliable way of avoiding a prison sentence.
William returned to New Castle in 1949, but stayed only long enough to divorce his wife on the grounds of cruel and barbarous treatment before re-enlisting just after the start of the Korean war. Three years later—after the deaths of thirty-seven thousand Americans and two and a half million Koreans—William came home again. It had been a long five years since he had attacked the girl on Moody avenue and escaped into the marines, and it must have occurred to him that the time he had served in the army was longer and more arduous than anything the courts would have given him in 1947. But at least he had avoided jail.
William stayed free for the rest of the ’50s, but was convicted of another molestation in 1962 and sent to the Allegheny county workhouse for six months. There is no further trace of him.Sources: New Castle News (10 June 1947 “Hold Man For Investigation”; 11 June 1947 “Waives Hearing”; 14 June 1947 “Sentences Handed Down”; 5 Sep 1950 “Court News”; 7 Nov 1950 “Taylor Re-Enlists In Marine Corps”; 28 March 1963 “Court Grants Four Paroles”).
The New Castle police department’s catalogue of arrests for the last weekend in July, 1934 – the weekend, incidentally, of John Dillinger’s death in Chicago – ran as follows: fighting 1; drunkenness 4; violating parking law 3; drunkenness and disorderly conduct 2; interfering with officer 1. Helen Carter’s case was the last on the list. The circumstances of her arrest are unknown but may have something to do with a man. Helen’s troubles usually did.
Helen married Jodie Carter in 1927, at the age of fifteen, and they set up home in an old shack on Bridge Street that Jodie set on fire one winter while trying to defrost a pipe. (It went up in flames again that spring, after sparks from a neighbour’s stove settled on the roof.)
In January, 1930, when she was seventeen, Helen was arrested for firing a pistol at a man called William Thompson, who had “made some proposals to her which she did not like.” Helen’s sister, Gertrude Jones, was working as a prostitute around that time (she had recently been arrested while entertaining a white customer in the bedroom of a disorderly house), so Thompson might have thought that Helen would also be open to proposals in that line. If so, it seems he was mistaken. Helen was fined $10 for shooting at him; Thompson was fined $20 for giving her cause to.
In the summer of that year, William Thompson and Helen were arrested again, this time for brawling in South Jefferson Street. Helen and a friend, Beatrice Jackson, were beating Thompson when the police arrived and arrested them all. This time, Helen couldn’t afford the $5 fine, and spent fifteen days in the county jail.
That sentence might have saved her life. A few days after she was sent away, a “New Castle negro character” called James Ossinger was arrested for carrying a four-inch blade with intent to harm. Ossinger confessed that he was looking for Helen because she had called him names, and he was prepared to kill her, and Helen’s friends told the police that he had bragged that he had cut up a woman in Cleveland for the same offence. He was fined $5 and turned loose. He never carried out his threat.
More man trouble came along in 1934, when Helen’s husband saw her talking to Otis Watt on Moravia street, which resulted in “a scrap in which a penknife, bricks, revolver and fists were displayed.” Both men were fined $10.
In 1942, after fifteen years of matrimony, Helen divorced Jodie, on grounds of desertion, cruel and barbarous treatment and indignities to person. A year later, she married Esco Owens, who had already been arrested for burglary (in 1925), for using insulting language to white women and assaulting a police officer (in 1931) and for beating his first wife (in 1933), and would go on to be imprisoned in 1952 for a shooting spree on State street in which he fired a rifle into two family homes, narrowly missing a baby and two young children, and nearly blew a police officer’s head off. He spent most of the few remaining years of his life in prison.
Helen died on February 1, 1961, at the age of forty-eight, after an extended illness.Sources: New Castle News (19 Nov 1925 “Arrest Trio Of Negroes For Theft of Metals”; 15 Sep 1928 “Four Arrested At Bridge Street Home”; 2 Jan 1930 “Attempt To Thaw Pipes Starts Fire”; 15 Jan 1930 “Shooting Occurs On Bridge Street”; 26 May 1930 “Sparks Set Fire To Roof Of Shack”; 28 July 1930 ”Woman’s Screams Attract Officer”; 31 July 1930 “Knife Toter Is Fined $5”; 30 March 1931 “Officer Battles With Colored Man”; 13 March 1933 “Assaults Wife, Held”; 27 Aug 1934 “Knife, Bricks And Gun Figure In Fight”; 25 May 1942 “On Court House Hill”; 20 Jan 1943 “On Court House Hill”; 25 Aug 1952 “Shooting Spree Puts Esco Owens In Jail”; 3 Feb 1961 “Deaths Of The Day”)
Six years into prohibition, Frank Siegel was arrested for possessing liquor. He was a farmer who had come to America from Austria before the first world war, and he tried to explain that he was strictly teetotal and that the alcohol that had been found in his house had been meant for medical purposes – his wife was suffering from some malady that required a local application of the stuff. His attorney backed him up, stating that, in all the years that he had known Frank, he had never known him to drink.
The court didn’t care what the alcohol was for: possession was possession. Frank was fined $100 and, of course, had his liquor confiscated.
Any teetotal tendencies Frank might have had had been abandoned by the day in 1946 when he had his mug shot taken after he got drunk in town and crashed his farm truck into another truck on Pearl street. He was fined $100, again, and was sentenced to thirty days in the county jail, out in three if he paid the fine and costs.
The following year, Frank’s six-year-old daughter got polio, and was unable to walk for two years. (When she eventually took her first steps with her new waist-high leg braces, the New Castle News published a picture of the little girl grinning with excitement.) The year after that, Frank’s sixteen-year-old son was injured in a car crash that killed his friend. The medical bills were far too much for the farm to support, and the family avoided ruin only by accepting charity.
Faced with times like that, no one could blame Frank if he took a healthy drink once in a while.
In 1956, while once again drunk in town, he got in a fight with a man called Ira Walls. Walls was an elder of the Mission Church of God in Christ and Frank was a Roman Catholic, so perhaps the laceration and contusions that Frank ended up being treated for in hospital were the result of a disagreement regarding a fine point of doctrine. (Walls went on that night to assault his wife, punch a policeman in the face and beat up another drunk who had the misfortune to share a cell with him, so it could have gone worse for Frank.)
Frank retired from the farm a couple of years after that and became a naturalised US citizen a few months later. When he died in 1969, at the age of seventy-three, he left behind him twenty-four American grandchildren.Sources: New Castle News (8 Nov 1924 “Criminal List Is Cut Down As Pleas Entered By Court”; 26 Sep 1946 “Driver Arrested”; 27 Sep 1946 “Sentence Drunken Driver”; 19 Jan 1948 “Boy Is Killed; Six Injured; In 422 Crash”; 26 Jan 1950 “Local Girl ON Road To Recovery”; 12 June 1956 “Claim Prisoner Assaulted Police”; 1958 small ads throughout the year; 6 Dec 1958 “Citizenship Is Approved”; 10 March 1969 “Deaths of the Day”)
Hemlock street was a dead-end road on a wooded hillside to the west of the Shenango river, occupied by only a few small family homes. Paul Leroy Gold didn’t live there; he had a room a mile away in the centre of town. Yet, on a Friday afternoon in March, 1942, he just happened to be on Hemlock street when a nine-year-old girl named Eileen came by, with a younger boy.
Paul struck up a casual conversation with them. He asked the boy if he would like some sweets, and gave him 50 cents to go to the store to get some. He told the girl about a baby doll that he had, and offered to take her to see it. He led her into the woods until they were some way from the road. Then he raped her.
The little girl went home and told her mother what had happened, and her mother called the police, who picked Paul up in his room an hour later. They took him to detective headquarters, where the girl and the boy identified him. He admitted what he had done and pled guilty in court the next morning. There is no record of his sentence.
Eileen was the youngest child of four. Her father, who worked in a steel mill, had died not long after she was born, having been ill for most of the few months that she had been alive. Her mother, a Sunday school teacher, struggled to raise the three children on her own, and had to send Eileen’s oldest brother to a Government-run work camp when he was sixteen.
Paul Leroy Gold did not know any of that, of course. It would probably have made no difference if he had.
In the later forties, when she was in her teens, Eileen became an enthusiastic girl guide. Although she failed to rise to the rank of patrol leader, she was always happy to organise wiener roasts and meetings at her house. She met a boy scout troop leader called Kenneth, and they married when they were eighteen. They set up home with Eileen’s mother in Hemlock street and named their first child James, after Eileen’s brother, who was a pilot in the air force by that time. The following year, they had a daughter, but she died when she was five months old—the same age that Eileen was when her father died.
Years later, Eileen’s husband took aviation training and, in 1968, became a flight instructor at New Castle airport. His choice of career might have been influenced by Eileen’s pilot brother. The two families had, after all, grown remarkably close over the years and had ended up spending more time around each other than might have seemed likely when they had first met. That was largely due to the fact that, in 1958, Eileen’s older sister, Mina, had married Eileen’s husband’s recently widowed father, which would have meant that Kenneth’s step-mother was also his sister-in-law, and Eileen’s sister was also her step-mother-in-law.
Paul Leroy Gold would not have known about any of that either. When he thought about Eileen, he probably pictured her as a child, perhaps still in among the trees off Hemlock street. And how did she picture him, all those years later, once she had a family of her own? With any luck, she wasted no time thinking about him at all.Sources: New Castle News (15 July 1933 “Births”; 2 Jan 1934 “Deaths of the Day”; 21 March 1938 “Personal Mention”; 28 March 1942 “Quick Arrest of Girl’s Assailant”; 10 Oct 1947 “Girl Scouts”; 10 July 1950 “Hoover-Sickels Exchange Of Vows; 10 June 1968, “Instructs Pilots”; 11 August 1958 “W H Stickels [sic] Will Reside On 4th St After Wedding Trip”)