Two months after Pearl harbor, New Castle’s chief of police, Willis McMullen, issued a statement to inform the citizens of the town that “War is here” and that, consequently, they should refrain from bothering the police with trivial complaints.
“Enemy aliens admittedly are scattered across the United States. It may be that some of them would be saboteurs and may attempt to cripple industry or public utilities,” he declared. If police had to take time out from their multitudinous duties to deal with unimportant matters, he explained, they might be unable to go into action swiftly should any untoward enemy activity take place in the town, which might result in loss of life or the destruction of property that might be vital to the war effort.
Chief McMullen pointed out that such calls as “dogs running loose”, “whether or not the streets are ashed” and “the time of day or night” were not important police functions during war time.
“Let us co-operate for the benefit of all concerned,” he continued. “Our boys are fighting in all sections of the world. We, back home, must keep essentials going to them.”
McMullen’s statement concluded by reminding the town that the enemy could strike anywhere, at any time. “Pearl Harbor was an instance. We were attacked without warning. An enemy doesn’t ‘brass band’ his effort. Let us settle down and eliminate unimportant things.”
However, that night, 4 February, 1942—as US fighter planes engaged Japanese bombers in combat over Java, as British troops fought a losing battle to keep the Japanese out of Singapore, and as columns of Axis vehicles rolled through Libya—Charles J Krueger disappointed Chief McMullen when he forced the police to divert their attention from their vital war-time duties in order to arrest him on a charge of assault and battery.
Luckily, enemy aliens did not choose that night to launch an attack on New Castle. The town’s industrial plants remained fully operational for the rest of the war.Sources: New Castle News, 4 February, 1942, “Don’t ‘Phone Trivial Complaints To City Police Headquarters”
Prohibition was repealed on 5 December, 1933, but not one legal drop of liquor was served in New Castle that night. Any private celebrations involved bathtub gin, bootlegged whisky from Canada or the moonshine that was locally referred to as Moravia street bourbon, as nowhere in town was licensed to sell alcohol.
That week, the state bought the old C Ed Smith Furnace Company workshop on Produce street, on the east side, and commissioned workmen to convert it into New Castle’s first state liquor store. A month later, when the store opened, the building had been transformed into an edifice with “the neat appearance of a well kept penitentiary.” The windows were protected with steel bars, five-eighths of an inch thick; the glass was wired to set off an alarm if broken; and entry to the establishment could be prevented by the formidable, reinforced door. Plain gold letters across the front of the building read simply, “Liquor Store Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board”.
The state had decided to tolerate the sale of liquor, not encourage it, and the liquor store was not supposed to be a pleasant place to visit. Nevertheless, in the two hours for which it was open on its first night of business – Saturday, 6 January, 1934 – it sold more than $1,000-worth of liquor to around 250 customers, serving one customer every thirty seconds. Soon, sales settled down to a healthy rate of around $1,100 a day – all in cash, as it was illegal to buy liquor on any sort of credit.
The store was robbed for the first time less than two years after it opened.
Thomas Herovich had been sent to jail for eight years in the twenties for an armed robbery in Springfield, Ohio. He was released in the middle of the depression, not long after the Wall Street crash – a middle-aged ex-convict with no trade. Naturally, he returned to his previous profession and was soon wanted by the police in connection with the robberies of a bank in Columbiana, a theater in Sharon and a club in Farrell.
On October 19, 1935, Thomas entered the liquor store with two young associates, Eugene “Slim” Doyle and Frank Bydo. He grabbed a customer and shoved a pistol against his stomach, saying he’d shoot if the clerks didn’t hand over all the money. Doyle and Bydo collected the cash and ran out to the stolen car they’d parked outside. Thomas followed once they got the engine running, leaving his hostage on the street.
The gang got away with $375. They would have discovered when they read the papers the next day that the clerks had held back $700, but there was nothing that they could do about it by that point.
A few months later, Thomas was arrested in Struthers, Ohio, on suspicion of being a finger man in a robbery there. The Pennsylvania state police asked that he be loaned out to them so witnesses in New Castle could have a look at him, and the liquor store hostage identified him as the man who’d held him at gunpoint. Thomas made a full confession that night. He was sentenced to six to twelve years in the Western penitentiary. Slim Doyle and Frank Bydo, who were picked up within the month, each got two to four.
The liquor store was robbed several more times over the years, the biggest haul being taken in 1947, when two masked bandits armed with pistols escaped with $1,263.
By the end of the thirties, three more state liquor stores had opened in New Castle, all in far better locations. The Produce street store eventually became the area’s liquor warehouse and was closed down in 1973, with all operations being transferred to Pittsburgh. All the buildings on the street were demolished not long after, and the area is now a parking lot.Sources: New Castle News (23 Dec 1933 “State Liquor Store Being Made Ready”; 8 Jan 1934 “State Liquor Store Is Open”; 20 April 1936 “New State Store Will be Opened”; 1 July 1936 “Suspect Admits He’s Liquor Store Robber”; 13 July 1936 “Liquor Store Bandit Surrenders”; 20 July 1936 “Third Suspect In Liquor Store Robbery Taken”; 29 July 1936 “Liquor Store Bandits Given Prison Terms”; 1947 April 14 “State Liquor Store Held Up”; 22 Jan 1973 “State Liquor Warehouse Will Close”)
Joe Relo joined the navy after he graduated from high school in Struthers, Ohio, at the end of world war 2. One Saturday night in 1948, when he was home on furlough from the Pacific, he drove his old school friends, Joe Mediate and Bill Marr, twenty miles to New Castle, just over the state border. They passed the night in the bars downtown and it was nearly one in the morning before they got back to the car, each extremely drunk, and set off for Ohio.
As soon as Joe pulled out into the street, he found himself stuck behind a cautious motorist who stopped at the red light at Moravia Street and Long Avenue even though the streets were deserted. Joe could see no reason why they should stop. Thinking of the long drive home, Joe leaned hard on his horn, again and again, cursing the driver in front, but the car did not move. Bill and the other Joe tumbled out of the car to talk to the driver—just to explain to him how far they had to go that night and to say that he should show a little consideration and either go through the red light or pull over so they could go through the red light—but he took it the wrong way and thought they were trying to start trouble.
Things got a little out of hand. Before long, the police arrived and arrested everyone.
The boys spent the rest of the weekend in the cells. Bill Marr and Joe Mediate were fined $10 and $5 respectively (Bill got the larger fine because the cops thought he had been resisting arrest even though, as he told the police court, he’d only been trying to explain to them the situation as he saw it), and Joe Relo received the standard New Castle penalty for drunk driving: thirty days in the county jail and a fine of $100 and costs, out in three days if the fine and costs were paid.
Joe left the navy in 1950 and joined the Struthers fire department, where he remained until he retired, in 1984, at the age of fifty-seven.Sources: New Castle News (15 march 1948 “Arrest Driver And Companions”; 20 March 1948 “Judge Lamoree Sentences Seven”); Youngstown Vindicator, 15 Jan 1984, “Relo To Retire As Firefighter”.
Frank Tomski was charged with the sale and possession of hard liquor while having only a malt beverages licence, and he appeared in court along with several other moonshiners and bootleggers. Prohibition had been over for four years, but the black market had endured.
The judge gave him six months—far more than the one month that Tony Frank got for conspiracy to manufacture liquor but far less than the eighteen months that Francesco Conti got for running the operation.
Frank’s seventeen-year-old son, Chester, was also up before the court that day in October 1937. He was convicted of auto theft and, a few hours after the judge sent Frank to the Allegheny workhouse, Chester was on his way to Huntingdon reformatory school.
Frank and Chester were both released in April 1938—Frank had served his full sentence and Chester had been paroled when he turned eighteen. Jail might have reformed Frank (he was never arrested again, at any rate), but reformatory did not help Chester.
There was a spate of car thefts in the New Castle area in early 1940. Chester had gone back to stealing cars within weeks of being released from the reformatory. The police suspected that he had something to do with the crimes, but they couldn’t find him. He had left home as soon as he had realised that he was a suspect, taking with him his father’s only suit, which he stole while Frank was out.
On 4 May, an off-duty policeman called Thomas Boyle was taking his wife for a drive in the country when he noticed a stolen Plymouth at a sandbank on the road beyond the Moffatt school. Sitting behind the wheel was Chester Tomski, who saw the look of recognition on officer Boyle’s face and immediately started his engine, speeding off across Hickory Heights to the Harlansburg road.
Boyle gave chase as Chester tore along dirt roads towards East Brook before eventually abandoning the Plymouth and fleeing into a swamp. Boyle followed, and found him hiding under some bushes. The next day, Chester pled guilty to larceny of an auto, hoping for a light sentence. Once all the auto thefts and parole violations were taken into account (as well as a bungled escape attempt while he was awaiting trial), he ended up with ten to twenty years.
Two months after Chester was sent to prison, Frank died from what his obituary called “complications of one day’s illness”. He was fifty-eight.
Chester spent all of the ’40s and ’50s in jail, having been given extra time when he was caught trying to saw his way out of the Western penitentiary. By 1966, he was out on parole, but he was sent back to jail when he was caught driving a stolen car in Shenango township, just outside New Castle. By the time he got out of jail again he was over fifty and he had seen about as much of life outside of an institution as most of the boys he was at school with had seen by their early twenties. From the day in 1937 when Frank had been sentenced for liquor violations and the seventeen-year-old Chester had been sentenced for stealing cars, Chester had been either in custody or on parole.
Chester died a few years after he was finally released—he made it to fifty-nine; just one year older than Frank had been when he had died.Sources: New Castle News (3 April 1937 “Sentences Are Passed”; 16 October 1937 “Mains Sentenced To Penitentiary For Three Years”; 6 May 1940 “Tomski Caught”; 21 May 1940 “Youth Returns To County Jail”; 25 May 1940 “Tomski Given Long Sentence”; 6 July 1940, “Frank Tomski” obituary; 24 Feb 1955 “To Bring Back Prisoners”; 3 Jan 1966 “Man Jailed After Police Chase, Crash”)
Paul Bailey was arrested midway through the first sunny weekend of the spring of 1948, which followed weeks of heavy rain. All over Lawrence County, people went fishing, played baseball or golf or just took the opportunity to sit on their porches. For his part, Paul celebrated the good weather by getting drunk enough to be charged with disorderly conduct.
Meanwhile, the town’s criminal element embarked on a minor spree, with four burglaries being reported over the weekend: thieves broke into the Giancotti service station on Croton Avenue in order to loot the cigarette machine, making off with $35 in coins and 125 packs of cigarettes; someone stole an electric iron, a radio and some food from the McCue house on West North Street; C R Allen, of West Front Street, reported that a radio, an electric razor and a cap pistol had been taken from his house; and Mrs Missey, who lived in an apartment in the Fisher block on Long Avenue, reported the theft of shirts, sheets, a dress and some towels. There appears to have been no suggestion that the crimes were connected.Sources: New Castle News 19 April 1948, “Pa Newc Observes”, “Robbery And Theft Reports Made To The Police”.