Katie Payne took a razor blade to the house at the rear of 108 South Jefferson street where her husband, John, was staying with young, pretty Ethel McGowen. She slashed Ethel McGowen across the face, twice. When Ethel fell to the floor, curling up to protect herself, Katie slashed her legs, arms and hands. Ethel wasn’t going to be pretty any more.
Katie was arrested and held in jail while Ethel was examined in hospital. If Ethel had died, Katie would have been sent away for murder, but she lived. A week after the attack, she was well enough to leave the hospital, and Katie was released from jail. The case never came to trial.
Five years later, in 1939, Katie took a knife to the house on South Mercer street where her husband was staying with another woman, Mary Smith, but this time she came off worst. When the police arrived, Katie told them that her husband had struck her and then held her while Mary Smith threatened her with a penknife and slashed her right shoulder.
John Payne got thirty days in the county jail for assault and battery. The charges against Mary Smith were thrown out after she spent a week in the lock-up.
Katie and John Payne stayed married for the rest of their lives. They had three children together—Ozzie, Lillian and Wilbur (who was killed in 1948, when his car collided with another and burst into flames)—and were in their seventies when they died, within a few months of each other, in 1963.Sources: New Castle News (27 Oct 1934 “Jealous Colored Girl Wields Razor Blade”; 13 July 1939 “Says Husband Held Her While Another Woman Used Knife”; 14 July 1939 “Husband Gets Jail Trip For Assault; Hearing Due For Another”; 11 May 1948 “Cars Collide On Route 422 Near Ohio Line”; 13 Sep 1963 “Deaths of the Day”)
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 whom 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 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 Confectionary, 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.)
Jessie Smith was one of the half a million black Americans who left the south during the first wave of the great migration, before and during the first world war, hoping to trade Jim Crow, klan violence and failed crops for a life of opportunity in the industrial north. However, when she arrived in New Castle from Spartanburg, South Carolina, she would have found that there was nowhere in town for her to stay. The hotels accepted only whites, and any young colored girl stepping off the train had to ask around until she found a colored family with a room to let.
Jessie found accommodation, and a job, in the Vanhorn apartments, a dilapidated three-storey frame building by the bridge over Neshannock creek on South Jefferson street, a well known and frequently raided brothel. She was arrested there one Saturday night in 1918, along with the other girls and four customers. The prostitutes were fined $15; the proprietress, Mary Armour, $50; and the customers, $10. A decent night’s profit for the city.
Three years later, the Vanhorn block was torn down to make way for a rail track along the river to the Carnegie company’s number 1 furnace, but Jessie had already moved on.
During the twenties and thirties, she worked in houses further down South Jefferson street, on Long avenue and on Lutton street, paying an occasional $10 or $15 fine for the privilege. Along the way, she married Robert Cruthers, who lived off her earnings and beat her when the mood took him. Sometimes, the beatings were so bad that she would go to the police, who would arrest him for assault and battery and give him a $10 fine, which he’d pay using money that Jessie had worked for. Once, he couldn’t pay and was sent to the county jail for ten days.
In October 1930, Robert Laughlin, a traveller who was staying at the Henry Hotel, told police that he’d been robbed by two colored women while walking down the alley behind the Fountain Inn, just off the main square. One had held him while the other had gone through his clothes and taken his pocketbook, which contained $34. The police would have known that his part in the story wasn’t as innocent as he assured them it was, but it didn’t matter. They arrested Jessie and and a woman called Mabel Smith (a sister, perhaps), who were found to have Laughlin’s pocketbook. They were fined $10.
Early on Christmas morning, 1930, three young men – with considerably less shame than Robert Laughlin – told a beat policeman on the south side that one of them had been robbed by a colored prostitute in a house on Lutton street. The police raided the place, which was owned by Charles Hudson, and found the money in Jessie Smith’s possession.
That was Jessie’s last appearance in New Castle’s recorded history. The final sentence of the story in the paper states that her penalty was – yet again – a fine of $10.Sources: New Castle News (4 Jan 1917 “Colored Man to Seek Hotel License Here”; 30 Jul 1917 “Colored Folk To Have Hotel”; 7 Feb 1919 “JB Clark Claims He Was Insulted”; 29 Jul 1918 “Disorderly House Raid Nets $120″; 22 Aug 1930 “Given Ten Days”; 30 Sep 1930 “Robert Cruthers”; 20 Oct 1930 “Colored Women Rob Local Man”; 26 Dec 1930 “Disorderly House Raided By Police”)
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed in 1934. Two years later, the story of the outlaw lovers was as powerful as it had ever been, and was undoubtedly on Janet Borland’s mind one winter’s night when she met a beguiling young rogue named Clarence Campbell, a small-time car thief from Missouri who had left a trail of stolen autos and forfeited bail bonds from Oklahoma to Ohio. She was impressed enough to agree to leave town with him in a Chrysler Coupé that they stole from outside a house on Beckford street. As they vanished into the night like a pair of genuine public enemies, with the snowflakes dancing in their headlights and everyone else in the world sleeping in their beds, Janet might well have experienced the most romantic moment of her life.
The car broke down on a country road just south of New Castle. It was two in the morning and around ten below freezing.
They set off on foot for Ellwood City, the nearest town. Janet had a friend there she could stay with and Clarence knew somewhere he could find shelter, too. As they trudged along the road, they were spotted by a highway patrol officer who had been sent out to look for the stolen car. They shook him off by running into the fields.
Janet’s friend’s house was on the far side of Ellwood City, and Clarence left her there. Not long after she was inside, two local police officers came to the door. They had traced Janet and Clarence’s footprints, which were the only ones visible on the streets after the night’s heavy snowfall.
Janet was no Bonnie Parker. She immediately confessed that she had been in the stolen car, and told the officers where to find Clarence, who proved himself to be no Clyde Barrow by allowing himself to be arrested and taken to New Castle jail.
Janet was discharged when the case came to court, but Clarence was convicted of larceny of an automobile. If Janet read the papers, she might have learned of his escape from a Pennsylvania jail in August that year, and his subsequent recapture, and his escape from an Oklahoma jail three years later, when he reached the key to his cell using a bent coat hanger. (He was caught after that one, too.) Her last memory of him, however, would have been the sight of him being led from court to face car-theft charges in towns in four other states. She never saw him again.
Sources: New Castle News (8 Feb 1936 “Arrest Couple For Theft of Auto Here”; 22 Feb 1936 “Pleas Entered And Sentences Given At Court”; 23 May 1936 “Campbell Recaptured”; 25 Sept 1939 “News in Brief”) Los Angeles Times, 22 August 1936 “Prisoners Reach Key With Coathanger”