A year or two after the accident that burned the skin on his face that hadn’t been covered by a protective mask—the details of which are unknown—Victor Whipkey and his friends, Fay Marks and Joseph Pehak, ran low on gas as they passed through New Castle on a long road trip from their hometown of Mammoth, in Westmoreland county, to Ravenna, Ohio. They pulled into the E&W service station on Grant street and had the clerk fill up their Ford with eleven gallons of gasoline. Then, having no money, they drove off without paying for it.
The clerk called the police, who stopped the car on the State street hill. A search uncovered a loaded .38 revolver in the glove compartment and several shells in the pockets of Marks’ coat. They arrested the three boys on a charge of being suspicious characters.
In court, Marks claimed he had traded a hunter’s knife to Victor for the revolver. Victor said that he had been given the gun by Marks’ grandfather. The court had no interest in their explanations, and fined them all $10 for failing to pay for the gasoline, in default of which they were sentenced to sixty days in the county jail. Marks was given a further four months in jail for carrying a revolver without a licence.
Victor enlisted in the army the following year, and was promoted to sergeant in September, 1943. He died in Davenport, Iowa, on 15 July, 1993, at the age of seventy-two.Sources: New Castle News (15 Jan 1941, “Three Youths Are Held By Police”; 17 Jan 1941, “Three Youths Admit Gasoline Charge”; 3 Feb 1941, “On Court House Hill”); Connellsville Daily Courier, 17 Sep 1943, “News Of Our Men And Women In Uniform”.
In 1936, George Agnew was arrested for passing a bad check to a woman on the corner of Bridge and Shenango streets. He gave a false name—Sam Stein—but was recognised by an officer who remembered him from an extortion case in 1931.
In February of that year, two years before the repeal of prohibition, state police officers had raided the home of Anna Aceta, on South Mercer street, on a liquor warrant. The woman surprised them by complaining that she’d already paid protection money to the police and saying that they ought to leave her alone.
After an investigation, George and four other men, including Robert Glass, a deputy constable who ran a paint shop in Ellwood City, were arrested and charged with extortion, blackmail and conspiracy to cheat and defraud.
George and Robert’s plan had been straightforward. On December 11, 1930, George’s nephew, Harry, knocked on Mrs Aceta’s door and asked if she had anything to drink. She took him inside and sold him a pint of whiskey. As soon as the money changed hands, George, Glass and two other men burst in, shouting, “Police! This house is under arrest!” They showed Mrs Aceta and her son and daughter some papers, which they said were a search warrant.
Harry Agnew pretended not to know them. He demanded to know what was going on, before falling silent when Glass found the whiskey bottle hidden in his coat. Glass handed a gun and blackjack to George Agnew, saying, “If they get hard, you know what to do”, and the men proceeded to search the house, finding more liquor.
Glass told Mrs Aceta that she could either go to jail or pay an immediate fine of $100 or so. Mrs Aceta gave him everything she had on her—$26. The men drove her to her eldest son’s house, where she borrowed $7 more. The next day, Mrs Aceta got $80 from her sister and gave it to the men when they stopped off at the house. As she handed over the four $20 bills, her daughter asked to see the search warrant. “We don’t have it with us,” Glass said. “Then let me see your badge,” she said, and Glass showed her his deputy constable’s badge, which struck the girl as odd, as the other men had called him “sergeant” throughout the raid, but she said nothing—until the night the house was raided by the genuine state police.
All five men were found guilty. George and the other civilians were fined $25 and given two months in the county jail. Robert Glass was fined $500 and sentenced to a year in the Allegheny workhouse, because of the abuse of his badge. Anna Aceta, the woman who had helped to bring the corrupt official to justice, was found guilty of the illegal sale of liquor, fined $100 and paroled for two years.
When George was arrested in for passing a bad check, in 1936, he was sixty-one years old. There is no record of the outcome of the case.Sources: New Castle News (28 Feb 1931, “Woman Asserts Hush Money Paid To Trio”; 5 March 1931, “Grand Jury Returns Many True Bills”; 18 March 1931, “Court Hears Testimony In Alleged Fake Raid By Deputy Constable”; 19 March 1931, “Deputy Constable Glass Denies Being Party To Fake New Castle Raid”; 28 March 1931, “Officer Is Sentenced”; 9 Sep 1936, “Arrest Agnew On Charge Of Suspicion”).
The Canteen, at 30 South Mercer street, was a downtown bar with a dance floor that featured round and square dancing, with music by local bands like Chuck McFarland and his Original Castleites. One November night in 1938, the management ejected John Zuzow for fighting. John continued fighting in the street, biting several passers-by. When three policemen arrived on the scene, he bit them, too.
In police court the next morning, John said he had been drinking and couldn’t remember what he’d done. James Fink, presiding, declared, “So long as I am the acting mayor of the city, anyone who interferes with or attacks a policeman may expect to pay a salty fine or undergo imprisonment.” True to his word, he fined John $25. As John was only twenty, Fink also ordered that the manager of the Canteen be questioned about serving liquor to minors.
After John was sentenced, it emerged that he was on parole for a series of crimes that he had committed on 13th May that year, a day on which he had stolen a car, burgled a store on Long avenue and violently resisted arrest. He was returned to jail.
There was no report of his release, and he appeared only two more times in the New Castle News: once, in 1945, when he was sent to jail for a month on charges of assault and battery, drunkenness and disorderly conduct at the home of his father-in-law, George Shellog; and another time, in 1947, when he was fined $10 for fighting with LeRoy and Thomas Neely on Croton avenue.
John died in New Castle on 13 August, 2000, at the age of eighty-two.Sources: New Castle News (2 June 1938 “Faces Two Charges, Waives His Hearing”; 18 Nov 1938 “Two Are Fined On Charge Of Fighting” 19 Nov 1938 “Pleas Are Entered; Sentences Passed”; 12 Feb 1945 “Fined $50 By Mayor”; 7 March 1947 “Fined For Fighting”)
Prohibition was repealed on 5 December, 1933, but not one legal drop of liquor was served in New Castle that night. 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, 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 two hundred and fifty 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 in the years that followed. The biggest haul was 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 a 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”).
Wilson Clemons, a minister in the Church of God in Christ, was found in his front yard at 405 Mahoning avenue, his head split in two by the axe that lay by his side. No one had seen the murder take place, but the neighbours told the police to look for the reverend’s twenty-eight-year-old son, David, who lived with him and worked in a steel mill twenty miles away in Farrell.
David was known to the police. Their files held his mug shot, taken one Saturday night in 1936 when he had been arrested for disorderly behaviour. He had the mental capacity of a nine-year-old, and had recently returned to New Castle after being discharged from the army, just before the build-up to D-Day.
The police drove out to Farrell and arrested David as he was waiting to draw his wages, having informed his company he was leaving town. He confessed immediately.
He told the police his father had reprimanded him for running around. They had argued, and David had gone to bed angry. On the morning of the murder, David’s alarm clock went off at five o’clock. He woke his father and accused him of tampering with it to play a trick on him. They argued again, then David went downstairs, where he sat in silence for the next three hours.
When David’s father came downstairs at eight o’clock, David took up an axe and chased him into the yard. The old man tripped and fell, and David sunk the axe into his skull as he lay on the ground.
It was April fool’s day, 1944. That year, the occasion went largely unobserved in town. The New Castle News remarked, “Wartime conditions eliminate much of the desire for April 1 foolishness.”
David was given a life sentence for first degree murder. After a psychiatric examination, he was sent to Fairview state hospital for the criminally insane, where he joined other hopelessly disturbed inmates such as Frank Palanzo, who had wrapped his shack in bails of barbed wire and shot a state trooper on the orders of witches; Albert Yohoda, who had been told by invisible things to cut down his brother-in-law with an axe; William Jackson, who stabbed his mother to death with a carving knife and suffered hideous third-degree burns while trying to incinerate her body; Clair Young, a Charleroi miner who shot his nineteen-month-old daughter as a sacrifice so that he might go directly to heaven when he died; and Albert Shinsky, who murdered a sixty-four year old woman whom he believed to have sent a black cat down from the sky to tear his side.
David remained in Fairview for the rest of his life.Sources: New Castle News (1 April 1944 “Man Is Killed By Blow Of Axe”, “Pa Newc Observes”; 3 April 1944 “Clemons Is Held For Hearing On Murder Charge”; 22 Sep 1944 “Life Sentence Given Clemons”; 28 Feb 1962 “Felix Clemons”, obituary), Clearfield Progress, 15 June 1936 “Morann Man Taken To Jail Following A Vicious Attack”; Altoona Mirror 20 June 1939 “Fanatic Tries To Kill Child As Sacrifice”; Charleroi Mail, 25 Aug 1939 “Sanity Commission Sends Slayer of Trooper To Insane Asylum”; Dunkirk Evening Observer, 26 March 1934 “Insane Asylum Doors Open To Receive Albert Shinsky”; Gettysburg Times, 28 Nov 1942, “Young Slayer Is Unbalanced”.