The war in Europe had been over for two months and the war in the Pacific would be over in a few weeks’ time, when atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eugene Russo was just sixteen and, unlike his brothers and his cousins, he had escaped world war two. His life was his to do with as he pleased.
He borrowed a .25 Colt automatic from his friend, Paul Logue, telling him he wanted to show it to someone. Just after lunch on a Sunday afternoon, he entered the Walter Dewberry tobacco store on East Washington street, opposite the Dome theater, and pulled the pistol on Mildred Donaldson, the girl behind the counter.
A beat policeman, Roland Fisher, happened to glance in the window of the store and saw Mildred raising her hands above her head. She saw the officer and screamed, “Help! He’s robbing me!” and “Watch out! He has a gun!”
Officer Fisher drew his pistol and shouted to Eugene to raise his hands and come out of the store. Eugene did what he was told; his gun wasn’t loaded.
On the other side of the world, Eugene’s cousin, also called Eugene, was just starting his third year in the infantry corps. He had been hospitalised for weeks with malaria, a recurrence of which eleven years later was assumed to be the reason why he became mentally unbalanced and shot his wife twice in the head before turning the gun on himself. His wife survived; he did not. A further ten years later, their son, Augostine, was killed when he stepped on a mine in Vietnam. Flags on city buildings were lowered during his funeral as his uncle was a municipal employee, in the sewage disposal plant.
Eugene Russo received a short stretch in the reformatory for his attempted robbery of the tobacco store. Paul Logue was fined for lending him the pistol. Neither was ever called on to fight in a war.Sources: New Castle News (9 July 1945, “Holdup Attempt Charged To Youth”; 17 July 1945, “On Court House Hill”; 15 Feb 1944, “Returns From Pacific”; 13 June 1956 “Veteran Dead, Wife Is Wounded”; 5 Oct 1966, “New Castle Soldier Is Killed By Mine In Viet Nam War”; 7 Oct 1966, “Flags To Be Lowered In Tribute To Soldier”).
Wick Wood, one of the first reporters on the New Castle News back in the 1880s, was fond of sauerkraut, particularly the sauerkraut that was made by a Bavarian couple called Rentz, who farmed a small plot of land just beyond where the old Butler road crosses Big Run creek. On his visits to the farm, Wood got to know their only child, a boy called Frederick, who had been kept out of school from the age of eight to help on the farm. A vacancy opened up at the paper for a printer’s devil—someone to sweep out the print room, wash ink rolls, fetch type—and Wood arranged for Frederick to get the job. On a summer morning in 1883, the boy left his farm and walked into New Castle, along a cobbled Washington street in which pigs and cows wandered freely, to start his first day’s work at the offices of the New Castle News. When he died sixty-four years later, he was the manager of the company, a position he had held for fifty years.
Frederick Loeffler Rentz was central to the development of the city of New Castle in the twentieth century. He lobbied for roads and highways, drainage improvements and civic construction projects, sponsored good works and served as mayor for a short stretch in the twenties. For decades he wrote a daily column of jokes, aphorisms and observations, such as the one that ran, “In some places it takes nerve to wear a silk top hat and one of them is New Castle—too many loose rocks lying around.”
In 1929, at the peak of New Castle’s prosperity and Rentz’s influence, Patsy Ross was a fifteen-year-old news boy—one of hundreds of news boys who sold the New Castle News on the streets every day, making about a penny a copy. He and some of the older news boys formed an organisation to set rules of conduct for news boys throughout the city, and Patsy was elected to the club’s special court that tried the members for misdemeanours and infringements of the rules. They called themselves the FRNBs, which stood for both the Fred Rentz News Boys Club and Fun, Right, Neat and Best.
Fred Rentz was glad to be associated with the club. At a banquet held in their honour, he told them that many prominent men once carried the New Castle News and were proud of it. It was true: the owners of the hotel that hosted the banquet, Saul Leff and Alex Silverman, had sold the paper in their youth. Evidently, there was no limit to the heights to which a news boy could expect to rise.
Patsy’s club also raised funds for the YMCA, took part in musical and theatre shows and organised a baseball team. The New Castle News itself declared that they were “a thriving group of boys who promise to develop into real hundred per cent American men,” but that was the year of the Wall street crash, and the FRNBs didn’t make it out the other side of the depression. The last mention of the club was in a report on baseball game in 1933, when Patsy and the other founders would have been at least eighteen. The younger news boys whose duty it would have been to carry the FRNB torch perhaps had other matters on their minds.
Twelve years later, Patsy—shirtless and bleeding—was arrested on a charge of drunkenness and disorderly conduct after brawling in the street and punching a taxi driver who refused to pick him up. He was held in the cells overnight and fined $25 in the morning.
Fred Rentz was probably unaware of the incident, unremarkable as it was. He died the following year, aged seventy-eight, and was succeeded as publisher of the New Castle News by his son, Jacob, who was in turn succeeded by his sons, Dick and Fred, who ran the paper until it was sold in 1988.
There is no further record of Patsy Ross.Sources: New Castle News (18 Jan 1929, “City Newsies organise FRNB Club Thursday”; 12 Nov 1929, “Busy Season Ahead For Local YMCA”; 17 April 1934, “Boys Jam Y For Newsies’ Rally”; 2 April 1937, “Hints and Dints”; 30 July 1942, “Sixty Years Ago Today Fred L Rentz Started Work On New Castle News”; 13 June 1945, “Fine Of $25 Imposed”); Youngstown Vindicator, 26 Feb 1988, “Thomson Inc Buys New Castle News”.
The depression shut down Homer Chrisner’s Ellwood City sales business and threw him and his employees out of work. He remained a respected figure in the area, served as a borough councilman for a spell and continued to pursue his hobby of poultry breeding, which was something of a passion of his—only a few months before he walked into the state bank in Bessemer with a loaded pistol, he delivered a speech entitled, “My Favorite Poultry Breed”, which was reportedly well received by his audience of local farmers.
Homer spent the latter half of 1934 planning the bank robbery. His sales work had taken him through all the towns around the Ohio-Pennsylvania border north of Pittsburgh, and he settled on Bessemer—a couple of hundred houses in the shadow of a cement and limestone factory, ten miles west of New Castle—as the easiest target. He selected as his accomplice Edward Scales, aka Jack of Diamonds, a Youngstown barman and numbers writer who had recently been released from prison after serving a sentence for the attempted rape of a minor. Together, they planned the details of the hold-up and enlisted the help of a woman called Nellie Sellers who would act as their getaway driver.
On 31 January 1935, they drove up to the bank on Poland avenue in a red Chevrolet that Edward had stolen from a garage in Ambridge some days earlier. Homer and Edward pulled bandanas over their faces and walked into the bank, leaving Nellie Sellers—later described by witnesses as “a visibly nervous Negress”—in the car with the engine running.
Homer stood by the door while Edward walked up to window number two and pointed his pistol at the cashier, Charles Weitz. Before Edward could speak, Weitz dropped to the floor and shouted for help. From the back room entered a large man, V I Mandich, a former Croatian soldier who had fought against the Germans in the first world war and taken part in the Russian revolutions of 1917 before emigrating to America, where he had taken up the post of assistant cashier of the Bessemer bank. He approached Homer and Edward, who lost their nerve and ran out into the street. Weitz took a revolver from under the counter and followed them.
The Chevrolet was already moving off as Homer climbed inside. Edward struggled to catch up with it and, when Weitz started shooting at him and the car (which took a bullet in the rear fender), he ducked off the road and headed in the direction of the creek that ran behind the cement factory.
The car disappeared up the Hillsville road and the cashiers called the police. A young man said that he had seen a Negro running into the cement company office building, and Edward was found hiding in the cellar, behind the furnace. He was unarmed, having dropped his pistol outside the bank.
Homer and Nellie Sellers drove thirty miles to Warren, Ohio, where they hid the car in a garage that Sellers had rented from a man who had been led to believe that she was hiding the car from her husband, who wanted to take it from her. Homer drove in his own car to Pittsburgh where, alone and dispirited, he threw his revolver from the Sixth street bridge into the Ohio river.
Their efforts to evade capture were useless. The police in New Castle, who had taken custody of Edward Scales, had already forced him to give up the names of his accomplices. Within a few days, all three were in custody, charged with assault and intent to rob. Homer and Edward were given five years in the penitentiary and Sellers was sent to the workhouse. Homer twice applied to the governor for a pardon, on grounds that are unclear. Both pleas were refused. Of him, and the others, there appears to be no further trace.Sources: The Greenville Record-Argus (31 Jan 1935, “Bank Holdup At Bessemer Frustrated”; 1 Feb 1935, “Seek Woman In Bessemer Bank Robbery Plot”); Huntingdon Daily News, 31 Jan 1935, “Cashier Thwarts Hold-Up At Bank”; Charleston Gazette, 31 Jan 1935, “Cashier Of Bank Routs 4 Bandits; One Is Captured”; New Castle News (5 Oct 1932, “Council Abates Tax Penalties”; 3 April 1934, “Grangers Have Poultry Meeting”; 1 Feb 1935, “Police Get Clues On Companions Of Bank Bandit”; 1 Feb 1935, “See Early Capture Of Pair Wanted In Bessemer Hold-Up”; 4 Feb 1935, “Arrest Two More In Bessemer Bank Hold-Up Attempt”; 5 Feb 1935, “Accused Trio Pleads Guilty”; 9 Feb 1935, “Bessemer Bank Bandits Enter Pleas At Court”; 18 Sep 1936, “Would Be Bank Robber Is Asking To Be Pardoned”; 6 Nov 1937, “Applications For Pardon Are Filed”; 7 June 1938, “Mandich Is Veteran Of Many Engagements” ).
Edward Scales was arrested and photographed as a suspect in a hold-up that took place a few days before Christmas in 1934. He was released without charge but enjoyed only a month of freedom before returning to jail when a bank robbery that he had been planning for months went badly wrong.
Edward had a long association with the New Castle police, to whom he was better known by his street name, Jack of Diamonds. He ran gambling joints and unlicensed Negro clubs on the south side before the first world war. In 1921, to avoid jail, he assisted prohibition agents in a bootlegging case by buying a $1.25 bottle of raisin jack from a speakeasy run by a man named Nicholas Chikota and taking it to the district attorney, who used it as justification for a raid. After Edward testified at Chikota’s trial, the DA acknowledged that, although it was unfortunate that the state had had to rely on such a disreputable character, it was impossible not to. “I cannot go to the speakeasies to secure evidence,” he told the jury. “And neither can the county detective, as they would immediately become dry at our approach. It often happens that the only ones who can secure the evidence have been law breakers themselves.”
The jury accepted Edward’s testimony, and found Chikota guilty.
Edward’s co-operation with the law gave him no immunity from police interference in his business, and he was fined several times in the years following the trial for allowing “African golf”—dice games, such as craps—to be played on his premises.
In 1925, during a quarrel over a woman, Edward pulled out a pistol and shot at a man named Ben Higgins, who collapsed and was taken to hospital. He died ten days later. Edward was charged with murder and held in jail for three months until the date of his trial. A conviction seemed certain until the doctors who examined Higgins’s body told the court that Higgins died of pneumonia and pleurisy and that his body showed no signs of ever having been shot. None of Edward’s bullets had hit their target. Higgins had merely passed out from fright when Edward fired at him, and his death the following week had been unrelated to the events of that day, a fact of which the prosecution had been unaware until the day of the trial. The judge instructed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty, and Edward was released.
Edward stayed away from the courts until 1931, when he “attempted to seduce” Eleanor Wagner, a ten-year-old girl who lived on Mahoning avenue, and was given a two-to-four year sentence for assault and battery with intent to commit rape.
Edward turned forty in jail. After his release, he did some numbers running and got a job in a saloon in Youngstown, where he met a middle-aged Lawrence county businessman and poultry fancier, Homer Chrisner, who planned the disastrous bank raid that led him straight back to jail.
Homer Chrisner’s mug shot and the conclusion of Edward’s story are here.Sources: New Castle News (17 June 1921, “District Attorney’s Table Is Decorated With Booze Bottles”; 22 June 1922, “Muse Appeals To Jury To Stand For Law And Order In Liquor Case”; 26 March 1923, “Arrest Eight For Shooting Craps”; 9 Sep 1924, “Negro House Raided By City Officers” 11 Oct 1924, “Turned Over To Alderman Hamilton”; 22 Aug 1925, stub; 6 Nov 1925, “Judge McLaughry Halts Murder Trial, Frees Prisoner”; 13 July 1931, “Colored Man Arrested”; 22 Sep 1931, “Convict Scales In A Few Minutes”; 2 Oct 1931, “Prisoners Are Sentenced For Various Crimes”).
The arresting officer wrote “This man is a roller of drunks” on the file card as Vincent DeLillo was photographed in the police station and charged with picking the pockets of citizens incapacitated through liquor. That night in 1937, Vincent was almost exactly halfway through his life. Up to that point, he had been charged with possession of illegal alcohol during prohibition, rape and fornication (not guilty of the former; guilty of the latter), robbery (multiple times), auto theft and resisting arrest.
After 1937, he kept away from the police for more than a decade. He wasn’t arrested again until 1952, by which time he had become a prescription drug addict and petty thief. He and a juvenile were caught stealing a box of candy from the back of a truck, but Vincent’s sentence was suspended so that he could go to the federal hospital at Lexington, Kentucky, for the narcotics cure. The treatment was not a success. Two years later, Vincent was charged with larceny and forgery after he stole a doctor’s prescription book and forged his signature in order to buy narcotics from a pharmacist. A few years after that, Vincent was arrested in his home just ten minutes after he broke into a pharmacy on North Mill street and stole eight bottles of medicine and some hypodermic needles.
Vincent voluntarily submitted to another course of treatment at the federal hospital in Kentucky, but absconded within a month and returned to New Castle, where he was arrested a few days later in a south side drugstore.
The judge told Vincent that by absconding he had violated the terms of his suspended sentence and he would be sent to the Western penitentiary. Vincent begged to be sent back to hospital and said he would kill himself rather than go to prison. That night, Vincent broke a light bulb in his cell in the city jail and used the shards to slash the back of his neck and his wrists. A doctor was called to treat his wounds and he was taken to the penitentiary the next morning. He survived his sentence and came home to New Castle in the mid-1960s.
In August 1971, Vincent’s neighbors on Sciota street called the police to say they hadn’t seen him for some time. Vincent was found in his home, where he had died of a heart attack five days before. He was sixty-seven years old.Sources: New Castle News (4 July 1929, “Caught With Liquor; Assessed $25 Fine”; 4 March 1930, “Returns Are Made By Grand Jury In Cases At Court”; 4 March 1931, “Port Is Indicted On Arson Charge”; 13 June 1934, “Held On Charge Of Suspicion”; 24 Sep 1934, “Automobile Theft Case Being Tried”; 7 Oct 1937, “Two Punished By Mayor”; 25 Nov 1952, “Arrested For Theft”; 5 Feb 1953, “Prisoners Sentenced”; 29 Oct 1954, “Hold DeLillo For Court On Charges”; 6 Sep 1962, “Pharmacy Hit, Man Is Charged”; 19 Oct 1962, “Man Apprehended”; 11 August 1971, “Deaths Of The Day”)
Earl Phillips was married by twenty, separated by twenty-one and divorced by twenty-three. In February 1959 he and Jim Nelson were fined $10 after they were found drunk, stripped to the waist and fighting on East Washington street at 4 o’clock in the morning; in April 1959 he was beaten by three unidentified men on Kurtz street, near the Morella dairy bar; and in March 1961 he was involved in a fist fight with Patsy DeFrank in Dempsey’s bar on East Washington street.
The incident involving assault and battery that resulted in his mug shot being taken in 1958, when he was twenty-four, is not recorded.Sources: New Castle News (2 July 1955, “Notice”; 9 April 1957, “On Court House Hill”; 3 Feb 1959, “On Court House Hill”; 21 April 1959, stub; 30 March 1961, “Counter-Charges Filed”