Late at night on the last Sunday in November 1930, as flurries of snowflakes as big as half dollars fell from the sky (but failed to lie as the streets were too wet), Patrolman Richards noticed a broken ground-floor window in the HG Preston Wholesale building on Grove street. He called in his suspicion that there had been a break-in and two more officers were sent out to join him.
The three policemen walked around the outside of the building to find signs of entry. A man came out of a side door and ran off past the JJ Dean grocery. They shot at him, but he kept running. Inside, they discovered John Dagres—known around town as John the Greek—hiding behind an iron beam. He gave himself up and was taken to the station, where he made a full confession.
Some days previously, John had met a man called George Leasure in Lowellville, Ohio, a village between New Castle and Youngstown. They had agreed to come to New Castle to hold up a service station on the east side, but had changed their plan, deciding instead to rob the wholesale warehouse. They had carried two large boxes of cigarettes to the west doorway and were about to take them to Leasure’s car when Leasure saw the police and ran off, leaving John trapped in the building.
Leasure was arrested later that night. The house he rented was empty, so the police went to his brother’s house, where he was found hiding in bed with his brother’s three children.
Both men pleaded guilty to breaking and entering and larceny and were sent to the Western penitentiary—John for eighteen months to six years; Leasure, who had a prior conviction for burglary in 1924, for five to ten years.
John served less than his maximum sentence and by 1935 he was an employee of the JJ Dean grocery—located on Grove street, next door to the HG Preston building where he had been arrested. In November that year, he was arrested again on a charge of larceny, but no record remains of who was robbed or what was stolen.
There is no further record of John after he was sentenced to ten months in the Allegheny county workhouse in 1944. Three years later, during a particularly violent September storm, the HG Preston building was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The JJ Dean building lasted another sixteen years before it burned down in unexplained circumstances.Sources: New Castle News (1 Dec 1930, “Arrest Two On Robbery Charge”, “Pa Newc Observes”; 3 Dec 1930, “Men Plead Guilty Before Alderman”; 6 Dec 1930, “Leasure Given 5 to 10 Years On Larceny Charge”; 24 June 1944, “Sentence Court”; 2 Sep 1947, “Loss Of Half Million In Wholesale Grocery Fire, Due To Lightning”; 26 Oct 1964, “Flames Gut JJ Dean Grocery Store Building”).
In 1789, a revolutionary war veteran named Andrew Nye, the son of a German immigrant who had left Europe forty years before, bought four hundred acres of land on the banks of the Connoquenessing creek and set up a farm, where he lived with his wife, a dozen or so children, a horse, three or four cows and a yoke of oxen. Later generations of his family spoke of him as the first white settler within the bounds of the present Lawrence County, which might well be true.
New Castle was founded a decade later, some miles to the north of Andrew’s farm. By 1851, it had gathered a population of a few thousand people, including Andrew’s grandson, Thomas, who lived in a log cabin on New Castle’s main square. The Nye family continued to clear the land around the Connoquenessing, creating fertile farms that, towards the end of the century, were sold off piece by piece to private developers and industrial concerns who were involved in the creation of the new conurbation of Ellwood City. Some parts of the family grew rich; others did not.
Nathaniel Nye—the great-great-grandson of Andrew Nye—died in 1914, leaving his three children orphans. They were placed in the care of an old farming friend of the family, who was named executor of Nathaniel Nye’s estate and proceeded to sell the remainder of the land that he had owned. What became of the money is unknown but by 1929 at least one of Nathaniel Nye’s children, Frank, then twenty-six years old, was a homeless drifter.
As a teenager, he had spent more than two years in the Morganza reformatory for his delinquent and vicious behaviour. He went to work in a tin factory in New Castle, then joined the navy, spending two terms in the Portsmouth navy yard. After his discharge, he returned to the city, took a room in a hotel and started to look around for something to do.
On a Monday morning in December 1929, Frank was loitering in New Castle’s main square—within a few hundred yards of the site of Thomas Nye’s log cabin, long vanished—when he met a man called Edward Harris. By the end of their conversation, Frank had revealed that he owned a pistol, Edward had replied that he possessed a blackjack, bought for $1 from a Negro in Pittsburgh, and the two men had agreed to work together.
They spent a couple of hours going from store to store, trying to find a suitable prospect before settling on a South Jefferson street clothing store that was run by Louis Ruzewich, a man in his sixties.
The next day, just before six o’clock in the evening, Frank and Edward entered the store and Edward immediately struck Ruzewich on the head with his blackjack. The blow failed to down Ruzewich, who broke free as Harris grabbed for him and ran out into the street, locking the door behind him.
His shouts attracted a crowd of people, who gathered around the store’s front and rear entrances. When Frank worked out how to unlock the door and tried to leave, Charles Chirazzi, who owned the barbershop across the street, pretended to reach for a gun in his rear pocket and told the men to stay in the store. Frank backed off and hid his revolver under a pile of clothes while he waited for the police to arrive.
Officer McMullen was the first on the scene. Frank gave himself up and allowed himself to be handcuffed. Edward was discovered hiding under a counter in the storeroom and also gave up without a struggle.
Frank and Edward were charged with carrying concealed weapons, entering a building with intent to commit a felony and felonious assault and battery. They were sentenced to two to four years in the Western penitentiary at Rockiew, where Frank was given a job as a mail clerk. Six months later, Frank was ordered to deliver a package from the mail office to the main office outside the stockade. On his way out, he stole a suit of civilian clothes and a hat from a changing room and kept walking. He was never heard of again.Sources: New Castle News (24 Nov 1922, “Local Boy Is Sent To Morganza School”; 13 Sep 1929, “Foil Store Hold-Up”; 14 Dec 1929, “Steve Garlich Indicted For Markota Murder”; 7 Dec 1929, “Pleas Are Entered; Sentences Passed”; 30 June 1930, “Man Sentenced Makes Escape”); Altoona Mirror, 3 July 1930, “Local Man Walks Off From Rockview Prison”; Nye family website main-family.com/nye/index.htm.
Ralph Largo’s younger brother, Frank, had spent time in Huntingdon reformatory for larceny and had been arrested in the company of Vincent DeLillo, an incorrigible drug addict and thief, a few years before. He was on trial for living off a prostitute’s earnings—taking bawd money—and adultery. The prosecution’s case relied on the evidence of a young woman named Josephine Coloa, who was perhaps the prostitute in question.
Ralph arranged to meet Josephine for a drink at the Streamline café, then took her to the Rendezvous café, on the corner of Long and Moravia avenues—”Live Lobsters, As You Like Them! Chop Suey! All Food Prepared By Real Italian Chef, Big Sam Filippo!”—where he forced her to sign a statement that would clear his brother. He told her to stay off the streets and warned her he would kill her if she showed her face.
Josephine’s signed statement was read out in court, and Frank Largo was cleared of the first charge, although the jury found him guilty of adultery. (Frank’s wife divorced him the following year—1941—and a few months later he joined a government construction crew that was working to rebuild Pearl harbor. In 1946, he took part in a string of safe-cracking jobs and was sent to the Allegheny County workhouse for two years.) Ralph was arrested and charged with hindering and interfering with a witness. His trial took place before the first all woman jury in the history of the court house, which found him guilty. The judge sentenced him to time served (two months) and costs. On his failure to pay the costs, he was given a further six months in the county jail.
Ralph worked in the United Engineering and Foundry Co plant but was fired in 1942. He claimed he had been victimised for his union activities; his supervisor said he had been discharged for being an inefficient worker.
There is no further record of his life, apart from a handwritten note on the reverse of his mug shot, which reads, “Deceased Jan 1968”.Sources: New Castle News (5 Dec 1933, “Miller Sent To Huntingdon”; 13 June 1934 “Held On Charge Of Suspicion”; 18 May 1940, “Surety Of Peace Charge”; 5 June 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 13 June 1940, “All Woman Jury Serves At Court”; 17 June 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 17 Aug 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 23 Aug 1940, “Heavy Fines For Two Numbers Men”; “11 Feb 1942, “Personal Mention”; 24 Nov 1943, “News On Court House Hill”; 24 June 1947, “Sentence Seven In Safe-Cracking Robberies Here”).
The man who crashed into two cars on Hiram way on 8 November 1936 told the other drivers his name was Charles McCombs, then drove a few blocks to Ray street before abandoning the car. At that moment, however, Charles McCombs was at the police station reporting that his car had been stolen.
The damaged car was returned to Mr McCombs. The thief was never caught—at least, not in connection with that crime. The only recorded fact about him is that he knew the name of the man whose car he had taken.
Five years later, a car belonging to a man from Grove City was stolen in New Castle. It was found in the possession of Mr McCombs’ son, Clyde, a thirty-two year old carpenter, who was charged with larceny of an auto. If it occurred to anyone that Clyde was evidently not only capable of stealing a car but was also someone who would have known the name of the owner of the stolen car in 1936, the thought was not acted upon. Clyde protested his innocence and was released; the case never came to court.
The car from Grove City was stolen the night before the attack on Pearl harbor. Clyde was drafted in time for the invasion of Normandy and spent two years in the Quartermaster Corps, supplying petroleum to troops in France and Germany, before returning to New Castle. He took up carpentry again and did some general contracting. He and his wife, Rose, had three sons.
In 1975, he was driving over the Division street intersection towards the car wash when he blacked out for a moment and drove straight into a Pennsylvania Power Company pole on the sidewalk. The police took him to the hospital, where they informed him he had caused $800-worth of damage and cited him for driving without a licence.
Clyde had head injuries, a broken hip and internal bleeding. He went into shock before the operation on his hip and died five days later. He was sixty-five years old.Sources: New Castle News (9 Nov 1936, “Stolen Automobile Involved In Crash”; 16
Dec 1941, “Charge Preferred”; 25 June 1975, “County Report”; 26 June 1975, “Auto
Accident Victim Remains In St Francis”; 30 June 1975, “Deaths Of The Day”; 30
June 1975, “Accident Injuries Kill Man”)