John Vinkovich bought a watch from Arthur Meek’s jewellery store with a forged check. Meek described him to the police, who picked him up later that day. He admitted to forgeries in eight other towns in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky—he had signed all the bad checks with his own name—and to having crossed state lines in a car he had stolen in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The court handed him over to the federal authorities.
John had grown up in Uniontown, south of Pittsburgh. When he was nineteen, he was charged with a morals offence—indecent exposure, molestation or rape. The following week, he married his fiancé, Gertrude. One morning six weeks later, he told her he was going to work, left the house and never came home. She divorced him on grounds of desertion.
The towns where John had defrauded shopkeepers took turns locking him up. He spent the next two years serving short sentences in a succession of jails. When he was finally free, in 1952, he went to Rockford, Illinois, where he got work as a labourer. On the tenth of July, he was sent to measure a water tank, ninety-four feet above the ground, prior to painting it. His steel measuring tape was caught by the wind and carried across a high tension line below him. In the instant before the tape disintegrated, twenty-seven thousand volts shot through John’s body. He fell from the tank, striking a board fence gate before hitting the concrete, dead. He was twenty-nine years old.Sources: Connellsville Daily Courier (14 Sep 1943, “Committed To Jail”; 15 Jan 1947, “Divorces Granted County Wives”); Uniontown Morning Herald, 11 Feb 1946, “3 Divorce Libels Instituted Here”; Lima News, 6 Oct 1949, “Check Passer Hunted, Nicks 2 Stores for $83”; Mansfield News Journal, 10 Dec 1949, “Report 4th Bad Check”; New Castle News, 2 Feb 1950, “Get Sentences On Wednesday”; Janesville Daily Gazette (25 Oct 1950, “Extradite Man From Kentucky”; 16 Nov 1950, “Exams Ordered In Fraud Case”; 10 March 1951, “Leaves Jail Here, Taken To Rockford On Check Charges”);Racine Journal Times, 10 July 1952, “Man Killed In Fall From J I Case Water Tank”.
Luigi Ritorto left Italy when he was ten years old and spent the next eighteen years in Buenos Aires. In 1909, he took a boat to America, where immigration officials registered him as Louis Retort. He got a job in the Union limestone quarry in New Castle and married Rose Pacella. She had two sons already. By 1930, when those boys died in an explosion in a gasoline store that they were robbing—their few remains were buried in a shared casket—eight more children had been added to the household, including Carl, the youngest.
Carl grew up working on the family’s small farm. He was drafted in June, 1944, just after he turned eighteen. His brother, Harry, was shot on the first day of the Normandy invasion, six weeks later. It took him three days to die.
Carl survived the war. He was arrested in a New Castle bank in 1950, when he tried to cash an unsigned federal bond. He was released when he was able to prove that he had been given the bond by a man who owed him money. He moved to Cleveland not long after. His visits home were marked by occasional arrests for drunk driving and minor motor accidents.
Luigi Ritorto died in Miami in 1956, at the age of seventy-five. Carl Retort died there in 2008. He was eighty-two years old.Sources: New Castle News (22 Feb 1930, “Find Bodies In Ruins”; 23 Feb 1930, “Two Caskets Are Used For Four Victims Of Fire”; 26 Sep 1944, “Edenburg”; 5 Nov 1948, “Pvt Harry Retort Funeral Monday”; 18 Feb 1950, “Bond Results In Arrest Of Two”; 23 June 1951, “Two Sentences”; 23 Jan 1956, “Three Arraigned For March Term”; 17 Oct 1956, “Deaths Of The Day”).