Small-time true crime from New Castle, Pa.

Joseph Copple, “Armed Robbery”, 15 November 1946

Joseph Copple

Joseph Copple left school just as the depression hit New Castle. In 1934, after years without a job, he was arrested for stealing and stripping automobiles and spent a short time in jail. In 1942, when the war reopened some of the factories, he got work in Johnson Bronze. Later that year, he was sentenced to three months for failure to support his wife. As he was led from the courtroom, he looked back and said, “Someone will pay for this.” The judge had him brought back in and added three months to the sentence. When he got out, he was drafted. He spent the next three years in the army.

A few months after he came home from the war, Joseph was picked up for the armed robbery of the R M Barnes clothing store on Liberty street. The day before, two men had entered the store and asked to look at some socks. When Barnes turned to get them down from the shelf, one of the men pressed a pistol into his back and said, “This is a stick-up.” They forced him into his office at the rear of the store and held him at gun point while they rifled his cash drawer and pockets. They left with $862, driving off in a dark sedan.

Barnes said Joseph had been the man with the gun. Joseph said he had nothing to do with it. He spent a month in jail before his trial. The jury spent two days trying to reach a verdict before finding him innocent.

Two years later, Joseph was arrested for robbery, assault and battery and receiving stolen goods. Wilbert German, a former soldier who worked in Youngstown Sheet and Tube, had been out drinking and had accepted the offer of a ride home from a man named Gerald Hanna. On the outskirts of town, Hanna stopped the car and a man who had been hiding in the back seat—identified in court as Joseph—attacked German and took his wallet, which contained his weekly pay.

At the trial, the DA told the jury that Joseph was a criminal type who had never been able to hold a steady job because he was simply too lazy to work. Joseph lost his head. The sheriff took him back to his cell. Joseph told the sheriff that the DA had made him mad when he called him lazy. He wasn’t lazy. He had robbed Wilbert German. That proved that the DA was wrong, as no one who was as lazy as the DA said he was would have gone through with the job.

The sheriff took the confession to the DA. Joseph was sentenced to two to four years in the Alleghenny workhouse.

After his release, Joseph moved to Weirton, West Virginia. He died there in 1984, at the age of sixty-nine.

Sources: New Castle News (3 March 1926, “Missing Boy Found”; 3 August 1934, “Sixty Eight Go To CCC Camp”; 19 November 1934, “Arrest Two More In Car Vandalism”; 20 November 1934, “Not This Copple”; 29 October 1937, “Accept 63 for CCC Service”; 10 October 1942, “Sentence Court”; 6 July 1943, “More City Men Enter Service”; 25 September 1943, “Information Please”; 18 November 1946, “Charge Is Made Against Man In Daylight Holdup”; 19 November 1946, “Copple Pleads Innocent Today”; 25 November 1946, “Copple Ordered Held For Court”; 11 December 1946, “Copple On Trial In Robbery Case”; 12 December 1946, “Copple Case Is Now With Jury”; 13 December 1946, “Joseph Copple Freed By Jury”; 26 February 1948, “Charge Pair Robbed Man In Auto; Then Dumped Him Out”; 13 March 1948, “Copple Admits Jury Was Right”; 16 March 1948, “Court Adds Time To Sam Sentence”).

3 responses

  1. A brilliant history you have uncovered!

    March 5, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    • Thanks, KG. You’ve got to feel sorry for him, haven’t you? We have two recorded instances of situations in which an unwise outburst got him in extra trouble — how many other times in his life must it have happened? Poor guy…

      March 5, 2013 at 9:32 pm

      • I agree. I thought he may have had a mental illness, given his rash outbursts.

        March 6, 2013 at 9:21 pm

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