Jimmy Pasta made his money running illegal numbers games. He called himself a bill collector. He was arrested from time to time on gambling-related charges, staying out of jail by paying hundreds of dollars in fines. Just after three o’clock on the nineteenth of September, 1940, he was sitting in his car in Ellwood City when he saw the chief of police, Ernest Hartman, stop a car on the bridge over the Connoquenessing creek and open fire with his Tommy-gun when three men got out holding revolvers. One of the men fell to the ground and was dragged back into the car by the other two. They drove off while Hartman was re-loading his gun.
An off-duty police officer, Ed Shaffer, got into Jimmy’s car and told him to follow the men. He did what he was told.
Earlier that month, three ex-convicts who had met in Rockview penitentiary—Virgil Evarts, Albert Feelo and Kenneth Palmer—broke into Rohrer’s gun store in New Castle and stole twenty revolvers, five rifles and dozens of boxes of ammunition. They had already robbed an insurance office in Farrel of $400, and planned to use the guns in a series of heists in small banks across western Pennsylvania.
On the day Jimmy saw them, they had held up a bank in Harrisville, twenty miles east of New Castle, making off with around $2,300. Police in the surrounding towns had been told to look out for their car, a black 1939 Buick club coupe. They had driven south through Ellwood City, where the chief of police had been waiting with his Tommy-gun. All three were wounded by Hartman. Evarts was the least badly hurt, with just two bullets in his chest. Palmer was wounded in both legs. Feelo’s spine was shattered and his lungs were punctured. His legs were torn up.
Fifteen miles out of town, their car ran off the road. Evarts stopped a passing car and forced the driver and his passenger out. Feelo and Palmer were being moved into the new car when Jimmy and Shaffer, both unarmed, drew up. Evarts ordered them at gunpoint to help them carry the wounded men.
Later that day, Jimmy told a reporter what happened next. “They said all seven of us couldn’t ride in that old car. I’ve read enough gangster stories to be plenty scared by that.” He saw Evarts put the rifle on Palmer’s lap and walk around to the driver’s side. “The car was between us and I figured it was now or never. I grabbed the gun from Palmer and pointed it at Evarts. He made a move like he was going for a gun and I fired through the window at him. He fell over the hill. Then I climbed down the hill where Evarts was moving, trying to get up. I hit him over the head with the gun and he passed out.”
He returned to the road to find that Shaffer had found a wrench and had beaten Palmer over the head until he was unconscious. The chief of police arrived in time to disarm Feelo, who was weakly trying to raise a revolver to shoot.
Evarts died when Jimmy hit him. His skull caved in. Feelo died in the hospital a day later. Palmer was sent back to Rockview penitentiary.
Jimmy was given a plaque and a gold Gruen wristwatch, which never ran. He took it to the jewelers to be repaired, but they said there was nothing wrong with it. He kept the plaque, but got rid of the watch.
Jimmy eventually quit running numbers. He became a sales manager for a furniture store and was elected head of Ellwood City’s Sons of Italy lodge, a post he held for most of the sixties. He died in 1991, at the age of seventy-five.Sources: New Castle News (17 August 1933, “Virigela To Box New Kensington Boy”; 8 October 1938, “Sentences Passed At Court Session”; 15 march 1940, “’Numbers’ Cause Arrest Of Two”; 1 April 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 16 September 1942, “Police Hunt Bandit Pair In Downtown Holdup”; 20 September 1942, “Second Bank Bandit Dies”; 22 September 1942, “Palmer Under Special Guard”; 24 August 1955, “Area Optimists Will Meet Here”; 21 March 1961, “Pasta heads SOI”; 25 February 1963, “James Pasta SOI Venerable”).
Sylvester Newton’s family farmed land by the Shenango for a century until it was sold for industrial development. Sylvester’s father went to work in the new tinplate mill. He stayed there almost forty years, until the depression shut it down.
Sylvester worked in the tinplate mill, too, except when he was sent to Europe in the first world war. He divorced his first wife on the grounds of cruel and barbarous treatment. The following year, he married someone else. They had a son; Sylvester’s only child.
In 1938, when he was forty-three, Sylvester was arrested for malicious mischief and eventually sentenced to three to six years in the Western penitentiary for statutory rape. It was an unusually long sentence for the crime, but no newspaper reported the details of the trial. He received a pardon after two years.
Sylvester’s second wife divorced him in 1947 and his son died ten years later, crushed to death in a press machine that started up when he was making adjustments inside it.
In the early hours of a November morning in 1970, Sylvester parked his truck on the side of the highway that passes through South Beaver township and had just started to cross the road when he was hit by a car driven by a teenage girl and killed instantly. He was seventy-five years old.Sources: New Castle News (2 November 1918 , “Twenty Men Are Called”; 28 July 1922, “Large Number Of Local Persons On Same Job Over 20 Years”; 20 October 1924, “Divorce Is Granted To Sylvester Newton”; 22 March 1932, “Deaths Of The Day”; 27 May 1939, “Sentences Passed In County Court”; 24 July 1941, “Paroles Granted Four Lawrence County Youths”; 17 November 1947, “Divorce Notice”; 30 April 1957 , “Mesta Worker Dies Instantly In Accident”; 23 November 1970, “Ex-Local Man Killed by Auto”).
Angelo Pegnato was one of a gang of safe-crackers and burglars—most of whom, like Angelo’s brother, Frank, had fought in the war—who were arrested in March, 1947, after stealing thousands of dollars from businesses in town.
They took almost $4,000 from the Strouss-Hirshberg department store, and $3,360 in cash and $6,250 in war bonds from the Rick’s Motor Car office. Smaller sums were taken from Lebo’s clothing store, the Lincoln-Garfield school, the Lawrence laundry, Exide Battery and Star Lumber. They broke into safes in Fisher’s furniture store and Marchaletta’s hardware store, but found no money.
One of the gang, Sammy Sams, implicated an apparently innocent man—Leonard D’Antonio—in the crimes, which led to a lengthy series of court appearances and legal complications. Angelo avoided all that by pleading guilty at once. He got a year in jail.
Six years later, he was charged with unlawful participation in a riot and aggravated assault and battery after he and five companions beat a police officer at a roadside café. (The fight had come to an end when the officer shot one of the men in the foot, amputating a toe.)
There is no further record of Angelo’s life. He died, at the age of sixty-three, in 1983.Sources: New Castle News (7 June 1947, “Enter Pleas In Safe Cracking”; 22 September 1953, “Bartoshek Waives Case Into Court”; 23 September 1953, “Indictments Are Returned”).
The Commodore Grill on East Washington street stayed open all night serving food and alcohol to shift workers at the mills. After prohibition, it switched to coffee but those who wanted a real drink could still get one as long as they spoke to Elmo Clarke, who boarded in the rooms above the restaurant.
On 24 July 1930, Eugene Sullivan entered, shouting loudly that he wanted a pencil to write a check. It was 2.30 in the morning. There were four customers in the bar. Eugene had been thrown out of the Commodore a few times for fighting, and had been sent to jail twice in the previous year: once for brawling in the hot-dog place down the block; and once for stealing chickens.
He went upstairs to the toilet, which was where customers went to buy liquor. Elmo Clarke, sitting at a table with a couple of men from the travelling carnival, saw Eugene go upstairs but didn’t follow him. He and Eugene had had a falling out over money.
Eugene waited in the toilet for twenty minutes, then came downstairs. He cursed at the carnival men and tried to pick a fight with another customer.
Abraham Nader, the owner of the bar, took Eugene by the arm and said, “You can’t start trouble in my place.” He led him to the door.
When they stepped outside, Eugene punched Abraham in the mouth. Abraham grabbed the window frame to steady himself and Eugene punched him again. His head hit the brick wall and he fell across the doorway of the pet shop next door, cracking his skull on the sidewalk. He would die in the hospital a few hours later. He had left his home in Mount Lebanon, Syria, when he was a young man and had run the Commodore for twenty years. He was fifty-one years old.
Eugene ran off towards the YMCA. Johnny Nader, Abraham’s son, caught him and knocked him to the ground. He took hold of his throat and punched him in the face until Elmo Clarke pulled him off.
Eugene was charged with murder. It turned out that, for over a month, a warrant had been out for his arrest in connection with the rape of an underage girl in Neshannock township, resulting in pregnancy, but the constables in New Castle had made no great effort to serve the papers. The parents of the girl told the police that, if Eugene had been arrested on that charge, Abraham Nader would not have been killed.
Eugene was indicted for murder and found guilty of manslaughter. He served two years. Three months after his release, he and another man were arrested following some trouble in the old Post Office building on South Mercer street. They were charged with being drunk and suspicious.
There is no further record of Eugene’s life. He died at the age of seventy-five, in 1979.Sources: New Castle News (24 July 1930, “Fight In Lunch Room Early Today Ends In Death Of A J Nader”; 25 July 1930, “Says Constables Derelict To Duty In Sullivan Case”; 28 July 1930, “Coroner’s Jury Finds Sullivan Cause Of Death”; 24 September 1930, “Sullivan Is Found Guilty”; 11 January 1933, “Two Men Arrested Following Trouble”).
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”).
Sidney Fell and William Dugan were arrested for engaging in an act of sodomy in an empty office on the fifth floor of the Greer building on North Mercer street. They had been discovered after occupants of the building, on the look-out for a thief who had stolen $17 from a secretary’s wallet the day before, had noticed the two men loitering suspiciously in the corridors.
Sidney ran a window-cleaning business; William was a manual laborer and petty criminal who had been arrested the year before for assaulting Sidney in his home and robbing him of $55. (He had been released when Sidney had withdrawn his complaint and declined to press charges.) They were sentenced to four to eight months in the county jail.
Sidney’s parents were Austrian Jews. His father, Herman, had arrived in New Castle in 1905 and became the town’s first window-washing contractor; his mother, much younger than Herman, died of a year-long illness a few days after Sidney’s first birthday.
Sidney ran away from home when he was sixteen. He took a train to Chicago and another to Omaha, Nebraska, where he was accepted by a home for troubled or neglected children that had recently been made famous by a film called Boys Town, starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney, which played at the Penn theater when Sidney was fourteen, and had been featured in a long Joe Palooka comic strip storyline that ran in the New Castle News the year before he left town.
Around two hundred boys lived in the orphanage, including the youngest bank robber on record and a boy who had killed his father. Sidney liked it a lot. He stayed there for two years before returning to New Castle when he turned eighteen. He moved back in with his father and his older brother and cleaned windows for a year until America entered the war and he and his brother were drafted. Sidney went into the marines and spent two years handling mail in the South Pacific; his brother, Emanuel, went into the army and took part in the invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Holland before being killed in an ambush outside Bastogne, in Belgium—the same incident in which Frank Bullano earned his bronze star.
Sidney’s father’s death from a heart attack, ten years after the end of the war, left Sidney, at forty, all alone in New Castle and the sole owner of the family business. From that point on, he became ever more involved in the New Castle Playhouse, the town’s largest amateur dramatics company. He started out as a supporting actor but ended up taking lead roles and staging ambitious productions of Broadway shows.
In May, 1963, Sidney produced the New Castle Playhouse’s version of Guys and Dolls. The drama critic of the New Castle News gave it a positive review, but remarked that the players appeared confused, that it was difficult to identify with the characters, that people entered and left the stage too early or too late and that the lights and curtains were operated rather poorly. Sidney wrote the following letter in response.
“Dear Sir, I believe your so-called drama critic is grossly unfair. His review of our opening night last Thursday was too severe. Who does he think we are? We are only amateurs and we will be the first to admit it. We feel there are not enough community efforts in our city and without us and people like us this area would have even less community activities to express creative talent. I think this show is the liveliest and funniest show of the year and if you doubt either your drama critic or myself, come to the Playhouse and you will see which of us is right.”
The editor accepted the invitation. He had a good time, as Sidney had known that he would.
In the late sixties, Sidney set up the Drawing Room Players, which he billed as the experimental wing of the Playhouse. He used it to produce uncommercial plays by lesser known playwrights that would not otherwise be performed in New Castle. Its productions earned Sidney the best reviews of his theatrical career, with the New Castle News calling him “tremendously talented” and declaring his works to be a triumph.
Sidney died in July, 2007, at the age of eighty-three. William Dugan—who, it turned out, had been the thief who had stolen the secretary’s $17, thereby alerting the office workers to the presence of suspicious characters in the building and inadvertently bringing about the arrest of Sidney and himself—was arrested in 1974 for beating his son unconscious as a punishment for coming home drunk. There is no further record of his life.Sources: New Castle News (6 April 1925, “Deaths Of The Day”; 14 November 1930, “Window Washer Falls Into Creek”; 16 Dec 1940, “News Briefs From City Hall”; 30 Aug 1943, “In US Armed Service”; 15 Jan 1945, “Pvt Emanuel Fell Killed In Belgium”; 11 Aug 1955, “Seventy Two Win Drivers Permits”; 31 Oct 1955, “Deaths Of The Day”; 21 Aug 1959, “Barn Players In Rehearsals”; 9 May 1959, “Robbery Suspect Held By Police”; 11 May 1959, “Man Released After Charges Are Dropped”; 13 Aug 1960, “Face Morals Charges”; 15 Aug 1960, “Plead Innocent”; 6 Dec 1960, “Jury Returns 6 True Bills”; 18 Feb 1961, “Court Imposes 19 Sentences”; 17 May 1963, “First Nighters See Guys, Dolls”; 23 May 1963, “The People Write”; 5 Aug 1968, “The People Write”; 10 July 1968, “’A Raisin In The Sun’ Called Triumph For Local Talent”; 22 Jun 1970, “Boys Town Director Tells Father’s Role In Family”; 29 April 1974, “North Hill Man Charged In Son’s Beating”).
Jack Boles, a veteran of the Spanish-American war, was the janitor in the Winters block on East street. He turned seventy-one in June, 1946, and invited the residents of the block to his apartment to help him celebrate. He and Herman Robertson, an unemployed man who lived downstairs, walked to the Produce street liquor store to buy whiskey and wine and brought it back to the building. The party went on all evening, until Jack and Herman started arguing and shoving each other. They ended up in a running scuffle through every room in the apartment, which led them out onto the balcony at the rear. Herman stumbled into Jack. Jack went over the banister and fell twenty feet to the ground below, cracking his skull open. Herman went back to his own apartment, where he was arrested later that night.
Jack died in the hospital the next day. Herman pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was given a $100 fine and six months in the county jail.
Herman had a young family at the time. One of his sons, Thomas, went on to become a sergeant in the air force. Another, Paul, became a petty criminal, and was arrested for robbing the East street market and the Produce street liquor store, among other places.
Herman died in 1964, at the age of seventy.Sources: New Castle News (17 June 1946, “East St Man Killed In Fall”; 20 June 1946, “Name Involuntary Manslaughter In Jack Boles Death”; 28 Sept 1946, “Destruction Day At Court House”; 27 June 1954, “Robertson Promoted To Sergeant Ranking”; 7 May 1956, “Police Solve Odd April 13 Hit-And-Run”; 7 June 1956, “Police Hold 2 In East St Market Theft”; 18 April 1959, “Man Pleads Guilty To Burglary Charge”; 3 October 1964, “Death Record”).
After serving in the Pennsylvania Volunteers for less than a year, Isaac Hillkirk was captured by the Confederate army in the battle of Plymouth, in 1864. The hundred or so former slaves who had fought alongside his regiment were executed on the spot. Isaac and the other white captives were sent to a prison camp in Andersonville, Georgia, where tens of thousands of Union soldiers were held in a few acres of marshy ground, surrounded by a stockade. Twelve thousand died in little over a year from starvation, dysentery and hookworm. Isaac spent eight months there. When the war ended, he returned to Pennsylvania and set up home in Mercer, twenty miles north of New Castle, where he lived for the rest of his life. He died in 1920, when his grandson, Floyd Hillkirk, was eleven years old.
By the end of the decade, Floyd was an apprentice in the Cooper-Bessemer diesel engine plant in Grove City. He lost his driving license when he was twenty-one, after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Two years later, when Mildred Shaffer, the eighteen-year-old girl he was dating, asked for a ride into New Castle to visit her sister, Floyd had to ask his friend, Lowry Conner, to drive them in his car. Mildred sat on Floyd’s lap on the front seat; another girl, Mildred’s friend, sat between them and Lowry. About seven miles from town, Lowry lost control of the car on a corner near the Shady Grove inn. It left the road and overturned in a field. Everyone got out with only minor cuts and scrapes apart from Mildred, who split her skull. She died in the New Castle hospital twenty days later. The inquest apportioned no blame to any of the survivors.
Floyd got married when he was twenty-five and had two children. In 1956, he was arrested at North street and North Mercer street for drunk driving, an offence for which he had his mug shot taken and was fined $100. He later became a foreman in the machine shop of the Cooper-Bessemer plant, where he worked until he died, in 1970, at the age of sixty-one.Sources: New Castle News (21 July 1930, “Revoke Licenses Of Seventy Two Drunken Drivers”; 28 July 1932, “Three Injured In Auto Crash”; 8 July 1932, “Plans Inquest In Girl’s Death”; 4 Aug 1932, “Hold Inquest In Girl’s Death”); Floyd Hillkirk and Isaac Killkirk details via findagrave.com; “Black Flag Over Dixie”, Gregory J Urwin, Southern Illinois University, 2005; “The 101st Pennsylvania in the Civil War”, Harold B Birch, AuthorHouse, 2007.
Clyde Kennedy walked with a limp because of a woodcutting accident when he was ten. (He sank an axe into his right foot while chopping wood at the cement factory.) His grandfather, Ezekiel Sankey, had owned the land on which west New Castle was built and had been largely responsible for bringing the first railroad to the town after the canal was abandoned, His cousin, Ira Sankey, was a world-famous singing evangelist whose hymn books sold millions of copies and who travelled the globe raising money for Christian causes. Clyde worked in a machine shop.
Clyde’s wife, Marie, gave birth to four children before dying at the age of thirty-five. He never remarried. Three of his children moved to California; one moved to Kansas. Clyde retired in 1959 and died of a heart attack in a rented room two years later, at the age of sixty-seven.Sources: New Castle News (1 Aug 1894, “Three Score Years”; 4 Aug 1900, “Pioneer Citizen Is Called Away”; 6 April 1905, “Cut Foot Badly (sic) With Large Ax”; 8 Feb 1934, “Razed Landmark Was Sankey Home; 2 June 1937, “Deaths of the Day”; 30 Nov 1961, “Deaths Of The Day”; 30 April 1966, “Deaths Of The Day”).
A_____ P_____ was seventeen when he was arrested for stealing a car. It was the only time in his life he would trouble the police. He still lives in New Castle (hence the redaction of his name), and this November he will celebrate his ninety-fifth birthday by playing in his polka band in front of family, friends and invited guests.
And I’ll be there, too.
At the end of November, I’m travelling to New Castle with a documentary crew to film part of their documentary, American Mugshot. We have some interviews lined up with relatives of some of the people I’ve written about, but we’d like to talk to more, if possible.
So, do you know anyone you’ve read about on the blog? You don’t have to be related; we’d still like to talk to you about your memories of them—good or bad.
If you do, and you wouldn’t mind me asking you a few questions, let me know.
You can leave a comment on this post, or click here to send me an email.
Thanks, New Castle—see you soon!
Just after dark on the day after Christmas, 1958, the owner of the New Life Lunch on East Washington street called to a passing beat policeman that he needed help with an abusive customer. Paul Hostinsky had been drinking all afternoon and had caused a disruption when he was refused any more liquor. Officer Cubellis told Paul to get in a cab and leave. Paul kicked him in the balls. There was a scuffle. Paul ended up in jail with stitches in his scalp—the police reported that he had fallen while getting out of the patrol car at headquarters—and Officer Cubellis was signed off for a few days with pain in his groin.
Paul’s father—Paul Sr—died at the age of twenty-eight, when Paul was five. He and Paul’s mother had been separated for some time, and he was living in Donora, working in the zinc mill and occasionally getting in trouble with the police. Around 8 o’clock on a summer evening in 1930, police in Monessen, south of Pittsburgh, received a call that a drunk was causing a disturbance behind the Page plant. The man—Paul’s father—had removed his shirt and waded into the Monongahela river. He refused to go with the police when they called him. He shouted that he was a fighting marine (he had served in Europe in the first world war), that he was on government property and that if they wanted him they would have to come and get him. A lieutenant tried to grab him but he threw him into the river and waded out further until, suddenly, he dropped beneath the surface of the water and vanished.
The police waited on the bank. They were used to dealing with Paul Sr when he was drunk, and this would not be the first time he had tried to escape them by swimming across the river. But he stayed under. Searchers with grappling hooks pulled the body from the river the next morning. It was already black and swollen. The burial took place that afternoon.
Like his father, Paul Jr was arrested on drunk and disorderly charges every so often throughout his twenties, following his return home from the army. By 1975, when he was arrested for brawling in a YMCA, he was living in Erie. He died in West Virginia in 2003, at the age of seventy-eight.Sources: Beaver County Times, 27 December 1948, “Twelve Ambridge Men Are Inducted”; Lebanon Daily News, 12 Sep 1975, “3 Men In Melee Are Charged”; Monessen Daily Independent (7 July 1930, “Man Jumps Into River To Escape From Police”; 8 July 1930, “Recover Body Of Man Who Jumped Into River”); New Castle News (21 Nov 1958, “Two Arrested, Fined Today”; 27 Dec 1958, “Man Is Jailed After Scuffle”; 1 April 1961, “Man Beaten”; 4 June 1962, “Albert T Hupko Dies At Home”; 6 Sep 1972, “Deaths Of The Day”).
“Jack the Peeper” caused alarm in different parts of the city during the winter of 1894, spying on women in their homes and insulting them in the street. He was never caught. Every few years thereafter, another Jack the Peeper would be reported, among them a demented person seen running through people’s backyards in 1895; a rough-looking man who escaped by mingling with a group of Swedes who had been calling on a servant girl in the vicinity in 1896; a female Jack the Peeper in 1905; a figure wearing a police officer’s badge in 1912; and a prominent citizen, whose identity was protected by the press, in 1921.
The term was abandoned in the thirties. “Peeper” would suffice from then on.
There were four reports of peepers in 1945, all in the Croton district and the south side, and two arrests: Richard Watkins, the brother of Robert Watkins; and Lee Render, of whom there is no record other than his photograph.Sources: (12 Dec 1894, “Was Suspicious”; 24 April 1895, “Jack The Peeper”; 25 March 1896, “Jack The Peeper Again”; 12 June 1901, “Jack The Peeper”; 5 April 1905, “Jack The Peeper Busy On East Side; 17 Nov 1905, “Sixth Ward Maiden Jack The Peeper”; 3 Dec 1912, “Police Are After ‘Jack The Peeper’”; 28 Dec 1912, “Jack The Peeper Caught By Resident”; 1 May 1917, “Ralph Rotoli Is Sent To Workhouse”; 23 June 1920; “’Jack The Peeper’ At Work Again” 22 Dec 1920, “Jack The Peeper On Eastside Now”; 22 Dec 1920; “Jack The Peeper Caught”; 5 Dec 1921, “Jack The Peeper Is Reported Here”; 31 Dec 1921, “What Is The Idea Of Keeping Name Secret?”; 3 Jan 1922, “Jack The Peeper Is Put To Flight”; 23 March 1931, “’Peeper At Work On The East Side”; 24 Feb 1945, “Alert Officer Nabs Peeper, Chief Reports”; 26 April 1945, “Peeper Active”; 8 May 1945, “Fires At Peeper In Croton Section”.)
Howard Brown was a field gun ammunition handler in the battle for the Gothic line in 1944 and the advance into north Italy in 1945, campaigns that saw the deaths of more than one hundred and ten thousand soldiers. The war was over before he was twenty. By the time he was twenty-one, he was back in New Castle, with a job in the Lingerlight dairy, a wife and a baby daughter, whose birth moved him to compose a poem entitled, “My Thanks”, which was printed in the personals column of the New Castle News in November, 1947.“Our Father, who are in heaven above,
I want to thank you for your endowing love,
Of giving me a daughter, whom I love from,
The bottom of my heart.
Thru your wondrous grace and my devotion,
We shall never drift apart. “Each night I prayed to you for a daughter fair,
With skin so smooth, and soft silken hair,
A turned up nose and eyes of blue.
It all seems so hard to believe to be true. “Thank you God for sending this little angel,
Each time she smiles she shows,
A cute little dimple.
With two chubby little arms to hold me tight.
Oh dear God you know what is right.”
There is no further record of Howard’s life other than his arrest for driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor in 1949.Sources: New Castle News (2 Jun 1944, “In US Armed Service”; 7 Oct 1944, “Five Local Men Serve With 168th”; 7 Nov 1944, “In US Armed Service”; 29 Jul 1946, “Dorothy Sanis and Howard Brown Wed”; 22 Sep 1947, “Births”; 22 Nov 1947, “From Me To You”).
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”).
The police had been investigating a numbers racket for a month when Anderson Wise was arrested at the end of November, 1948, his pockets full of lottery slips and small change. He was released on $300 bail, which was confiscated in lieu of a fine when he failed to appear in court.
Anderson worked in a locomotive crane plant and lived in a small house on Levine way, near the Moravia street rail yards, with his wife, Dorothy, and seven children. In 1939, when Dorothy was six months pregnant—the child, Roosevelt, died before its first birthday—Anderson came home drunk, with only a small portion of his week’s pay. They argued, and Dorothy stabbed Anderson in the chest with a paring knife, just missing his heart. At her trial, Anderson said he had no hard feelings about the stabbing and did not hold it against her. She was a nervous type, he said, but had always been a good wife and mother. The court paroled her for two years.
In 1964, the police raided Anderson’s house and found a large quantity of current numbers plays. He claimed the tickets and slips belonged to someone else. He got ten days in jail and a $500 fine.
Anderson died in 1992, at the age of eighty-four.Sources: New Castle News (18 Nov 1939, “Pleas Are Entered; Sentences Passed”; 17 Sep 1941, “Deaths Of The Day”; 29 Nov 1948, “Numbers Arrest”; 30 Nov 1948, “Fails To Appear”; 6 June 1963, “Drops Casting On Foot”; 18 April 1964, “1 Arrested In Police Numbers Raid”; 20 June 1964, “34 Draw Court Sentences”).
Braily Muse was fifty-two years old when, in the early hours of Monday, the twenty-first of May, 1945, he was arrested for being drunk and disorderly. There is no record of his life before or after the event.
Braily’s picture is one of the hundred or so New Castle mug shots for which I haven’t been able to find a story, but I love it anyway—his torn cardigan; his ratty dreadlocks; the cataract in his left eye; the too-drunk-to-care grin. It’s hard to believe this was his only entanglement with the police, but, if there were more, they weren’t reported.
There are thousands of old American mug shots in circulation. (Why didn’t American law enforcement authorities send them to city or state archives, as happened everywhere else in the world? I have no idea.) Although reading Small Town Noir might lead you to think otherwise, it’s impossible to find out much about the lives of the people in most of them.
Probably the foremost collector of mug shots in the world is Mark Michaelson, who published a book called Least Wanted, which features hundreds of the best pictures from his collection. It’s an endlessly fascinating book, although hardly any facts are known about any of the people in the photographs. Such faces! After I bought it, I spent hours looking through it and wondering about the lives of the ordinary men and women he’d saved from total oblivion. That—and the excellent research work in Arne Svenson’s Prisoners, which reprints the newspaper stories associated with a collection of beautiful glass-plate mug shots from one small Californian town—was what sent me down the road that led to Small Town Noir.
Now, Mark and a documentary filmmaker named Dennis Mohr are making a film called American Mugshot, which explores the genre of mug shot photography and its impact on contemporary culture. I’d be excited about it anyway—because of the subject, obviously, but also because Dennis’s previous film, Disfarmer: A Portrait of America, was just great—but what’s particularly exciting (for me) is that they want a portion of the film to deal with Small Town Noir and my attempts to present an odd sort of social history of a particular place through the mug shots of its citizens, the idea being that they’ll film an interview with me on the streets of New Castle itself.
(There’s an interview with Mark Michaelson here, in which he talks about his obsession with mug shots and the documentary project.)
Of course, the film will happen only if they get funding. Which is why I’m writing this.
They’ve set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise cash to make the film. It will be active until the end of July, so head on over to check it out, and, more importantly, bring it to the attention of your weird, obscenely rich uncle who’s into vintage photography and documentary films and is desperate to do something with his masses of excess money. He’ll love it.
Benjamin Deiger’s father delivered candy for J B Nessie’s confectionery for more than fifty years. He started in 1904, making deliveries across Lawrence County by horse-drawn wagon. He switched to a truck in 1918, a year after Benjamin’s birth and a few months before his wife’s death from pneumonia. The truck was a great help, although he missed the horses.
When Benjamin grew up and left school, he got a job in the Red and White restaurant on Jefferson street—spaghetti ravioli a specialty—where he met a waitress named Julia Marsh. They were married when Benjamin was twenty. Benjamin got work in the East Brook quarry and served in the army during world war two. Julia took a job in a school cafeteria in Union township. They set up home in a good-sized family house off Croton avenue, but never had children to fill it.
In June, 1952—the month Julia turned forty—Benjamin got drunk and crashed his car into a factory wall. He walked home and reported it stolen. The police discovered it by the factory. On the dashboard, they found Benjamin’s false teeth, lying where they had landed when they had been knocked out of his mouth. When they expressed doubt that the thief had stolen Benjamin’s dentures as well as his car, Benjamin admitted his ruse. The story was reported by a news syndicate and appeared as a novelty item in papers across America under headlines like “Teeth Play Him False” and “False Teeth Talk Driver Into Trouble”. The New Castle News chose to ignore it entirely, just as it had ignored Benjamin’s arrest for disorderly conduct in 1947. He was a volunteer fireman, a Sunday school teacher, a cub scout leader, a youth counsellor and a war veteran. No one needed to read that kind of thing about him.
Benjamin spent the last years of his life as a trackman with the Penn-Central railroad. In 1968, when he was fifty-one, he had a heart attack while driving a track maintenance truck. He was able to pull off the road, out of the way of traffic, before he died. Julia was killed in a car crash four years later. She was buried beside Benjamin in Castle View cemetery.Sources: New Castle News (28 Oct 1918, “Deaths Of The Day”; 30 April 1937, “Red And White Restaurant”, advert; 21 Dec 1937, “Marsh-Deiger Wedding Takes Place Monday”; 18 Jan 1939, “Personal Mention”; 4 June 1943, “City Board One Men Are Listed”; 13 Feb 1947, “Delivers Candy For Same Company For 43 Years”; 3 April 1947, “Mayor Makes Police Report”; 3 Dec 1947, “Local Veterans Receive Medals”; 21 April 1952, “Cub Pack 21 Now Registered Here”; 24 Dec 1952, “Wesley Youth Sing Carols Over City”; 16 March 1965, “Deaths Of The Day”; 17 Sep 1968, “Deaths Of The Day”; 7 Oct 1972, “Deaths Of The Day”, “Two From City Killed In Crash”); Lowell Sun, 26 June 1952, “Teeth Play Him False”; Baytown Sun, 27 June 1952, “False Teeth Talk Driver Into Trouble”.
Before the war, Everett Eakin was the assistant superintendent of the Jordan game farm, east of New Castle, one of dozens of game farms that kept the woods stocked with birds for small-game season in the fall. Each year, Everett would release around twenty thousand birds into the wild, and Lawrence County’s twelve thousand licensed hunters would kill their share of the quarter of a million pheasants, woodcocks, doves, wild turkeys and Hungarian partridges that were shot in Pennsylvania between November and January, along with two million or so rabbits, squirrels, woodchucks and raccoons.
On the eleventh of October, 1946, not long after he had come home from the army, Everett was driving down South Jefferson street on the first rainy evening in weeks when Dominick Ross stepped out in front of him as the lights changed to green. Ross was a seventy-two-year-old retired carpenter. He had lived in New Castle since he left Italy in 1891, and had worked at the Pennsylvania Engineering plant for most of his life. When he was younger, he had earned some money on the side from selling bootlegged liquor. In 1900, he had founded the first Italian fraternal organisation in the city, the Casa Savoia. He was knocked to the ground by Everett’s car, breaking both of his arms and cracking his skull. He died in hospital a few hours later.
Everett was charged with driving while intoxicated. He pled not guilty to the charge, which no one had done since the thirties, and spoke vigorously in his own defence at the trial. The jury found him innocent.
By the time Everett retired, he had left the game farm and was working on an assembly line in south New Castle. He lived long enough to see his son become a professor of mathematics in Ohio and a chancellor of a university in North Carolina. He died in 1995, at the age of eighty-two.Sources: Sources: New Castle News (5 March 1941, “Men’s Club Hears Kenneth Brenneman”; 23 July 1943, “Collect 70,000 Pheasant Eggs”; 12 Oct 1946, “Man Is Fatally Injured When Struck By Auto”; 12 Dec 1946, “Copple Case Is Now With Jury”; 13 Dec 1946, “Joseph Copple Freed By Jury”; 28 April 1947, “Kill 35,519 Deer And 325 Black Bears”; 3 Nov 1950, “Outdoor Rambles”; 19 Sept 1973, “County Report”); media.lib.ecu.edu, “President/Chancellor Bios”.
Anna Mae Craven was twenty-two years old when she was arrested for disorderly conduct. A year later, she was married to Lawrence Black, a locomotive engineer on the B&O railroad. The marriage lasted less than three months before Lawrence divorced Anna Mae on grounds of immorality and indignities to person.
Lawrence, who never remarried, lived alone in a house in Mahoning township until he fell ill and died suddenly in 1971, at the age of fifty-five. There is no further record of Anna Mae.Sources: New Castle News – “Marriage License Applications” 20 March 1947; “More Divorce Suits Are Filed” 16 July 1947; “Deaths of the Day”, 5 Feb 1971.
The Marousis brothers James, William and Speer, left the Greek village of Lyrkeia for America in 1906 when Speer, the oldest, was just eighteen. They arrived in New York and headed straight for New Castle, where they shone shoes and cleaned hats until they had enough money to open a cigar store on East Washington street. In 1912, James returned to Europe to join the Greek army, fighting in the Balkan wars and the first world war. He sent out their cousin, George, to replace him in New Castle. The brothers made George manager of their new store on the Diamond, while they concerned themselves with other businesses—a confectionary called Candy Land, run by William, and a cinema called the Dome, run by Speer.
By 1921, Speer had taken over four more cinemas—the Penn, the Regent, the Capitol and the Star. The Capitol burned down in 1930 and he lost all but the Regent in the depression. In 1940, Speer and William bought the Fountain Inn, the grandest hotel in New Castle. They ran it for ten years until their partnership dissolved. William retained the hotel. Five years later, Speer closed the Regent, blaming television for falling audiences. He bought the old Coliseum theater and had it razed and the ground cemented over for a parking lot. The rent from that and his other properties paid for his retirement. William ran the Fountain Inn until it burned down on Christmas eve, 1968. It, too, became a parking lot.
While his cousins’ businesses thrived, failed, rose and fell, George went to work day after day in the cigar store on the Diamond, changing its name from Marousis Cigars to the American News Stand not long after he was arrested for running a lottery on the premises, during the county detective’s crackdown on numbers operations in the city.
George worked at the store for fifty years, until he died in 1969, at the age of seventy-two. Two years after his death, Pennsylvania established a state lottery. The American News Stand was the only ticket agent in downtown New Castle.10 May 1912, “Mercantile Appraisement”; 3 March 1913, “Local Greek Guards Turks”; 22 Feb 1915, “Youth Fails At First Job Of Burglary”; 13 Aug 1920, “New Candy Shop To Be Opened Here”; 7 Oct 1920, “Fine Art Work On Decorations For New Store”; 28 June 1921, “Big Theatrical Business Deal Is Consumated”; 16 March 1925, “Boyhood Ambitions”; 19 Feb 1942, “Arrest Four As Numbers Operators”; 24 April 1951, “Father Of George Marousis Is Dead At Home In Greece”; 31 July 1969, “Deaths Of The Day”; 16 Oct 1972, “Speer Marousis Dies In Hospital”; 28 Feb 1977, Pennsylvania Lottery advert.
The Warner brothers opened their first cinema in a converted room on the ground floor of the old Knox hotel on South Mill street in 1905, when John Whitten was six years old. Harry Warner bought the fixtures and fittings from Whitten’s hardware store on East Washington street, which was owned by John’s father, who helped the Warners install the chairs that they rented from a nearby funeral parlour. The cinema did well, and the Warners were able to open sixteen others across Pennsylvania. In 1910, they sold their business for $52,000 and opened a film production company in New York. They never returned to New Castle.
In 1918, the year the Warners established a studio in Hollywood, a motion picture director named Henry Belmar suffered a nervous breakdown when the film biography of Lincoln that he was working on collapsed, leaving him heavily in debt and pursued for thousands of dollars by creditors. He fled to New Castle, a town he had never visited before, and took a room in the Henry hotel, where he lived in seclusion for the rest of his life, earning a little money selling Stay-Prest trouser presses. From time to time he would tell acquaintances about his ambition to one day finish his Lincoln picture, but nothing ever came of it.
Henry Belmar died in New Castle in 1931, the year John Whitten—who had by then taken over the management of his father’s hardware store—married a nurse from Youngstown. The store went bankrupt a few years later and John became a refrigerator repairman, fixing and maintaining the same appliances he had previously sold. His arrest in 1942 for driving under the influence of liquor was noteworthy only insofar as it made him one of the first drivers to be convicted through the use of the city’s newly purchased drunkometer, a machine in the office of the chief of police that could detect alcohol on a person’s breath. Other than the subsequent fine of $100, there is no further record of his life.
By the end of the century, the South Mill street block that had housed the Warners’ first cinema was largely derelict. In recognition of its historical and cultural significance, the city bought the property and transformed it into a shopping and entertainment complex, which, it was hoped, would help to regenerate the downtown area. Unable to attract sufficient tenants, it closed down after four years. In 2011, it was sold to a west Pennsylvania bank to cover its accumulated debt of $4,500,000.Sources: New Castle News (24 March 1922, “Tomatoes And Beans Lead Here”; 23 Sep 1926, Classified Ad, “Male”; 23 March 1931, “Widow Of Stage Actor Writes Husband’s Life”; 30 April 1931, “John Whitten Weds Youngstown Girl”; 9 Jan 1936, Advert, “Bankrupt Stocks”; 15 Sep 1938, Classified Ad, “Repairing”; 21 Dec 1938, “News Briefs From City Hall”; 4 Oct 1941, “Recalls Opening Of Warner Bros Nickelodeon Here”;21 Oct 1942, “Around City Hall”; 5 Dec 1942, “On Court House Hill”; 10 July 2010, “Editorial”; 6 Jan 2011, “Three Commercial Properties Sold At Sheriff Sale”); The Bridgeport Telegram, “3 Oct 1918”, “Lincoln Cabin In Cran’s Woods May Be Auctioned”.
Sam Wilson was arrested for burglary in 1937, but there is no record of the case. At the time, he was living in an apartment above the Davis Coal and Supply Company store on Moravia street with his wife and five children. A decade earlier, after he arrived in New Castle from the south, he had a place above the Gloria Tire and Rubber Works, two blocks up the street, and made money selling bootleg wine. While he was living there, he stabbed Cryp Williams in the chest with a penknife during an argument over a game of cards, was mauled by a guard dog that had to be shot by the police, and was almost killed when—for a reason that no one was prepared to tell—a drinking companion emptied his revolver at him and some other men who were gathered in an alley behind the old Shearer barn.
Sam’s wife divorced him in the forties. He moved to Wampum, a few miles south of New Castle, and married a woman named Mary Lewis. She died of cancer four years later, in 1956. He married his third wife only a short while before he was diagnosed with sugar diabetes and a heart condition. On the third of April 1960, a week after he had been released from a stay in hospital, Sam stayed up all night drinking in his kitchen. Around five in the morning, he said to his wife, “I know that I have to die, and you are going with me,” and attacked her with a pair of scissors. She escaped and called the police. Sam was taken to the county jail. There is no further record of his life.Sources: New Castle News: 19 May 1924, “Quartette Promises To Pay Fines Later”; 18 Oct 1926, “Dog Bites Man; Shot By Officer”; 15 Dec 1928, “Grabs For Knife; Cut Beneath Heart”; 17 Dec 1928, “Charges Wilson With Felonious Cutting”; 17 April 1931, “Negro Turns Gun On Companions In Shooting Spree”; 6 Dec 1934, “Tells Police He Was Assaulted”; 27 July 1939, “Hospital Notes”; 25 April 1956, “Deaths Of The Day”; 14 Jan 1957, “Two Persons Injured In Two-Car Collision”; 4 April 1960, “Man Is Charged With Assault, Intent To Kill”.
Small Town Noir will not be updated for the next couple of weeks, as I’ll be out of the country and hopefully nowhere near a computer.
In the meantime, you might want to revisit a few of the earlier posts, as I’ve rewritten a lot of them as I found out more about the lives of the subjects. For example, I came across the interesting story behind the first arrest, at the age of sixteen, of Walter Jamison, who would go on to become an expert forger and doughnut baker. I was able to fill in a little more of the life of John Hutchison, a rather less expert forger, after I received an e-mail from his son, who had never heard of the criminal episode in his father’s life until he read about it here. I’ve also been able to shed a little more light on the crimes of William Fabian, Warren Dewyer and others as I’ve learned more about their context and what New Castle was like back then.
What I’m saying is, I’m sorry there will be no new stories until the middle of March, but there’s plenty of old ones in the archives, and some of them have changed so much that they might as well be new, so dig in.