Small-time true crime from New Castle, Pa.

Author Archive

Herman Robertson, “Manslaughter”, 15 June 1946

Herman Robertson

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”).


Floyd Hillkirk, “OMVWI”, 15 April 1956

Floyd Hillkirk

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, “Intox Driver”, 27 Dec 1953

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______, “Larceny of Car”, 26 April 1935

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!


Paul Hostinsky, “Drunk & Dis Cond, Resisting”, 26 December 1958

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”).

Lee Render, “Window Peeper”, 24 September 1945

“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, “Intox Driver”, 13 June 1949

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”).

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