Anna Mae McNeil, “Murder”, 5 February 1933

comments 3
Uncategorized

Anna Mae McNeil

On the day Anna Mae McNeil shot her husband dead, heavy snow fell across New Castle. The three young men who always practised basketball shots behind the wool warehouse on Moravia street had built a bonfire so they could keep playing through the snowstorm. Four other boys had been seen roller skating on North Cedar street around the same time, as though it were summer. A family in the south of the city had stopped to observe a flock of ducks swimming calmly in the big run although the stream was filling with ice and slush. Shops lost out on what passing trade there might have been because their windows were so thick with frost they might as well have been beaver board. Men in horse-drawn open carts warmed themselves with fires that they kept smoldering in tin buckets at their feet, while those in cars had to stop every so often to clear snow from their headlights. Roads throughout the county were blocked, but the new Wilmington highway north of town was clear as far as the Walmo neighborhood, where Anna Mae and her husband Harold lived.

Like most people in New Castle in 1933, they had no money. Harold earned a few dollars as a part-time foreman at Johnson Bronze, but nothing like as much as before the depression had shut down almost every factory and mill in the region. They lived in Anna Mae’s parents’ house, her father having gone to Ohio to find work after American Sheet and Tin Plate closed down. Harold drank every day. Every few weeks, when he got drunk, he beat Anna Mae—black eyes, bruised ribs. If she could, she locked herself in her bedroom when he got started, but she wasn’t always able to. On new year’s day, he had knocked her unconscious.

Harold spent the last day of his life in New Castle bars, while Anna Mae stayed home with their three-year-old son, Lee. Around ten at night, Harold arrived home with a small group of people. What followed is best told in Anna Mae’s words, spoken in court two days later.

“I hadn’t known we were going to have company. I knew Mr and Mrs Webber very well, but didn’t know Miss Morrisey and Mr Carpenter before. There was a small amount of liquor in a bottle in the cupboard and Harold mixed some highballs. Later, we danced to the music of the radio. All evening Harold had been acting in a sullen manner, although he had done nothing out of the way.

“Our guests left at about one o’clock. I started to tidy up the living room while Harold locked the garage door. As soon as he came in, he came over to me. I was getting ready to go upstairs. He called me names and struck me. I backed into a corner, saying, ‘What’s the matter now?’ He said, ‘You cheap little ____. You had to ask the boys to dance with you.’

“I got away from him and ran upstairs. I looked into Lee’s room to see if there was a key in the door but couldn’t find any. When I got to my room I remembered the gun in the dresser drawer and got it. I took it in my hand and went to Lee’s room. I was fully dressed. I thought that if I could get my clothes off and get in bed with the baby he would let me alone. I took off my shoes and stockings and laid down on the other side of Lee. I knew he would have to come around the bed to get me.

“When he came upstairs he made after me. It is a single bed and there is a space of about a foot and a half between the bed and wall, with a chair in the corner. He came around after me and I got out of bed and got behind the chair. He reached over and struck me and tore the sleeve of my dress. I had the gun in my hands. He dared me to shoot him. He said, ‘You’re just as yellow about shooting me as you’ve been yellow about everything in your life.’ He said, ‘I’ve beaten you before, but that’s nothing to what you’re going to get now.’ He came closer and was reaching for the gun. I knew if he got the gun he would shoot. I meant to shoot at the floor. I thought if I hit him in the foot or leg he might leave me alone.

“When the gun went off I was surprised as I didn’t know I could pull the trigger. I had tried it one fourth of July when my father had the gun out and I couldn’t pull the trigger then. He stumbled backwards and fell on the bed, his head at the foot and his feet hanging over the edge. I came and looked at him and saw the powder burns on his shirt. I went downstairs and put the gun on the table at the foot of the stairs. Little Lee came down and I told him to go back upstairs with his daddy. I screamed for Mr Richards next door, but he couldn’t hear me. I knew the Snyders had a phone and I went over to call a doctor.

“I ran back to our house and got some water in a basin, and a rag. I sponged off the wound and he asked me to get him a glass of water. I don’t know just what time he died, but it was less than half an hour after I shot him.

“I was desperate, I guess, when he started after me. I was alone in the house with him, save for the baby, and I guess I must have lost my mind for the time.

“There isn’t much use saying I’m sorry now, I guess. He’s dead and I killed him.”

The inquest took most of the day, a sorry litany of evidence from people who knew about the beatings but had done nothing. Her friends knew. Her mother knew. Her doctor knew. Her neighbours knew. Everyone who saw her bruises knew. Harold’s father and sister knew, too. “No woman ought to live with any man who beats her,” Harold’s father said. The prosecutor asked him if he thought Anna Mae was to blame for his son’s death. He replied, “Of course she’s to blame, but I don’t think she ever intended to kill him. As far as me and my daughter are concerned, we don’t intend to prosecute her. We’ve known her since she was a little girl and I never knew of her to do anything out of the way. I think she is a wonderful little girl.” The prosecutor asked if he and his son had been friendly. He said that they had always been inseparable, “Just like two pals.”

The jury found that Anna Mae had killed Harold in self defense, and the alderman dismissed the charge of murder. She was free to go. She returned to the house in Walmo. There is no further record of her life.

A few months later, in a rented room in a house on Atlantic avenue, Harold’s father shot himself in the chest. The bullet missed his heart but he died of the wound in hospital the next day. The newspaper reported only that he had been despondent because he was out of work and unable to pay his rent. He was buried in Oak Park cemetery, next to his son.

Sources: New Castle News (6 February 1933, “Pa Newc Observes”, “Self Defense May Be Plea”, “Shoots Her Husband”; 8 February 1933, “Mrs McNeil Set Free”; 19 June 1933, “Wm J McNeil Tries Suicide”; 21 June 1933, “Deaths Of The Day”).

Henry Bell, “Intox driver”, 28 June 1947

comments 6
Uncategorized

henry bell

On the twenty-seventh of May, 1939, four police officers went to Henry Bell’s home above the meeting hall of the Pentecostal Apostolic Faith church on Moravia street. Henry was later taken to the hospital to have stitches in his head before spending a night in jail on a drunk charge. The next morning, after Henry was released, the mayor was visited by several colored men who complained that Henry had been assaulted. They were sent away.

Those facts were undisputed. There was agreement about little else.

Henry was a WPA worker and former member of the United Mine Workers of America. The local Communist party said the incident was the latest in a wave of police terror instituted against the colored people of the town by the Republican administration. Sak Levine, the secretary of the Communist party in New Castle, set up a committee for the defense of Negro rights, along with Reverend G J Norman, a half-Cherokee Wesleyan minister who had been crippled in world war one. They convinced Henry to have the officers charged with aggravated assault and battery. The trial took place four months later.

Henry testified that he had been lying on his bed when the policemen came into his apartment. He asked them if they had a warrant, and they set about him with blackjacks. They handcuffed him on the bed, threw him on the floor and beat him again. They searched his room and found a gun between the ticks on the bed. He was thrown into a car and taken to police headquarters, where he was transferred to a patrol wagon and taken to the hospital. On the way back, one of the officers pointed a gun at him. When Henry called him a name, he came into the rear of the wagon and beat him again.

Henry admitted that he had been in trouble with the local police before, when he was arrested for drunk driving, after which two butcher knives and a rifle were taken from him; that he had spent a total of eight months in the Alleghenny workhouse on other drunk driving charges; and that he had attended a Communist party meeting in a hall on Washington street.

Henry’s wife, Leola, testified that there had been no trouble in her home on the evening the police had come to the house. She had gone out to get a paper of tobacco and returned to hear her husband yelling as he was beaten by the police. She saw them drag him down the stairs and beat him as he lay handcuffed on the ground. She showed the jury the shirt her husband had worn and the sheet from the bed, both stained with blood.

Men who had been on the street when the police arrived testified that they had heard no disturbance from the apartment until the police arrived. James Hill, a tinworker, said he heard terrible sounds after they entered. He was asked, “Did it sound like someone striking a body?” He replied, “No. It sounded like someone striking a head.”

The officers testified that a woman had called headquarters at 8.36 that evening, saying that a man was drunk and brandishing a gun in her home. Two police cruisers picked up the call and went to the apartment. They knew Henry had a reputation as a fighter, and was known as the Cowboy of Moravia street. They had no search warrant, but Henry invited them in, saying, “No trouble here, and no gun. Come on in and search for it.” He got agitated when they started searching the bed. When they lifted the mattress and saw the gun and some loose shells, Henry began abusing them with “vile language”. There was a scuffle and one of the officers hit Henry with the leather thong end of his mace, another hit his legs with the strap of his nightstick. Henry was handcuffed and refused to walk to the car, so they had to carry him out.

The officers’ attorney said that the case was fomented by radical friends of Henry’s, most of them white, and that the Communist party was at the back of it. He said that one Negro with an interest in the case was Ben Carreathers, a prominent Pittsburgh Communist. He asked the jury if they wanted Communist government in Pennsylvania. The jury were told, “Any time a Communist begins quoting the constitution or civil liberties to you, he is a liar and a cheat.”

The trial lasted three days. The policemen were found not guilty. Henry, Sak Levine and the Reverend G J Norman were ordered to pay the trial costs of $322.25.

There is no further record of Henry’s life, save for an arrest for drunk driving in 1947, the crime for which his mug shot was taken. He died in 1951, at the age of fifty.

Sources: New Castle News (25 September 1939, “Open Trial Of Police Officers”; 26 September 1939, “Policemen Say Bell Abusive”, “Police Officers Present Defense”; 27 September 1939, “Poilce Officers’ Case Concluded”; 28 September 1939, “Three Policemen Are ‘Not Guilty’ Of Charges”; 30 September 1939, “Trio Ordered To Pay Costs”); Afro American, 8 July 1939, “Protest Police Attack On Worker”.

George Wheale, “Susp. Breaking”, 9 July 1937

comments 7
Uncategorized

George Wheale
George Wheale was innocent. He was picked up on Long avenue after a report that the window of the state liquor store had been smashed, and was released after police discovered that the damage had been done by a wheel that had somehow come off a car. The possibility of the arrest resulting from a police officer mishearing “a wheel” as “George Wheale” is entertaining, but unlikely.

George worked for Standard Steel Spring, part of a conglomerate that was owned by a millionaire whose family had come over on the Mayflower. George’s family had also arrived on a boat from England, but they made the crossing three hundred years later, bound for the new factories that were multiplying in New Castle at the end of the nineteenth century. One died of heat stroke working in a steel and tin plate plant only a few years before George was born.

By the 1940s, the descendants of those later immigrants included Dangerfields, Alicks, Manns, Hahns, Groucutts and Mrozeks. They started holding annual reunions, sometimes in Cascade park, sometimes in Gaston park, with basket picnics and games and awards for largest family, longest distance travelled and oldest and youngest family members. The sixteenth one was scheduled for a Sunday afternoon in July 1957 but was cancelled on the Friday. George, who had been ill for three months, had died in hospital and they had to have a funeral instead. He was fifty-four years old.

The reunion went ahead a couple of weeks later. A short report in the local paper recorded that it went pretty well.

Sources: New Castle News (9 July 1937, “News Briefs From City Hall”; 26 July 1957, “Wheale Reunion Cancelled”; 8 Aug 1957, “Wheale Family Has Sixteenth Reunion”); The Evening Standard, Uniontown, PA, 4 September 1975, “Willard F Rockwell Jr…At 61, The Molder Of A Giant Conglomerate”; Wheale family genealogical website.

Joe Ritter, “Viol Fire Arm”, 2 January 1949

comments 6
Uncategorized

Joe Ritter

Joe Ritter’s brother, Otto, was twelve when Joe was arrested in January, 1949. He’s in his late seventies now and lives just outside New Castle, the only one of Joe’s family who’s still alive. We’ve spoken on the phone a couple of times. It took a while to convince him that I really was writing a book about people like his brother—ordinary people in a collection of faded photographs that just happen to have been taken by the New Castle police years ago—but when he was sure I was who I said I was, he spoke for a long time about his brother’s life. Much of what follows comes from those conversations.

Joe was charged with pulling a loaded revolver on a man during what seems to have been a fight over a girl. Joe was twenty-two; the man, Joseph Chabak, was forty-seven. (The girl might have been his daughter.) Joe had followed Chabak and the girl in his car as they drove home from somewhere at 1 o’clock in the morning. He kept swerving his car towards them, trying to force them off the road. When Chabak pulled over outside his house on South Jefferson street, Joe climbed into his car and started punching him. Chabak’s wife called the police. By the time they arrived, Chabak had pinned Joe down on the ground. They found the pistol in a hedge.

It was a bad time for Joe to get into trouble. He was in a country and western act with his friend, Bob Pandice, “the Yodelin’ Cowboy” (or, sometimes, “the Personality Troubadour”). They both sang and Bob played guitar. They had a half-hour music show every Thursday morning at 7:30, broadcast throughout Lawrence County. They had just played a big farewell show at the Columbus Hall and were waiting for Bob to get his license so they could drive to California to make it in the movies.

Joe got lucky. The case didn’t go to court. Bob passed his test the following week and the boys left town before the end of the month, driving through the south. They spent some time in Los Angeles, and ended up in San Francisco, where Bob worked for a while playing hillbilly songs on KSFO California’s new television network. They lasted six months. By August, they were back in New Castle, full of stories about Hollywood and billing themselves as “New Castle’s movie and television stars”:

Ritter advert1

They’d managed to get work in a couple of films—westerns, because they could supply their own costumes. One, “Brothers in the Saddle”, came to the Paramount in New Castle later that year. Joe took his whole family to see it, but his big screen debut wasn’t all they’d hoped it would be. He might have been one of the saloon patrons looking the other way as Tim Holt confronts a gang of crooked gamblers:

Ritter1

Or perhaps he was one of the cowboys who want to lynch Tim Holt’s brother:

Ritter2

Or maybe he was somewhere in the crowd of townsfolk who watch Tim Holt ride out of town:

Ritter4

Whatever scene he was in, his Stetson got more screen time than he did. The other film, “Horsemen of the Sierras”, one of sixty or so B-movies featuring Charles Starret as the Durango Kid, never made it to New Castle.

Joe and Bob planned to go back out west once they made a bit of money—Bob told people he had a screen test with a real Hollywood studio—but Joe got engaged that November and became a father a few months later. That finished his career in show business. Bob stuck with it for a few more years, recording some 45s with a backing band of local musicians he called the Sunset Riders. He gave it up sometime in the fifties and got a real job. He died in 1977, at the age of forty-six.

Joe had worked in lots of jobs. He’d quit school in 1944 and joined the navy. He spent the tail-end of the war with the Seabees, building airstrips in Alaska so B-25s could bomb Japan. He’d been a fireman on the railroad until they transferred him to somewhere up around Cleveland, which he hated. He’d worked in a ceramics plant in New Castle, making bathroom fixtures. That didn’t last too long, either.

After he got married, he drove for a trucking company in Sharon, then he bought his own equipment and set up a haulage business. He drove trucks for the next four decades.

In the summer of 1992, Joe started up a tractor inside a storage building where he kept fuel. The tractor backfired and set off the fumes, and the building exploded. Joe escaped but went back in to rescue a new piece of machinery. He was very badly burned, on his arms, especially. His fingers fused into claws when they healed. Joe had had health problems—diabetes, mostly—for years. The accident sent him into a decline, and his diabetes got worse. He died in 1995, at the age of sixty-nine.

When we spoke on the phone, Otto Ritter spoke freely about his brother; about Bob Pandice and the radio show; about the mule wagon that Joe and Bob had collided with in Georgia when they were on their way to Hollywood; about diabetes, which he suffers from, just like Joe. But he batted aside the subject of Joe’s long-ago arrest. He was just a kid, and probably no one told him about it. And he doesn’t care, anyway.

Whatever the reason for the fight that night in 1949, it’s entirely forgotten. The only evidence it ever happened is one old newspaper story, and Joe’s black eye in a mug shot that I’ll soon seal up in an envelope and mail back to New Castle, where his brother can do with it what he likes.

Sources: 3 January 1949, “Man Is Held On Firearms Charge”; 12 January 1949, “Ten Pass Tests To Operate Auto”; 2 March 1949, “Bob Pandis On Television Show”; 10 August 1949, “Bob Pandice Will Take screen Tests”; 24 August 1949, “McBride Post Has Corn Roast Tuesday”; 13 September 1949, adv ert on Societies and Clubs page; 8 November 1949, adv ert on Societies and Clubs page; 9 November 1949, WKST listings; 21 November 1949, “Bair-Ritter Troth Is Told”; 18 January 1950, advert for “Mule Train” 45; 6 June 1950, “Births Reported”; 6 December 1950, “Jr Hi-Ys Hear Radio Artist”; 3 February 1960, “Deaths Of The Day”; 18 August 1971, “Obituaries”; 15 December 1977, “In Memoriam”.

§§§

Once again, please go to Unbound to support the publication of the Small Town Noir book. Spread the word, too — I can’t do it without you!

Longhair Noir

comments 7
Uncategorized

Earl Burglary 1973

Most of the New Castle mug shots that were saved from the trash and later found their way into index card boxes in my house were taken in the middle years of the 20th century. But a few date from a little later, like the one above, of a guy called Earl (second name withheld; he’s still alive) who was arrested in 1973 for breaking into Castle Distributing and stealing five cases of beer, and the one below, of Ralph, fined $325 in 1970 for crashing his car into a parked car while drunk:

Ralph OMVWI 1970

The faces in these later mug shots are completely different from the ones in the mid-century photographs that I usually write about. It might just be a trick of the haircuts and clothes, but I don’t think so.

Carl OMVWI 1969

(This one’s Carl McClearn, arrested in 1969 for being AWOL from the army. He died a year later, when his car collided with a car that was being driven by his brother, up near Lake Erie. )

The people who were arrested in New Castle in the 40s and 50s were mostly European immigrants or their children. Their faces were shaped by the hard times that cause a family to uproot themselves from their old country and travel by boat and train to a smoky, grimy industrial city in a foreign land, and by the further hard times that followed as they struggled to establish themselves there during the turmoil of the depression and the subsequent years of war.

But the people in these later mug shots are third or fourth-generation Americans who were born at the peak of the baby boom, and they look it. I don’t know if faces like these existed in the 40s.

ronald lee turner b(Ronald, 1969 — siphoning two-thirds of a gallon of gasoline from a car on Lincoln avenue.)

Peter Involuntary Manslaughter OMVWI 1971(Peter, 1971 — involuntary manslaughter of his wife and two other passengers when his car ran off Highland avenue and hit a tree; later acquitted.)

A guy called Greg comes the closest to having what I might call a depression-era face. In 1970, his last year of high school, the New Castle News published a photograph of him and some other students who had decided to set a good example to their juniors by quitting smoking. He’s in the middle here:
Screen Shot 2015-11-22 at 23.49.18

Later that year, after he left school, he was arrested for loitering. The following year, he was arrested for possession of an LSD tab. This mug shot was taken in 1973, after he was arrested for visiting a disorderly house.

Gregg Loitering 1973

It’s a mistake to read too much into a mug shot, which, after all, captures only a single moment on one of the worst days of the subject’s life, but Greg seems to have a pinched, underfed look that the others don’t share. Hard times of his own, no doubt.

New Castle’s long decline from being the world center of steel and tin production to a town abandoned by well over half of its population had already begun by the time these young men came of age, but the fact that the years of prosperity had gone forever hadn’t become apparent by the time they had their photographs taken. They might well have expected their lives to be at least as prosperous as their parents’. But they were probably wrong.

§§§

Once again, please go to Unbound to support the publication of the Small Town Noir book. Spread the word, too — I can’t do it without you!

Lou Miskinis, “Fighting”, 21 July 1949

comments 6
Uncategorized

Louis Miskinis

Lou Miskinis got drunk and started fighting with Harry Hetrick and his wife on West Long avenue. Harry’s leg was in a cast. He broke a crutch over Lou’s head. Lou struggled with the police but was taken to the hospital for a deep cut to his scalp. He spent the night in jail and was released the next day. There is no further record of his life, until his death, in 1979, at the age of seventy-six.

I can find almost no trace of Lou (or Louis) Miskinis in my usual online sources—just one short report of his arrest—so I wasn’t going to publish a post about him, but this photograph might be the only record in the world of his remarkable moustache and it seems a shame to hide it away in a box of mug shots.

I’ve never seen a moustache like it on anyone else. (Click on the picture for a large version so you can examine it in detail. If that seems like the sort of thing you’d like to do.) Obviously, it’s a variety of pencil moustache, but one that has abandoned its traditional role of delineating the wearer’s top lip and has become instead a sort of horizontal smear bisecting the philtrum, which makes him resemble Groucho Marx caught in the act of removing his stage make-up, or maybe 1980s-period Robert Crumb.

If anyone knows what the style was called (if it even had a name) or has a picture of anyone else with something similar, they can leave a comment below.

Source: New Castle News, 22 August 1952, “Drunken Charge”.

Redacted

comments 5
Uncategorized

redacted

Last week, after I published a mug shot story about a New Castle businessman who ran a beach resort on a stretch of the Neshannock behind the paper mill’s dam, a long-time reader of the site who happens to be a film maker in Hollywood met an actor with family connections to the area. The actor has a career stretching back decades, with roles in Starsky and Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, L.A. Law and ER, and his family connection turned out to be the fact that his wife’s grandfather was the businessman I’d just written about.

Small world.

The film maker put us in touch and we exchanged emails about New Castle, the mug shots and the life of his relative. He corrected a couple of mistakes I’d made and mentioned that the man had served in the first world war and had been given a veteran’s funeral with guns and a flag. But he also wrote:

“My wife’s mother, now 94, is upset and concerned that her father would be represented as a criminal… she would prefer that his photo and profile be removed from the book and the blog.”

What could I say? It’s an understandable request, so I took down the post.

That’s the first time any relative of one of the people in the mug shots has been unhappy with me telling the person’s story. Usually they seem pleased that someone has spent time thinking about their life and marking it in some way, even if that marker happens to be a story under an old mug shot. It’s surprising that there aren’t more people who don’t want their family’s business to be published on the internet. Then again, it’s also surprising that we’re able to buy people’s old mug shots on eBay, but there we are.

However, there’s a lot of small details in the businessman’s story that I love—the exotic branding of the swimming hole; the existence of a night club act called Blossom Alta; the fact that, at one point in Italy’s turbulent 20th century, running a macaroni factory in New Castle PA qualified a person for high office—so below is a version of the post with his name redacted.

E                   , “Numbers”, 18 January 1934.

A swimming hole was formed on the Neshannock creek north of town when the paper mill built a dam in 1833. It was known as paper mill beach, and a boy would drown there every year or two. In 1917, a man named Bill Hill bought a meadow beside the dam and erected concession stands and a dance hall. He encouraged people to call the place Hill’s beach, which they did. In 1939, the land was bought by a local businessman, E                  .

E’s father had come to New Castle from Italy in the early eighteen-nineties. With his brother, he opened a macaroni manufacturing plant and became a wholesale importer of olive oil, olives, cheese and hams. After twenty years in business, his brother returned home, where he was appointed minister of finance in the Italian government. E’s father stayed in New Castle.

E was his father’s first son. In the thirties, he opened New Castle’s only night club, a little way up the Neshannock from the center of town. It had two floor shows every night—such acts as Ann Vallee, “a sweet, beautiful songstress”; Dave Rose, “a singing comedian who puts comedy over with musical accompaniment”; and Blossom Alta, “eccentricities”. People danced under palm trees to the music of the Sophisti-Kats, the Streamline Swing Band, the Rhythm Kings. It was called the Casino. Gambling was illegal, but went on in a small way. E was arrested a couple of times for running numbers games. There is no record of any penalties.

E changed the name of the swimming hole to El Rio beach. (Bathing tickets 10 cents.) In the summer, it would be booked up every day with society picnics and factory outings. A couple of thousand people at a time would attend weekend dances. E kept the set-up that he had inherited from Bill Hill, without doing much in the way of maintenance. In 1960, the porch of the dance hall collapsed during a fireworks display, sending fifty people to hospital.

The place got more run down throughout the sixties and families started to stay away. There was a suggestion that a huge cave in the park might be turned into a nuclear fallout shelter, but nothing came of it. In 1967, the city bought the park from E for $25,000, in hopes of reviving it. Someone set fire to the dance hall a few years later. By the end of the seventies, no one much went there anymore.

E died in 1979, at the age of eighty-three.

§§§

Once again, please go to Unbound to support the publication of the Small Town Noir book. Spread the word, too — I can’t do it without you!

“I’d never seen a picture of my dad that young.”

comments 2
Uncategorized

Find out more at: unbound.co.uk/small-town-noir

I was amazed by Ross Paswell’s life when I first researched his mug shot. He was arrested for highway robbery in 1945 and spent most of the next 10 years in jail, much of the time in solitary. By the 60s, he was something of a local political radical and, in the 70s, he became an inspirational penal reform campaigner whose work was recognised by the state.

I met Ross’s son, Jamie, on a trip to New Castle a couple of years ago. There’s a lot that Jamie doesn’t know about his father’s life — Ross wanted it that way, only letting slip the merest hints about covert involvement with the Black Panthers and other such groups when asked to explain where he’d been on his periodic disappearances from the family home. But it was fascinating talking to Jamie, looking through the souvenirs of his father’s life and listening to his theories about what made his father into the man he became.

The full story — well, as full as possible — of Ross Paswell’s life is featured in the Small Town Noir book. To support the book, and receive a copy when it’s published, go to the publisher’s website. Please do! And spread the word!

§§§

This video is mostly an excerpt from the documentary “MUGSHOT“, and is presented here with much gratitude to the director, Dennis Mohr.

Vincent Carbeau, “Armed Robbery”, 13 April 1940

comment 1
Uncategorized

Vincent_Carbeau (1)

Vincent Carbeau would have been a well known figure around New Castle, but his photograph won’t appear in the Small Town Noir book (please click that link and pledge to buy a copy, or there won’t be any such book!), simply because he had the misfortune to be booked in another town: Mansfield, Ohio. His mug shot, therefore, bears the stamp of another police department and I’m too much of a purist to allow it to sit with the rest.

Sorry, Vincent.

Mansfield is a small industrial town about 140 miles west of New Castle. Its history is similar to New Castle’s—it was founded around the same time, grew rich through the same mix of industries and, just like New Castle, lost its wealth with the collapse of manufacturing in the north-eastern states in the latter part of the 20th century.

In April, 1940, though, it was prosperous enough. Philip Schmutzler owned a busy little café on North Park street. He and his father had run it for thirty-four years. For most of that time, he’d walked unguarded to and from the bank with thousands of dollars in cash in his pockets. One Friday morning, Schmutzler was coming back from the bank with $1,140 in a black leather pouch and more money in his coat when he was stopped by two men. He’d served them in the café earlier—as he’d left to go to the bank, he’d thumped one of them on the shoulder and said, “Some summer day, isn’t it?”

One of the men was holding a .32 revolver. He shielded it from people on the street by holding the flap of his coat over it with his other hand. The other man pushed Schmutzler against a lamp post and said, “Give us your money.”

Schmutzler assumed they were joking. He elbowed the man and said, “What do you mean?”

The man repeated, “Give us your money.” Schmutzler smiled and elbowed him in the ribs again. The other man hit him on the head with a blackjack and Schmutzler fell into the arms of a woman who happened to be passing. He yelled for the police. The men grabbed the pouch with the money in it and ran down an alley. People nearby chased them and saw them drive off in a maroon sedan that had been waiting on Walnut street.

The car had Pennsylvania plates with the number D3X409. Shortly afterwards, the police traced its owner: Vincent Carbeau, of Ellwood City, a few miles south of New Castle.

At the age of 28, Vincent was an executive of his family firm, the Ellwood Company, which manufactured bathtubs and toilets and was the second largest employer in town. He was a graduate of Carnegie Tech. He was a Kiwanis organiser. He was considered “one of the nicest and most promising young men in the city.”

He was also Philip Schmutzler’s nephew, by marriage.

He admitted he had driven the getaway car, and he gave up the names of the other two men: William Justine and Rocco Cusato. All three were arrested and taken to Ohio.

Justine__Carbeau__Cusato

Left to right: Justine, Carbeau, Cusato.

The Mansfield News-Journal published an interview with him a few days after his arrest.

DECLARES ‘EASY MONEY’ LURE LED HIM TO JAIL

The lure of ‘easy money’ led Vincent A Carbeau … to the dismal cell block in Richmond county jail, where he awaits grand jury hearing on a charge of armed robbery.

Carbeau stood at the iron bars of the bull pen in county jail this morning, dressed in the blue overalls and striped shirt which all prisoners wear. Yesterday, when he appeared in municipal court for arraignment, he wore a well-tailored blue suit.

There is neither rhyme nor reason for Carbeau’s act. Nor can he explain it to himself. And he is bitterly resentful of the implication that he took his trouble with a flip or cocky attitude.

“Does that make sense?” he demanded this morning. “Believe me, I am anything but cocky about this. It seems to me I have made the worst blunder that any human being could make. I have thrown away a promising future, a comfortable home; I have deeply injured the people I love best in the world.

“I know better than anyone else what I’ve done,” he continued. “I not only committed a serious crime, but I did a despicable thing in betraying a man who was kind and generous. I have spent many happy days at Phil Schmutzler’s summer home on the lake. I know the penalty, too, and I’m human enough to hope that I and the other two boys will be treated with some leniency, even though we deserve and will undoubtedly get prison sentences.”

Carbeau bit his lip to hide his emotion. He was asked why, and how, he had become a hold-up man. He flinched at the appellation.

“That’s a tough word, isn’t it? I can’t believe that I come in that classification. I don’t know myself how it happened. Justine is a nice sort of chap—and I’ve only known him intimately for about six weeks. He’s never been in any kind of trouble either.

“We just got to talking the other night about ‘easy money’ and—“ Carbeau looked away and finished his explanation with, “I’m so ashamed I don’t want to talk about it. Believe me when I say that the minute it was over and we were headed out of this city back to Ellwood, I would have given my right arm if I could have undone it and could have returned the money. But the other boys were involved and it was too late.”

He denied that he had any gambling debts to pay, saying that he didn’t gamble, “except on a very small scale,” and that his entire indebtedness wasn’t more than $100. In his possession when he was arrested was a check from his company for $300. He said that he never had lived beyond his salary and didn’t need the money.

The article included the information that, “since his arrest in Ellwood City, prominent citizens of his home town have telegraphed a desire to help Carbeau in any manner possible.”

The three men were sent to the Mansfield reformatory with sentences of 10 to 25 years. They were paroled after less than two years.

Vincent kept a low profile after his release. In 1947, he and his wife left town and moved to Boston. With his brother, he started a small business making wooden kitchen cabinets. He died five years later, at the age of forty. The announcement of his death was made by Edward Schmutzler—his wife’s father and, perhaps more importantly, Philip Schmutzler’s brother. His Ellwood City family let the event pass without comment in the local press, which suggests that I’m not the only person to have wished to exclude Vincent from the public record.

§§§

Once again, please go to Unbound to support the publication of the Small Town Noir book. I can’t do it without you!