Chester Tomski, “Parole Vio & Auto Theft”, 15 January 1939

comments 16
Uncategorized

Chester Tomski.jpg

Chester Tomski ran away from home at the age of thirteen. He hitchhiked around the Franklin and Oil City area, stealing what he could to get by—like the $2 in the pocketbook he took from ten-year-old Bernice Hazlett—and selling stolen bikes for $1.50 or so. He was caught after a week and sent home.

Four years later, when he was seventeen, Chester was arrested behind the wheel of a car he’d stolen from the parking lot of the Mathews conveyor company. He’d been practicing his driving all day, going up and down the back roads between New Castle and Ellwood City, and the car was in a bad way. He was given six months in Huntingdon reformatory. He went there the same day his father, Frank, started his own six-month sentence in the Alleghenny workhouse, for selling liquor without a license.

Chester started stealing cars again within weeks of his release. The police went to his parents’ house, where he’d been living since he got out, but he wasn’t there. He had left home as soon as he heard the police were looking for him, taking with him his father’s only suit, which he stole while Frank was out.

On the fourth of May, an off-duty policeman called Thomas Boyle was taking his wife for a drive in the country when he noticed a stolen Plymouth at a sandbank on the road beyond the Moffatt school. Chester was sitting behind the wheel. Chester saw officer Boyle recognise him and started his engine, taking off across Hickory Heights to the Harlansburg road.

Boyle went after Chester along the dirt roads towards East Brook. Chester ditched the Plymouth and ran into a swamp. Boyle found him hiding under some bushes. The next day, Chester pled guilty to larceny of an auto, hoping for a light sentence. Once all the auto thefts and parole violations were taken into account (as well as a bungled escape attempt while he was awaiting trial), he ended up with ten to twenty years.

Chester spent all of the forties and fifties in jail—he was given extra time when he was caught trying to saw his way out of the Western penitentiary in 1955. By 1966, he was out on parole, but he was sent back to jail when he was caught driving a stolen car in Shenango township, just outside New Castle. By the time he got out of jail again he was over fifty and he had seen about as much of life outside of an institution as most of the boys he was at school with had seen by their early twenties. From the day in 1937 when, at the age of seventeen, he had been sentenced for stealing the car from outside Mathews conveyor, he had been either in custody or on parole.

Chester went back inside for the last time in 1973, after he burgled a furniture store in Rimersburg. He died at the age of fifty-nine, not long after he was finally released.

Sources: Franklin News-Herald (2 March 1933, “Two Boys Arrested After Several Petty Thefts”; 20 March 1933, “Oil City Happenings In Brief”); New Castle News (17 July 1937,”Youth Held On Car Theft Charge”; 17 January 1939, “Pleads Guilty; Sent To Jail”; 24 January 1939, “Confesses To Having Stolen Several Cars”; 6 May 1940, “Tomski Caught”; 21 May 1940, “Youth Returns To County Jail”; 21 May 1940, “Four Prisoners Are Blamed For Trying General Jail Break”; 3 Jan 1966, “Man Jailed After Police Chase, Crash”); Oil City Derrick, 27 March 1973, “2 Held For Burglary In Rimersburg”.

“My Colorful Past”

comments 5
Uncategorized

Matt Loughrey, an Irish photographer and digital artist has been doing good work colorising black-and-white photographs of criminals from 19th century, immigrants on Ellis island and heroes of the Irish rebellion and other famous and obscure historical figures. (You can see more of his work here.)

He recently got in touch to let me know he’d colorised some of the mug shots I’ve posted on Small Town Noir, and he sent a video showing the transitions from black-and-white to colour. I’ve taken screen captures of the individual photographs, which I’ve posted below.

I prefer the original photographs, but I admit that these versions look amazing. The skin tones, the scars and blemishes, the eyes — it’s fantastic work.

Alice Steel,“Dis Cond”, 24 Aug 1936Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 13.10.14.png

Larry Day, “Drunk”, 6 July 1948 Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 13.12.41.png

Frank Soda, “Adultery, Bastardy”, 5 March 1946Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 13.10.55.png

Paul Bailey,“Dis Conduct”, 18 April 1948Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 13.11.52.png

And here’s the video Matt sent:

Sophia Lyskooka, “Abduction”, 2 Feb 1946

comments 9
Uncategorized

sophia-lyshooka

James Stone was a manager at Johnson Bronze. He and his wife lived in a large Victorian house on North Mercer street with a four-year-old girl named Helen who they had adopted the year before. About 5 o’clock one February in 1946, Mrs Stone answered a knock at her front door, Helen following just behind her. Two young women stood there. One of them knocked Mrs Stone down and the other grabbed the child. They ran to a car that was waiting in the street and drove off.

The woman who grabbed the child was Sophia Lyskooka, the little girl’s birth mother. She’d had the baby when she was 16 and given her up for adoption. In 1945, Mr and Mrs Stone applied to the county to adopt a child and were granted custody of Helen on probation. Sophia’s sister petitioned for custody of the girl, too. The case went to court and the judge ruled in favor of Mr and Mrs Stone. They received the final papers at the end of the year.

The police went to the Sophia’s parents’ home on South Jefferson street and arrested her and her friend Elizabeth Russo. Sophia fought them. Helen had to be taken from her by force before being returned to Mr and Mrs Stone.

In time, Sophia married and had another daughter. Mr and Mrs Stone moved out of state. Sophia never saw Helen again.

Sources: New Castle News (24 July 1942, “Hospital Notes”; 30 august 1963, “Deaths Of The Day”); Pittsburgh Press, 3 February 1946, “Baby Back At Foster Home After Kidnaping By Mother”; email correspondence with Sandy Sweet. Note: An earlier draft of this story, published when I knew nothing about Sophia, is here. The incorrect spelling of her name in that story is taken from her arrest card.

 

 

 

Robert Tipper “Susp”, 17 July 1943

comments 4
Uncategorized

robert-tipper
Robert Tipper married Josephine Mills in the summer of 1939. The week before their fourth anniversary, at one o’clock on a Sunday morning, Josephine hit Robert with a meat cleaver, splitting his forehead and his nose. They had been drinking.

The police found Robert in the street by the post office. They took him to the hospital, where he remained for two weeks. When he was discharged, he was arrested on an open charge of suspicion. He was released after being questioned and photographed. There is no further record of Robert, or of Josephine.

Sources: New Castle News (11 July 1939, “Marriage Applications”; 21 July 1939, “Shower For Bride”; 6 July 1943, “Seek Woman In Attack On Man”; 17 July 1943, “Around City Hall”; 19 July 1943, “Discharge Tipper”).

James Aeschbacher, “Larceny Auto”, 3 April 1945

comments 6
Uncategorized

james-aeschbacher

Late one Monday night in 1945, James Aeschbacher stole a car from a garage on Beckford street. The police found him in the car about a mile away a few hours later. The battered face in his mug shot suggests he resisted arrest.

The following year, James stole a car in Midland, near Pittsburgh. Two days later, he drove it to Butler, fifty miles away, to meet a friend. The friend suggested that they pick up a girl he knew who lived just outside town. As James parked the car in the driveway of the girl’s house, he heard someone yell, “Dad, that’s our car.” The girl’s father came out of the house. It was, indeed, his car. He had last seen it a couple of days earlier, outside the steel plant in Midland where he worked during the week. James had somehow contrived to deliver the car to the house of the man he had stolen it from. The odds against such a coincidence are too high to imagine; the luck involved is diabolical. James fled in the direction of New Castle, getting as far as Portersville before he was arrested. He got 18 months in the federal penitentiary.

James got married in 1949, just before his thirtieth birthday. Sometime later, he moved to California. He died in Sacramento in 1991, at the age of seventy-one.

Sources: New Castle News, 3 April 1945, “Held On Auto Charge”; Salem News (30 November 1946, “E Liverpool Man Gets Prison Term In Car Theft”; 13 December 1949, “Marriage Licenses”); East Liverpool Evening Review, 8 August 1977, “Deaths, Funerals”.

Richard Bartley, “Breaking and Entering”, 7 April 1938

comments 4
Uncategorized

richard-bartley

Although it was April, thick snow had fallen throughout the day, turning to slush by the time Richard Bartley was arrested, at two in the morning, on the roof of Book’s shoe store. He’d been seen by a man walking home, and police had surrounded the block. The officer who caught him also found some large empty blue bags and a screwdriver, wrench and pliers wrapped in a bundle of rags lying on the stairway up to the roof. Richard said he’d been drinking and had gone off to look for the entrance to a club that would serve non-members after hours. He’d realised he was lost when he ended up on the building’s roof. He’d taken in the view, and had thrown a few snowballs at a man in East Washington street. He knew nothing about the bags and tools, he said.

The police locked him up in a cell in the city building. When he was alone, Richard forced open an iron grill on the window and used an iron ladder to climb to the top of the building’s annex. He crossed the roof to Sycamore way and climbed down a telephone pole. His rooming house was just around the corner, so he went home. Police arrested him there just after dawn. A month later, he was given a two-year suspended sentence. There is no further record of his life.

Sources: New Castle News (7 April 1938, “Police Are Investigating Apparent ‘ Human Fly’ Performance of Man”; 7 May 1938, “After Big Fellows In Numbers Game Is Court Warning”).

 

Daisy Gray, “Material Witness”, 14 May 1951

Leave a comment
Uncategorized

daisy-gray

When Daisy Gray was a young girl—Daisy Watkins, then—she lived with her family on Preston avenue, close to the tin mills. One night in 1934, Daniel Laws, who lived a few doors away, entered her home and beat her with an iron poker because she wouldn’t have sex with him. She was able to stop him only by stabbing him with a butcher knife. Both were so badly hurt that they ended up in hospital. The story in the New Castle News bore the headline, “He Wields Poker; She Uses Knife—This Is Why Daniel Laws And Daisy Watkins Have Wounds Today”. There is little to explain the light comic tone of the piece, apart from the word “colored” in its first line.

After the war, Daisy lived on Mahoning avenue and ran what the authorities called a disorderly house, which meant she sold beer and allowed gambling in her parlour. On a Sunday afternoon in 1951, her brother Richard Watkins dropped by to pick up some bottles. He and Jessie Ashe, sitting at the same table, started arguing after he accused her of taking $2 of his change. Jessie left and went to her rooming house on the next block. Richard followed her home and beat her unconscious. She died the next day.

The police arrested Daisy as a material witness and confiscated five cases of beer, some whiskey, a few indecent pictures, playing cards and dice. Richard was found guilty of murder and Daisy was fined $200 for selling liquor without a license. There is no further record of her life. All the houses on Preston street and Mahoning avenue where Daisy and her family lived were demolished in the sixties. No one has lived on the block since.

Sources: 3 May 1934, “He Wields Poker; She Uses Knife”; 15 May 1951, “Murder Charge Will Be Placed”; 26 May 1951, “Sentence Woman”.

 

 

Anna Mae McNeil, “Murder”, 5 February 1933

comments 8
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.