Glenn C Neely, “Drunk & Dis” 6 July 1948

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glenn-c-neelyGlenn Neely got too drunk on the weekend of New Castle’s sesquicentennial celebrations. It was his last summer as a bachelor—he was due to be married in November. That may have had something to do with it, but it’s just as likely that it didn’t; a lot of people got too drunk that weekend. He probably met Larry Day and Norman Ross in the cells.

Glenn was a building contractor at the time. Later, he went into business selling construction supplies. He drove a lot for work, and started getting arrested for drunk driving as soon as he turned forty. He was on his second suspension, in March 1968, when he got into the car of a young man named Virgil Coonfare for the ride back to New Castle from Warren, Ohio. He was drunk, and so was Virgil.

Just after they set off, Virgil crashed into a car then drove off down a side street, going fast. He hit a utility pole. The car went off the road, into a ditch. The men were trapped inside, Glenn with a bleeding brain and ruptured organs. He died about an hour later. He was forty-two.

Virgil was twenty-one when he killed Glenn. He was sixty-seven the next time he killed someone—a seven-year-old boy who had been eating Cheetos on the front steps of his friend’s house on Winslow avenue when Virgil, out of his mind on depressants and painkillers, lost control of his pick-up. Virgil died a year later, on the morning of November 25, 2013, the first anniversary of the accident.

Sources: New Castle News (19 October 1948, “Perrotta-Neely”; 3 December 1965, “Grand Jury Indicts 4, Clears 3”; 18 May 1966, “4 Members Of Burglary Ring Sentenced In County Court”; 2 August 1966, “14 Driving Suspensions Are Issued”; 22 March 1968, “City Man Is Killed In Crash”; 27 November 2012, “Afternoon Turns Horrific With Death Of ‘Sweet Child’”; 10 December 2013, “Suspect’s Death From ‘Natural Causes’”; The Youngstown Vindicator, “Driver held in death of boy, 7, in New Castle”).

Fioravante Pisano, “Firearms Act”, 14 Feb 1951

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The police arrested Fioravante Pisano because he’d fired a gun in his basement. His wife, Amelia, thought he was going to kill himself. They charged him with a firearms violation and took his photograph when they booked him, but let him go once he’d calmed down. No harm done, and it was Valentine’s day.

Fioravante had been sick and depressed for a long time. Things hadn’t been good since the war. He and his brother Joe had been sent to New Guinea, which Joe said was an unhealthy place for whites, with rain all year and too many jungles and insects—“a hellhole if ever there was one.” Fioravante was sent back to America early in 1945 with a bad case of malaria while Joe stayed out there and got shot in the neck by a Japanese sniper. Joe got better and went on to fight in the Philippines, but Fioravante couldn’t shake his illness. It came and went and left him too weak to do much.

He married Amelia on a trip back to New Castle from the hospital in Camp Butner. They set up home when he got out of the army, but Fioravante was too ill to hold down his old job at the National Radiator plant. He ended up working in the railroad yard.

The year after Fioravante’s arrest, Amelia had a baby. They called him Patrick, and he died before he was one month old. Amelia died the following summer—1953—after an operation went wrong. She was thirty-four.

Fioravante married a nurse called Alene McMichaels in the summer of 1954, and they had a baby boy more or less nine months later. He was still sick, still depressed. He shot himself in the head when the child was just a few months old. Alene’s brother found him dead in his bedroom, a revolver in his hand. He was thirty-five. Alene buried him beside Amelia and moved back to Mercer County, to be with her parents. She died in 2000, at the age of eighty.

Sources: New Castle News (22 December 1944, “T-Sgt Joe Pisano Wounded In Action”; 9 February 1945, “E. Lackawannock”; 29 March 1945, “Okuzo-Pisano Marriage; 21 May 1945, “S-Sgt Joe Pisano Is Again Wounded”; 22 May 1945, “On Convalescent Furlough Here”; 25 August 1945, “Local Soldier In Combat Area”; 14 February 1951, “Police Told Man Fired Bullet In Basement Of Home”; 28 November 1952, “Births Reported”; 19 June 1953, “Deaths of the Day”; 10 August 1955, “Deaths Of The Day”; 11 July 1973, “Deaths Of The Day”);, “Fioravante Pisano”, Memorial ID 183553064;, “Jeff Pisano”.

Donald T Wells, “B and E, Safe Robbery” 31 May 1932

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Donald Wells was a brakeman for the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie railroad for nine years until he was furloughed when the steel factories shut down after the Wall street crash. He had done casual construction work since then, travelling as far as Tennessee for a structural iron job, and he’d served a little time in the workhouse for larceny and burglary. He had a wife, but had been sleeping in his car for the past while.

In May 1932, Donald and a man named William Thompson left Pittsburgh and headed west, taking with them a set of safe-cracking tools and a couple of guns. They ran out of gas in New Castle, with only 40 cents between them. Around one in the morning, they climbed onto a low-roofed building behind the Diamond and jemmied the window of a second-floor toilet at the rear of Haney’s furniture store. They found a safe in an office on the floor below.

A patrolman walking in the alley behind the store heard the sound of a hammer striking steel. More police came, and two of them climbed through the toilet window, which was still propped open.

Donald and William had broken off the safe’s combination dial but were still trying to open the door when they realised someone was inside with them. They hid their guns in the office and ran upstairs, where they wrapped their chisels and drills in a towel and stuffed them behind a toilet before finding a way into an upper floor of the neighboring building. A stairway led them down to the street, a few doors away from where two patrolmen were waiting outside the Haney store. The police chased them back and forth across the Diamond for a while. When they started shooting, Donald and William ran into the alleys behind the buildings. They ended up in the parking lot of the Leslie hotel, with police at every exit. Donald was discovered behind a box; William behind the garbage can at the hotel’s kitchen door.

Donald served two-and-a-half years in the Western penitentiary. He was arrested again within months of his release, trying to rob the safe of the Goodrich filling station in Mount Lebanon. He got another six years, which kept him inside until 1941. By 1944, he was part of a group of safe-crackers who worked across western Pennsylvania. The police called them the hammer-and-pin gang. They did a couple of jobs a month, taking around $70,000 a year, and spent the money in gambling joints in Pittsburgh.

At four o’clock on a spring morning in 1947, Donald and another member of the gang, John Romito, broke into the Ramsey garage in Zelienople and set about opening the safe. The noise woke the apprentice mechanic, who had a room upstairs. He telephoned the owner, Arthur Ramsey, who got his gun and drove over. Donald heard the car pull up outside. He shot at Ramsey when he entered, hitting him in the hip. Ramsey fired back. They shot at each other until they ran out of bullets, then Donald and John ran outside.

Donald had been shot in his mouth and chest. He stumbled into ditch a few yards outside the garage. The police found him there, choking as he struggled to breathe. He died without saying a word, still holding his gun.

John was picked up on route 68 a few hours later. After he was jailed—he got ten to twenty years—the police arrested the other gang members. He testified against them in court, saying that he wanted to tell the truth so he could square himself with his religion. He died of a brain tumor in 1961 at the age of seventy.

Sources: New Castle News (31 May 1932, “Police Foil Robbery”; 4 June 1932, “Pair Caught By Police After Chase In Streets Held For Court Trial”; 21 June 1932, “Trio Of Bandits Given Sentences To Penitentiary”; 2 April 1947, “Police Here Caught Wells Back In 1932”); Pittsburgh Press, 1 April 1947, “Zelienople Garageman Kills Safe Thief”; Kane Republican, 1 April 1947, “Gun Battle So Hot Vet Starts Praying; One Man Is Slain”; Connellsville Daily Courier, 20 February 1948, “Four Charged With Cracking Safes”; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 20 April 1950, “Safe-Cracker Suspect Freed”).

Loyal Weller, “Conspiracy”, 10 March 1933

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loyall-wellerCora Cunningham’s father graduated from medical school as the civil war started. He spent four years as a battlefield surgeon. Both armies were using a new type of bullet—a conical thing that shattered bone rather than being deflected by it, as a musket ball would be—so his work mostly involved sawing off the arms and legs of young men after each engagement and stitching their stumps closed with squares of skin cut from the discarded limbs. If he hadn’t, they would have died from the poison in their rotting wounds. A lot of them died anyway.

Cora was born two months after the war ended. Her father set up a medical practice in Wurtemburg, a quiet township fifteen miles south of New Castle. He remained there for the rest of his life.

Loyal Weller was arrested when Cora was sixty-eight. By that time, she was living alone in the old family house, her parents and brothers all dead and her sisters living in Ellwood City. She had never married. She had taught at the local school for thirty-four years, and was so well liked that, in her retirement, former pupils would gather at her house with presents on her birthday.

Loyal was one of her former pupils, as were his friends Harry Dale and Charles Khoury. They had heard a story that Cora was secretly rich, with money stashed around her house in tin cans. They came up with a plan to rob the place, but needed help. Someone put them in touch with a bootlegger from out of town who offered to drive them to and from Cora’s house but refused to take part in the robbery itself. They wanted a third man to go into the house with them, so they told the bootlegger to drive them to Court street in New Castle, where they called out Clyde Burtch, an older man who was not long out of jail for stealing watches from a jewelry store. Burtch—who would go on to stab a man to death in 1941 and shoot a man dead in 1960—told them to drop the idea. He’d broken into the house a few months before and found no money. The old woman had nothing.

The bootlegger drove Dale and Khoury to Wurtemburg (Loyal had left them by this point) and stayed in the car as they looked the place over and tried to figure out how they might break in. The next day, at a meeting to discuss the plan, the bootlegger told the boys he was a state trooper working under cover. He arrested them all. Burtch was picked up later that day.

Loyal was released within a few days due to lack of evidence, but his friends got a year in the penitentiary for conspiracy. Burtch got two to four years for breaking and entering.

Loyal went to jail in 1938 for passing fraudulent checks. He joined the army a few months after Pearl harbor and spent four years as a mechanic. Near the end of the war, on the outskirts of a small town in northern Germany, his infantry division found a barn that contained the bodies of more than a thousand people who the Germans had just burned alive. One soldier said it looked like something from another time, or even another planet. The Americans made the men from the town dig graves for them all. It took three days.

Loyal returned home and got a job as a tool crib attendant at Babcock and Wilcox Tubular Products. He worked there until he died, at the age of sixty-one, in 1971. Cora died in 1950, at the age of eighty-four.

Sources: New Castle News: (13 June 1933, “Two On Trial In Conspiracy Case”; 14 June 1933, “Dale And Khoury Are Found Guilty”; 19 June 1933, “Clark And Wife Have No Excuse For Evil Deeds”; 23 April 1938, “Sentences Are Given By Court”; 29 June 1971, “Deaths Of The Day”); The Franklin News-Herald, 13 March 1933, “State Policeman Gets Chummy With Gang And Blocks Holdup Plans”; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 March 1960, “Burtch Calm As He Sits Through Second Murder Inquest Here”.  Gardlegen massacre information from “A History of the Dora Camp” by Andre Sellier and “Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust” by Yaffa Eliach.

Loy Powell, “Drunk & Dis” 28 July 1951

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Loy Powell had been drinking in the Lincoln hotel for some time when he saw another customer, James Wise, arguing with Walter Tewell, an off-duty policeman. He watched as Tewell ended the argument by arresting Wise, who continued to struggle. When a patrol car arrived, Loy saw an officer beat Wise unconscious with a nightstick. Loy ended up becoming involved, one way or another, and the officer beat him, too. The hospital gave Wise eight stitches in his scalp. Loy got a bandage and surgical tape.

Loy was arrested several times over the years, mostly for disorderly conduct. In 1948, he was fined $10 for trying to entice a girl into his car on Lutton street at 2:30 in the morning. In 1953, he and two other men were arrested for fighting in a bar in East Long avenue. In 1969, he was arrested for assaulting a police lieutenant in the police station where his friend had been placed in a cell for assaulting a police officer earlier that evening. In 1970, his license was suspended for intoxicated driving. In 1973, he and Walter Criss were arrested for yelling and cursing in the Red Hot restaurant. In 1974, he and William Sankey were arrested for arguing and fighting in front of a West Washington street bar. Later that year, he crashed his car while driving without a license.

Loy painted houses and occasionally fell from great heights—40 feet in 1957, and 44 feet in 1960. He died in 2003, at the age of eighty-one.

Sources: New Castle News (23 August 1948, “Two Fined $10”; 6 February 1951, “Two Fined For Part In Altercation In South Side District”; 23 July 1953, “Arrest Trio”; 21 August 1957, “Four Injured By Falls Yesterday”; 14 June 1969, “Two Policemen Assaulted In Related Incidents”; 17 December 1970, “36 Drivers Have Licenses Suspended”; 25 June 1973, “City Police Charge 5 For Conduct”; 26 January 1974, “County Report”; 2 October 1974, “County Report”; 17 January 1978, Edge Chiropractic Life Center advert).



Zear Mack Hogan, “Burglary”, 28 July 1958

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Zear Mack Hogan got married while on parole from a prison farm in Ohio. A week later, he broke into the office of Castle Roofing and Sheet Metal, just west of New Castle. Sometime after midnight, the owner, Russell Delaney, saw someone moving around inside the place and went to investigate. When he opened the door, Zear hit him with a wrench and ran off. Delaney’s arm was broken. He called the police.

Zear broke into a garage across the road and hid there until the police came. When they called on him to come out, he started up a truck and sped past them, heading west. He made it to the home of his friend James Latess in Edinburg, about six miles outside town. He changed into one of James’s suits and set off on foot into the woods. If he stuck to the banks of the Mahoning river or followed the rail tracks, he’d cross the border into Ohio in a couple of hours.

The Civil Air Patrol sent up a plane, which spotted the abandoned truck in Edinburg. Zear would have heard it circling above him as flashlights moved through the trees, coming in from all sides. He walked out of the woods, hands raised.

Zear got two to five years in the Western penitentiary. He died in 1986, at the age of fifty-eight. Russell Delaney had a good year, installing the roofing on the modern annexe to the New Castle News building and the newly opened Wonder Boy drive-in restaurant—“Come as you are, Eat in your car”—and all the sheet metal work at the Shenango Bowl-A-Way, which survived until the derelict building was demolished in 2013.

Sources: Franklin News-Herald, 28 July 1958, “Plane Helps New Castle Posse Capture Fugitive”; New Castle News (30 September, advert; 10 October, advert; 13 October, advert; 10 December 1958, “Criminal Court Trials End; Two Cases Heard”; 15 December 1958, “Late City Bulletins”).

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

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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”

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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

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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

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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”).