A wealthy north hill citizen named W S Harlan returned home just after dark one December night in 1906 to discover a gang of burglars in his hallway. They were armed with blackjacks and pistols, but Harlan overpowered one of them and kept him captive while the others ran off. The burglar was fifteen years old, the son of a prominent north hill family. He confessed to other recent burglaries and named his accomplices, a group of boys who were also from respected families in the area. To shield the parents, Harlan declined to press charges and the police and the district attorney refused to release the names of the boys. The letters of outrage that were published in the town’s papers and the complaints of those who said that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor were ignored.
Ten days later, Walter Jamison—then just sixteen years old—and three younger friends, all from the poor district of Mahoningtown, robbed the Patterson & Sample store of several pistols, knives and boxes of cartridges, which Walter sold to railroad men around New Castle junction. They were caught soon after and admitted the crime, the younger ones in tears. They said that they admired the north hill gang and had been encouraged by their light treatment. After letting the well-connected boys off, the court had no option but to do the same with the Mahoningtown boys. The judge gave them suspended sentences, saying, “My decision will be criticised by some people. It is up to you, boys, to so conduct yourselves, that this criticism will be shown to have been unwarranted.”
Walter’s friends did what the judge asked and avoided trouble with the law for the rest of their lives. Walter did not. He and another friend were arrested three years later for passing forged cheques in New Castle, Youngstown and Erie for sums of between $7.50 and $18.40. Walter had signed them, variously, “BD Wilson, superintendent of the Youngstown Foundry company”, “EJ Wilson, secretary of the Youngstown Foundry company”, “AC Dickson, secretary, Youngstown Foundry Co” and “HB McClurg”. Walter’s friend, a first-time offender, was given a suspended sentence, “so that he will have to go straight in future”, but Walter was jailed. After he was released, he stole a horse and buggy from a livery stable in New Castle and vanished from town.
Walter remained at large for five years, until he returned to New Castle in the summer of 1921 and was arrested for passing a forged cheque. He received sentences of two years for forgery and three-and-a-half years for horse theft. (The policeman who arrested him received a reward of $20 under an old Pennsylvania horse-theft law.) He was released in the middle of the 1920s, but was arrested in Mercer County in 1927 on a charge of forgery and sent to the Allegheny workhouse. Walter spent the rest of the 1920s being moved from jail to jail, as detectives in various jurisdictions connected him to an ever-growing number of open forgery cases.
As the new decade began, Walter was doing time in the Ohio state penitentiary in Columbus. He worked in the prison kitchen and had become popular among the inmates and guards on account of the quality of his doughnuts—he oversaw the production of nine thousand a day, and was known as the best doughnut baker ever to have been incarcerated in the prison. On 30th June 1930, a new guard gave him permission to step outside for a minute to get a bottle of milk from the dairy across the street. He walked out of the gate and didn’t come back.
Walter fled across Ohio in the direction of New Castle, swindling grocery stores out of several thousand dollars-worth of goods, which he paid for with bad cheques in the name of a cashier of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad. (He bought a rubber stamp with the name of the railroad on it to give his forgeries a degree more plausibility.) Railroad detectives followed the trail of cheques from town to town, comparing the signatures on them with the signatures in the registers of cheap boarding houses until they found a match. Two months after Walter escaped from prison, he was captured as he slept in his room in the Ohio hotel in Akron.
He was free by 1935, when businesses in the Youngstown area were warned that “Walter Jamison, a jailbird” was distributing forged cheques from the Standard Slag co. A decade later, in 1946, he was arrested in New Castle on a charge of uttering a forged instrument and was given a two-year sentence. He was fifty-six years old. There is no further record of him.Sources: New Castle News (17 Dec 1906, “Boy Burglar Was Caught In Harlan Home”; 30 Jan 1907, “Pleaded Guilty And Were Held For Court”; 18 Dec 1906, “Injustice Done By Lienency (sic) In Behalf Of Boys”; 20 Dec 1906, “Boy Burglary Affair Is Up To District Attorney”; 21 Dec 1906, “PJ Watson Suggests Other Phases Of The Boy Burglary Hush-up”; 18 Jan 1907, “Mahoningtown Lads Emulated Nth Hill Boys”; 6 Feb 1907, “Sentence Was Suspended On The Boy Burglars”; 15 Feb 1911, “Easy Kale For Boy Forgers”; 30 Sep 1921, “Jamison Sentenced To Penitentiary”; 15 May 1925, “Arrest Man With New Castle Checks”; 8 June 1927, “True Bills Found By Grand Jury In All But Two Cases”; 10 Oct 1928, “Workhouse Prisoner To be Re-Arrested”; 14 Aug 1930, “Walter Jamison Is Recaptured”; 15 Aug 1930, “Jamison Back In Ohio Prison After Recapture; Prisoners Are Gratified”; 24 Oct 1946, “Worthless Check Charge”); Youngstown Vindicator, 4 Jun 1935, “Check Slicker At Large”; The Border Cities Star, 5 Sep 1930, “No Doughnuts”.