Frank Tomski, “S & P of M.BVS” 8 September 1937

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Frank Tomski was charged with the sale and possession of hard liquor while having only a malt beverages licence, and he appeared in court along with several other moonshiners and bootleggers. Prohibition had been over for four years, but the black market had endured.

The judge gave him six months—far more than the one month that Tony Frank got for conspiracy to manufacture liquor but far less than the eighteen months that Francesco Conti got for running the operation.

Frank’s seventeen-year-old son, Chester, was also up before the court that day in October 1937. He was convicted of auto theft and, a few hours after the judge sent Frank to the Allegheny workhouse, Chester was on his way to Huntingdon reformatory school.

Frank and Chester were both released in April 1938—Frank had served his full sentence and Chester had been paroled when he turned eighteen. Jail might have reformed Frank (he was never arrested again, at any rate), but reformatory did not help Chester.

There was a spate of car thefts in the New Castle area in early 1940. Chester had gone back to stealing cars within weeks of being released from the reformatory. The police suspected that he had something to do with the crimes, but they couldn’t find him. He had left home as soon as he had realised that he was a suspect, taking with him his father’s only suit, which he stole while Frank was out.

On 4 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. Sitting behind the wheel was Chester Tomski, who saw the look of recognition on officer Boyle’s face and immediately started his engine, speeding off across Hickory Heights to the Harlansburg road.

Boyle gave chase as Chester tore along dirt roads towards East Brook before eventually abandoning the Plymouth and fleeing into a swamp. Boyle followed, and 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.

Two months after Chester was sent to prison, Frank died from what his obituary called “complications of one day’s illness”. He was fifty-eight.

Chester spent all of the ’40s and ’50s in jail, having been given extra time when he was caught trying to saw his way out of the Western penitentiary. 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 Frank had been sentenced for liquor violations and the seventeen-year-old Chester had been sentenced for stealing cars, Chester had been either in custody or on parole.

Chester died a few years after he was finally released—he made it to fifty-nine; just one year older than Frank had been when he had died.

Sources: New Castle News (3 April 1937 “Sentences Are Passed”; 16 October 1937 “Mains Sentenced To Penitentiary For Three Years”; 6 May 1940 “Tomski Caught”; 21 May 1940 “Youth Returns To County Jail”; 25 May 1940 “Tomski Given Long Sentence”; 6 July 1940, “Frank Tomski” obituary; 24 Feb 1955 “To Bring Back Prisoners”; 3 Jan 1966 “Man Jailed After Police Chase, Crash”)

4 Comments

  1. How do you find all of these old mug shots and stories? I am looking for a relative of mine who was arrested in the thirties, and I do not know where to begin to look. Thank you

  2. Hi. Finding out information about anyone that long ago is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. I use newspaperarchive.com (which is a pay service) and footnote.com (a site that has some free census and death-record material). Sometimes you get lucky, most times you don’t. I have plenty of mug shots that I can’t find out anything about. It generally helps a lot, though, if the person you’re searching for has a unique or rare name, rather than being called John Smith.

    I’ll e-mail you and, if you like, you can send me some details about your relative, and I’ll see I can come up with anything.

  3. Hi,

    I have found that a relative of mine was charged with selling liquor without a license. Jennie Kulkin in 1913. Can you retrieve any New Castle News newspaper articles about it? Also, do the mugshots even go back that far?

    Great blog. Thanks,

    Gail

    • Hi Gail. First, sorry for taking so long to reply – I’ve been away from my computer for a while. I’ve found the story about your relative’s acquittal, and I’ll email it to you. That’s the only significant entry about the case, though. It’s possible that a mug shot was taken of her in 1913, although that would be a little early. I’ll keep an eye out for it and let you know if it turns up!

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