David Clemons, “Dis. Cond”, 20 Sep 1936

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Wilson Clemons, a minister in the Church of God in Christ, was found in his front yard at 405 Mahoning avenue, his head split in two by the axe that lay by his side. No one had seen the murder take place, but the neighbours told the police to look for the reverend’s twenty-eight-year-old son, David, who lived with him and worked in a steel mill twenty miles away in Farrell.

David was known to the police. Their files held his mug shot, taken one Saturday night in 1936 when he had been arrested for disorderly behaviour. He had the mental capacity of a nine-year-old, and had recently returned to New Castle after being discharged from the army, just before the build-up to D-Day.

The police drove out to Farrell and arrested David as he was waiting to draw his wages, having informed his company he was leaving town. He confessed immediately.

He told the police his father had reprimanded him for running around. They had argued, and David had gone to bed angry. On the morning of the murder, David’s alarm clock went off at five o’clock. He woke his father and accused him of tampering with it to play a trick on him. They argued again, then David went downstairs, where he sat in silence for the next three hours.

When David’s father came downstairs at eight o’clock, David took up an axe and chased him into the yard. The old man tripped and fell, and David sunk the axe into his skull as he lay on the ground.

It was April fool’s day, 1944. That year, the occasion went largely unobserved in town. The New Castle News remarked, “Wartime conditions eliminate much of the desire for April 1 foolishness.”

David was given a life sentence for first degree murder. After a psychiatric examination, he was sent to Fairview state hospital for the criminally insane, where he joined other hopelessly disturbed inmates such as Frank Palanzo, who had wrapped his shack in bails of barbed wire and shot a state trooper on the orders of witches; Albert Yohoda, who had been told by invisible things to cut down his brother-in-law with an axe; William Jackson, who stabbed his mother to death with a carving knife and suffered hideous third-degree burns while trying to incinerate her body; Clair Young, a Charleroi miner who shot his nineteen-month-old daughter as a sacrifice so that he might go directly to heaven when he died; and Albert Shinsky, who murdered a sixty-four year old woman whom he believed to have sent a black cat down from the sky to tear his side.

David remained in Fairview for the rest of his life.

Sources: New Castle News (1 April 1944 “Man Is Killed By Blow Of Axe”, “Pa Newc Observes”; 3 April 1944 “Clemons Is Held For Hearing On Murder Charge”; 22 Sep 1944 “Life Sentence Given Clemons”; 28 Feb 1962 “Felix Clemons”, obituary), Clearfield Progress, 15 June 1936 “Morann Man Taken To Jail Following A Vicious Attack”; Altoona Mirror 20 June 1939 “Fanatic Tries To Kill Child As Sacrifice”; Charleroi Mail, 25 Aug 1939 “Sanity Commission Sends Slayer of Trooper To Insane Asylum”; Dunkirk Evening Observer, 26 March 1934 “Insane Asylum Doors Open To Receive Albert Shinsky”; Gettysburg Times, 28 Nov 1942, “Young Slayer Is Unbalanced”.



  1. Kendall says

    Heartbreaking stories powerfully and concisely written. You do this so well. I am devastated. I just read this and am immobilized for the present. I stare out my window and think of all the havoc brain chemicals cause. The mind gone amok, the mind blind with rage and fear. As always I am grateful for your stories, even when they break my heart.

  2. Thanks so much. This is a particularly sad story, isn’t it? I found out some things about the rest of his family, not much of it the sort of stuff that brings much happiness to the tale – two of his brothers were in trouble with the police for robberies in their youth, one brother was killed in an industrial accident when he was just fifty-five and his youngest brother was killed by friendly fire in Vietnam at the age of forty-two. Hard times, indeed.

  3. Thanks Kerry. Next week’s one isn’t as sad – it’s the story of New Castle’s first state liquor store, and the men who robbed it…

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