Bill Harlan, “Stick Up, Robbery”, 11 March 1933

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The Falls family had farmed the north hill since the beginning of the 19th century. As the town’s population grew in the prosperous decades up to the 1930s, they sold off portions of their farm to developers and, by the time that a boy named Bill Harlan had his mug shot taken in 1933, the open pasture above New Castle had been transformed into a well-off residential area with spacious streets lined with the sturdy mansions of industrialists and the elegant homes of bankers, businessmen and white-collar professionals—and of Bill’s family, who lived in a newly built timber house on Meyer avenue.

The Harlans were an even older local family than the Falls, having arrived in the area in the 1790s, when they founded the village of Harlansburg, just east of the small settlement at the junction of the Shenango and the Neshannock creek that was to become the city of New Castle. By the 1930s, the Harlans—Bill’s father, uncles and cousins—owned several businesses in town and were comfortably settled among the quality up on the north hill.

Highland avenue was the main spine of the north hill district, crossing the most moneyed streets on the way out of town. Two widowed sisters, Beulah Phillips and Mellie Julian, lived in a large house at 1503 Highland avenue, and another sister, Goldie Ingels, lived around the corner on Euclid avenue. On 13th January 1933, when the widows were wintering in California, Goldie Ingels passed by their house and noticed that some of the blinds were down, which they hadn’t been a couple of days previously. Letting herself in through the kitchen door, she found that the house had been ransacked. Furniture was overturned, rugs were awry and the contents of the drawers were scattered around the rooms.

The thieves had evidently taken their time as they went through the house, methodically checking for valuables and making off with a dozen pearl handled knives; two triangle clocks; several rugs, large and small; two hunting rifles; two fishing poles; two men’s overcoats and one man’s suit; a seal skin coat; some dresses; two hundred pieces of silverware; linen sheets; two small lamps; three suitcases; one bureau toilet set; several decks of cards; and some memorandum pads.

Based on the thoroughness of the job the police declared that the house had been targeted by a gang of professional thieves, but they were wrong. When the burglars gave themselves up two weeks later, they turned out to be a group of boys who lived in nearby streets, the youngest of whom was the sixteen-year-old Bill Harlan.

Bill and his friend, George Hawk, had broken into the house one night during the first week of the widows’ absence and stolen some small objects. The next night, they returned with some other boys, and together they set about stealing as much as they could carry off.

The boys were all good students from well-off north hill families, and they apologised for the theft and promised to give back everything they had taken. Naturally, their punishment was light—probation for three years, and costs.

Within two months, Bill Harlan was in custody again. He had broken into a little cottage along the Neshannock creek, the home of Tullie Caiazza, an insurance salesman and local baseball coach, and stolen some fishing tackle, a rifle and a mounted deer head. While he was awaiting trial, it emerged that he had also recently held up a Mercer hardware store and made off with guns, ammunition and ether.

Once again, the court was sympathetic, and Bill was paroled for one year. However, only a few months later, he took part in an armed robbery at the Hutchinson inn, on the New Wilmington road. He fled to California and was apprehended in Los Angeles, where he unsuccessfully resisted extradition to Pennsylvania.

Back in New Castle, the judge told Bill that anyone who committed so serious a crime while on parole should expect to be sent to jail, no matter how young they were. However, in recognition of his previous good behaviour—and, no doubt, the position of the Harlans among the families on the north hill—the court was disposed to give him one more chance to reform, and he was sent instead to the industrial school at Huntingdon.

Seven years later, only a few days after the attack on Pearl harbor, Bill enlisted in the national guard. There is no further trace of him until his death in July 1997, in Sandusky, Ohio.

Sources: New Castle News (22 May, 1931, “Deaths of the Day”; 14 January, 1933 “North Hill Residence Looted”; 9 March, 1933, “Clear Up Robbery At Phillips Home”; 13 March, 1933 “Charge Cottage Was Broken Into”; 21 March, 1933 “Sentenced In Mercer County Court”; 23 March, 1933, “Boy Who Stabbed His Sweetheart Sentenced Today”; 25 Jan, 1934, “Arrest Local Youth On Coast”; 14 Feb, 1934, “Officers Return From Coast Trip”; 3 March, 1934, “Pleas Entered And Prisoners Are Sentenced”; 8 March, 1934, “On Court House Hill”).

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