Robert Cole, “Armed Robbery”, 23 March 1940

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Robert Cole and Wayne Shotzbarger pulled a gun on Benny Panella as he sat in his car in an alley off West Washington street around 10 o’clock one Saturday night and told him to drive them to south New Castle, where they put him out of the car and drove off.

When they were out of sight, they turned around and headed north, skirting the town on their way to New Wilmington. They stopped at the filling station on the corner of New Castle street and Neshannock avenue and ordered five gallons of gasoline, then followed the attendant inside, telling him they wanted to buy some cigarettes. Robert drew his pistol and pointed it at the attendant while Shotzbarger filled a bag with the money from the till, which came to $23.75.

The attendant called the police as soon as the men had driven away. They were spotted shortly afterwards, heading down the North Jefferson street hill into New Castle. Motor police forced the car to the side of the street just after it crossed the Shenango river, heading west out of town. Robert tossed the pistol out of the window as the police approached. After the men were taken to the station, the police returned to the scene to look for the gun, but it had vanished. “We want the person who picked up the revolver to bring it to state motor police headquarters,” an officer told the press. But no one ever did.

Robert and Shotzbarger were sentenced to a year in the Allegheny County workhouse for armed robbery and larceny of an auto, but served only half their time before they were paroled.

Robert and his three brothers joined the army in 1942. Robert spent the war as a personnel clerk in a succession of army air force bases in New Mexico and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. Only one brother was sent overseas: Daniel, who was lamed by a German sniper in France. After the war, Jack, the oldest brother, ran a service station on Moravia street (“Cole’s—We skin our prices, not our customers!”) until October 1960, when he shot himself in the head with a semi-automatic rifle.

Robert moved to Lake Worth, Florida. He died there in 1976, in a head-on automobile crash.

Sources: New Castle News (25 March 1940, “Two Are Held For Robberies”; 1 April 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 13 Aug 1940 – “On Court House Hill”; 11 Aug 1942 “With Men In US Service”; 20 Sep 1943, “In US Armed Service”; 18 Nov 1943 “In US Armed Service”; 21 Nov 1944 “Pfc Danny Cole Wounded In Action”; 14 Oct 1960, “Deaths Of The Day”) Naples Daily News, 26 July 1976, “At Least 6 Killed In Weekend Accidents”).

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