Hugh Berger, “Burglary”, 18 Aug 1940

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When he was nineteen, in 1930, Hugh Berger was the leader of a gang of youths who were arrested in Pittsburgh and charged with fifty-six counts of robbery, larceny, pointing firearms and carrying concealed weapons. Hugh spent ten years in the state penitentiary at Bellefonte. After his release in the spring of 1940, he ended up in New Castle, where he met two local men—Kalim George, who had just been paroled from the Western penitentiary following a three-to-six year sentence for sodomy, and James Ross, who had beaten an assault-and-robbery charge the year before. A new A&P supermarket had opened up on South Mercer street, and they decided to rob it.

Around four o’clock on a Sunday morning in August, Hugh and Kalim pried open a door into the furnace room at the rear of the A&P building, leaving James Ross outside as a lookout. They took $34 in quarters and dimes from the cash register and filled twelve sacks with food, cigarettes and candy. Just before dawn, as they were getting ready to leave, two police officers broke down the front door.

Hugh and Kalim ran to the rear of the store. One officer fired a shot and Kalim ducked behind a counter, where he hid until he was captured. Hugh stuffed his .32 revolver into a pile of canteloupes and hid under a table. He, too, was found and taken out to the street, where he saw James Ross handcuffed to a patrol car.

At the station, Hugh learned that the police had been tipped off about the robbery. He blamed Kalim. He told him that he would kill him with an ice pick when they got to jail. It turned out he was wrong. In court, Hugh got nine to nineteen years and Kalim got eight to sixteen years. James Ross was tried separately, and his sentence was not reported in the papers.

As soon as Hugh was admitted to the Western penitentiary, he wrote to the courthouse in New Castle requesting copies of the indictments brought against him, the true bills and grand jury subpoenas, the commitment from the city police jail to the county jail, the dispositions, the commitments to the penitentiary, the trial testimony and the claim of the A&P store. After studying the paperwork for two years, he found what seemed to be an inaccuracy. The indictment said that he had robbed a store that was owned by A&P but he had discovered that A&P merely occupied the building, which was owned by somebody else. Hugh wrote to the district attorney, saying that the error invalidated his conviction. The judge examined the evidence, announced that the arguments were “of the most captious and technical kind” and threw out the appeal.

Hugh was paroled in 1948 but, after another burglary conviction, he was sent back to the Western penitentiary to serve the rest of his sentence. He was over fifty when he was released, having spent only a few months out of jail since his arrest in 1930. He died in Pittsburgh in 1995, at the age of eighty-four.

Sources: New Castle News (3 April 1937, “Sentences Are Passed In Court”; 14 Dec 1938, “Pardon Is Granted To C A Llewellyn”; 1 June 1939, “Welsh And Gibbons Bring Ross To City”; 19 Aug 1940, “Police Surprise Trio In Store Robbery; All Three Captured”; 19 Sep 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 20 Sep 1940, “Store Robbers Get Long Terms”; 20 Sep 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 5 Oct 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 2 Dec 1942, “On Court House Hill”; 27 Jan 1943, “On Court House Hill”; 2 March 1943, “On Court House Hill”; 2 Sep 1955, “Legal Notices”; 6 Sep 1955, “Berger Seeks Parole”); Pittsburgh Press (9 March 1930, “9 Face 56 Charges In Robbery Chain”).

5 Comments

  1. johnny says

    Imagine such a waste of youth. Pretty much from age 19 to age 50 he was stuck in the can.

  2. johnny says

    Imagine getting a term of 3-6 years for this crime.

    “where he met two local men—Kalim George, who had just been paroled from the Western penitentiary following a three-to-six year sentence for sodomy…”

    one can only imagine the discussion that took place when he went to prison and got asked by his prison cellmate the eternal question, ‘what are you in for?’

    Kalim: ‘sodomy’

    ‘Man, did you come to the right place…’

  3. Quite. I’ve just finished researching a couple of guys who was arrested for sodomy in 1961. They only got four to eight months. Changing times…

    Incidentally, there’s an excellent overview of the history of Pennsylvania’s sodomy laws here: http://bit.ly/q7TFv9

  4. Johnny says

    damn, great link
    you know anytime they base a law of the bible it’s going to be fairly hardcore.

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