John Vinkovich bought a watch from Arthur Meek’s jewellery store with a forged check. Meek described him to the police, who picked him up later that day. He admitted to forgeries in eight other towns in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky—he had signed all the bad checks with his own name—and to having crossed state lines in a car he had stolen in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The court handed him over to the federal authorities.
John had grown up in Uniontown, south of Pittsburgh. When he was nineteen, he was charged with a morals offence—indecent exposure, molestation or rape. The following week, he married his fiancé, Gertrude. One morning six weeks later, he told her he was going to work, left the house and never came home. She divorced him on grounds of desertion.
The towns where John had defrauded shopkeepers took turns locking him up. He spent the next two years serving short sentences in a succession of jails. When he was finally free, in 1952, he went to Rockford, Illinois, where he got work as a labourer. On the tenth of July, he was sent to measure a water tank, ninety-four feet above the ground, prior to painting it. His steel measuring tape was caught by the wind and carried across a high tension line below him. In the instant before the tape disintegrated, twenty-seven thousand volts shot through John’s body. He fell from the tank, striking a board fence gate before hitting the concrete, dead. He was twenty-nine years old.Sources: Connellsville Daily Courier (14 Sep 1943, “Committed To Jail”; 15 Jan 1947, “Divorces Granted County Wives”); Uniontown Morning Herald, 11 Feb 1946, “3 Divorce Libels Instituted Here”; Lima News, 6 Oct 1949, “Check Passer Hunted, Nicks 2 Stores for $83”; Mansfield News Journal, 10 Dec 1949, “Report 4th Bad Check”; New Castle News, 2 Feb 1950, “Get Sentences On Wednesday”; Janesville Daily Gazette (25 Oct 1950, “Extradite Man From Kentucky”; 16 Nov 1950, “Exams Ordered In Fraud Case”; 10 March 1951, “Leaves Jail Here, Taken To Rockford On Check Charges”);Racine Journal Times, 10 July 1952, “Man Killed In Fall From J I Case Water Tank”.
Wow, the brief life of John Vinkovich makes for a compelling read. Thanks for the great work!
Thanks, Michael. Glad you found it compelling rather than depressing.
Actually a very incomplete and inaccurate depiction of his life.
Thanks for writing, Stefanie. You’re right, of course, as all I’ve got to go on are the few news articles that mention him. I’d love to make the story more complete, though. If you don’t mind, I’ll email you to see if we can fill in some of the blanks. Hope that’s all right…
Good or bad, right or wrong, he was my Grandfather. It is most unfortunate that I never got to know him, and a shame that most of the information I find on him was the bad things he did in his life. Everyone has a good side too, I will just have to dig deeper to find it.
Yes, the news doesn’t tell us anything about things that went right, so all we are left with is bad news and bad times. By the way, about your grandfather, it’s worth pointing out that all we know about what happened when he was nineteen is that he was charged with a morals offence — there’s no record of his being found guilty, so there’s a chance he didn’t do anything at all…
This is my grandfather on my mother’s side. I am attempting to trace back his family history. I would love to know any information (good or bad) that you can provide and I would be greatly appreciated. John’s father was named John Vinkovich , Born in January 7, 1896 in Velky (Cheraucha?) Austria (now named Horvát-Szlavonország). He immigrated to America in 1913 when he was 16/17. John Francis Vinkovich was born in 1923.
Thanks for the information, Denise. I really wish I could give you some more in return, but the piece I wrote about him contains everything I was able to find out. I’ll email you a PDF of the newspaper with the report of his accident.