Jimmy Pasta made his money running illegal numbers games. He called himself a bill collector. He was arrested from time to time on gambling-related charges, staying out of jail by paying hundreds of dollars in fines. Just after three o’clock on the nineteenth of September, 1940, he was sitting in his car in Ellwood City when he saw the chief of police, Ernest Hartman, stop a car on the bridge over the Connoquenessing creek and open fire with his Tommy-gun when three men got out holding revolvers. One of the men fell to the ground and was dragged back into the car by the other two. They drove off while Hartman was re-loading his gun.
An off-duty police officer, Ed Shaffer, got into Jimmy’s car and told him to follow the men. He did what he was told.
Earlier that month, three ex-convicts who had met in Rockview penitentiary—Virgil Evarts, Albert Feelo and Kenneth Palmer—broke into Rohrer’s gun store in New Castle and stole twenty revolvers, five rifles and dozens of boxes of ammunition. They had already robbed an insurance office in Farrel of $400, and planned to use the guns in a series of heists in small banks across western Pennsylvania.
On the day Jimmy saw them, they had held up a bank in Harrisville, twenty miles east of New Castle, making off with around $2,300. Police in the surrounding towns had been told to look out for their car, a black 1939 Buick club coupe. They had driven south through Ellwood City, where the chief of police had been waiting with his Tommy-gun. All three were wounded by Hartman. Evarts was the least badly hurt, with just two bullets in his chest. Palmer was wounded in both legs. Feelo’s spine was shattered and his lungs were punctured. His legs were torn up.
Fifteen miles out of town, their car ran off the road. Evarts stopped a passing car and forced the driver and his passenger out. Feelo and Palmer were being moved into the new car when Jimmy and Shaffer, both unarmed, drew up. Evarts ordered them at gunpoint to help them carry the wounded men.
Later that day, Jimmy told a reporter what happened next. “They said all seven of us couldn’t ride in that old car. I’ve read enough gangster stories to be plenty scared by that.” He saw Evarts put the rifle on Palmer’s lap and walk around to the driver’s side. “The car was between us and I figured it was now or never. I grabbed the gun from Palmer and pointed it at Evarts. He made a move like he was going for a gun and I fired through the window at him. He fell over the hill. Then I climbed down the hill where Evarts was moving, trying to get up. I hit him over the head with the gun and he passed out.”
He returned to the road to find that Shaffer had found a wrench and had beaten Palmer over the head until he was unconscious. The chief of police arrived in time to disarm Feelo, who was weakly trying to raise a revolver to shoot.
Evarts died when Jimmy hit him. His skull caved in. Feelo died in the hospital a day later. Palmer was sent back to Rockview penitentiary.
Jimmy was given a plaque and a gold Gruen wristwatch, which never ran. He took it to the jewelers to be repaired, but they said there was nothing wrong with it. He kept the plaque, but got rid of the watch.
Jimmy eventually quit running numbers. He became a sales manager for a furniture store and was elected head of Ellwood City’s Sons of Italy lodge, a post he held for most of the sixties. He died in 1991, at the age of seventy-five.Sources: New Castle News (17 August 1933, “Virigela To Box New Kensington Boy”; 8 October 1938, “Sentences Passed At Court Session”; 15 march 1940, “’Numbers’ Cause Arrest Of Two”; 1 April 1940, “On Court House Hill”; 16 September 1942, “Police Hunt Bandit Pair In Downtown Holdup”; 20 September 1942, “Second Bank Bandit Dies”; 22 September 1942, “Palmer Under Special Guard”; 24 August 1955, “Area Optimists Will Meet Here”; 21 March 1961, “Pasta heads SOI”; 25 February 1963, “James Pasta SOI Venerable”).
I mean… Wow.
Thanks for that D. Certainly perked up my Friday.
Thanks. You can imagine how pleased I was when the search results came back. And what a name!
The headline ‘Pasta heads Sons of Italy’ is worth the entry alone. The Bonnie and Clyde stuff is just gravy….
That was fantastic. Thanks.
You’re welcome. Glad you liked it!
You’ve outdone yourself with this one. Man. How high did you jump when you saw his name was actually ‘Pasta’?
Surely the finest ever Italian-American name! You couldn’t get away with it in fiction…
Absolutely love this blog! So many stories from an era we’ll never see again.
Thank you for this!
No problem, Silvio! Thanks!
I stumbled upon your ((awesome)) site while looking for a deceased relative of mine. The Jimmy Pasta saga is fascinating!
I was wondering if you have any records pertaining to my relative. I’ve been told that he had a record. I’ve searched high and low for documentation regarding his life (and criminal record) but it’s almost like he didn’t exist. Is there any way you would check to see if he’s in the records you have? His name was Ralph Kneram.
I appreciate any advice on record searches, as well!
Thank you very much! Keep on rocking the blog! 🙂
Hi Alexis. Sorry for taking so long to reply, but I’ve been away from my computer for a while. I’ve just done a search on newspaper archive.com for Ralph Kneram, and the name appears quite a few times, mostly in sports reports (baseball, as far as I can make out – he appears to play for an east-side merchants team) and in normal small-town social reports about who he’s been visiting. There’s an obituary in the March 17 1952 paper for a Ralph Gaylord Kneram, aged 36. Is that him? And there’s a report in the January 4 1936 paper that mentions his name in connection with a numbers racket.
If you’re doing family research (or any sort of historical research at all) I can’t recommend newspaperarchive.com strongly enough. It’s great. It’s a pay site, but they give you a free trial, which will give you enough time to find out all that you’ll be able to about Ralph Kneram. Good luck!