Chester Tomski ran away from home at the age of thirteen. He hitchhiked around the Franklin and Oil City area, stealing what he could to get by—like the $2 in the pocketbook he took from ten-year-old Bernice Hazlett—and selling stolen bikes for $1.50 or so. He was caught after a week and sent home.
Four years later, when he was seventeen, Chester was arrested behind the wheel of a car he’d stolen from the parking lot of the Mathews conveyor company. He’d been practicing his driving all day, going up and down the back roads between New Castle and Ellwood City, and the car was in a bad way. He was given six months in Huntingdon reformatory. He went there the same day his father, Frank, started his own six-month sentence in the Alleghenny workhouse, for selling liquor without a license.
Chester started stealing cars again within weeks of his release. The police went to his parents’ house, where he’d been living since he got out, but he wasn’t there. He had left home as soon as he heard the police were looking for him, taking with him his father’s only suit, which he stole while Frank was out.
On the fourth of May, an off-duty policeman called Thomas Boyle was taking his wife for a drive in the country when he noticed a stolen Plymouth at a sandbank on the road beyond the Moffatt school. Chester was sitting behind the wheel. Chester saw officer Boyle recognise him and started his engine, taking off across Hickory Heights to the Harlansburg road.
Boyle went after Chester along the dirt roads towards East Brook. Chester ditched the Plymouth and ran into a swamp. Boyle found him hiding under some bushes. The next day, Chester pled guilty to larceny of an auto, hoping for a light sentence. Once all the auto thefts and parole violations were taken into account (as well as a bungled escape attempt while he was awaiting trial), he ended up with ten to twenty years.
Chester spent all of the forties and fifties in jail—he was given extra time when he was caught trying to saw his way out of the Western penitentiary in 1955. By 1966, he was out on parole, but he was sent back to jail when he was caught driving a stolen car in Shenango township, just outside New Castle. By the time he got out of jail again he was over fifty and he had seen about as much of life outside of an institution as most of the boys he was at school with had seen by their early twenties. From the day in 1937 when, at the age of seventeen, he had been sentenced for stealing the car from outside Mathews conveyor, he had been either in custody or on parole.
Chester went back inside for the last time in 1973, after he burgled a furniture store in Rimersburg. He died at the age of fifty-nine, not long after he was finally released.
Sources: Franklin News-Herald (2 March 1933, “Two Boys Arrested After Several Petty Thefts”; 20 March 1933, “Oil City Happenings In Brief”); New Castle News (17 July 1937,”Youth Held On Car Theft Charge”; 17 January 1939, “Pleads Guilty; Sent To Jail”; 24 January 1939, “Confesses To Having Stolen Several Cars”; 6 May 1940, “Tomski Caught”; 21 May 1940, “Youth Returns To County Jail”; 21 May 1940, “Four Prisoners Are Blamed For Trying General Jail Break”; 3 Jan 1966, “Man Jailed After Police Chase, Crash”); Oil City Derrick, 27 March 1973, “2 Held For Burglary In Rimersburg”.