Cora Cunningham’s father graduated from medical school as the civil war started. He spent four years as a battlefield surgeon. Both armies were using a new type of bullet—a conical thing that shattered bone rather than being deflected by it, as a musket ball would be—so his work mostly involved sawing off the arms and legs of young men after each engagement and stitching their stumps closed with squares of skin cut from the discarded limbs. If he hadn’t, they would have died from the poison in their rotting wounds. A lot of them died anyway.
Cora was born two months after the war ended. Her father set up a medical practice in Wurtemburg, a quiet township fifteen miles south of New Castle. He remained there for the rest of his life.
Loyal Weller was arrested when Cora was sixty-eight. By that time, she was living alone in the old family house, her parents and brothers all dead and her sisters living in Ellwood City. She had never married. She had taught at the local school for thirty-four years, and was so well liked that, in her retirement, former pupils would gather at her house with presents on her birthday.
Loyal was one of her former pupils, as were his friends Harry Dale and Charles Khoury. They had heard a story that Cora was secretly rich, with money stashed around her house in tin cans. They came up with a plan to rob the place, but needed help. Someone put them in touch with a bootlegger from out of town who offered to drive them to and from Cora’s house but refused to take part in the robbery itself. They wanted a third man to go into the house with them, so they told the bootlegger to drive them to Court street in New Castle, where they called out Clyde Burtch, an older man who was not long out of jail for stealing watches from a jewelry store. Burtch—who would go on to stab a man to death in 1941 and shoot a man dead in 1960—told them to drop the idea. He’d broken into the house a few months before and found no money. The old woman had nothing.
The bootlegger drove Dale and Khoury to Wurtemburg (Loyal had left them by this point) and stayed in the car as they looked the place over and tried to figure out how they might break in. The next day, at a meeting to discuss the plan, the bootlegger told the boys he was a state trooper working under cover. He arrested them all. Burtch was picked up later that day.
Loyal was released within a few days due to lack of evidence, but his friends got a year in the penitentiary for conspiracy. Burtch got two to four years for breaking and entering.
Loyal went to jail in 1938 for passing fraudulent checks. He joined the army a few months after Pearl harbor and spent four years as a mechanic. Near the end of the war, on the outskirts of a small town in northern Germany, his infantry division found a barn that contained the bodies of more than a thousand people who the Germans had just burned alive. One soldier said it looked like something from another time, or even another planet. The Americans made the men from the town dig graves for them all. It took three days.
Loyal returned home and got a job as a tool crib attendant at Babcock and Wilcox Tubular Products. He worked there until he died, at the age of sixty-one, in 1971. Cora died in 1950, at the age of eighty-four.
Sources: New Castle News: (13 June 1933, “Two On Trial In Conspiracy Case”; 14 June 1933, “Dale And Khoury Are Found Guilty”; 19 June 1933, “Clark And Wife Have No Excuse For Evil Deeds”; 23 April 1938, “Sentences Are Given By Court”; 29 June 1971, “Deaths Of The Day”); The Franklin News-Herald, 13 March 1933, “State Policeman Gets Chummy With Gang And Blocks Holdup Plans”; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2 March 1960, “Burtch Calm As He Sits Through Second Murder Inquest Here”. Gardlegen massacre information from “A History of the Dora Camp” by Andre Sellier and “Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust” by Yaffa Eliach.