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Small Town Noir: The Criminal Past of New Castle, Pennsylvania

Uncover the life and crimes behind the mugshots in this thrilling collection of vintage police photos.

Browsing the short stories and mug shots of true-crime website Small Town Noir feels like a page out of Hubert Selby, Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn.

But the bleak characters don’t come from one of New York’s tough boroughs – they hail from the crumbling remnants of the once-industrial town of New Castle, Pennsylvania.

Diarmid Mogg, author of website, became enamored with the plight of these unknown townsfolk after coming across six mug shots with criminal records attached. Soon, his collection grew to more than 1,500 police photos of New Castle inmates, from 1930 to 1960.

How did he procure such a large chunk of town history? It seemed the police department was cleaning out their records, but one batch was saved from the trash by a former employee, and made its way into the hands of nostalgic collectors all over the world.

During the time of the photographs, New Castle saw a decline in manufacturing due to the Depression, but still stayed afloat thanks to the needs of World War II and the Korean War. After 1950, they hit rock bottom and were never able to resuscitate their livelihood. Many townspeople, from drunks and degenerates, to those just down on their luck, had run-ins with the law.

Not only did Mogg have access to the brief backstory of each arrest, but he found that New Castle News, still in operation, had digitized more than 100 years of archives. (Extremely lucky for Mogg as he resides in Edinburgh, Scotland.)

His first brush with the town was with Martin Fobes. Fobes was implicated in a young girl’s death, found unconscious and bloodied on the street. Though Fobes denied any involvement or memory of the event, Mogg saw the whole story unravel in the papers: Witnesses reported a drunk Fobes with scratches on his face, and earlier he was seen leaving a cafe dragging the girl out into the street. From then on, Mogg was hooked.

The next step for the ever-growing Small Town Noir: a self-published, crowdfunded book, which will feature the New Castle community of misfits and their tales of woe. You can support the campaign on unbound.co.uk, and in return, you’ll receive a copy of the book (digital or hardcover) with your name listed in the back.

You’ll be the talk of the town.

Keep reading for a selection of New Castle residents’ mugshots and backstories that can be found on Mogg’s Flickr page and website.


small town noir

ANTHONY NAPLES – MURDER
MAY 10, 1937

Anthony Naples had been a sickly child until he was eight or nine, and his mother told people he was always a good boy who did whatever she told him. In May, 1937, when he was eleven years old, he took his father’s pistol to school. At lunchtime, in a field opposite the school on Pollock avenue, he shot a colored classmate, Robert McDowell, in the face. Robert died in hospital half an hour later. Police found Anthony hiding under his bed at home.

Anthony said he and Robert had been playing cowboys and Indians. He thought the gun was loaded with blanks. He aimed at Robert’s legs, not his head. It had been an accident.

The jury found him guilty of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to six to twelve years’ supervisory custody. Throughout the trial, he had seemingly been unaware of the trouble he was in. When the verdict was delivered, he broke down.

Anthony was sent to the Elmwood home for boys, in Erie. He was paroled on his eighteenth birthday and moved back in with his parents. A few years later, he was arrested for peeping in windows on Williams street. Just after he turned thirty, he spent three months in the workhouse for stealing and selling a $900 accordion. Anthony was still living with his mother at the beginning of 1966, when he fell seriously ill. He died in the second week of January. He was forty years old.

 

small town noir

JAMES BYERS – RAPE
JULY 30, 1951

In July, 1951, James Byers escaped from the hospital in Ohio where he’d been sent after being badly injured during his arrest for rape, and the Youngstown police alerted nearby towns that he might be headed their way.

On the last day of the month, residents of Cascade street, New Castle, informed the police that a suspicious couple had “slept all night in the weeds” nearby. When Officers Bartoshek and Richards went to investigate, they identified the man as James and arrested him.

After James had his photograph taken—the very mug shot on this page—he was led back down to the cells by Andy Fair, an auxiliary constable. Fair had been a boxer in the 1920s but he was heading for retirement now and his muscles had long since run to fat, which no doubt influenced what James did next.

As the pair walked along a corridor in the basement of the building, James suddenly made a break for it, bursting through a door that led to the police garage and fleeing up the ramp into North Jefferson street. He took off in the direction of Falls street, away from the centre. He managed to run only two blocks before Officer D’Ambrosia, riding one of the police bicycles, caught up with him and placed him under arrest for the second time that day. James was sent back to Ohio, where he was surely dealt with appropriately. There’s no record of what happened to his poor wife.

 

small town noir

BETTY JOAN KNIGHT – Drunk and Disorderly Conduct
April 27, 1959

In April of 1959, exactly a week before her divorce came through, Betty Joan Knight had her mug shot taken after she and a man called Albert Bonnetti, along with another couple, were arrested for pouring four quarts of oil over the floor of the Spur Distributing Company filling station on East Washington street while in a state of intoxication at a quarter past three in the morning.

Everyone involved in the incident was fined $5 and costs. Betty didn’t bother to turn up at the courthouse to pay; she made the police come to her. It wasn’t long before she helped to provide them with even more work.

In the summer of 1961, a woman named Ingrid Zurasky decided she was sick of her husband, Frank. The year before, he’d been fired from his job in the New Castle Packing Company for union-organizing activities. Frank hadn’t had any work since, and he and some acquaintances had decided to become safe crackers.

But that wasn’t why Ingrid Zurasky was sick of Frank. More than his joblessness and criminality, what maddened her was that the gang had started to take women along on the jobs, and that Frank was spending more time than he ought to with one of them in particular—the recently divorced Betty Joan Knight.

At the beginning of July—after the gang’s thirty-third robbery, which took the total sum of stolen cash to $15,000 and further embarrassed the seemingly impotent detective bureau—Ingrid called the police, said that her husband was the ringleader of the safe crackers, and told them where they could find him.

All five were caught and pled guilty to burglary and conspiracy. The men received jail terms of two to six years but Betty, who had been present at only two of the jobs, was released on one year’s probation, and seems never to have troubled the police again.

 

small town noir

ANTHONY DeCAPRIO – MURDER
OCTOBER 12, 1937

Every Friday, the Harvard sandwich bar in Cleveland cashed thousands of dollars worth of payroll checks for workers from the Fisher Body plant. The only security was provided by an auxiliary policeman who had been hired to watch over the money.

On the sixteenth of April, 1937, Anthony DeCaprio drove Joseph Taylor and Theodore Slapik to the sandwich bar and sat outside with the engine running while they went in. Minutes later, he heard shots. Taylor and Slapik came out, carrying bags stuffed with cash. They got away with $1,700—a steelworker’s yearly wage—leaving an auxiliary policeman lying on the floor of the sandwich bar with three bullets in him. When they checked the papers the next day, they would have seen that Krull was in a critical condition in hospital. On Sunday, they would have read that he had died.

They agreed to split up and leave Ohio. In October of 1937, the New Castle police were informed that Anthony DeCaprio had been seen frequenting a dance hall on Neshannock avenue. Two detectives from Cleveland travelled to New Castle and identified Anthony as he danced with a girl. They arrested him at gunpoint as he left the dance floor.

All three of the robbers were found guilty of murder and received life sentences in the Ohio penitentiary. Anthony was nineteen years old.

Anthony DeCaprio served fifteen years of his sentence. After his release, in 1953, he became a truck driver, got married and had five children. He died in July, 2000, at the age of eighty-two.

 

small town noir

KATIE PAYNE – FELONY CUTTING
OCTOBER 26, 1934

Katie Payne took a razor blade to the house at the rear of 108 South Jefferson street where her husband, John, was staying with young, pretty Ethel McGowen. She slashed Ethel McGowen across the face, twice. When Ethel fell to the floor, curling up to protect herself, Katie slashed her legs, arms and hands. Ethel wasn’t going to be pretty any more.

Katie was arrested and held in jail while Ethel was examined in hospital. If Ethel had died, Katie would have been sent away for murder, but she lived. A week after the attack, she was well enough to leave the hospital, and Katie was released from jail. The case never came to trial.

Five years later, in 1939, Katie took a knife to the house on South Mercer street where her husband was staying with another woman, Mary Smith, but this time she came off worst. When the police arrived, Katie told them that her husband had struck her and then held her while Mary Smith threatened her with a penknife and slashed her right shoulder.

John Payne got thirty days in the county jail for assault and battery. The charges against Mary Smith were thrown out after she spent a week in the lock-up.

Katie and John Payne stayed married for the rest of their lives. They had three children together and were in their seventies when they died, within a few months of each other, in 1963.

 

small town noir

Ruth Swartz – Assault with a Pocketbook
November 22, 1941

“NEWS BRIEFS FROM CITY HALL

Three persons did not fare so well today when Mayor Charles S Mayne conducted police court. A man docketed as James Parody but who said his name was Raymond reportedly caused trouble in his Hutchman street rooming house last night and was fined $25. ‘Bob’ Kerr questioned Officer Yackowitz’s authority at North Mercer and Washington street, ‘pawed the officer’ and was locked up. He denied the accusation. A ‘Miss Swartz’ after being told to leave a Seventh ward beverage place became vexed and struck Officer George Sigler with her red pocketbook, an act he didn’t appreciate. Today, Mayor Mayne assessed her $5 for using her pocketbook as a weapon.” New Castle News, November 22, 1941

 

small town noir

GUY CHARLES BAILEY – INTOXICATED DRIVING
JULY 27, 1948

Guy Bailey was drafted into the U.S. navy in 1943, at the age of 17, and spent the next couple of years operating teletype apparatus. By the time he came home from the war, not yet 20, he had become a radioman, first class.

There wasn’t much call for radiomen in New Castle, so he worked in construction for a few years before the navy recalled him and sent him off to Korea in 1950, where he would have passed his days doing pretty much what he’d done in WWII.

Between his wars, he found time to marry a woman called Agnes Lynch, have a son with her and drunkenly crash his car into a parked car on Washington street, which resulted in him posing for this busted-lip mugshot on July 27, 1948, when he was 22.

After the Korean war, New Castle still hadn’t come up with a use for Bailey’s special radioman skills, so he went back to his construction job, where he worked until he died in 1975, at the age of 49, just two months after the death of his wife.

 

small town noir

EUGENE SULLIVAN – MURDER
JULY 24, 1930

On 24 July 1930, Eugene Sullivan entered the Commodore Grill on East Washington Street, shouting loudly that he wanted a pencil to write a check. It was 2:30 in the morning. There were four customers in the bar. Eugene had been thrown out of the Commodore a few times for fighting, and had been sent to jail twice in the previous year: once for brawling in the hot-dog place down the block; and once for stealing chickens.

Soon, he tried to pick a fight with another customer. Abraham Nader, the owner of the bar, took Eugene by the arm and said, “You can’t start trouble in my place.” He led him to the door.

When they stepped outside, Eugene punched Abraham in the mouth. Abraham grabbed the window frame to steady himself and Eugene punched him again. His head hit the brick wall and he fell, cracking his skull on the sidewalk. He would die in the hospital a few hours later.

Eugene ran off towards the YMCA. Johnny Nader, Abraham’s son, caught him and knocked him to the ground. He took hold of his throat and punched him until he was pulled off.

Eugene was charged with murder. It turned out that, for over a month, a warrant had been out for his arrest in connection with the rape of an underage girl, resulting in a pregnancy. The constables in New Castle had made no great effort to serve the papers. The parents of the girl told the police that, if Eugene had been arrested on that charge, Abraham Nader would not have been killed.

Eugene was indicted for murder and found guilty of manslaughter. He served two years. He died at the age of seventy-five, in 1979.

 

small town noir

DAVID CLEMONS – Disorderly Conduct and Murder
September 20, 1936

The body of the Reverend Wilson Clemons was found in his front yard at 405 Mahoning Avenue, his head split in two by the axe that lay by his side. No one had seen the murder take place, but the neighbors all told the police to look for the reverend’s twenty-eight-year-old son, David, who lived with him and worked in a steel mill twenty miles away in Farrell.

David was known to the police, and their files held the mug shot above, taken one Saturday night in 1936 when he had been arrested for disorderly behavior. He had the mental capacity of a nine-year-old, and had recently returned to New Castle after being discharged from the army, just before the build-up to D-Day.

The police drove out to Farrell and arrested David as he was waiting to draw his wages, having informed his company he was leaving town. They took him to the city jail, where he confessed immediately to the chief of police.

According to David’s statement, his father had reprimanded him the night before for “running around”. They’d argued, and David had gone to bed angry. On the morning of the murder, David’s alarm clock went off at five o’clock. He woke his father and accused him of tampering with it to play a trick on him. They argued again, then David went downstairs, where he waited alone for the next three hours, thinking about his grievances.

When David’s father came downstairs at eight o’clock, David grabbed an axe and chased him into the yard. The old man tripped and fell, and David sunk the axe into his skull as he lay on the ground.

There was no trial; the confession was deemed sufficient for David to be given a life sentence for first degree murder. After a psychiatric examination, he was sent to Fairview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he joined other hopelessly disturbed inmates such as Albert Yohoda, who had been told by invisible “things” to cut down his brother-in-law with an axe; William Jackson, who stabbed his mother to death with a carving knife and suffered third-degree burns while trying to incinerate her body; Clair Young, who shot his nineteen-month-old daughter as a sacrifice so that he might go directly to heaven when he died; and Albert Shinsky, who murdered a sixty-four year old woman whom he believed to have sent a black cat down from the sky to tear his side.

David remained in Fairview for the rest of his life.

All photos and descriptions courtesy of Dairmid Mogg and Small Town Noir

Published on 10 Sep 2015

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