The small town of New Castle, in western Pennsylvania, was once a boom town way back at the start of the twentieth century. Its population had tripled between 1890 and 1900, as immigrants from across Europe and America came to the town in search of employment in its tin plate mills, steel factories, ceramics works, foundries and paper mills.
The 1930’s Depression hit New Castle hard, but its manufacturing base was kept going by WWII and the Korean war. The population peaked in 1950 at 48,834. Since then it’s dropped to around 28,000 today. The boom years are long gone and the unemployment average in New Castle is twice America’s national jobless rate.
The site Small Town Noir curates the mugshots of petty criminals whose lives unraveled in sad, tragic, grim, bizarre and often disturbing ways within the boundaries of New Castle’s borders. Each entry is well-written and the biographical information has been painstakingly researched from various sources.
Small Town Noir is a fascinating place to visit, to while-away a few hours, as you get to know its citizens.
James Dagres, “B & E”, 28 April 1934
James Dagres was sixteen, when he was arrested for breaking an entering. Dagres, together with two chool friends James Cook, LeRoy Shoaff, removed various items from the house—tables, chairs, a gas heater, a clock, a world atlas—and sold them to second-hand dealers in town. They were caught when the owner of the house, a local teacher, passed by and saw them carrying furniture out of the place. All three boys were minors. There is no record of any sentence. When James left school, he got a job at American Cyanamid & Chemical. LeRoy Shoaff went on to become a colonel in the US army. There is no further record of Jack Cook.
Homer Chrisner, “Bank Holdup”, 7 Feb 1935
Homer Chrisner lost his business during the Depression. A respected figure, borough councilman and pigeon fancier, Chrisner decided to rob a bank in New Castle, as he reckoned it would be the easiest place to rob.
With his his accomplice Edward Scales, aka Jack of Diamonds, a Youngstown barman and numbers writer who had recently been released from prison after serving a sentence for the attempted rape of a minor. Together, they planned the details of the hold-up and enlisted the help of a woman called Nellie Sellers who would act as their getaway driver.
In February, 1935, Chrisner and Scales walked into the bank and held it up. Chrisner lost his nerve and the bank teller pulled his own gun on the pair. Chrisner and Scales absconded in a car driven by Sellers. They were chased and soon arrested. Homwer was jailed for five years.
David Clemons, “Dis. Cond”, 20 Sep 1936
David Clemons was a 28-year-old was arrested for disorderly behavior in 1936. Eight-years later Clemons murdered his father, Wilson Clemons, a minister in the Church of God in Christ, with an axe.
David had a mental age of nine and had recently been discharged from the army in the build-up to the D-Day Landings. Clemons killed his father after an argument over an alarm clock. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was moved to Fairview state hospital for the criminally insane, where he remained for the rest of his life.
More tales of New Castle’s criminals, after the jump…