By JIM ZBICK
There was no shortage of police news during the first quarter of 1910 in the coal regions. After the weather began to turn warm, the swindlers, youth criminals and drunks shed their cabin fever and moved outdoors.
As for the swindlers, farmers were warned to watch out for a clever wire peddler operating in the area. Posing as an "expert fence builder," he would agree to build a fence for eight cents per running foot. That cost was cheaper than what farmers paid for the wire itself.
When the fence builder completed his work, he presented a bill with the eight-cent- per-foot rate, but, since there were three strands of wire used in the fence, he multiplied that figure by three!
Many of his victims often signed a contract before the job began which bound him for the amount he was billed for the work.
After the harsh winter, youngsters also greeted the spring season, but some of the activity crossed the line and broke the law. Calvin Harris, a young man from Lansford, fell victim to a band of young hooligans while riding his bicycle on West Bertsch Street.
During the trip, Harris was pelted with a fusillade of eggs and stones. A report stated that the egg barrage damaged his clothes and the stones broke his derby hat. Four boys were arraigned before the Justice of the Peace and sentenced to spend some time in the lockup.
Boys as young as 11 often showed their ingenuity, albeit on the wrong side of the law. In late March a boy named Joseph was arrested for stealing goods from Nardini Brothers Green Grocery Store, located next to the Palace Hotel in Tamaqua.
The storekeeper found the place ransacked after opening for business one Tuesday morning. Since only a few small items were missing, the proprietor chose not to alert the police and tried to catch the intruder/thief himself.
After locking up the store the following day, the storekeeper hid behind the counter. It wasn't long before he heard a slight muffled cough. Turning on the light, he searched the store and found the young culprit hiding under a box.
During his questioning, the boy said he entered the store from the rear earlier that evening, as he had the two previous nights after everyone had gone home. When all was quiet, he emerged from under the cover of his box and unlocked the door so two of his companions could enter. The trio helped themselves to a cache of cigars, tobacco and candy before making their escape.
It was found that Joseph, the ringleader, had been missing from his home on Penn Street for two days. His father apparently reached his limit in trying to discipline the boy.
"His father has tried every means possible to bring the boy up properly, but to no avail," a Tamaqua Courier reporter said. "He will take this opportunity to have him sent away to a reformatory."
Clinton Winkelspecht, 18, whom the Courier described as "a bad character," knew all about the reform school circuit. After being enrolled in public school but refusing to attend, the Tamaqua school board felt he would be a better fit at a reform school and he was sent to Glen Mills in Delaware County.
After returning home, Winkelspecht behaved for a while but then reverted back to his wayward days. He became so unmanageable that his parents had to swear out a warrant for "assault and battery, surety of the peace and carrying concealed deadly weapons."
"His parents can do nothing with him," one reporter stated.
Another case involved 14-year-old George Ray, who had a fondness for horses and ponies. One night he took his passion a bit too far.
After most residents had retired to bed, the young teen sneaked into the stable of contractor J. A. Schibe, hitched up a pony and cart, and drove to his home in Taggartsville. He was captured the next morning by Tamaqua police chief George Hahn and placed in the borough lockup.
While much of the lawlessness early in 1910 involved lighter crimes, one scary event at Buck Mountain took the appearance of a wild west shootout. The incident began after Constable Edward Mauger of Mahoning Township responded to a report of a disturbance by some drunken foreigners.
While Maugher was leading one of the rioters away, the culprit made a dash and Maugher fired his gun, the bullet hitting the man in the abdomen. Maugher was checking on the condition of the gunshot victim when other rioters formed a circle around him and then began attacking him from the front and rear.
After being knocked to the ground, Maugher lost his pistol – the same one he used to shoot the rioter who tried to escape – and another rioter picked it up and turned it on the constable. Maugher was shot twice, once in the thigh and once in the ribs.
Both gunshot victims were taken to Ashland Hospital. State police responded to the scene, secured the area and made several arrests.