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Bad economy a century ago spurred criminals

Published August 25. 2012 09:01AM

Crime flourishes during desperate economic times.

A century ago, the crimes mirrored what we're seeing in our society today.

In one front page during late July of 1912, the Mauch Chunk Daily Times reported on a number of home burglaries as well as a corporate theft.

Metal thieves have always been active in hard times. In the summer of 1912, a Buffalo man named John Callahan was arrested for trying to steal brass from the Bethlehem Steel plant in South Bethlehem. Since he was a former employee, infiltrating the plant by posing as a current worker wasn't that hard. Lunch pail in hand, he simply walked in. The brass he attempted to steal was valued at $11.50.

The Daily Times also reported on "one of the most thrilling and spectacular holdups ever perpetrated in Lehigh County" when Erwin Diehl, who ran the Eastern Advertising Agency, was held up by "two foreigners"on a road outside of Neffs.

After "a severe tussle," he was gagged and "bound hand and foot to a huge tree in the woods" and robbed of $183 in bills. He was later found and released by a farmer.

The Tamaqua Courier also reported on some local robberies. In late August someone robbed the Remaley Manufacturing Company of $16 and "a number of valuable papers. The theft looked like an inside job. The bookkeeper (named Wagner) told police the door of the safe was closed when he left his office to speak to the foreman in the shops.

"He was gone only about three minutes but during that time the thief turned the trick," the Courier reported.

A reward of $25 was also being offered for the arrest of a scam artist who claimed to be taking magazine subscriptions for the Currier Publishing Company of New York. Wearing a brown suit, the man canvassed the Lansford-Tamaqua area where he convinced a number of people to buy a three-year subscription. In each case, people were given a receipt but the phony salesman never signed his name.

In early August, a man created quite a stir on Broad Street when he tried to steal a slot machine from the Tamaqua Shoe Shining Parlor. The man was playing slots when he simply picked up the machine and left the building while the proprietor's back was turned.

The suspect was spotted just as he was about to board a trolley car. An alarm was sounded and he dashed up Hunter Street. Police were able to recover the machine but the thief made a successful getaway.

The railroad was not without its own cases, which were reflective of the hard economic conditions of the day. In July, a man named Tony Jenks, 19, from Greenville, N.C. was arrested for robbing the dinner pail of James English, a foreman on the Central Railroad roundhouse. Jenks was panhandling the area with an accomplice when he was caught.

At about the same time, Central Railroad workers discovered a Boston man named Abraham Roberson. 25, in one of its box cars "in a sick and starved condition."

"The man was suffering from cramps, was weak from exposure and said he had nothing to eat for four days," the Courier reported. "He left Barnum and Bailey's circus in Virginia by whom he was employed as a loader."

The man was sent to the Coaldale Hospital.

A Mount Carmel woman was arrested in Tamaqua but not for economic reasons. The Courier said Mrs. Josephine Bucchicco, "a refined woman who can speak excellent English," was charged with deserting her husband and larceny.

The Courier said the 19-year-old woman admitted to deserting her husband because she "did not love him" and was on her way to Philadelphia to live with her brother and sister. Although she was abandoning her husband, she denied stealing any money from him.

Just as today, there were cases of good samaritans getting burned while attempting to do a good deed. In July of 1912, the Sayre Evening News reported that a man named Thomas Hoagland became a victim in Bradford County. Hoagland had befriended a man, who claimed to be from Lehighton, even buying the stranger a meal and renting a hotel room from him in Waverly.

The man told Hoagland he was unable to find work and needed money to return home. His emotional sob story was quite convincing.

"He said he had never stolen, he would not beg and had never ridden on a freight train," the newspaper reported. "He did not like the suggestion of taking a freight from Sayre to Lehighton, and was in hard luck. In fact, he shed a few tears. Hoagland wanted to help him but did not have sufficient money to take him home."

The soft-hearted Hoagland told the man he could pawn his watch. He trusted the man to bring him the pawn ticket and when he had the money, he could send it so Hoagland could get his watch back from the pawn shop.

Hoagland gave the man the watch to take to the pawn shop, and waited for him at the hotel to return with the pawn ticket. He never saw the man again.

"Hoagland has lost some of his confidence in human nature," the newspaper reported.

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