The Blue-Hooded Bandit - 1942
The Saga of the Blue-Hooded Bandit - May/June 1942
Documenting the history of the Brookline has uncovered many bright and happy times. However, like all communities there are a few dark chapters. One such time was the nine-day reign of terror orchestrated by an armed thief and child accoster known as the "Blue-Hooded Bandit." This occurred during May and early-June of 1942.
The bandit lurked in the woods along Saw Mill Run Boulevard near Whited, Edgebrook and Timberland Avenues, clubbing and robbing women and children, and accosting young kids on their way to West Liberty School. It took a coordinated effort between parents and police to bring an end to the attacks. Below is the story of the "Blue-Hooded Bandit" as reported in the Pittsburgh Press, Post-Gazette and Sun-Telegraph.
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The Bandit's First Victims
The first incident of theft by the Blue-Hooded Bandit to be published in the newspaper was an attack on Mrs. Miriam Davis, 36, of 851 Timberland Avenue, and her five-year old son Noel on Monday, May 25. The two were returning home from a shopping trip and nearing their home when a man leaped out at them from behind a bush.
The thug, wearing gloves and his face shielded by a blue-cloth hood with slits only for his eyes, pushed Mr. Davis to the ground and hit her on the head with a club. When young Noel began screaming, the man lunged at him with the club but the nimble boy jumped aside.
Although dizzy from the blow, Mrs. Davis seized a bottle of syrup from her shopping bag and struck the bandit, who then fled with her purse containing ninety cents and $13.50 in War Stamps. The purse was later found emptied some twenty blocks away.
A number of families had been complaining that their children, while walking to West Liberty Elementary School, had been accosted by a thieves hiding along the wooded sections near Timberland Avenue. That same day, a ten-year old Overbrook girl had been molested while on her way to West Liberty. Police suspected that the man who attacked Mrs. Davis was the same man responsible for threatening the children.
The Reign of Terror
The following day, Tuesday, May 26, the bandit claimed his second victim, an 18-year old girl named Evelyn Williams, of 2132 Whited Street. The robbery took place while Miss Williams was waiting for a trolley in a densely wooded section at the Oak Station car stop, about two blocks from Saw Mill Run Boulevard.
"The streetcar was approaching," Miss Williams nervously told reporters. "I heard someone running but I thought he was trying to catch the streetcar. Then I noticed the dark blue hood which was just like a sugar sack only it had slits in it for the eyes."
The thief made off with her purse containing roughly $1 in change and fled. Miss Williams description of the thug fit that given to police by Mrs. Davis the previous day who along the same tracks, about a mile away.
On Thursday, May 28, Mrs. Louise Guskey, 30, of 1208 Edgebrook Avenue, who was with her three-year old daughter, Anna May, was the next victim of the blue-hooded bandit. He clubbed her on the head and took her purse, which contained some spare change.
Her screams alerted James McGuire, 19, of 1033 Saw Mill Run Boulevard, who rushed from his home and pursued the thug. He and Charles Friday, of 1203 Edgebrook Avenue, overtook the bandit and grappled with him in the woods along Saw Mill Run, but were unable to hold him. The thief then ran into Mr. William Davis, 46, whose wife Miriam was victimized the previous Monday. Mr. Davis also was unable to hold on to the man and he got away.
On Friday, May 29, an Overbrook girl, Irene Cancilla, 28, of 2553 Ivyglen Street, was attacked in the morning by the same blue-hooded bandit after exiting a trolley near Underwood Street. Mrs. Cancilla screamed and three men came to her rescue, forcing the bandit to flee.
Meanwhile, enraged by the lack of promised police action, the afternoon edition of the May 29 Pittsburgh Press reported that "militant" mothers were taking matters into their own hands. After five attacks in five days, a mass meeting was held that morning at the home of Mrs. R.L. Arnold, of 1517 Edgebrook Avenue, to make plans.
Despite police assurances that the hooded bandit would be caught, the mothers decided to arm themselves with clubs and escort their children home at noon from West Liberty School. Other parents refused to send their children to the Friday afternoon classes, and threatened to keep them home the following Monday because of a lack of police protection.
Safety Director George E.A. Fairley denied that he had asked the women to file a written complaint before extending special protection and said, "We are watching the situation. About twenty policemen are there now. We are giving all the police service we can with the available force."
Police Superintendent Harvey J. Scott assured the angry mothers and nearby residents that thirty policemen would be assigned to patrol the wooded areas between near Whited, Edgebrook and along the paths to West Liberty School. That number would grow to between forty and fifty policemen, both in plain clothes and uniformed, with mounted units on standby.
On Monday evening, June 1, eighteen men and women who made their homes in the sparsely-settled section of Brookline and Overbrook again met with police officials to discuss their troubles with the "Blue Hood." Superintendent Scott pointed out that he had a large number of officers working quietly in the underbrush and agreed without hesitation to provide guards to walk with children over the wooded trails.
Robert V. Cresswell, principal at West Liberty School, reported that fourteen of seventeen school children that lived within the haunts of the attacker had obeyed their parents' order that day to stay away from school unless their was protection. Parents in attendance agreed to let their children return to school if protected.
Residents also suggested that the city, which owns most of the wooded, undeveloped tract of land, clear away the thick tangles of underbrush that covers the acreage because it gives the bandit, and ohers like him, plenty of cover with which to stalk their prey.
Bandit Apprehended and Sentenced
The Reign of Terror caused by the Blue-Hooded Bandit came to an end the following day, June 2, when he was apprehended in the area by police. Officers recognized his clothing from descriptions provided by his victims. They found the hood on his person, made from a pair of blue denim overalls. Slits had been cut in for eyes. He was also carrying a crude club fashioned from a hooked tree root.
The bandit was identified as John Simon, 18, of 142 Violet Way, on the West End. Simon, who could neither read or write, had a history of mental illness and a lengthy juvenile record dating back to the age of four. When he was twelve, he was ordered to Polk Institute for the feeble-minded, but was allowed to go free when the institute reported it was "too crowded."
Three of his victims testified at a half-hour hearing before he was sentenced. Asked to explain his attacks, which included accosting girls age six and ten years old, Simon said, "I didn't realize what I was doing."
Robbery, he said, was his real motive for the attacks. "I was working for WPA and I got laid off. I thought I could get money this way." In all, his spree netted less than twenty dollars.
Judge William H. McNaugher summarized the case and cited the youth's past record before passing sentence. Simon was sent to Western Penitentiary for 20 to 40 years, thereby putting an end to the Saga of the Blue-Hooded Bandit.
* Information gathered from Pittsburgh Press, Post-Gazette and Sun-Telegraph articles - May/June, 1942 *
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