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Crime in the Neighborhood

The Baldwin Park neighborhood is one of the safer neighborhoods in Philadelphia. But, as in all neighborhoods in all cities, notorious and lesser crimes have been committed here. Our article here talks about Bridgette Carey, who lived in what is now the north side of Baldwin Park, and in 1906 was accused and acquitted of the arsenic murder of four people (read the article and judge her innocence for yourself). Another article deals with police station sites within the neighborhood and mentions Al Capone’s 1934 arraignment and conviction at the 9th District police station when it was at 20th and Buttonwood Streets. Capone then spent a fairly comfortable year at Eastern State Penitentiary.

 

This article will look at some other neighborhood criminals. Skip the first three cases in the article if violent crime might upset you.

Child Killer on Callowhill Street

At 8 pm on September 28, 1913, seven-year-old Israel Goldman left his family lodgings at 1730 Callowhill Street. He was not seen again until his nearly naked and strangled corpse was found near the White Marsh Golf Club north of the City. Daniel Murphy of 1811 Callowhill Street, had seen the boy and Joseph O’Brian, a Baldwin Locomotive Works laborer who lived at 1740 Callowhill Street, getting on a trolley northbound on 18th Street around 8:30 pm. The two were also seen leaving another trolley near the murder site, and O’Brian was seen on a trolley returning to his home around midnight. A search of O’Brian’s lodgings turned up a blood-stained sweater with two pockets ripped off. Those pockets had been found alongside Israel’s body. Israel’s mother identified the sweater as her son’s. Other boys, as young as four, in the neighborhood told stories of prior rides with O’Brian. O’Brian was found guilty of murder on March 6, 1914, and was electrocuted in December of 2016.

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Joseph O’Brian of 1740 Callowhill Street from a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer on September 29, 1913.

Random Violence after Lunch at the Rose Tattoo

 

On April 8, 1991, four executives from Cigna left their offices at 16th and the Parkway (now the Phoenix condominiums) for a celebratory birthday lunch at the Rose Tattoo, at 19th and Callowhill Streets. All four had the house special: a $4.95 chicken salad plate with potatoes and a hard-boiled egg with iced tea. At 12:52 pm, as they walked along the south side of the Parkway in front of T.G.I Fridays (now Victory Brewing) to return to work, a man double-parked his car on the Parkway, walked up behind the group, and shot three of the executives at point blank range. The gunman then sped off in his car. Based on a description of the car, and a police sketch of the gunman, Jean-Claude Pierre Hill, a doctor starting his second-year residency in psychiatry at Hahnemann, was arrested the next day. Peter Foy, whose 48th birthday was being celebrated, died of his head wound and Hill was charged with murder. Hill was sentenced in December 1992 to a life sentence plus 60 years to start in Farview State Hospital, a maximum-security psychiatric facility. The shooting was apparently random.

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Photo from the April 9, 1991 edition of The Philadelphia Daily News showing bystanders attending to the three shooting victims.

Murder of a Police Officer

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This plaque is mounted in the sidewalk at 1904 Spring Garden Street.

Officer Dmytryk, age 47, was shot and killed while confronting two men who had forced a resident to withdraw money from the MAC machine near the southwest corner of 19th and Spring Garden Street.

Three other neighborhood memorials to murdered policemen can be found here.

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1978 photo from the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Note sign on the corner building giving directions to Hamilton Townhomes during construction.

By 1993, when a police officer was killed in front of this bank, the Girard Bank was part of PSFS bank.

Second-biggest Escape from Eastern State Penitentiary

 

The biggest escape from Eastern State Penitentiary occurred in 1923 when six inmates beat up a guard and scaled the wall on the Corinthian Avenue side. The second biggest occurred on July 21, 1934, and ended in our neighborhood. At around 3:30 pm, while the 1,100 inmates were enjoying some yard recreation, five inmates jimmied the lock on a sewer grate along the Fairmount Avenue wall in the southeast corner of the prison. They climbed down the built in ladder, crawled into the four-foot-diameter drainage pipe, and headed under the wall. There was a drop into the Fairmount Avenue main sewage pipe into knee-deep water and then a waddle of about 400 feet until they veered south down 21st Street at the next junction. The waddle continued down 21st Street for about 1600 feet, until they saw the literal light at the end of the tunnel coming from a manhole cover at 21st and Hamilton Streets. Four of the convicts had stripped down to their underwear due to the heat along the way, and a fifth had stripped naked. The escapees headed south and west, eventually down the B&O Railroad tracks where three of the escapees were caught within the hour. The two others, lifers and also brothers-in-law, were caught five months later and sentenced to the electric chair for a kidnapping-murder committed after they had escaped.

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Photo from The Philadelphia Inquirer of July 22, 1934. The manhole cover at 21st and Hamilton Streets is askew. The wall low in the background surrounds the Preston Retreat.

Combine the heat within the sewer and the tell-tale prison stripes and we can understand why the escapees disrobed on their 2000-foot-long underground excursion.

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Drainage grate in the left photo from 2023. Check out this grate before entering the Eastern State Penitentiary tour across from the entrance to cell block #1. The grate lifts up on a hinge, and is locked. A steel ladder descends to a four-foot-diameter drainage pipe, as seen in the right photo. This pipe exits under the wall, heads west on Fairmount Avenue, and then turns south on 21st Street.

Customers Stymy Would-be Armed Robbers at Flynn’s Bar

 

It was 9:30 pm on January 6, 1974, a cold Friday night as the regulars had a few beers and played shuffleboard at Flynn’s Bar on the southwest corner of 18th and Callowhill Streets. Two young men entered from the front and rear of the building, one brandishing a pistol and the other a sawed-off shotgun. The bartender had the sawed-off shotgun thrust in his face. Patron Oscar Williams, a truck driver for the Lit’s warehouse right up 18th Street, made a beeline for the exit but the pistol-bearer put the gun to his face and fired twice. Both were misfires. The pistol-bearer then fled out the front door. This diversion was enough for the other bar patrons to jump the shotgun-bearer. They beat and kicked him until the police arrived. He was arrested for armed robbery, but he was already wanted for a murder committed two months prior.

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Flynn’s Bar in 1975 on the southwest corner of 18th and Callowhill Streets.

This site is now a coffee and lunch shop.

Next door to the west (foreground) is another luncheonette, Connie’s, with the Coca-Cola sign. Connie’s would eventually become George’s Restaurant after George was displaced from the southwest corner of 18th and Callowhill Street (1748 Callowhill) when the Watermark site was developed in the late 1970s. It then become Sabrina’s in 2007.

Blue Law Violations

 

Pennsylvania put its first blue law in effect shortly after its founding as a colony by William Penn.

The law read: "Whoever does or performs any worldly employment or business whatsoever on the Lord's Day, commonly called Sunday, works of necessity and charity only exempted, or uses or practices any game, hunting, shooting, sport or diversion whatsoever on the same day not authorized by law" is considered to be a law breaker.

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The Philadelphia Inquirer April 9, 1891

Besides committing the crime of shaving folks on Sunday, many neighborhood barbers had a side gig of selling alcohol: in the evenings, on Sundays, and on election days. Like the saloons, barbershops, social clubs, speakeasies, and oyster houses were transient purveyors of spirits in the neighborhood.

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A Philadelphia Inquirer want ad from August 16, 1895. The “blue laws” banning work on Sundays were routinely flouted.

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Philadelphia Inquirer story from November 13, 1893.

Bars were closed on Sundays in theory. The joke was that signs would be put on the front door:

Sundays we are closed. Go around back.

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Philadelphia Tribune March 14, 1892

Notice the bail amounts: a dollar in 1892 is worth $35 today. Bail money is meant to assure that a defendant will show up for his or her trial. Cahill’s bail in 1892 is the equivalent of $42,000 today. Commercial bail bondsmen, who would put up cash bail for a ten percent fee, first appeared in the United States in 1896 in San Francisco.

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Liquor licenses granted in the 15th Ward which included our neighborhood

as reported in The Philadelphia Inquirer of  May 23, 1891. There were many transient saloons in the neighborhood, so a one-time snapshot like the list above is only a small sample. Many of the rowhouses in the neighborhood were boarding houses, with cramped conditions including 12 to 14 inhabitants per house. Saloons were one place for these boarders to go in the evenings.

The Young Women’s Christian Temperance Union Meetings were being held at 1926 Callowhill Street around this time.

1847 Callowhill Street, fifth from the bottom, is the only building from this list that is still original. It now is the Rose Tattoo restaurant (temporarily closed).

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Photo of the north side of the 1900 block of Callowhill Street in 1896, from the Streets Department archive.

On the left is an oyster house at 1917 Callowhill Street. Directly across the street, at 1916 Callowhill Street, was another oyster-saloon run by a James Farmer. A few oyster houses had class, but many were seedy with a questionable clientele. In the days before refrigeration, it might seem surprising that oyster houses were so popular, but oysters were cheap. The pithy advice at the time was to only eat oysters in months that ended with an r.

Slowly Streaking

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From The Philadelphia Inquirer September 3, 1904.

Excessive Bail?

According to the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” The later 14th Amendment generally extended these same individual protections from the federal government’s overreach to states and municipalities.

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March 8, 1873 Philadelphia Inquirer

That $600 bail in 1873 is the equivalent of $20,000 today.

I am not sure if young Gorman and the storeowner were related, but the 1870 census has Thomas Gorman living with his family including his mother, Annie.

Possession with Intent to Sell Margarine

In April 1907 A. F. Reisser of 1907 Callowhill Street was named as a defendant in a criminal and civil case for the crime of selling oleomargarine. The plaintiff in the civil case was the Dairymen’s National Protective Association. Dairymen sell dairy products, i.e. things made from milk, like butter. Margarine is made up of a blend of oils and fats that were originally animal-derived, but in 1907 being made from unsaturated fats from non-dairy sources. In 1886, under pressure from the dairy lobby, the US Congress placed a tax on oleomargarine, and some states banned the sale of the product altogether (see outside link here; free registration required). In 1885 Pennsylvania passed a law making it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess with intent to sell oleomargarine. When these laws were abolished after World War II, laws were passed to prevent consumer confusion: it became illegal to sell yellow margarine that might be confused with butter (see another outside link here). Margarine sellers then sold the pale white margarine product along with a packet of yellow dye for getting around the ban on manufacturers’ sale of dyed margarine.

In May of 1907 the criminal case against Reisser was dismissed.

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Photo of a 1948 advertisement at the Science History Institute at 315 Chestnut Street. The museum there is free and filled with artifacts of science and popular culture related to science.

In order to end this article on a more upbeat note, let’s look at a neighborhood institution that is not a building. It’s a truck that has been here since 1991. It has a peripheral connection to crime in that it prominently displays its photo and fingerprinting services on the truck.

 

Robert Braun worked for a Philadelphia adoption agency in the early 1980s. He flew to the Dominican Republic for an adoption court case and there met Dominican lawyer Rosa Ingrid Perez Fernandez. After a long-distance romance lasting two years, they were married. Rosa spoke little English, and she realized there was a need to help new immigrants with their green cards and naturalization process. She and her husband decided to open up a photo truck outside the Immigration and Naturalization Service building at 1600 Callowhill Street. Rosa learned English while she provided photo and fingerprinting services. Business was good, so good that Liberian-born Joseph Wulu Doe set up a competing truck a few feet from Rosa’s truck. Aggressive marketing by both, price wars, and occasional threats caused the City to pass a few ordinances to calm things down.  The trucks were moved east to the 1500 block of Callowhill Street with peace established.

 

Rosa’s to some may look shady, but it is a legitimate business…except for one minor glitch. In 2008 a sting operation ended up with charges of creating fake identification cards against Robert Braun and three of his employees, with the truck being towed away. After three weeks, charges were dismissed and the truck was returned. When the Immigration and Naturalization Services moved to 30 South 41st Street in 2012, Rosa Photos decided to stay put. When the police headquarters moved into the former Inquirer Building in 2021, Rosa Photos was required to move to its present location on the west side of 16th Street just north of Callowhill Street. As its website says, it still provides “fingerprint cards, we offer such other services as passport, visa and immigration photography, Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Checks (your report will be ready in 15 minutes!)”

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Rosa’s Photo (from a Philadelphia Daily News article on February 28, 2008) on the south side of the 1500 block of Callowhill. Notice the competitor across the street. This was a story about the return of the truck to the site it occupied after charges were dismissed.

The truck is now on 16th Street just north of Callowhill Street.

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Rosa Braun herself from a Philadelphia Daily News article of July 8, 1994. She now works for the Philadelphia judicial system and the business is run by Robert Braun.

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