In the years I have had this website I have compiled little tid-bits of the big shootout in 1941 at the end of the Fifth Street Bridge between the Elwood City Police Chief Ernest Hartman and three bank robbers. I never posted them here as I didn’t have the full story. Then someone handed me a very old newspaper that contained the entire story. I was going to put it into my own words, but the reporter did all the work, he should get all the credit…
As reported by Kenneth Nevins in the Pittsburgh Press…
A county cop and a bill collector were town heroes here (Ellwood City, PA) after they shot it out with three bank robbers, killing two and wounding the other. The cop – Police Chief Ernest Hartman, 36 – wounded the three single-handed in a gunfight at a busy street intersection, and the bill collector, Jimmy Pasta, shot one of the bandits dead on a lonely country road a short time later, as they tried to force him to aid their getaway.
The shootings followed the robbery an hour earlier of the First National Bank at Harrisville, Butler County, when $1,072 in currency was taken along with about $2,000 in money orders and checks. Virtually all of the loot was recovered, much of it stained with blood. Killed by Mr. Pasta was Earl Everets, 27, of Smithfield, Fayette County near Uniontown. Albert Feelo, 26, of Republic, Fayette County, wounded in the gun battle with Chief Hartman, died (the following morning) in the Ellwood City Hospital. The third bandit, Kenneth Palmer, 33, of Detroit, formerly of Volant, Lawrence County PA., where he joined in the holdup of a Volant Bank in 1930, was wounded badly and (was) near death.
Chief Hartman was alone in his office when word was flashed that the bank bandits were headed towards Pittsburgh in a black club coupe with white wall tires, bearing Ohio plates. “I grabbed the .45 Thompson (sub-machine gun), hopped into the squad car and headed for Wampum Avenue and the Fifth Street Bridge” Chief Hartman said. “I knew that they’d come in that way if they came.”
He hadn’t long to wait. the black coupe roared into view and screamed to a stop as the bandits sighted Chief Hartman, standing in the street, his car blocking the roadway. “I hollered for them to get out” chief Hartman said. “But I wasn’t sure of them. There were three and the car didn’t have white wall tires. So I waited.”
The driver climbed out, and “hollered something about a fine thing stopping a car on a highway,” and the other two followed, the Chief said. “They fanned out, and that made me suspicious,” Mr. Hartman continued. “When they got within 70 feet, guns seemed to jump into their hands, and they were firing at me. “I thought, ‘If I go out I want to take some of them with me,’ so I let ‘em have it with the Tommy.” Palmer fell to the street as Chief Hartman, crouching, backed away shooting. As he stopped to reload his clip, the bandits threw Palmer into the car and sped away.
Three miles from town, down the dusty, twisty Belton Road, hardly wide enough for one car, sped the bandit’s machine, Everets at the wheel. Struck twice in the chest with Chief Hartman’s bullets, he lost control of the car and it toppled 15 feet down an embankment stopping against a clump of saplings. Mrs. Laura Kash of Ellwood City driving from Beaver Falls with a friend, Angelo DeCarbo, saw the crash. “We stopped and I got out and hollered. ‘Anybody hurt?’” Mrs. Kash related. “The one fellow standing turned around and he had a gun. He pointed it at me and said ‘Get down here’.” The frightened woman obeyed only to have a 30.30 rifle poked in her side as she and Mr. DeCarbo were ordered to carry the two wounded men from the overturned car. Mrs. Kash told police: “He said ‘Hurry.’ and I said ‘How did he expect a woman to lift a man?’ and he said ‘Shut up and lift.’” “And,” said Mrs. Kash explosively, “did I lift!” Meanwhile, rookie Policeman Ed Shaffer, on the force regularly only a week, and in plain clothes, reached the scene of the original shooting. He asked Mr. Pasta to drive him after the bandit’s car. As Mrs. Kash and her friend helped the wounded men to the road, Officer Shaffer and Mr. Pasta arrived. They were “covered” at once by Everets, who ordered them to aid in putting the injured two into the DeCarbo car.
“They said all seven of us couldn’t ride in that old car.” recalled Mr.Pasta. “I’ve read enough gangster stories to be plenty scared by that.” He watched as Palmer and Feelo were placed in the rear seat. Then Everets put the rifle on Palmers lap,” Mr. Pasta said, “and walked around to the driver’s side.”
“The car was between us and I figured it was now or never,” Mr. Pasta said. “I grabbed the gun from Palmer and pointed it at Everets. He made a move like he was going for a gun and I fired through the window at him. He fell over the hill.” “Then Ed (Shaffer) jumped one of the other two and I jumped the other. Palmer clouted Ed in the eye with a wrench and hit me on the head with it, but we subdued ‘em.” “Then I climbed down the hill where Everets was moving, trying to get up. I hit him over the head with a gun and he passed out.” At a morgue, Everets was pronounced dead of a bullet wound through the neck and two slugs in his chest from Chief Hartman’s machine gun.
Chief Hartman, after wounding the bandits, took another road to head them off and arrived at the Belton Rd. shooting scene after Everets had been killed and the other desperadoes subdued. Three pistols taken from the bandits showed a dozen shots had been fired, presumably at Chief Hartman who said he “never even heard ‘em come close.” In a golf bag in the luggage compartment of the car, three other pistols were found. Police are checking gun numbers to link the bandits possibly with the robbery of a New Castle hardware store a week earlier. The car the men used was stolen from Cleveland, Ohio and had been riddled in a dozen places with bullet holes from Chief Hartman’s fusillade.
Both Palmer and Feelo admitted they took part in the Harrisville robbery. Feelo died of his wounds in his back and in his abdomen. Palmer’s legs were almost literally “cut to pieces” by bullets. It was the third robbery of the Harrisville bank in five years, police said, and the second shooting affray in two years for Officer Hartman who was elevated to the Chief’s job a year earlier after serving 11 years on the force. Two years earlier, a burglar exploded a tear gas gun hidden up his sleeve, when surprised by Chief Hartman, and was shot to death, although Mr. Hartman was blinded by the gas.
According to State Motor Police, the bandit trio first joined forces as inmates of the Rockview Penitentiary near Bellefonte, PA. Everets and Feelo were serving terms for robbery. Palmer was serving a seven-year sentence for participation in the Volant National Bank robbery. Because the Harrisville bank was a Federal Depository, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were sent here as soon as word of the stick-up and capture was flashed. Thousands of motorists jammed the dusty Belton Road to inspect the scene of the killing.
It was later reported in a December 1941 edition of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that the sole surviving bank robber was convicted in US District Court. Kenneth George Palmer was found guilty on three counts of armed bank robbery and transporting stolen firearms across state lines. He was charged of robbing the Harrisville First National Bank and a bank patron of $1,042.
Palmer, who still showed the effects of having his knees riddled with bullets, denied participating in the robbery.
Shortly after the case came to closeure, Chief Ernie Hartman retired.