Eighth Ward School

The basement door of the Eighth Ward School, as it appears today, was where Ray Kunselman hid out and met the friends who supplied him with food, drink and cigarettes.

The story so far: Ray Kunselman begins dating Dorothy Horne, a teenager half his age who sees him as a means to escape boredom and poverty, but the romance turns stormy. Despite their jealousy and fighting, the couple plan a trip to Toledo, Ohio. Ray is unable to find any money, and the two quarrel as they drive out of town. The next morning, Dorothy's body is found on a farm road west of the city, and police launch a search for their prime suspect.

Sobered by the adrenaline coursing through his body, Ray Kunselman abandoned his father's Hupmobile and walked in the direction of the National Pike, his heart pounding, his temples throbbing.

He sat beside the S Bridge, its crumbling stone walls glowing silver in the light of a waxing moon, waiting and listening for a car to come along. But it was the middle of the night, and the few vehicles that passed sped by Ray's outstretched thumb. Eventually, he began to walk north along the creek until he reached the Baltimore & Ohio tracks, and then followed them toward Washington.

At daybreak, he reached a field above the Lincoln Hill coal dump and settled into the cover of bushes to sleep. He remained there until late in the evening, when he started walking into the city, toward the Hazel-Atlas No. 2 plant on South Main Street. At about 1:30 a.m. on June 14, he hopped aboard a westbound freight train that carried him to Wheeling, W.Va.

In a statement he gave to District Attorney Warren Burchinal just after his arrest, Kunselman said: “I stayed around Wheeling for a couple of days; then I got a freight back to Washington. I stayed around the West End schoolhouse at nights. I would go around the fields and try to get something to eat at different places. I stayed there around three weeks; then I went out to Ohio. I was at Toledo, Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus. Then I went up at Detroit …”

Help from friends

With school out for the summer, the Eighth Ward School (now home to an auto supply business) was a perfect hiding place: There were toilets and running water, and it was close to the bars and restaurants frequented by Kunselman's friends, and just a couple of blocks from his father's house. The danger of being captured was great, but help from friends and family would keep him from starving and the other perils of life on the road.

On the afternoon of July 3, 1935, Ernest Sickles was standing outside Polan's Grocery Store at the corner of Grove Avenue and West Chestnut Street, where he had worked for the past six years. Elmer Kunselman – Ray's father – approached him and handed him a folded piece of paper.

“Here is a note from Ray,” the elder Kunselman said. “He wants to see you. He's hungry, and he wants something to eat.”

Sickle and everyone else in Washington knew the younger Kunselman was the object of an intense manhunt and that aiding the suspect would be dangerous.

When Sickle got off work at 10 o'clock that night, he stopped for a beer at Patsy Falvo's place at the corner of Chestnut and Brookside, then headed for Tucker's Beer Garden, just across the street from the Eight Ward School. Despite the risk, he bought sandwiches, 10 bottles of beer and borrowed a basket in which to carry them.

Months later, at the trial, Sickle testified: “I walked down Catfish Alley and I went around (back of the school) and it was dark, and right where the doorway is, there was – if there was a moon out it would be shining and light – a note with instructions to go to that door, and I went to the door and I heard the latch move on it, and he opened it up and said, 'Stick them up.' I said, 'Come on Ray, quit kidding.' He said, 'Oh, I was kidding, Ern.'”

Sickle went into the basement, and Ray threw his arms around him and said, “Gee, I'm glad to see you, Ern. I am going crazy.” Ray began to cry.

“Come on, Ray. Pull yourself together. You are a better man than that.”

Ray wiped his face with his sleeve, and Sickles asked, “Why did you do that, Ray?”

“I don't know, Ern. I must have been crazy!”

“Well, tell me what happened,” Sickle said.

Ray told his friend about his attempt to rob Walter Jacobs; how he went to the man's house on Broad Street and demanded the roll he had seen him carrying around; how he hit him with the gun when Jacobs claimed to have no money; and how after Jacobs staggered toward him, he shot from the hip at him. Ray said he thought he might have killed him and ran down the street to where Dorothy was waiting in the car. He told her what he had done, and they argued.

Ray told him that Dorothy wanted to go away with him, but he didn't want her to, and they argued about that as they drove out the pike and onto a red-dog road. They fought, and Ray took the gun and fired it once to scare her. Her dress caught fire. Then she grabbed the butt of the gun with one hand and was trying to unlatch the door with the other when, in the struggle, the gun went off and he heard her moan, heard her say “Oh.”

“She fell against the door and she fell out, and he knew or thought that she was dead,” Sickle would testify. “And he picked her up and then he knowed that she was dead then. He said he didn't know what to do. He said the first thought that came to his mind was to lay her over off the road.”

Ray asked Sickle to bring him sandwiches, magazines, cigarettes, .32 cartridges, flashlight batteries and more beer the next day. Sickle, who had a steady job, a wife and son, thought better of becoming more involved and did not show up. But other friends did. West Enders Val Tucker, John Plott, John Hopkins and Weldon Ewart all helped supply him with food and drink, and on July 4 some of them gave him money – enough to leave town.

Many others may not have helped the fugitive, but they were of no help to the police, either. William W. Reese was just 11 years old in 1935. “My aunts lived on Fayette Street, and I remember hearing that people would see him going into stores to buy things, see him around on the street, knew that he was sleeping in the church and the school and they kept quiet, wouldn't say anything.”

On the run

Ray slipped out of Washington again after the holiday, riding the rails to Toledo, Ohio. It was there that he threw the .32-caliber revolver that had killed his lover into the muddy Maumee River. For the next three months, Ray Kunselman joined tens of thousands of other homeless men who traveled the nation in search of work. They called them hobos and tramps, these victims of the country's worst economic disaster. They had once been workers, family men – partakers of the American dream – and now many were forced to beg.

In the autumn chill of mid-October, Ray landed in Washington again. With school in session, he had no place warm to bed down. In desperation, he reached out to another friend for some special help.

Criminal intent

Shortly after 7 o'clock on the evening of Oct. 18, Gaylord Stanley was walking into Tucker's Beer Garden when he heard his nickname called from the darkness by the Eighth Ward School.

“Slim!”

Stanley recognized the voice of the neighbor he had known all of his life. He walked in the direction of the voice, down Catfish Alley, until a figure came into view. Ray Kunselman was wearing an old hat and a brown raincoat, and he appeared to have several other coats on beneath that.

The two talked for awhile, and then Ray asked Stanley to go check the cigarette machine in Tucker's to see if the man who filled it had come yet. Stanley did so and returned to tell the fugitive that the man must have already been there because the machine was full.

“I don't have a gun and I need one,” Ray said.

“I don't have a gun,” Stanley said.

“Your father has one, though.”

“I can't get that because he'll miss it.”

Ray had reached into his pocket and took out a handmade billy club made from a large gas hose with something heavy on the end of it. He slapped it menacingly against his palm and told Stanley, “Get the gun, and I'll give it back to you.”

Stanley was too scared of Ray not to obey him. The next night, Saturday, he took the .32-caliber revolver from his father's home and gave it to Ray in Catfish Alley.

Ray promised to return the gun the following night, but when Stanley went to meet him at the assigned place and time on Sunday, Ray wasn't there.

The next night, Oct. 21, Ray was captured in Catfish Alley, carrying the loaded weapon given to him by his friend. He never used it for whatever purpose it was intended. It is possible that he had not committed any crime since the early morning of June 13. But the fact he was captured with a loaded weapon made Ray Kunselman a most dangerous criminal in the eyes of the police and the public.

Ray's arrest would be front-page news, not just locally but in Pittsburgh and beyond.

He had told his friends that what happened to Dorothy Horne was an accident, but the authorities had a different opinion.

Ray Kunselman was charged with first-degree murder, and if convicted, his death in the electric chair would be almost certain.

Next: On trial for murder

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