The story so far: More than four months after the body of a young woman was found along a red-dog road in Buffalo Township in June 1935, police captured their prime suspect, Ray Kunselman, on a rainy night in Washington's West End.
Although the Great Depression had crushed the nation's economy, smoke still spewed from the stacks of steel mills and glass factories of Washington, Pa. Orders had diminished, but there was still a demand for bottles and jars and pipe and sheet metal. Mill work was hard and the pay low, but those fortunate enough to have factory jobs and those who mined the coal that fired the furnaces eked out a living and provided for family members who could not.
In the spring of 1935, money was tight, Lewis Fuller remembers. He was born in the house at 403 Addison St. in the city's West End in 1923 and has lived there all his life.
“There were 500, well, I don't know about 500, but there were a hell of a lot of grocery stores in the West End then. Everybody seemed to have one. Nobody made much money at it – just enough to live by.”
His grandparents operated Fuller's Grocery Store, as did his parents. And when he returned from service in Africa in World War II and was denied his job back at Jessop Steel, he went into the family grocery business as well. The store closed for good in 1964.
“The West End was pretty rough back then,” Fuller said from his room at the Washington County Health Center. “It got worse the farther out – west – you went, but that end of Addison Street was a pretty nice place to live.”
The West End was heavily populated, with houses packed tightly together, because it was within walking distance to the factories where many folks worked. Automobiles – and the gasoline to power them – were out of most people's price range.
Margaret McClenathan Townsend had a much more difficult commute. The Penn Commercial graduate found a job working as a secretary for the McIlvaine & Williams law firm. The 19-year-old would walk from her farm in Amwell Township to VanKirk Station and, she hoped, catch a six-mile ride into town with one of the residents.
“I earned a dollar a day then, and we worked six days a week,” Mrs. Townsend said.
No safety net
A dollar a day bought much more in 1935 than it does today. Two days' pay could buy you a decent pair of shoes. In advertisements in The Reporter, clothing stores offered underwear for 13 cents, and markets were selling 2 pounds of hamburger for 29 cents. But so many who had no jobs could afford none of it. They fell into miserable poverty, and the government had no safety net to catch them.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not sign the Social Security Act until Aug. 14, 1935, and regular monthly payments didn't begin until January 1940.
The desperate sought help from relatives, if they had them, and from churches and charitable organizations. Some had no other choice but to beg.
“My mother was on assistance, but assistance was different then,” said Joseph Horne, who was born in 1930. “Now, you get a check. Then, you went to where the old Washington High School was, there on Beau Street, and you got potatoes, onions, peanut butter.”
The Depression hit Horne's mother particularly hard. Iva Rafferty and Wilbur Horne were teenagers when they married. Wilbur found work as a skating instructor at the roller rink on West Beau Street. He lost his fight with alcoholism in 1932 and left his wife with eight children and another on the way. Without a husband or any income, she and her family were destitute. Her oldest son, Francis, left for the Poe Valley CCC Camp near Williamsport, where he would work alongside other young men building the dam and roads that would become Poe Valley State Park. Two of her daughters, Virginia and Laura, were placed in St. Paul's Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum in Pittsburgh. She moved into a four-room house at 55 Wayne St. with her five youngest children and her oldest daughter, Dorothy, who worked at the Tygart Valley Glass Factory.
Though her pay was hardly enough to support the family, Dorothy was invaluable to her mother in helping to keep house and raise her younger brothers and sisters.
We cannot know what was in Dorothy's heart and mind then; we can only imagine the hopelessness that she faced: watching other girls her age going off to high school while she headed for the factory; knowing that she was her family's sole support; realizing that her widowed mother would receive no other help from anyone but her; that she could never, like her brother Francis, leave this place.
A way out?
In the late spring of 1934, just after her 18th birthday, Dorothy Horne met Ray Kunselman. He was not the type of man she expected to be attracted to. He was twice her age and nearly an inch shorter than her, but he was a charmer, a dapper man in clean, pressed clothing with a neatly trimmed mustache and piercing blue eyes.
And he had money, or so she assumed, because she had seen him often driving a long, gray Hupmobile sedan, and he lived in a big house on Fayette Street.
Dorothy didn't hesitate when Ray asked her out the first time, even though she had heard that he had a couple of kids and a wife from whom he was separated for several years but not divorced. It was exciting to be away from her crowded, dreary house, even if all it turned out to be was sitting in a cracked vinyl booth in a smoky beer garden.
Ray bought her drinks and sandwiches and flashed her around like a piece of new jewelry. He teased her and flattered her, and for the first time Dorothy felt like an adult.
Dorothy met new people – older people – like Katherine Wilkinson and her husband, Raymond, and very quickly another world, another door opened for her, and she walked through it without so much as a glance over her shoulder.
What she saw through that door and ahead of her was opportunity, in part for her widowed mother and siblings, but mainly for herself.
Ray Kunselman offered Dorothy a way out, but neither she nor he, or anyone else who knew them, could imagine how tragic that escape would be.