True Crime Scranton

Fear in Scranton! Wandering back to 1972

A recent Facebook post by a friend, that included my elementary school class photos,  sparked some memories among my classmates. So many faces and names brought me back to simpler times. There was “nap time” when you brought in your rug to Kindergarten. “Milk time”, when you got to drink a small carton of plain or chocolate milk – and blow the paper off the straw towards your classmates. There were photos of the 5th grade graduation party. We all got a Silver Dollar and I was awarded Mr. Lincoln, named after our school of course, and received an extra roll of pennies for the honor. I remember a group of us went to Brownie’s Pizza to celebrate afterwards. Oh how easy life was.

The online conversation also included a reference to “Atkinson” – a pedophile who, at 27 years old in 1972,  terrorized the city after escaping from the local prison and was on the run for nine days. I didn’t remember every detail of the man, but I do remember being scared to death of him.

I wondered. What ever happened to Atkinson?

With the internet at my fingertips, I didn’t have to wonder long. I was quickly able to determine that Thomas David Atkinson had died in 1990 – but I had so many other questions. Did he turn his life around? Or did he continue on his path?

That lead me on a quest in researching his life. What I found is a movie script.

October 10, 1945

Thomas David Atkinson was born in Scranton, Pa. He was the son of William Atkinson and Genevieve Campbell. He was the fourth of six children. They lived on South Sherman Ave in Scranton’s West Side.

March 2, 1948

Tragedy struck the family early. When Thomas was just two years old, his newborn brother Raymond, died of a congenital heart defect.

June 29, 1948

Four months later, Thomas, just nineteen months old, was bitten on the arm by a dog and treated at the hospital. His first appearance in the news, but certainly not his last.

August 18, 1948

More tragedy strikes as Thomas’ grandmother, Hattie Cook Campbell dies unexpectedly while visiting her son in New Jersey.

August 23, 1948

24 Aug 1948 20 - The Times-Tribune at Newspapers com

After attending Hattie’s funeral, Genevieve and William were visiting Genevieve’s brother on Washburn St. in Scranton. Upon leaving, Genevieve either passed out (or tripped on a broken step) at the top of the stairs between the 2nd and 3rd floors of the home.  She and her husband tumbled down the flight of stairs. This left William with a possible broken back and Genevieve with internal injuries. They were listed in critical condition.

The couple later sued the City of Scranton because the City held a lien on the property.

July 12, 1950

William and Genevieve file for divorce,

December 28, 1951

Lien filed against William and Genevieve’s property.

May 18, 1952

Thomas is now almost seven. His older sister Marian and her husband gave birth to their second son.  The boy lives just two short weeks and dies of pneumonia.

July 21, 1952

Genevieve, Thomas’ mother, gives birth to a baby girl. William, even though they had filed for divorce, is listed at the father. She’s 3 months premature and dies two days later on July 23.

August 2, 1952

Just over a week after she lost her daughter, Genevieve passes away. The cause of death is listed as breast cancer. The home address is still listed as S Sherman Ave.

At this point, still only seven years old, Thomas had to deal with several losses in his life. He lost two siblings, a nephew, a grandmother and his mother. There is no information on his father’s recovery from the fall down the stairs, but he’s presumably healthy and still living at home.

September 3, 1953

At 5:50am, William, Thomas’ father, widowed and now living at S Grant Ave, was involved in a car crash not far from their home.

June 23, 1954

Thomas is living with his father on Grant Ave and gets bit by a stray dog.

July 2, 1957

03 Jul 1957 4 - The Tribune at Newspapers com

Thomas, now 11, is reported to be with a six year old boy who ran away from home the day before. The two were spotted on North Main Ave. The young boy was brought home, but Thomas took off running. The boy said that he and Thomas slept on a porch near a cemetery the night before.

The young boy had been reported missing, but Thomas wasn’t reported missing until 20 minutes after the boy had been returned to his family – and Thomas was linked to the disappearance.

Thomas had not been home since June 24th – eight days.

July 3, 1957

Thomas returns home. He said he had been sleeping under porches and taking food where he could find it. It was reported that Thomas is a “chronic runaway”.

December 19, 1958

Thomas’ paternal grandmother, Charlotte Thomas Atkinson, passes away at 82 years old of heart failure.

March 9, 1961

10 Mar 1961 8 - The Tribune at Newspapers com

Thomas, 14, and a male friend, 15, are reported missing by Thomas’ “mother”, which is actually his older sister, who is listed at the same Grant address.

August 7, 1965

Thomas, 17, goes AWOL from the Navy, where his last assignment was aboard the supercarrier, USS Forrestal.

 

11 Sep 1965 3 - The Tribune at Newspapers com (1)

August 8, 1965

Thomas stole a 22-rifle and a box of shells from a junk yard on Luzerne St by his house and a radio and a small amount of cash from a maintenance building in the Washburn St Cemetery.

August 9, 1965

Stole $8 in coins, a sweater and a six pack of soda from Lou’s Market.

August 13, 1965

Snatched a purse at the A&P Market on Luzerne St.

August 17, 1965

Snatched another purse in the 500 block of Fifth Ave in the Bellevue section of Scranton.

Sept 7, 1965

08 Sep 1965 18 - The Times-Tribune at Newspapers com

He burglarized four gas stations and Cadden’s Beer Distributors.

September 8, 1965

Someone broke into Flannery’s Bar and stole $150 in coins along with wine and soda. It was later reported that it was Thomas’ acquaintance.

September 10, 1965

10 Sep 1965 1 - The Times-Tribune at Newspapers com

Thomas, now almost 18, was captured at gunpoint by Scranton Police after threatening to kill four officers.  He is questioned about a series of burglaries and break-ins in the area.

There was a burglary in Dalton the night before. It was determined that Thomas and a friend bought a car the day before – the car was found in a ditch in Dalton. His friend, a drifter from Grove City, Pa, was captured by police in Dalton.

The friend told officers that Thomas walked from Dalton to Clarks Summit, then hitch-hiked to Scranton. The accomplice told police where Thomas was living – a couple of abandoned buildings near 7th Ave and Scranton St. When police arrived, they startled a sleeping Atkinson. Sergeant Cinquergani was walking up the stairs when Thomas aimed his gun at him and threatened to “blow your head off”.  He turned the gun on the other officers and shouted “you’ll have to kill me to take me”, then took off in the house.

Three officers cornered him and he ultimately surrender his weapon. The Italian Pistola handgun Thomas had was determined to have been stolen from a Luzerne St restaurant some time ago.

During interrogation, the accomplice had said that Atkinson would rather shoot than have to go back to the Navy jail, indicating that he had spent some time in jail while in the Navy.

Aktinson was charged with nine counts of burglary, one attempted burglary and two counts of larceny.

11 Sep 1965 3 - The Times-Tribune at Newspapers com

11 Sep 1965 3 - The Times-Tribune at Newspapers com (1)

January 14, 1966

Thomas is sentenced to an undetermined amount of time at the Camp Hill Correctional Facility. Judge Hoban stated that Thomas’ mother was deceased and that his father showed little interest in him. Hoban was quoted as saying “I think we can make something out of this lad”. His accomplice was deemed to be mentally unstable and was transferred to foster care.

May 23, 1967

Thomas is granted parole.

September 19, 1967

Burglarized Lamanna’s Restaurant at 116 N Main Ave.

September 20, 1967

20 Sep 1967 24 - The Times-Tribune at Newspapers com

A nine year old boy went missing and is believed to be with now 21-year old Thomas. The two left with sleeping bags the night before and were supposed to be camping near their home. The pair were spotted in downtown Scranton.

September 22, 1967

23 Sep 1967 1 - The Tribune at Newspapers com

The uncle of the missing boy was working downtown and spotted the two. He approached Atkinson and his nephew. When he went to grab his nephew, Atkinson stabbed him in the chest. The uncle held onto the boy until help arrived. Atkinson fled on foot.

23 Sep 1967 1 - The Tribune at Newspapers com (1)

September 26, 1967

27 Sep 1967 1 - The Tribune at Newspapers com

Atkinson is apprehended in Mercer, Pa. Apparently, Thomas stole a car from Sam’s Auto on North Keyser Ave and drove back to visit a friend at George Junior Republic, a school for boys where he was once institutionalized.

GJR

December 7, 1967

Pleads guilty to burglary and larceny. No mention of any charges for his dealings with the minor.

December 9, 1967

Two days later, Thomas’ father, William Atkinson, passes away in the hospital one day after being admitted for chest pains. His address is listed as 644 N Washington Ave in Scranton.

January 24,1968

At his sentencing hearing, his attorney said he “had been kicked around by life rather badly” and suggested Thomas needed treatment more than prison. Judge Conaboy’s response to Atkinson was that “you had done a lot of kicking yourself.”  He was sentenced to 2-5 years in jail for burglary of the Lamanna restaurant and received a similar charge for stealing the car, but the sentences would run concurrently.

October 30, 1968

Thomas requests a new trial. He wants his guilty plea set aside because he said he had not been advised of his rights when entering the plea.

November 15, 1968

His petition for relief is denied and listed as “without merit”.

June or July 1972

Atkinson was living in Lansdowne, Pa and worked at a private school in Philadelphia at some point around this time. He’s asked to leave because of his “conduct with young boys.”

August 1, 1972

He picks up a 10 year old boy and takes him into the woods in Aldan, Pa and molests him. Lansdowne police believe he took off to either New York City and/or Binghamton.

August 21, 1972

21 Aug 1972 Page 11 - Delaware County Daily Times at Newspapers com

 

Lansdowne police identified Atkinson, the “handyman drifter”, as the suspect in the case. They now believe he’s in Scranton. The Chief was quoted as saying, “if he’s positively identified by the boy, we want to prosecute.” He added, “guys like these, you want off the streets.”

August 30, 1972

Steals a car in Scranton.

September 1, 1972

02 Sep 1972 3 - The Tribune at Newspapers comScranton Police receive a tip that he was at 13th and Division in West Scranton in a stolen vehicle.

They spot him a block away.  Sgt Cinquegani, the same officer Atkinson had threatened to kill a couple of years ago, gave chase. They followed him up Sumner to Swetland then down Rebecca to Lafayette. He sped back Lafayette until the tracks, where he bailed out while the car was still running and took off towards the wooded area. The car rolled over and came to rest on its roof.

Division Street 13th Avenue to 2200 Lafayette St Scranton PA 18504 - Google Maps

The police gave chase on foot but couldn’t apprehend him. They continued to canvas the area until one of the officers saw him come out of a basement on Grant Ave, near his old home. He took off running into the woods again and police fired several “warning shots”. Witnesses said they saw him throw a knife and gun, but only the knife was recovered.

A short while later, Atkinson was apprehended and held for trial at the County Jail for molesting a 12 year old boy from Scranton – in addition to the charge from Lansdowne.

It was reported that Cinquegani wanted to shoot, but there were too many people around – and they all wanted to punch Atkinson.

October 16,1972

24 Oct 1972 3 - The Times-Tribune at Newspapers com

Atkinson escapes from the County Jail by presumably scaling the 25-foot wall. He volunteered for a work duty that put him in the yard. When he and two others were ushered back to their cells, he slipped coverage and stayed in the yard.  No one knows how he was able to scale the wall.

web_Lackawanna_County_Prison__ICE__PA
Lackawanna County Prison

October 25, 1972

02 Sep 1972 3 - The Times-Tribune at Newspapers com

After nine days of people on edge in Scranton, especially West Side, Atkinson was captured in an abandoned structure off Price St and Main Ave near Allen Park. When the officers broke into the structure, the first one said “Hold it right there. Don’t move”, to which Atkinson replied, “I can’t move.” He had broken his ankle when he jumped off the wall of the jail.

144 N Main Ave - Google Maps
Allen Park – the area where he was apprehended

The Prison Warden was convinced he had help – suggesting someone threw a rope over the wall. The electrical box was smashed in what the warden believes was an attempt to knock out the power to the yard lights. He also questioned how he could get from the jail to West Side on a broken ankle.

April 25, 1973

Pleads guilty of larceny of a motor vehicle, corrupting the morals of minor (12 years old) and prison escape. Judge Richard Conaboy once again sentences Atkinson. This time, in lieu of jail time, he is sent to Farview State Hospital for an indefinite amount of time for treatment.

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Coincidentally, there is another Thomas Atkinson who is a prison guard at Farview. I haven’t been able to investigate if they are related.

July 14, 1975

Judge Conaboy imposes an additional sentence on Atkinson.  This time, he moves him back to the Lackawanna County Jail for a time no longer than April 25, 1976.

September 13, 1976

Shortly after his release from prison, Atkinson, now living in Binghamton, breaks into Rock Bottom Tavern and steals money from the vending machines – something that’s he’s been known to do for years now.

September 21, 1976

23 Sep 1976 20 - Press and Sun-Bulletin at Newspapers com

He’s wanted on child sexual abuse charges stemming from an incident with a 9-year old boy in Binghamton over the summer. He surrenders to Binghamton Police at his friend’s apartment after barricading himself in her bedroom with four juveniles.

The officer who talked him into surrendering receives an award for his efforts.

November 5, 1976

Atkinson pleads guilty to third degree burglary from the Rock Bottom Tavern incident. Because he’s a second felony offender, he’s sentenced to three to six years at Attica. No mention of the CSA charges.

Attica After Riot
Attica Prison in 1971 after a massive prisoner riot

 May 1, 1981

02 May 1981 Page 12 - Muncie Evening Press at Newspapers com

Atkinson’s address is now listed as Saratoga Springs, New York. He, along with three other juvenile runaways, two boys and a girl, ages 16, 15 and 13, all from New York, were attempting to cash sacks of coins at a K-Mart in Indiana. The clerk became suspicious and called police. As police arrived, the suspects all fled to an RV/Camper and took off out of the parking lot. The police tried to block them, but they rammed the police car and continued on to a wooded area. They eventually crashed and two of the juveniles were apprehended. Atkinson took off, with a shotgun, through the woods and broke into a home and stole a revolver. As officers closed in, Atkinson aimed his rifle and the officers fired, striking him in the leg. The next day, canine units were used to track and capture the fourth suspect – who was hiding in the woods.

Police believe their crime spree went on for over two months and crossed several states including Missouri, Pennsylvania, New York and Indiana. One of the juveniles said he couldn’t remember how many places they hit because there were simply too many.

Several weapons were confiscated from the vehicle along with plenty of cash. Atkinson said he tried to fire at the police, but the rifle misfired.

06 May 1981 Page 19 - The Star Press at Newspapers com

He’s charged with attempted murder of two police officers, burglary, theft and resisting arrest and sentenced to four years for resisting, thirteen years for burglary, and one year for criminal recklessness. The sentences would run concurrently, effectively putting him away for thirteen years.

March 30, 1987

Atkinson fails to return to a detention center where he was serving time for his actions in 1981. He was on work release, working at a restaurant in Edinburgh, just south of Indianapolis, and walked away.

April 3, 1987

03 Apr 1987 Page 41 - The Cincinnati Enquirer at Newspapers com

He’s captured in Ohio after a high speed chase in which he drove the wrong way on I-70 and then jumped out of his moving car (again) before running directly into a SWAT car. He was returned to Indiana and sentenced to two additional years in jail. He would have been eligible for parole in October.

May 18, 1987

Atkinson, back at the Atterbury Work Release center near Indianapolis, once again is arrested for walking away from a work release program. This time at the Waffle and Steak Restaurant in South Indianapolis.  He’s sent to the county jail without bond.

June 7, 1989

Atkinson loses his appeal for a reduced sentence.

September 16, 1989

He’s released on parole from the Work Release program.

March 1, 1990

Aktinson was due to appear with his parole officer, but apparently left Indianapolis.

A 17 year old male was arrested for siphoning gas and was scheduled to appear in court the next day. He never showed. He and his 15 year old girlfriend run away from home.

March 13, 1990

15 Mar 1990 Page 74 - The San Bernardino County Sun at Newspapers com

Within the last two weeks, Atkinson and the two juvenile acquaintances mentioned above steal a motor home from Kansas as they made their way across the country. With Atkinson driving, they run a red light at 2:00am in Barstow, California, northeast of Los Angeles.

128 W Historic Rte 66 - Google Maps
Intersection along Route 66 where Atkinson ran a red light

Police give chase and stop the vehicle in a rail yard. Aktinson and the male jump out and shoot at officers, striking one in the chest – saved only by his bulletproof vest. The officers return fire and kill both men. The female was unharmed as she laid in the bunk above the cab.

It was determined that both juveniles were also frequent runaways. The two suffered a miscarriage earlier but were planning to get married in the summer.

The girl said Atkinson would not be taken alive. She admitted that they had stolen at least one other vehicle and committed a series of crimes along the way from Indiana to California. The girl avoided all charges in the incident.

After years of running and escaping, Atkinson returned home to his mother. He was buried by her in Cathedral Cemetery along with his two younger siblings who died as infants.  His father was buried in Washburn Street Cemetery.

Scranton Pennsylvania to Barstow CA - Google Maps

The story of Atkinson will linger with children and their families forever affected by his actions. His life was a movie script, evolving from petty theft to attempted murder. From his small hometown of Scranton across the country to California, the broken justice and reform systems failed many. The child sex abuse  was hardly recognized and rarely penalized. The terrifying encounters with law enforcement in numerous states could have ended even more tragically if not for the restraint of the officers.

Today I wonder what happened to those he molested, those he recruited, those he scarred by his crimes. My hope is that his victims have healed and his accomplices reformed. You cannot help but wonder if his tragic upbringing made him the man he was or if was destined for this life of crime from the beginning.

For all intents and purposes, Atkinson left Scranton in 1972 only to return in a casket, but in his wake, he left the people of Scranton scared and scarred.

Amazingly, in 1973, Scranton was the victim of another terrifying man who spent time in Farview State Prison, William Wright.

To be continued…

 

 

8 comments

  1. So interesting. Amazing what you found through some internet sleuth work. A bad actor in a tragic play.

      1. Hi Bill Joe Sweeney here you’re Bob’s brother right, oh yeah he was the devil’s child for sure I remember like it was yesterday when he was loose and on the run he got me , he threatened to kill me tried to stick a gun in mouth who knows how many kids he got in and out of jail I knew where he was hiding in his sister’s home on grant avenue right next door to captain Noone’s home and 2 blocks away from chief pochus house . His sister’s husband made a room under the stairs off the kitchen. I thought he was captured around 73 or 74 Willy Moser chased him down and tackled him for the cops from what I remember. I always wanted to run into him so I could put a gun in his mouth and end it but I moved from scranton around then what’s strange is he died out here in California not to far from me. Yes it sounds like a movie script for sure. Jason Miller used to hit my father up for stories at my sister’s home back in the 70’s and 80’s before he moved back there to scranton.

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