My research led me to a case where the body of a man was discovered in 1971. The identity of the victim (and those involved) was unknown for 2-1/2 years. The subsequent murder investigation uncovered a massive burglary ring throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey that was allegedly associated with the Mafia – specifically, the Gambino Crime Family.
This article focuses on the three characters involved with the murder – Gerald Donnerstag, Gerard Festa and Harold Ellis. Each came from broken families and started their life of crime somewhat early. Their actions impacted so many victims across at least three states and they left their families to deal with unimaginable circumstances.
Gerald Donnerstag aka “Jerry the Jew” – I believe he was an only child to his mother At the age of 6, he was living with his mother, her siblings and his grandparents in 1940 with no mention of his father.
Gerard Festa aka “Chicken Delight” – His parents were married in 1928 and filed for divorce in 1930 when Gerard was less than a year old. While in court for a custody battle in July, 1934, a 5-year-old Gerard burst into tears and screaming “I want my Daddy” before he was ordered to go with his mother. Gerard dropped out of school after seventh grade.
Harold Ellis aka “Hank” – When Hank was just 2 years old, his mother died. The father apparently left, leaving Ellis and his siblings to live with their Grand Aunt and Uncle.
August 1, 1955
Harold Ellis, 22, of Scranton and three others are arrested for defrauding a retired Scranton teacher, Edith Doty, out of $3,000. The group concocted an elaborate scheme and convinced the elderly woman to repair her roof – making payments to the gang. Ellis impersonated an insurance adjuster and assured her that insurance company would reimburse her.
January 17, 1958
The same group of men, along with Gerard Festa, 28, of Scranton are charges with another roofing scam – this time in Elmira, New York. Their target was an 85 year old retired music teacher. This time, they got her for about $7,000. By this time, Festa already had multiple arrests to his credit for disorderly conduct – mostly from bar fights.
February 21, 1959
Festa is once again arrested for swindling another woman – deemed to be a friend. He and several others were part of a plot that stole $26,000 from Cecelia Meyers of Scranton. Meyers was known to help Festa and others when asked. He’s appealing the other conviction and is out on bail. He was listed as being an inmate of the Elmira Reformatory in connection to his Elmira incident.
August 30, 1961
Festa is released on parole from the Elmira Reformatory after serving 21 months for bilking the Elmira woman.
October 22, 1961
A bartender at the Hi Lite Tavern in Newark, NJ, Gerald Donnerstag shoots and kills Gerald Winston. Donnerstag, 28 at the time, claims Winston (22) entered the tavern and collapsed. Donnerstag revived Winston, but Winston started to punch Donnerstag. Donnerstag went to call police, but Winston picked up a knife and starting slashing Donnerstag. Donnerstag grabbed a .38 revolver from the bar and fired two shots into Winston’s stomach. Both were transported to the hospital where Winston died an hour after surgery. No charges are filed.
October 28, 1962
Festa is picked up in Scranton on a parole violation. He’s now 33 and living at Valley View Terrace. It’s reported that he still has three years to serve for his Elmira conviction. It also states that he served as a witness for the state on the a similar incident from several years ago. Could that have been the Ellis/Doty case?
March 3, 1966
Cops raid the home of Anthony “The Masher” DePasque in Clifton, NJ. The home acted as the headquarters of an illegal multi-million dollar lottery operation. Police arrest DePasque, Donnerstag, and Anthony Garcia.
In 1969, DePasque evaded capture in other raids based on receiving tips from law enforcement. In 1990, he was kidnapped by his former son-in-law, whose home later mysteriously caught fire. DePasque was allegedly tied to the Genovese Crime Family – and Carlo Gambino took over for Vito Genovese.
July 5, 1969
Jed Feldman, a construction worker from Newark, NJ is arrested for leaving the scene of an accident in Belleville, NJ. He’s released on $50 bail.
July 7, 1969
Three men break into Dr. Earl Woods’ home in New Jersey, planning to steal a valuable coin collection. The burglar alarm triggered and police showed up before the trio could make off with the goods.
July 25, 1969
Two weeks later, a 200-year-old painting is stolen from the same Dr. Woods’ home. The art was purchased in the 1930s for $7,500.
March 25, 1971
Dr. Harry Mullen reports a burglary at his residence on Madison Ave. in Scranton, PA. Jewelry and $3,000 cash was stolen.
April 17, 1971
A badly decomposed body had been found in Tardosky’s Pond (now Sicklers Pond) off Sickler Hollow Road in Greenfield Township, just north of the city of Scranton.
Two men, Eugene Telep and Robert Tardosky, thought they saw a large turtle in the pond, but when the got closer, they realized what they had found and quickly alerted police.
The body had been there approximately 4-6 months and was wearing only boxer shorts, a t-shirt and one sock. The coroner said it appeared to be a male, 25-40 years old with four bullet wounds in the back of the head and one in the left side. Two guns were used in the shooting – a .38 caliber and .32 caliber.
With no missing persons reported, the search was on for the identity of the victim and the person(s) responsible for the murder. The lone clue to the identity of the victim was a signet ring with the initials “J.F.” and he was “muscular and athletic”.
This discovery comes two years after another body had been discovered in the area and, while the victim had been identified, the suspect was still at large.
July 5, 1971
Anthony Garcia (the same one as indicated earlier) is beaten and shot dead during what many believed was a gang war between mobs. He’s found in the swamps near Livingston, NJ.
September 17, 1972
A break-in at Dairylea at 429-439 North Main Ave, Scranton is reported. Cash and checks worth $10,000 were stolen.
March 4, 1973
Nearly two years after being discovered, the victim had yet to be identified. The only thing that police had been able to rule out was that the man was not from Lackawanna County.
District Attorney, Paul Mazzoni, while vacationing in Florida, interviewed a woman who believed she may have known the victim and have information on who might be the suspect. He directed detectives to Florida to investigate further.
October 25, 1973
Finally, after 2-1/2 years two men were arrested for the murder. Gerard “Chicken Delight” Festa, now living in Newark, NJ and Gerald “Jerry the Jew” Donnerstag, Belleville, NJ, were apprehended and charged with the murder of Jed Feldman, originally from Newark, NJ. A third man, only known as “Hank” is listed as wanted in connection with the murder.
Feldman apparently had been wrongly accused by Donnerstag as being a police informant. He was known by law enforcement in NJ as being involved in a burglary ring throughout Northern New Jersey.
It’s rumored that a drug deal was also part of the incident – but there was no other evidence to support that rumor.
Festa ran a restaurant named “Chicken Delight” across the street from where Feldman lived in Newark.
October 26, 1973
After interviewing the two suspects, the third suspect has been identified as Harold Michael Ellis, a former Scranton resident now living in St. Petersburg, FL.
November 2, 1973
Harold “Hank” Ellis is arrested in St. Petersburg and extradited back to Scranton. Ellis was employed as a roofer in Scranton until about 1969 when he moved to Newark.
December 14, 1973
Festa and Donnerstag are extradited from NJ back to PA and held in connection to the murder.
December 21, 1974
At a preliminary hearing, Joseph Carbone of Nutley, NJ, testified that Donnerstag told him that he had shot Feldman in the back of the head twice, then the body was used for target practice by several unnamed people. Carbone is a convicted narcotics dealer and burglar and shared details of heroin operations and large-scale robberies. He also said that he and Donnerstag defaulted on a contract to assassinate the owner of a New Jersey trucking company.
Dirado “Wally” Lombardo, an inmate at the Caldwell, NJ State Penitentiary, also testified that Donnerstag told him that he shot Feldman and then made Festa and Ellis each fire a shot at the dead man. He added that Donnerstag killed Feldman because Festa had told him he was “shooting his mouth off” about their operations.
Lombardo also told of a burglary in Pennsylvania in the Spring of 1971 where Donnerstag handcuffed an older woman to a railing, then stole jewelry. No one was ever arrested for that incident.
December 28, 1973
Bail was set at $100,000, for Donnerstag and Festa, a potential record high for the area. Assistant DA, Ernie Preate petitioned for $300,000, but the Judge was satisfied with the lower amount.
Coincidently, the William Wright murder case was sent to the Grand Jury the same day.
January 18, 1974
Six murder suspects were arraigned the same day – a record for Scranton. Donnerstag and Festa plead innocent. At the same time, William Wright, who remained silent, also entered an innocent plea by default. Two others, Ronald Luzasky and Rosemary Alia joined in and also entered not guilty pleas for the killing of Old Forge restauranteur, Gino Nalaschi and finally, Earl McCloskey completed the day by also pleading innocent of the charge of murdering his ex-wife’s boyfriend, Chester Gutkowski.
January 21, 1974
Festa’s bail is increased another $64,000 when he is charged with an additional eight burglaries in Scranton, Dunmore and Moscow between 1969 and 1972. A total of $64,000 in cash and goods were reported stolen in the burglaries.
January 27, 1974
Police arrest Robert Martin of West Scranton on charges of burglary in connection with the investigation into Donnerstag and Festa. Martin is tied to the Dr. Mullen and Dairylea incidents.
March 8, 1974
The Grand Jury indicts Harold Ellis in the Jed Feldman murder.
March 26, 1974
Donnerstag is transferred to Scranton State Hospital with a case of intestinal flu. Lackawanna County Sheriff Joseph Winovich reportedly sought the help of the State Police and Scranton Police to keep a watch on his hospital room. Security is tight.
March 29, 1974
While still in the hospital, Donnerstag is released on bail after his mother unexpectedly steps up to help him. She arrived with a certified check for $50,000 and a $50,000 bond. Preate is stunned.
The freedom was short-lived. Within 6 hours, he’s back in jail in New Jersey in connection with the murder of Anthony Garcia, his former colleague in their lottery business. Garcia had been found dead on July 5, 1971.
Bail is now set at $500,000 in Essex County, NJ.
April 27, 1974
In a surprise move, Festa’s bail is reduced to $25,000. This will allow him to be transferred to FBI custody. Festa’s life is believed to be in danger. He has been moved to several different “secure areas” while the investigation continues.
May 16, 1974
Police in two states arrest eight and look for seven additional suspects in connection with a multi-state burglary ring. The thefts spanned from 1968 to 1973 and totaled over $186,000 of currency, silverware, coins, stamps, jewelry and weapons.
Donnerstag, Festa and Ellis, already in custody are charged along with several other Scranton, Dunmore and New Jersey residents.
Asst. DA, Ernie Preate speaks out about the inconsistencies of Magistrate Polizzi’s “unusual proceedings” in how he handled the burglary charges in the sting. The Magistrate’s actions caused several charges to be dropped against the group of suspects.
June 17, 1974
A change of venue order has been issued based on the local media coverage of Donnerstag. The trial will now be held in Luzerne County.
July 8, 1974
Tight security is in place for the hearings of the burglary suspects (including Donnerstag), since Festa is set to testify for the State. It’s likely the tightest security ever in Lackawanna County.
Festa provided details of burglaries and how items were sold to “Herky the Fence”
June 5, 1975
Donnerstag is convicted of theft in connection with the art heist that occurred on July 25, 1969. Festa testified that he, Donnerstag and Austin Castiglione were involved with the robbery.
In addition, Festa testified that they had originally planned to steal the coin collection on July 7, 1969.
August 14, 1974
Arrests continue to made in connection with the burglary ring. Another individual from Tampa, Florida was taken into custody in July and another one today. There are now nine total that have been arrested.
September 6, 1974
The Grand Jury in Lackawanna County handed down a record 149 indictments – most in connection with the burglary ring. The courthouse was once again heavily guarded as Festa testified again. Doors that were normally open were handcuffed together to ensure security.
At the end of the day, Festa was reportedly flown out of state under protective custody.
September 12, 1974
Over in Newark, 30 alleged mobsters were indicted by a special Grand Jury in connection to a wide series of “house robberies, armed holdups, booty sharing, murder and arson attempts.” Included on the indictment were Donnerstag and Frank “The Bear” Basto, an alleged assassin for Carlo Gambino.
September 30, 1974
The murder charges against Festa and Ellis have been dropped! Today, both men plead guilty to burglary. They have been cooperating with investigators. Yet again, the courtroom was heavily guarded. Festa was arraigned on charges related to the robbery of the homes of Dr. Edward Schwartz and Mrs. Elsie Schneider, both of the East Mountain, and Dairylea. It was reported that Festa had been held in the Towanda jail earlier in the year, but moved after word got out.
Atty. Preate argued that the murder charges for Ellis should be dropped because the coroner said Feldman was already dead when Donnerstag forced Ellis to shoot the body. Ellis remained in protective custody of the State Police.
October 19, 1974
With the trial set to start in two days, security at the Luzerne County Courthouse is expected to be the tightest they’ve ever seen. Daily identification for the press and others will be required as news leaked of a $100,000 contract that was placed on Festa. Metal detectors will be set up and the judge will be escorted by a police bodyguard.
October 24, 1974
After delays caused by jury selection, the trial opened with Harold Ellis, the former Minooka resident telling the jury that he saw Donnerstag shoot and kill Jed Feldman in the fall of 1970. After shooting Feldman, Donnerstag laughed and said “it was the cheapest hit he had ever had because he had gotten $6 out of Jed’s wallet.”
It was revealed that Ellis and Feldman worked at Festa’s Chicken Delight restaurant in Newark and were friends with Donnerstag. Ellis said he, Festa and Donnerstag met on September 24 or 25, 1970. That’s when Donnerstag said Feldman was about to be arrested and he was worried because Feldman was a heroin addict and might snitch. That’s when Donnerstag said “We have to kill him.” and they devised a plan to tell Feldman they were going to go on a “score.”
When discussing a place to hide the body, Ellis suggested the pond, which was owned by his brother-in-law, Jack Tardosky.
After picking up Feldman, the four men arrived at the pond around midnight. They walked to the edge of the pond and Donnerstag told Feldman the target for the robbery was on the other side of the pond. As Festa and Ellis were walking back to the car, they heard shots behind them. They turned to see Donnerstag firing into Feldman at close range.
Donnerstag handed a pistol to to Ellis and told him to fire into the body, which he did. Then Festa added a shot as well. They undressed the body, leaving only the shorts and t-shirt, then dumped the body in the pond.
Donnerstag emptied the pockets and while driving back to NJ, tore up Feldman’s drivers license and made the statement about the $6.
Ellis said they went back to their daily lives, but when he saw that the body had been discovered in April 1971, they began to worry. Ellis left NJ and moved to FL without telling Festa or Donnerstag.
October 25, 1974
A key point in the trial came today when police retrieved what was believed to be the murder weapon. The prior Sunday, Festa told investigators exactly where the gun had been disposed in the pond. This was after the pond had already been dredged twice with no results.
Crews had to build a road to support the dredging equipment needed for the new search. The crane with a 90-foot boom and electromagnet was rented from a salvage company in Carbondale. The dredging began Wednesday morning and within an hour, the weapon was recovered.
In dramatic fashion, while Festa was on the stand, a PA State Policeman walked into the courtroom and handed the black pistol wrapped in a cloth to the DA, Paul Mazzoni. Mazzoni showed the weapon to Festa and confirmed “that’s the gun.”
However, ballistics experts could not positively identify the pistol and the same one used in the murder. They did confirm that it was the same caliber as that used in the murder
October 28, 1974
The prosecution against Donnerstag rested and the defense began to call witnesses. James Martin (another infamous name in Scranton) testified that he had seen Festa in Finnerty’s Bar in Scranton on multiple occasions, including the night of September 30, 1970. On that night, Martin said Festa showed him two guns – a .32-caliber and a .38-caliber. He went on to say that Festa had said “I just killed a man.” because “he had to wipe out a debt by doing a job for the big boys in Jersey.”
When Atty. Preate asked Martin his opinion of police officers, Martin responded that “95% of them are good, the other 5% are dishonest.” Martin continued to bash Scranton Detective Gene Genell saying, “He lied under oath, what is he?”
Preate then asked why Martin didn’t tell police about his conversation with Festa and his response to the Asst. District Attorney was “I don’t care who gets killed. I don’t care if you get killed.”
Another witness that was scheduled to be called for the defense was Ronald Luzasky, who just pleaded guilty the week prior to the murder of Gino Nalaschi, the Old Forge restauranteur. Luzasky was already in jail for his crime, but was brought to the courthouse to testify. He was returned to jail before he took the stand.
October 29, 1974
Renowned pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht was called to testify on behalf of the defense. Wecht had performed autopsies on JFK’s internal organs. Wecht believed that there’s no way the murder happened the way the two alleged eye-witnesses described. Festa and Ellis said that Donnerstag fired three or four times into the back of Feldman’s head at point-blank range. Both said Feldman was standing while Donnerstag was firing. Wecht stated there is “no way that a free-standing human being could be struck with a .38 caliber bullet in the back of the head and remain standing.”
The prosecution failed miserably when they tried to counter Wecht’s testimony with their own doctor, Dr, Anthony Cummings. Cummings stated that it “could be in the realm of reality” for a human to be shot three or four times in the head and remain standing. When pressed by the defense, Cummings confirmed that he is an ordinary family physician and not a pathologist like Wecht.
Feldman’s sisters also testified today. The first was asked if she thought Donnerstag killed her brother and she simply stated “No.” The other stated that Donnerstag had always treated her brother “very well” adding that Festa and her brother had a very bad relationship – so much so that Jed had previously told her that Festa had shot him in the past.
Much discussion was had around the alleged murder weapon. It seems some believe that it was planted as evidence while others believe it is truly the weapon used.
The case is now handed over to the jury.
Many questions remain. Was the pistol found the murder weapon or did someone plant it? Did Festa and Ellis, long-time friends from Scranton agree to “frame” Donnerstag to evade prosecution? Was Donnerstag even there when Feldman was killed? Even Festa’s wife and daughters claimed he was a violent man. What about Wecht’s testimony that contradicts the alleged eye-witness accounts?
October 30, 1974
Donnerstag is convicted of first-degree murder after just five hours of deliberations. They plan to appeal, but Donnerstag is still awaiting trial for the murder in NJ along with the burglary charges.
November 17, 1974
It’s reported that Festa is in a “safe house.” He’s still expected to be a witness in more than 100 other defendants throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He’ll likely receive a brand new identity including a name change and all of the associated documents to support it; such as birth certificates and service documents. He’ll be moved to another part of the country and given a job.
April 20, 1975
Donnerstag, still awaiting sentencing for his murder charge, loses his fight to remain in Pennsylvania and is ordered to be extradited back to NJ to face charges in a robbery. In that case, Jed Feldman’s brother Peter, testified that Donnerstag was the mastermind behind a Livingston NJ robbery. Feldman is now also in protective custody.
June 5, 1975
Donnerstag is convicted of robbery in connection with the 1969 Art Heist. During the testimony, Festa claimed that State Senator Anthony Imperiale was also involved in the operation by informing the group of the valuable. While the prosecution believes Imperiale was involved, they didn’t have any evidence to support it.
July 12, 1975
A week later, Donnerstag and Newark Police Sgt Raymond Grill are found guilty of another five-count armed robbery indictment from June 3, 1971 when they robbed the Osterwell family in West Orange, NJ. Grill said he needed the money to pay for a lawyer on a separate charge he was facing – extorting money from a drug dealer. Donnerstag supplied the weapons to the two other burglars, Peter Feldman and Dirado Lombardo.
Donnerstag is still awaiting sentencing for the Feldman murder.
July 15, 1975
As dozens of defendants plead guilty to charges based on Festa’s information, the threats against him and Ellis are mounting – more so on Festa. A NJ prosecutor said he knew of a plot to assassinate Festa using a rooftop sniper. Another plot included poisoned water. And yet another was poisoning the actual tabletop in the courtroom. These schemes were allegedly from the person within the mob that had planned the attacks. Once again, the courthouse was under extraordinarily tight security,
Festa and Ellis are sentenced to 5-10 years for their role in the burglaries. The sentences were immediately suspended and both were put on probation. This is a move that would save them from prison and keep them away from the Mob.
July 25, 1975
Two weeks later, a Newark jeweler and his son are convicted on charges of receiving stolen property in connection with the ring. Festa testified that they used Martin and Son Jewelers to fence their goods.
September 11, 1975
Donnerstag, two Newark police officers and the chief assistant municipal court clerk are all indicted on charges of bribery in return for favorable treatment. The two police officers accepted a bribe from Festa and Ellis in connection with a robbery in Newark in 1970. The officers and clerk were found guilty.
September 27, 1975
More charges against Sgt. Grill, Donnerstag and John Lorenzo – this time for multiple burglaries between Aug. and Oct. 1973. A fourth, Joseph Carbone, turned and testified for the state and was not charged.
Grill would later receive 9-15 years on top of his 10 already being served for the armed robbery.
March 10, 1977
Donnerstag is a appointed a board position on the Rahway State Prison Lifers’ Group, a 20-member board that will advise and assist inmates with various programs. The 1978 documentary “Scared Straight” is attributed to Donnerstag and the Rahway Lifers.
April 10, 1978
At just 44 years old, having served less than five years in prison, Gerald Donnerstag’s life of crime ends in the Rahway State Prison. It’s report that he suffered a fatal heart attack. – which was later confirmed with an autopsy that ruled out poisoning. He never did receive a sentence for the Feldman murder. He leaves behind a wife and six young children.
September 27, 1979
Festa files a $4.5M suit in DC contending that the government’s witness protection program has ruined his life. He claims he can’t get a job, has no insurance, no money and not even a birth certificate. He’s reported to be living on welfare in Maryland in a suburb outside of Washington. In 1978, the authorities took him to Ossineke, MS where they were supposed to provide him a home and set him up as the owner of a fried chicken restaurant. He said he took the name Rossi and put up a down payment on the home, but then the government backed out. The family, including his wife and five children along with his sister, had moved across the country – from New England to Virginia to North Dakota to Michigan in an attempt to remain anonymous.
He contends that he was terminated from the program effective Feb 1979.
October 27, 1979
Festa appears on Stanley Siegel’s Saturday Special TV show to discuss what it’s like to be a hunted mob informer.
April 14, 1984
Festa, after hiding for 10-years with his now second wife and their four children, speak out about his life under cover. He has a book written about his life, “Marked to Die”. Many Scrantonians are featured in the book.
There were so many others involved and mentioned in this crime ring – with many from Scranton. One report cited 40 individuals had been convicted due to the testimony of Festa. The burglaries went on for years – the targets were mainly wealthy families in Green Ridge or the East Mountain as well as over in NJ. Each criminal had their own list of run-ins with the law. Some turned to become witnesses for the State while others took the fall and served time.
While there is no hard evidence that Carlo Gambino was directly involved in the burglaries, there were multiple references to their ties to that family. Carlo took over in 1959 after Vito Genovese was put in prison following the infamous Apalachin Meeting. Genovese died in 1969 and Gambino in 1976.
Harold Ellis was the last surviving member of his siblings. He allegedly died in Susquehanna, Pa in 1994. At this point, I haven’t been able to confirm if he was married or had any children.
It’s believed that Festa died in 2003 in Oregon while living under an assumed name after moving around several times. His 6-5″ frame made him an easy target and made it difficult to remain anonymous. His wife and children’s whereabouts remain unknown.
While Donnerstag died in prison in 1978, his wife and six children carry on his name.
While this closes the chapter on these three, others mentioned in this story have their own histories in Scranton.