The Scranton Police Department was established in October 1856, just eight months after receiving its charter as a borough. Back then just sixteen men patrolled the new borough, protecting the population of just under 10,000. The men patrolled on foot and were paid $1 for every arrest they made – usually the money was paid by the offenders.
By 1927, the force swelled to 165 officers that canvassed the booming city, now boasting almost 143,000 people. At the time, Scranton was the third largest city in Pennsylvania and 38th largest in the country due to the growth of mining and textiles. During that period, the Scranton Police and Fire Departments were recognized as some of the most efficiently run organization in the country. They would be called to help model other cities based on their success. For comparison, today the force maintains about 150 officers for the 76,000 citizens.
Over the years, the City had its share of highs and lows in the economy and with it, crime, as the two usually go hand-in-hand. Even still, for having the State’s 6th largest police force, Scranton traditionally was and still is a very safe place to live.
To date, the Scranton Police force has lost “only” eleven officers since its inception 165 years ago. The first officer killed in the line of duty was John Ellis in 1888 when he tried to detain some “vagrants” who were known to be trouble to residents. The most recent officer killed in the line of duty was Officer John Wilding, who tragically died in a fall while pursuing carjackers. It was over 78 years between Officer Wilding’s death and the most recent one prior to him – Patrolman William Harmer, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1937.
For some reason, 1933 was a particularly difficult year for the force. That year, three officers lost their lives to gun fire while on duty, the final one of the year was Captain Albert Gleason – a man whose story we’ll share here.
The Early Years
Albert Gleason was born in Scranton in 1881. His parents were also born in the US, making the Gleason family one of the pioneer families in the county. He was the oldest boy and one of eleven children in this Irish/Welsh family.
The family lived in the Hill section originally, then moved to the city’s West Side at some point before 1900. Young Albert worked in the coal mines as a laborer while in his early teens.
When Albert was 18, he and his brother John worked for the Scranton Dairy. Within a couple of months, Albert experienced some events that changed his path. First, in November 1899, The two brothers were delivering milk in the Hill Section when their vehicle was struck by another car.
Shortly after, in January, 1900, Albert was again delivering milk when he came across a man at 4:30am. The man was sorting through jewels he had presumably just stolen. As Albert looked at the man, the thief shouted “What are you rubberin’ at?” and then pointed a revolver at the young Gleason. Albert looked away and left. He later reported the description of the man to police. It was suspected that the thief was part of a Binghamton based burglary ring that had been targeting the area somewhat successfully.
After these two incidents, Albert teamed with another West Scranton man, Harry Arnold, and developed an invention for a non-refillable milk bottle. Presumably tired of having to deliver milk and pick up the empty bottles, Albert was looking for a better way. The patent was supposedly granted in July 1905, and there were several offers to acquire the patent rights, but the two young men planned to start a new company.
Starts a family
Albert marries Emma Davis in June of 1906 and soon he experiences some challenges in his life. In January 1907, he has a battle of Typhoid Fever. Then, later that year he loses his father,
Seeking another life change, in March, 1908, he takes the Civil Service Exam but has to wait to become an official police officer.
The same year, his wife gives birth to their first daughter Jennie “Jane” Gleason. Albert is listed as a carpenter and they are living at 114 N. Garfield Ave in West Scranton.
Albert gets a jump start on his career in public service. He’s walking through Decker Court when a 3-year-old boy, Frank Cawley, is struck by a Standard Brewery Beer Wagon. Albert helped move the to boy to a local store where they called for help.
In July, 1909, Albert is officially assigned as a Patrol Driver in the city’s West Side during the night shift. At the time, he’s living in at 1405 Luzerne St. He’s now following in the footsteps of his uncle, Officer Frank Gleason.
A first in West Side
The city opened up a new police station in West Side in 1910 on Jackson Street, just below Main Avenue. It replaced the old station that was located at 1104 Jackson St, just west of Main Ave. The officers would speculate who would be the first to arrest someone that would be housed in the new station. The honor would go to Patrolman William Morgan, but Albert would get the assist. The prisoner was found drunk and asleep at corner of Sixth and Linden just before 8:00pm.
Scranton’s 2nd Officer Killed in the line of duty
Later in 1910, Albert was slightly injured as he and other officers pursued Frank Stout. Stout had shot and killed Patrol Wagon Driver George Kent. Officer Kent was the second officer killed in the line of duty in Scranton’s history – after John Ellis’s murder some 21 years earlier. The officers, including Gleason, surrounded Stout on a culm dump and ultimately killed Stout. Albert’s sprained ankle sidelined him for about two weeks before his return to duty. Not long after that, Albert took a vacation to Atlantic City.
The early days of Police work certainly were dangerous as evidenced by the murders of Ellis and Kent, but they also had their fair share of unusual calls as well. In 1911, Albert was called to corral some stray cows that were breaking into the Cathedral Cemetery.
Over the next couple of years, domestic violence, disorderly and petty theft calls were the most frequent during his duty. One interesting note was when a wrestling mat was added to the police station.
Most Popular Policeman
In 1913, Officer Gleason’s popularity on the Police force was booming. The Sperry and Hutchinson Company, aka S&H Green Stamps hosted a “Tri-City Popularity Content”, covering Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Pittston. Albert comes out on top in the “Most Popular Policeman” category. The win earns him a solid gold watch!
Heroic Effort Saves Communion
A massive fire destroyed the Presbyterian Church on Washburn and Hyde Park in January 1914. During the blaze, Patrol Driver Gleason grabbed the keys to the closet where the Communion set was stored from Rev Ebenezer Flack. He rushed through the smoke and flames and was gone for nearly three minutes. As worry mounted, Albert emerged from the flames, his arms securing the most holy possession of the church.
The building was deemed a total loss save for a couple of hymnals and a table.
“Pride of West Side”
Albert’s ascent continues. He’s promoted from Patrol Driver to Patrolman and gets assigned to the North Main Avenue beat.
Shortly after his promotion, the Policeman’s Ball takes place and Albert (Al) is in charge of the refreshments and is listed as the “Pride of West Side”.
Rushing the duck
Patrolman Gleason’s arrests continue with everything from drunks to boys fighting on a playground to boys stealing from a peddler. In once instance, he was involved with a raid on a house that was said to be “Rushing the Duck”. After some research, I learned that the peculiar phrase means when someone fills a growler of beer. Apparently, during the prohibition years, this was considered illegal activity.
Still in 1914, in attempting to detain two men who were stalking women in an attempt to “hug” them, Patrolman Gleason gets into a fight with the two men. He ultimately prevails and arrests the one man and takes him into custody. The other man is arrested shortly after and they would both spend 30 days in jail. Officer Gleason’s hat is “broken” and his trousers were torn in the scuffle.
Officer Gleason is chasing a man through fields in West Side when he falls into a cave. He made his way out of the seven foot hole, but suffered cuts, bruises and a sprained ankle.
In May of 1915, Officer Gleason is credited with saving the lives of a mother and her children when a fire broke out at their home on North Main Ave. The woman was awakened by the smoke but became disoriented and couldn’t find her way out of her home. Officer Gleason heard the cries for help, entered the building and led the family to safety.
Gleason is once again credited with saving a life. This time, a young man from Connecticut was traveling through the area with friends. The men set up a camp next to the tracks and fell asleep. During the night, one of the men must have swung his leg onto the tracks during his sleep when a train came along and severed it. The men cried for help and Gleason heard their screams. He rushed to their aid and tied a tourniquet around the young man’s leg – ultimately saving his life.
Promotion to Acting sergeant
After serving the city’s 1st Precinct, which includes Central City, Patrolman Gleason earns another promotion. He’s now Acting Sergeant and assigned to the night beat in West Side. The promotion takes effect on Oct 14, 1915. He’s promoted to Sergeant effective January 1, 1916.
Later in 1915, several officers, including Gleason raid a gambling room at the Lithuanian Club on West Lackawanna Ave. It seems the wives of the men tipped off police because the men had been losing money there.
The January 1, 1916 edition of the Scranton Times calls out West Side as “The Land of Political Jobs.” Sergeant Gleason is one of 651 employees on the city’s payroll. His salary is posted as being $1,160 per year – a mere $31,000 today. Some things never change.
In March of that same year, one of Gleason’s precinct mates is charged with conduct unbecoming of an officer. Gleason turns the man in for missing his call and being seen bartending at a saloon instead. The man, having served fifteen years for the city, quits the force before the charges are brought.
Taking advantage of his notoriety and popularity, Sergeant Gleason promotes Tanlac, a stomach remedy. It’s not clear if or how he is paid for his endorsement, but there’s a large article in the newspaper in April 1916 that touts the cure for his stomach issues. Tanlac became the most widely sold “medicine” of its time – selling millions of bottles across the country. It was later noted that it was somewhat of a “snake oil” – with the alcohol content over 15%.
May 9, 1917
With several changes in personnel due to the war, Sergeant Gleason becomes Lieutenant Gleason under a promotion received from Mayor Edmund B Jermyn. He’ll take over the South Scranton precinct. The new title, however, is short-lived.
Gleason rescinds his acceptance just two weeks later, claiming heath reasons. The new position requires him to stay indoors most of the time – leaving only for an occasional call. He said his doctor told him he needs to be outside and get plenty of exercise.
It’s speculated that the real reason he is stepping down is due to the pushback he received from his new colleagues at the South Side precinct.
Gleason asks the Mayor to put him back to Sergeant, but the Mayor refuses. Albert has to go back to being Patrolman Gleason.
The Mayor would lose his re-election efforts in six months.
A Prank or a Misunderstanding?
December 5, 1918
Gleason and two of his colleagues are headed to Harrisburg in December 1918 to testify against a couple of draft dodgers. When they emerge from the train in the Capitol City, they are quickly detained by local police. The officer claims Gleason and his crew are wanted for burglary. “You’re under arrest” claimed the local authority. Gleason, taking the lead for his colleagues yelled “Get away with that stuff. You’re in the wrong. We’re three Scranton Police Officers”, then quickly flashed his badge. The officer didn’t believe him and replied “Hock that comedy. You fellows are not only crooks, but you are now impersonating officers.”
The arguments escalated, but Gleason and his men were taken into custody as several onlookers were intrigued by the confrontation. They were taken by patrol car to the local jail where they were held for two hours. They were finally able to make a phone call that would support their case and were released.
Not happy with the events, the men went to a hotel where two Scranton Detectives were staying. The men believed their counterparts played a cruel prank on them. As the men entered the hotel to confront the pranksters, they got trapped in the elevator – again at the hands of their colleagues.
I’m not sure how this “feud” ends, but I’m sure this wasn’t the last of it.
Back to Lieutenant
January 7, 1926
With Mayor Jermyn taking back control of the political landscape, he once again appoints Albert to Lieutenant, but this time to his home precinct in West Side. He leaves the Wholesale Block where he patrolled for the last four years. He takes over for Lieutenant Murray. It’s said that Mayor Jermyn is taking out his political enemies on the police force. Lieut. Murray, who backed Jermyn’s opponent in the election, is demoted to Patrolman and reassigned to the “Notch”, which is one of the worst assignments on the force. The Notch covered the area from Brick Ave to Chinchilla and included sections known as “Bangor” and “High Works”. Others are targeted for less desirable positions as well. Scranton politics are alive and well.
The “Broken Back”
Several speakeasys through the city are raided – places with names such as “Crawl Inn”, “Turning Tub”, “Devil’s Eyebrow” in Minooka and the “Blazing Stump” up the line are all targeted. Others included the “Red Onion”, “Jumping Cork, and the “Embalming Club”. It’s reported that some of these places are distilling their own liquor and using pure varnish to color the moonshine. A couple of men have died from the tainted hooch and a few more are hospitalized. Lieut. Gleason is debriefing Mayor Jermyn of the challenges and vows to undercover “The Broken Back”, a speakeasy in Lincoln Heights that has yet to be located.
When they finally raid the Broken Back at 1313 Rundle St, they find two quarts of fresh whiskey and a ten-gallon still along with alcohol and coloring liquid. They also destroyed two hundred gallons of mash. The distillery could only be accessed through a trap door in the floor of the kitchen of the home. It got its name “The Broken Back” because once you were down the hatch, you had to bend over so far to avoid hitting your head.
Once again, the police were made aware of the place by the wives of the men who frequented the speakeasy. They would come home drunk and out of money. When asked, the men said they were at the Broken Back, but never gave up the location.
Raids on “tippling houses” continued throughout the rest of year with hundreds of arrests throughout the city.
Banquet Honoring Public Employees
October 27, 1926
A banquet honoring four public servants is hosted by the West Side Social Club. The guests of honor include Lieutenant Gleason, Director of Public Safety James Arigoni, Police Captain Harry Davis and Police Captain S.F. Savitts. Over 325 citizens attended the event that presented the guests of honor with leather travelling bags. The event was celebrating the progress these men have made towards cleaning up the streets of West Scranton.
Ironically, just before the event, a fire tore through St. Lucy’s School in West Side. Director Arigoni was on scene and tore into Gleason, Captain Davis and another official for not properly handling the flow of traffic during the fire. The men had asked Arigoni how they should have handled it, since the fire hoses had to cross Main Ave. Arigoni had no answer.
I can’t imagine tension at the head table that evening.
Promotion to Captain
April 4, 1928
Lieutenant Gleason becomes Captain Gleason, succeeding the late Captain S.F. Savitts. The move puts him at Headquarters in downtown Scranton. Within days, he and his partner arrest a pair of Italians that are labeled “tenderloin characters” in what the police proclaim as a war on the undesirable characters who are unable to show any means of livelihood.
First of its kind Opium Den Raided
Federal Narcotics Agents along with Captain Gleason and his men executed a raid on one of the largest Opium Den operations the area had ever seen. The owner, allegedly run out of Philadelphia and Buffalo, set up shop in the city. A six-month investigation ended with the raid that likely ended the expansion of these types of places to Scranton.
A new mayor is installed and almost immediately Captain Gleason and now former Director of Public Safety, James Arigoni are issued subpoenas to testify in a Grand Jury case involving gambling operations through the city. It’s believed that Gleason may be taking bribes from the operators of slot machines throughout the city. They request he shows up with his bank records.
Gleason counters that his hefty bank account, estimated to be in the five-figure range, is because of several factors. He said he received an advance on his salary under Mayor Jermyn’s administration, that his daughter lives with him and is a teacher (at Abraham Lincoln), and he has a boarder living with him.
Captain Gleason contends that he was under orders from Superintendent Henshaw to not disturb any slot machine operations except under orders from the Chief.
Coincidentally, Director Arigoni, who was relieved of his post with the change in adminstration, was travelling to NYC when his home was targeted with a dynamite explosion on the front porch. Arigoni claims he has no idea of who could be targeting him, but he knows it was some sort of warning.
In the end the Grand Jury handed down several indictments including, Former Mayor Jermyn, Former Lackawanna County Sheriff Gomer C Davis, Former Civil Service Commissioner Harry Friend, Director Arigoni, Superintendent Henshaw, and many others. One noticeably absent from the list? Captain Gleason.
Arigoni and Henshaw made a deal and testified against Jermyn and Friend. Mayor Jermyn was convicted and sentenced to one year in jail and ordered to pay a fine. Friend too was sentenced to jail time and fines. Sheriff Davis was acquitted on charges that he accepted “protection” money from the ring.
Yet another injury on the job
In November, 1930 Albert is again injured on the job. This time, due to an accident involving the motorcycle he was a passenger on. His colleague, William Heller was driving the motorcycle when it collided with a Red Cross vehicle. The accident took place as they were trailing a firetruck to what turned out to be a false alarm.
Police come to the rescue
In December, 1930, police pick up a young boy who was panhandling on the street. The boy was brought to Police Headquarters and was questioning by Captain Gleason. He learned the young boy was one of ten children and their father was out of work for the last five months – and one of the children was just taken to the hospital in dire condition yesterday. When they offered to buy the boy a meal, he declined stating that he would like to bring home whatever food he could get. With that, several of the on-duty police officers chipped in to buy the family food for a week.
Police bust “sawed-off shotgun” gang
A gang of five youths earned the nickname based on their choice of the weapons while robbing their victims. The youths, the oldest being just 19, had admitted to five robberies over the past few weeks after intense questioning from Captain Gleason.
March 11, 1931
Captain Gleason’s wife of almost 25 years dies at just 49 years old after being hospitalized for a few days. Emma Davis Gleason was an active member in the church and many women’s societies. She leaves behind her husband and one daughter, Jane, a teacher at Abraham Lincoln School. Also surviving are three sisters and three brothers. Her funeral was described as one of the largest in several months.
For the funeral procession to the Washburn Street Cemetery, the flowers and casket were carried by all Scranton Policemen, showing the respect the members have for their Captain.
April 10, 1931
Although Captain Gleason is in charge of the night patrol for Center City, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t patrol the streets himself. While he’s in charge of the entire staff, he too is credited with numerous arrests. Over the past several months, multiple burglaries have plagued the city. Probably due to the loss of jobs and the coal mine strikes.
Tonight, Captain Gleason and his partner, Motorcycle Patrolman William Heller capture two men shortly after they held up an “underworld dive” in Oakford Court just after midnight. The “yeggs”, a common term for a burglar or safecracker at the time, held the occupants at gunpoint before fleeing. In an alley, they hopped into a car being driven by a man and plunged the gun into his ribs demanding he exit the car.
A witness had seen the hijacking and took the license number and ran towards Linden St before flagging down a vehicle. The witness hopped into the vehicle and they gave chase. At Linden and Wyoming, they saw Gleason and Heller and pointed out the vehicle. The two officers went on a high-speed chase after the thieves. They caught up to them at Mifflin and Linden, with guns drawn, they ordered the men to stop and took them into custody. It’s believed to be a record time for a pursuit and capture – just under 15 minutes from the time of the robbery to the time of the arrest.
This was the first time the two men went on a high speed chase since their accident with a Red Cross vehicle five months ago.
A brutal year
This year would be a devastating year for the City of Scranton’s Police Force. Three officer would die of gunfire in the line of duty this year alone – a record number that will hopefully last forever. Going into this year, a total of six officers had died in the line of duty throughout the previous 77 years – with only two of those due to gunfire.
Captain Gleason would continue to oversee the night operations of the Central City precinct. During the year, the force would see a spike in burglaries, continued raids on “tippling” houses, a push to rid the streets of “street walkers” and several attempted and successful suicides. There was also a increase in automobile accidents as cars became more abundant and the city population continued to grow exponentially.
In addition, with the Mine Strikes happening through the valley, attacks on workers who cross the picket lines were prevalent and many homes/businesses were the target of dynamiting. Captain Gleason even received a threat from one of the picketers if he allowed workers to cross the lines.
Of course, the petty crimes most prevalent throughout the city didn’t matter as much as the violent crimes. Or worse… when the petty crimes turned in to violent crimes.
For example, in April, Detective Lewis Roberts was called to a robbery in progress at the A&P Market on Olive St. When he arrived, he wrestled with the thieves before one of the men pulled a gun and shot Lieutenant Roberts. Roberts would eventually succumb to the injuries. Two of the men were escaped convicts and Detective Roberts was wary of them when he heard that they had escaped.
Another tragedy struck in July when Patrolman Thomas O’Malley was shot and stabbed while trying to arrest Giuseppe “Joseph” Scalise at his Lafayette St home following a fight between two brothers. Scalise, armed with a knife and gun, ambushed O’Malley and shot him as the officer made his way up the steps inside the home. A scuffle ensued where O’Malley was then stabbed in the abdomen. O’Malley was able to respond and fired a shot that ultimately killed the Italian.
Officer O’Malley was taken to the hospital where he had a conversation with Gleason, telling the Captain “Come back in two or three days. I want to talk to you about something.” O’Malley didn’t make it through the night.
Later, O’Malley’s partner was suspended from the force due to his neglect on the call. He was deemed to have abandoned his partner – ultimately resulting in O’Malley’s death. Was this what O’Malley wanted to share with Gleason?
He becomes the 8th Officer to die in the line of duty in Scranton, seven of which have died during Captain Gleason’s time on the force.
Politics was in play once again in November after the election of Stanley Davis as the new Mayor, taking over for Fred Derby. Mayor Derby’s advisors were encouraging him to retire eighteen firemen so he could appoint a new crop before the new administration would take over. The advisors also pushed him to retire ten members of the Police Force for the same reason. Back then, a Mayor could force retirement on someone who had completed 25 years of service and the employee would have no choice. Mayor Derby wasn’t committed to the task because the men in question all backed him for reelection and he didn’t feel it was right for him to force retirement on these men. One of the men mentioned was Captain Gleason, but he was six months short of his 25 years.
End of Watch
December 27, 1933
As the year comes to a close, and Captain Gleason within six month of retirement, he continues to patrol the streets of Scranton in the evenings. At 1:00am, he’s called to join Detective George Donaldson at the Hotel Ritz at 221 Wyoming Ave to execute a warrant for the arrest of Joseph Hrebenor, a burglary suspect that was wanted in Binghamton and was believed to be responsible for many burglaries in Scranton and the surrounding area.
When the two men knocked on his door, Hrebenor replied and soon knew it was the police. As Donaldson began to kick the door in, Hrebenor made his way to a window that leads to a fire escape. Gleason heard the movement and took off down the hall to cut him off.
Within seconds, Donaldson heard a series of shots and darted towards Gleason. The Captain was staggering and fell into Donaldson’s arms. “I got him George, but I guess he got me too.” Donaldson quickly carried his partner to the hotel office and called for assistance.
“I got him George, but I guess he got me too.”Captain Albert Gleason
Support arrived almost immediately and they loaded the wounded Captain into the Patrol Wagon, but before they could make it to the hospital, Captain Gleason had passed.
After assisting the Captain into the wagon, Donaldson returned to locate Hrebenor. It was determined that the suspect made his way down the fire escape and onto the roof below. There, he stumbled about 30 feet before collapsing where Donaldson found him. He died of two bullet wounds – the only two shots fired from Captain Gleason.
Who was Joseph Hrebenor
Joseph John Hrebenor, born in 1899, and a native of Czechoslovakia, was a career criminal. His first known offenses were in 1916 when he was just 17 years-old. He was sentenced to the Elmira Reformatory and was released in October 1918. He was arrested again in 1920 for committing at least five more burglaries. He’s sentenced to the Auburn Prison in March, 1921 and released in May, 1922.
Shortly after his release from prison, he marries a young, 16-year-old girl in November, 1922.
In April 1923, he was arrested at gunpoint at a Binghamton hotel and charged with three additional burglaries. He’s held in jail while awaiting his hearing. While there, he goes on a “hunger strike”. Officials believe it’s an attempt to be transferred to a hospital, from which he can escape much easier.
Officials were right to be concerned. After his hearing in May, which he receives a sentence of 3-1/2 years, Hrebenor is being led from the courthouse back to jail. He breaks away and is on the loose as police scour the city.
The fugitive wanders around the city in the cover of night, sleeping during the day. He visits his pregnant wife late at night and into the early morning, taking care to watch for police as he knows they’ll be watching his home. His friends offer him money and encourage him to flea the city. After a week, he finally gives himself up at the urging of his wife. She wants him to be there for their child and presses him to take the penalty now.
After turning himself in, he tells investigators that he was shocked to hear his sentence of 3-1/2 years. He said his lawyer believed the sentence would be no more than a year and a half. After hearing of the extended time away from his wife, he just acted out irrationally and took off without much of a plan. He now commits to serving his time and reforming so he can be there for his family.
He was sent to the Auburn Correctional Facility on June 5, 1923. His daughter is born just 9 days later.
While he’s in jail, his wife seeks an annulment. Her mother claims they were married when the girl was very young and the man vowed to change his ways – which he hasn’t. The girl seeks sole guardianship of their newly born child. They testify that Joseph was an abusive husband and threatened to kill his young wife. The wife wins the annulment.
Joseph is released from prison in September 1925 and is deported back to Czechoslovakia on October 21, 1925.
It didn’t take long for him to make his way back to Binghamton where he returned to his ways of old. He sneaks back into the country and once again, he’s arrested for burglary and placed in the Auburn prison. Upon his release on July 10, 1930, he’s turned over to immigration officials and again deported to Holic, Czechoslovakia where he would spend the next three years.
Hrebenor travels to France to make an appeal to return to the US. There, he poses as a “shell-shocked” World War American serviceman, complete with fake papers. His argument is convincing and is shipped back to the US via Baltimore, then on to Binghamton where he arrived around April 1933.
It didn’t take long for Binghamton officials to catch up to him. In May, they raided his apartment looking for him along with more stolen goods, but he evaded capture once again.
Then again in July, two immigration officers went to detain him and he escaped out a back door.
On Halloween, the home of Helen Conboy was robbed of $3,000 in bonds and a mink coat.
A week later, on November 7, a 17-year-old girl who was living in Binghamton at the time, took Hrebenor to her parents home in Dunmore and introduced him as her new boyfriend, “Jack Lesko”. Coincidentally, the young girl’s first husband died in March 1933 in a bathtub filled with just 14 inches of water. His death was ruled accidental drowning and she was left a widow with an infant baby. She met Hrebenor while walking home from a party.
Two days after Hrebenor’s introduction to the family, one of the girl’s brothers took a package containing bonds to “Jack’s Place” a saloon in Dunmore and asked the proprietor to deliver the package to a man that would be there the next day. As scheduled, a man came in the next day for the package. He then went to a used car dealership in Scranton where the man negotiated the sale of a used Auburn Roadster for $900 – using the bonds as collateral, but under the condition that he would pick up the car when the bonds were successfully sold.
The salesman agreed, then turned the bonds over to a broker to try to convert them to cash. The broker was suspicious and hand-delivered them back to the Binghamton woman whose name was on the bonds, then informed police.
Police pieced together this information with another critical clue. During a recent robbery, Hrebenor inexplicably changed clothes at one of the homes he targeted – leaving behind a pair of pants that contained a box of matches from “Jack’s Place, Dunmore, Pa”. The same saloon where the bonds were delivered. They had their lead on Hrebenor.
At this point, Hrebenor and the girl were living in a hotel in Philadelphia under an assumed name. It was later learned that Hrebenor felt it would be easier to fence his goods in Philly. On Christmas night, Hrebenor left his girlfriend and her infant child in Philadelphia saying that he had business in Scranton.
Police had intercepted a telegram that was sent to the home of her parents that tipped them off that he’d be in the area. Binghamton officials teamed with Scranton to stake out several speakeasies and hotels, including the Ritz Hotel, which investigators now know he was known to frequent.
On that fateful night of December 27, 1933, Gleason and Donaldson checked with the front desk of the Ritz Hotel and were told a man by the name of J. Conway from Pittsburgh checked into a room on the third floor. The men knew they had their man as Hrebenor had used that alias in the past as well.
The men knew Hrebenor was dangerous and they were prepared. But they didn’t know exactly how much the petty thief despised the police. His girlfriend later told people that he once told her “If any cops try to get smart with me, I’m going to kill them. I hate all cops.”
The girl denied she knew anything about his burglaries. She believed all of the jewelry and mink coat she was wearing were legitimate gifts. While she was detained and questioned as an accomplice, she avoided all charges. The same for one of her brothers who was known to be friendly with Hrebenor.
In the end, the girl remarried and raised a family – she passed away in Scranton in 2005. Many of her siblings and their families remained in Dunmore as well.
Hrebenor’s first wife also remarried and relocated to Florida, with their daughter taking on the name of the second husband.
“His last act was a deed which your community, and particularly this city, could never have repaid him – the services he rendered on wiping out from our midst such a miserable character as he did”Binghamton Police Chief L.C. Abel in a letter to Scranton Superintendent of Police Arnold Roth