CONSPIRACY AT WOLFE'S GROVE
ASSAULT WITH A "65" T-BIRD

A Tragedy in Four Acts

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            “Criminal complaint against Thomas V. McAndrew for assault with intent to kill.  From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.”

Personae Dramatis:

Thomas V. McAndrew:  lead bad guy.

Walter Reid: assistant bad guy.

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” Walter Reid from the Wilkes Barre Record”

Robert G. “Bob” Rowan: assaultee.

Mary Rowan: his wife.

Peter Wolfe, Jr.: innocent third party ensnared by McAndrew in his dastardly plot.

Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon :  passing references

Prologue

The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally known as “Black Friday” in the retail trade. That is when shoppers typically mob stores to begin the Christmas rush. What may have been a down year turns from “in the red” to “in the black.”  For Bob Rowan, Black Friday, 1966 was the blackest day of all.  On that day, in the moonless hours of the evening, he nearly lost his life.

Background of the major players:

Bob Rowan had, by 1966, enjoyed two careers already.  In addition to being a commercial airline pilot for US Overseas Airlines, he had owned Rowan Gas Service, a retailer of bottled gas in Hanover, Luzerne County, PA.  In his 40’s, he had “retired” to flying a turbojet as a private pilot for Robert Moffat, chairman of the board of the Moffat Coal Company, Inc.  He had also sold his gas company and invested the proceeds into Investors’ Variable Payment Fund, a mutual fund run by Investors’ Diversified Services (IDS) of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Bob and his wife, Mary, resided comfortably on Division Street in south Wilkes Barre, PA.

Thomas V. McAndrew was employed as a broker for IDS and worked in their office in Nanticoke, PA.  In that capacity, he was Bob Rowan’s stock broker and financial advisor. McAndrew lived in Bear Creek, PA.

Walter Reid grew up in the Ashley suburb of Wilkes Barre but, in 1966, worked as an ironworker in Cleveland, Ohio.  He often visited his home town on weekends and had known McAndrew for about 20 years.

[Author’s note: all of the following has been cobbled together from three sources: contemporaneous articles written in  the Wilkes Barre Record (WBR); documents from the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office; and in a face-to-face interview with Mrs. Mary Rowan in September, 2005.  The WBR articles, as is customary, are nowhere near as complete as trial transcripts would be but their accounts should represent most of the highlights.  Some of McAndrew’s testimony alludes to testimony that co-conspirator Reid must have given during the prosecution’s case in chief.  I have chosen to impute that prior testimony even though it was NOT, per se, carried in any of the articles.  Mrs. Rowan’s recollections were very valuable in that she was able to explain some questions that the articles raised.  Then, too, I’m fairly sure that she and her husband were privy to information from the State Police troopers that never did appear in print or at the trials.  Pete Wolfe, Jr. refused to be interviewed for this article.]

Act I: the plot

McAndrew had a gambling habit.  Typical of gamblers, he always needed money.  As a stock broker, he had access to substantial sums invested by his clients. Stealing some of it proved to be no bar to satisfying his greed.  He ran through his client list, trying to decide who would be easiest to steal from, and perhaps, more importantly which theft would be easiest to cover up.  His greed was such that killing was not beyond his reach.  One of his clients was an elderly widow.  It would be easy enough to visit her and push her down a flight of stairs.  Disposing of the body would involve carrying her up the stairs and off to another location so, for that or some other reason, he discarded that notion.  

McAndrew eventually decided that Bob Rowan was a suitable target.  He’d steal Bob’s money, kill him, and bury him.  The fact that Bob’s money was jointly owned by Mary Rowan was a complication.  McAndrew would have to kill both Bob and Mary to cover up the theft and, to do that, he’d need help.  He decided to enlist Walter Reid, a 20-year acquaintance.  Reid often came home to Ashley on weekends. McAndrew had loaned him various amounts over the years, usually ranging from $500 to $700.  Knowing that Bob and Mary had well over $100,000 that he could steal, McAndrew offered Reid $30,000 as his cut.  Reid accepted the offer.

As early as Saturday, November 12, 1966, McAndrew had put the plan in motion.  On that day, he forged the Rowans’ signatures on a Request For Conversion of shares of the Investors’ Variable Payment Fund owned by Robert and Mary Rowan.  [Reid later testified that he had watched McAndrew forge the signatures and then take the form to the post office and mail it. McAndrew had said to him “Once this goes out, we are committed.  There’s no way to back out.”]  The check for $132,175.35 was sent to McAndrew’s Nanticoke office.  This action was a trifle premature. Bob Rowan received, at his home, a notice from the fund that his shares had been sold.  By November 12, McAndrew and Reid hadn’t quite worked out the details of how they would kill the Rowans. McAndrew was forced to explain to Bob why the shares had been sold.  Over coffee, McAndrew explained that, as Bob’s investment advisor, he had acted in Bob’s best interest, fearing a market slump.  Bob told him to mail the check back.

On the weekend of November 19-20, 1966, Reid came home from Cleveland again and the plotters worked on various scenarios.  They considered staging a fatal traffic accident by running a large truck into the Rowans’ small car.  They could  get access to Rowan’s home, knock them out, and then burn the house down.  Reid told McAndrew  he couldn’t do that.  Like Bob, Reid had some experience in aviation.  As he later testified, “McAndrew  suggested I could rig Rowan’s plane so that it would crash on take-off. I told him I wasn’t a mechanic and had no idea how to do that.  He then suggested that, after we killed him I could bring in a larger plane, load his body into it, and then drop it over the mountains of West Virginia.  I told him I couldn’t even fly bodies for undertakers who asked me to, let alone that of a guy I had a hand in killing.” They eventually settled on luring the Rowans to a deserted country setting, killing them there, and disposing of the bodies on site.   This method would lessen the chances of being seen.

McAndrew thought of a casual friend, Peter Wolfe, Jr., who had a vacant home for sale near Sylvan Lake in Ross Township. 

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“PETE WOLFE’S “ROCK HOUSE” ALONG BROADWAY ROAD BETWEEN BROADWAY AND SWEET VALLEY.  PHOTO BY RON HONTZ, SEPTEMBER, 2005.”

 [The home had been the residence of its builder, Peter Wolfe, Sr., who had operated Wolfe’s Grove for 30 years.  The Grove had closed in 1965 and Sr. had moved into Kingston to live with his son, Pete, Jr.  At the time of the crimes, in 1966, Sr. still owned it but had put it up for sale.  By the time of the trials in 1968, Sr. had died (1967) and it was still part of his estate.]  McAndrew knew that the home had a dirt cellar in which they could easily dig graves.  McAndrew finagled a key from Pete on the premise that he would show it to a prospective buyer.  [Mary Rowan says that the State Police interrogated Pete thoroughly and determined that he was in NO WAY connected to the plot.]

The die was cast on Friday, Nov. 25, 1966, the day after Thanksgiving, when McAndrew deposited the check into Citizens Bank of Wilkes Barre.  It was deposited in an account bearing the title “Thomas V. McAndrew-Investments.”  

“McANDREW’S CHARGE OF FORGING THE CHECK. 
From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.”

McAndrew took the second step in the plot that same day when he and Reid drove to  the parking lot of the American Auto store near McAndrew’s home. McAndrew’s daughter, 20-year-old Theresa Mary,  was in the habit of parking her Corvair there.  Her father had purchased, some years ago, a blackjack that she could use for protection as she commuted from Bear Creek to College Misericordia in Dallas. The blackjack was kept in the Corvair’s glove compartment.  [Reid testified that he’d seen McAndrew remove the blackjack from the Corvair but the date he did so was in question.  We should remember that testimony was being given nearly two years after the events described.  Reid said it was done on November 23 but Theresa testified that she’d been off work on that day.  Her car, as was customary when she was off, had been parked in her parents’ driveway on that date.  She was forced to admit, on cross-examination by Asst. DA Joseph J. Gale: that she did work and did park at the American Auto lot on the 25th ; and that, as far as she knew, the blackjack was still in the car at that time.  The jury apparently overlooked the discrepancy in the date.  Reid also testified that the .32 caliber handgun was McAndrew’s.]

Act 2: Sylvan Lake

Very late in the afternoon\early evening of Friday, November 25, 1968 Bob and Mary Rowan were at home on Division Street in south Wilkes Barre.  Her father was visiting and they had plans for a BarBQ dinner at home.  Bob was on his way out the door to buy the BarbQ when the phone rang.  It was Tom McAndrew and he was inviting both Bob and Mary to join him for dinner at the Foothills Manor outside Shickshinny. 

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”Foothills Manor Restaurant, Shickshinny PA. 
Donated by Frank Regulski and Sheila Brandon.”
  

Mary demurred, choosing instead to stay and eat with her father, so Bob bought BarBQ’s enough for just two and left to meet McAndrew at his office in Nanticoke.  He arrived there around 6:45 or 7:00 PM.

McAndrew must have been more than a little surprised when Bob showed up alone.  This would call for a serious change in the plot.  He and Reid would now have to kill just Bob and then figure out a new way to lure Mary to Pete Wolfe’s house so she could join Bob in the dirt cellar. McAndrew had no time to think of a new plan  by the time Reid arrived at his office.  [Even AFTER they had committed their foul deeds on Bob around 7:30 PM, he still, by a little after midnight, wasn’t too clear on his retelling of what HAD happened. (Bob testified that McAndrew had said to Reid “Hello. How are you?  I haven’t seen you in a long time.”)  In his initial statement to the State Police from the Shickshinny barracks,  McAndrew’s account, this unknown fellow had told  him “Don’t say a word or I’ll blow your head off !!”  It’s a lead pipe cinch that if Reid ever DID make such an utterance, Bob didn’t hear him. Had he overheard Reid say that, Bob certainly wouldn’t have then agreed to go on to dinner with Reid in tow.  Apparently, the troopers didn’t think to ask McAndrew “And why would you then agree to take two guys to dinner if one clearly had exhibited animus toward the other?”  On the other hand, maybe the troopers had thought of that question but intentionally didn’t ask it.  They may have chosen to keep it, as it were, under their Smokey the Bear hats for further investigation into the identity of the “third man.”  Given the beating and shooting he had endured, Bob did not happen to relate to the troopers in the ER three important facts.   One, McAndrew had actually introduced Reid to him at the office using Reid’s REAL NAME .  Second, he forget to say that the “third man” was a pilot like he was.  Third, and perhaps most significantly in the minds of the jurors later, Bob did NOT tell the troopers that McAndrew had tried to run him down.  At the initial hospital interview the police, therefore, really had no suspicion of McAndrew’s true involvement.]

The three men proceeded to “dinner” in McAndrew’s year-old1965 Ford Thunderbird but took an alternate route that did not lead to the Foothills Manor.  Reid and Bob chatted about planes during the ride.  McAndrew suggested to Bob that there was a house at Sylvan Lake he was thinking of buying and he wanted Bob to see it.  Arriving at the house, all three exited McAndrew’s car and McAndrew entered the home to turn on the lights.  It was a most fortuitous pitch-black night and Bob waited until the lights came on to find his way up the steps.  Reid remained outside with the car.  Following a tour of the house, Bob exited and McAndrew remained behind to turn out the lights.  No sooner had the house lights gone out than Reid set upon Bob, trying put HIS lights out, beating him about the head and shoulders with the blackjack, all the while crying out “You’ve been having an affair with my wife !!!”  [With the advantage of 40-year-old hindsight, such an utterance by Reid may be seen as a bit of weakness on Reid’s part.  A professional hit man wouldn’t have needed to psych himself up thusly.  As he later testified, his part was to just render Bob unconscious so that McAndrew could then shoot him or run over him with the car.  Reid said that he was not able to actually kill someone but could only “put them in a condition to die.”  Further evidence of Reid’s lack of fortitude to finish the job would soon show up after he shot him once.]

To their dismay, Bob did not succumb to repeated blackjack blows and tussled with Reid, tearing off a piece of Reid’s plaid shirt in the process.  At this point, McAndrew reached into the car and turned on the headlights. Seeing the gun in Reid’s hand, Bob fled into the pitch-black night.  [At this point, readers, your author, being familiar with the scene of the crime, is forced to re-create how the movements must have played out.  None of the WBR articles spell out exactly who ran or drove where.]  Bob ran westward along Broadway Road, toward Ledge Hill.  Reid followed, intent he later said, on retrieving the piece of his shirt from Bob’s grasp.  Firing as he ran, he only caught up with Bob after Bob, attempting to leave the roadway and head for the woods, stumbled and fell into a roadside ditch.  [That would most likely have been on the north side of Broadway Road, away from Sylvan Lake.]  Reid bent down and fired one shot from the .32.  Reid himself must have been out of his mind on adrenaline at that point for he had only intended to whack Bob with the blackjack—-shooting had been out of his job description.  Luckily Bob happened to roll to his left as the bullet exited the handgun.  The bullet struck him a more-or-less glancing blow across his back.  As revealed in later testimony,  he had been shot “in the right side of the back of the chest.  The bullet had crossed the spinal column and lodged in the left side under the skin.”  It missed his spinal column and, in not preceding through his body from back to chest, avoided hitting any major organs.

Having shot Bob once, Reid bent down to fire again, this time aiming at Bob’s head.  At the last second, he realized what he was doing and did not pull the trigger.  [This could be said to have been a moment of Divine intervention, akin to the ray of light striking Saul Of Tarsus on the road to Damascus.  Saul was subsequently converted into being the Apostle Paul.]  Mary Rowan says it was “the hand of the Lord” that saved Bob.

Quickly recovering his senses, Bob jumped out of the ditch and ran eastward, back to the house, hoping to somehow find refuge there.  Reid, dumfounded that he had almost killed a man, did not follow, remaining at the shooting site. McAndrew, meanwhile, had heard the shot and had driven out of the driveway toward the sound.  Seeing Bob running headlong towards him on the north side of Broadway Road, McAndrew veered the ’65 T-bird toward Bob.  Bob jumped to his left but the car still managed to clip his right hand.  Bob then took to the brushy woods behind the Wolfe residence and laid down amongst the weeds.  The conspirators hadn’t foreseen the need to bring along a flashlight and their search for Bob was fruitless.  Fearing that neighbors had heard the shot and would come to investigate, they fled the scene. McAndrew reassured Reid “He’s done for.  I hit him with the car.”

McAndrew would later tell the police that he had driven up and down Broadway Road several times looking for either of the two guys but couldn’t find them.  [Remember that he was still professing to not know Reid’s name.]  He said he had then given up and gone home to Bear Creek.  In reality, both he and Reid went back to McAndrew’s office in Nanticoke on  the off chance that Bob, if he survived, had made his way back there to retrieve his car. The car was still there, so maybe he’d gotten a ride back to his home. At some point McAndrew must have taken Reid back to Ashley but exactly when is not known.  Mary Rowan relates something that McAndrew did NOT tell the cops: that he had also driven up and down past her and Bob’s house, thinking he may have made it back there instead of going for his car at McAndrew’s office.  Had Bob somehow made it home, McAndrew expected to see a lot of lights on inside the home and maybe even police cars outside.  Only when he saw just one light did he, in reality, head to his own home in Bear Creek.

Pete Wolfe, Jr. testified that McAndrew called him between 9:00 and 9:30 PM and said that something had happened out in Sweet Valley.  He asked Pete to go out and have a look.  Pete started from his home in Kingston and made it as far as Shavertown when he spotted McAndrew’s car in a gas station blinking its lights at him.  Pete pulled over into a shopping center and met with McAndrew.  The story was the same as on the phone----something had happened and he wanted Pete to check it out and to then meet him at Handley’s Diner on South Main Street in Wilkes Barre.  Whether or not Pete actually made that trip or later met with McAndrew was not cited in the WBR article.  Even had he actually gone, he would have had nothing to report.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Bob had hidden himself in the woods sufficiently and for a time long enough to avoid any further searchers.  After several hours, he decided it was safe to move through the noisy late-November leaf fall and try to find help.  He avoided Broadway Road, for that was where searchers would most likely expect to find him.  He found an old logging trail that led down the steep back side of Ledge Hill and he stumbled down it in the dark. At roughly 12:30 on Saturday morning, November 26, he saw a light in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Bob Gray on what is now Gray Road.  He made it to their porch and aroused them.  Mrs. Gray called Ross Township Chief of Police Mickey Niemchik.  Mickey picked up auxiliary officer Cletus “Junior” Holcomb, Jr., and then went to the Gray home.  Seeing what bad condition Bob was in, Mickey called his wife on the radio.  He told her to phone  the Wyoming State Police barracks and tell them that he and Junior were transporting Bob to Nanticoke State Hospital.

Act 3, the hospital and the investigation:

Bob was in such bad shape that Mary barely recognized him.  His head and face were swollen from the beating and he didn’t seem to even know that he’d been shot.  The abrasion on his right hand was taken to be just a result of the beating.  He underwent surgery for removal of the .32 caliber bullet.  State police troopers Nicholas Arch and Donald Tressler from the Shickshinny barracks conducted an interview with Bob but he was able to tell them only part of what had happened to him.  He told them of meeting the unknown “third man” at McAndrew ‘s office and  then going to the house near Sylvan Lake with them.  There the “third man” had assaulted him. At that point, early Saturday morning, Bob didn’t know that McAndrew had stolen his money.  Had he known that, perhaps the attempted run-down would have come to mind.  In his sorry condition, Bob didn’t think to tell the troopers that McAndrew had tried to run him down and the defense attorneys tried to use that omission against him at McAndrew’s trial. 

Trooper Arch placed two calls to McAndrew’s home and was told, during the second call, that McAndrew was already on his way to the hospital, the one place he hadn’t checked.  He had obviously figured out that his worst fears had come true; Bob was alive and was talking to the police. McAndrew described the “third man” as being 6 feet, 190, ruddy complexion, and wearing a plaid shirt.  Considerably relieved, he was free to go and he headed home.  [It’s not known at which point he began calling Reid to tell him of this unexpected development.  He could have called him on Saturday, at which time Reid likely would still have been at a relative’s house in Ashley or he may have waited until Reid got back to Cleveland.  We may safely bet that there were a lot more than just one call made over the following few days.]

Tressler and Arch investigated for two days.  They visited the crime scene and collected evidence but were unable to ID the “third man.” 

The instigation then was transferred to the Wyoming barracks of the State Police.  The barracks commander, Major McGroarty, was a friend of Bob Rowan’s, as they were both pilots.  Hearing of the incident, he visited Bob during his one-week hospitalization.   The name “McAndrew” was known to the Wyoming barracks troopers, for they had previously investigated him for an arson charge they ultimately were unable to prove.  It didn’t take much for them to deduce “Hmmm—this guy who probably burned his house down for insurance was present at a beating and shooting?  I’ll BET he was somehow involved !!”

They put a tail on McAndrew and followed him to the Host Motel in East End, Wilkes Barre, where they observed him making calls from a pay phone.  They obtained phone company records and found that he had been calling Walter Reid.

Following that discovery, things started moving along fast and the case was solved rather quickly.  Bob had only spent about a week in the hospital and the police must have interviewed him at least once more after he was discharged.  During one of the interviews Bob, probably knowing by then that McAndrew had stolen his money, remembered to tell them how McAndrew had tried to run him down.  On Tuesday, December 6, 1966, just 11 days after the assault, a warrant was issued for McAndrew on a charge of assault with the intent to kill (see top of this page.) 

Just two days, later, on Thursday, December 8, 1966, Reid was arrested in Cleveland.  He obviously “rolled over” on McAndrew and told of what they had been up to. On the very next day after the arrest, December 9, a charge of conspiracy was leveled against both  plotters. 

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  “Criminal complaint against both Walter Reid and Thomas V. McAndrew on a charge of conspiracy. From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.”

A preliminary hearing was held for Reid on both the conspiracy and assault charges on December 10 in front of Justice Of the Peace Stephen R. Stefanides in Swoyersville.  He pled not guilty to both charges and was released under a total of $5,500 bail ($5,000 on assault and $500 on conspiracy.)  Reid was represented by Atty. John Boyle but it isn’t known if Boyle was retained by Reid or appointed as a Public Defender.  

As would prove to be an omen of things to come, McAndrew’s case took a little longer.  In this instance it was only a week.  On Friday, December 16, 1966, McAndrew’s preliminary hearing was held in front of Stefanides on all three counts.  He was represented by Atty. Ciotola, a junior associate from the office of  Louis G. Feldman in Hazleton.  [Feldman had been a Luzerne County District Attorney and when it came to the “heavy lifting” of an actual trial, he showed up in court in person.] McAndrew plead not guilty to all three charges and bail was continued but increased.  Previously, on just the assault charge, his bail had been only $10,000, secured by a lien on his house in Bear Creek.  Now, with three charges looming, it was more than doubled to $20,500 ($10,000 for assault, the same for fraudulent conversion of the check, and $500 on conspiracy.)  This time his in-laws, Thomas S. and Lillian M. Flannery of 357 McLean Street, Wilkes Barre provided the collateral.

Act 4, our system of jurisprudence:

“The wheel of justice grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine”—author unknown.

It took TWO YEARS  (November, 1966 until October, 1968) after the crime until the first trial was held.  Admittedly, I did not order every single document applicable to each defendant from the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts office. The cost (at $1.50 per page printed from microfilm) would have been prohibitive.  Still, by judging what did happen at the trials, it is fairly easy to deduce what must have happened in the interim.  Given that Reid, when he actually got to trial, was represented by Public Defenders, we may safely assume that he was also so-represented in the interim. Public Defenders would not have had the wherewithal to continue filing delaying motions. McAndrew, on the other hand, was represented by the top-flight law firm of a former DA from his preliminary hearing onward through his trial.  They, in fact, did, file such motions and appeals AFTER his guilty verdicts.

[I must admit to being a justice junkie.  I watched ALL of OJ’s 9-month trial except for some of the dry DNA testimony.  Beyond that, I have been a fan of “Law And Order” and Court TV for years.  Therefore, dear readers, please accept my humble analysis of the strategy that the prosecution must have employed.  It must have been obvious to them that Reid was the weakest link.  He had quickly ID’ed McAndrew as the one who initiated the plot . He, undoubtedly, made self-incriminating statements as well.  I would think that the prosecutors COULD have brought Reid to trial much sooner than they ultimately did.  It’s obvious to me that they delayed until McAndrew’s team finally ran out of delaying tactics.  It is entirely likely that they worked out a deal with Reid for a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony against McAndrew.  Holding Reid’s trial immediately before McAndrew’s would give Reid very little time to change his mind.]

As it turned out, Reid did have second thoughts, at least initially, when it came to his trial date.  As he later testified, McAndrew had threatened quite early on in the planning stage, even before the crimes were committed, to wipe out Reid’s entire family if he squealed.  While I have seen absolutely NO EVIDENCE to prove that McAndrew continued that threat up during the two-year interim until Reid’s trial, I do have my suspicions.

Reid went through the motions of at least starting a trial.  On Thursday and Friday, October 10-11, 1968, a jury of eight men and 4 women with 2 women alternates was sworn.  

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"Reid’s jury. From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.”  

Reid was represented by Assistant Public Defenders Carmen Maffei and William R. Keller.  Representing the Commonwealth were District Attorney Blythe H. Evans, Jr. and Assistant DA Joseph J, Gale, Jr.  I have little doubt that, over the intervening weekend, the prosecutors had taken great pains to remind Reid of the deal they has worked out—testify against McAndrew and get a lighter sentence.  On Monday morning, October 15, 1968, the court session began with a two-hour in-chamber discussion between the parties and Judge Richard L. Bigelow.  Upon emerging, before opening statements or any testimony had been given, the judge dismissed the jurors.  Reid had changed his plea to guilty.

Judge Bigelow questioned Reid about his plea. “Is it your free and voluntary desire to enter a plea of guilty to these charges?”  Reid responded “Yes, sir.”  Questioned further as to why he was pleading guilty, he answered “Because I am guilty.”  Bigelow further advised Reid that the possible sentences could be $3,000 or 7 years or both of those on the assault with the intent to kill charge plus another $500 or 1 year or both on the conspiracy charge.  Reid acknowledged those.  He was also advised of his right to appeal, within 45 days of their imposition, the sentences actually handed down.   His bail was doubled from $5,500 to $11,000.

From my knowledge of our judicial system, that SHOULD have been the end of that day’s proceedings but it wasn’t. I can see where Reid himself may have had to explain the conspiracy and all that led to his present predicament, but, unless the WBR omitted this detail, Reid didn’t testify. Assistant DA Dale then called Bob Rowan to the stand.  Given that Reid’s case was essentially over for that day, I fail to see the point of calling Bob, but that’s what Dale did. The only possible reason for calling Bob is strictly a guess on my part.  Perhaps it would serve as a “dress rehearsal” for the testimony he was going to offer against McAndrew just two days from then. McAndrew ‘s trial had been set for Wednesday, October 16.  That close a scheduling lends support to the idea that the prosecutors had worked a plea deal with Reid; they obviously didn’t expect Reid’s trial to last very long at all.  Obviously not subject to any cross-examination, Bob recounted all that had happened to him on Friday, November 25, 1966.

McAndrew’s trial, after nearly 2 years of continuances and postponements finally did begin as scheduled.  He was tried on three counts.  One was the assault with intent to kill. 

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“McAndrew’s assault charge, case # 65-B of 1967. 
From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.”
  

He was also tried on a charge of having forged the check. 

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“McAndrew’s forgery charge, case # 1912 of 1968. 
From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.”
   

Third was the charge that he conspired with Reid to kill Rowan. 

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“Joint conspiracy charge, case # 65 of 1967, as shown before the defendants’ trials were severed. From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.” 

On Wednesday, Wednesday, October 16, 1968 a jury of 10 women and 2 men with 2 female alternates was sworn in at 5:25 PM.  The jurors were: Francis Phillips, Nanticoke; Edith Baker, Wilkes Barre; Walter Scott, Wilkes Barre; Mrs. Steven Volpetti, Pittston; Mary Claire Blackman, Wilkes Barre; Mrs. Theresa Hooper, West Wyoming; Mildred Mayewski, Nanticoke; Jeanette McGovern, Wilkes Barre; Caroline Martin, Miner’s Mills; Rose Williams, Wilkes Barre; Mrs. Pauline Ruddy, Wilkes Barre; and Mrs. Gwen Corbett, Wilkes Barre.  Alternates were Madge Edwards, Wilkes Barre, and Sophie Ramutkowski of Swoyersville.  

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“ McAndrew’s jury. List from the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office 
and their hometowns from the WBR.”

McAndrew’s defense team was now led by former Luzerne County DA Louis G. Feldman who had, undoubtedly, been responsible for the 2-year delay in the proceedings.  Even before the jury was selected he had once again been up to his usual tactics.  He sought 22 preemptory challenges but was given only 8.  Now that the jury had been seated, even before opening statements on Thursday, Oct. 17, he was at it again.  He sought to have a separate trial for McAndrew on each of the three charges he faced.  Bigelow turned him down and the trial finally got underway. 

On Thursday, the jurors heard the prosecution’s opening statement given  by Assistant DA Dale. [Feldman deferred his opening statement until the beginning of the defense’s case in chief.]  Dale related the entire story of how things occurred and I won’t bore you by telling you once again.  By now you probably know the details by heart.  The first witness was Robert Gray, who told of how Bob had shown up at his home and how Mrs. Gray had called the Ross Township police.

Shortly after noon, the jurors were dismissed.  Following his well-established precedent, Feldman raised a legal point that required an in-chambers conference.  This was certainly not the last such move he would make.  This time, he sought to be given all the notes taken by State Troopers during their investigation so as to be prepared to cross-examine any who might testify.

On Friday morning Bigelow overruled the defense request for police notes and troopers Nicholas and Arch Donald Tressler of the Shickshinny barracks testified of the events on the night of November 25, 1966.  Arch said that, at no time during the initial interview in the ER of Nanticoke State Hospital did Bob Rowan say anything about McAndrew having tried to run him down.  Bob had told only of McAndrew being present.    On re-direct by Assistant DA Dale, Arch said that he had limited his initial interview because Bob had been bleeding, cold, and under treatment at the time.  It’s not sure which trooper told of having reviewed the investigation report to refresh his memory just days before the trial.  This statement set off Feldman again.  He renewed his motion to see all of the police notes.  For the second consecutive day, the jurors were sent home in the afternoon while the attorneys argued. 

The prosecution’s star witness, Walt Reid, took the stand on Monday morning, October 21.  He began by describing how the plot evolved.  He had come home to Ashley from Cleveland at various times to discuss the plan with McAndrew.  They had talked of different methods of killing Bob like staging a car “accident”; sabotaging Bob’s plane; or gaining entry to Bob’s home, knocking him and Mary out and then burning the house down.   At a “greasy spoon” across from the Comerford drive-in theater in Avoca they made their ultimate decision.  After luring them to a country setting on a pretext of going to dinner in Shickshinny, Reid would knock them out.  McAndrew would then either shoot them or run over them with his car.  The bodies would be buried in a dirt cellar.  For his part, Reid would receive $30,000 but, if he squealed, McAndrew would wipe out the entire Reid family.  Mary, it seemed, wouldn’t be that much of a problem but he wanted to scope out Bob to see what he would be up against.  Reid told of he and McAndrew visiting several restaurants around Wyoming Valley looking for Bob so that he could get a look at him.  He also described how McAndrew had forged the Rowan’s signatures on the stock redemption form.  McAndrew had gone to a Nanticoke drug store with a paper containing their valid signatures he had as their financial advisor.  He photocopied the signatures and then returned to his office.  Reid had watched as McAndrew  wrapped the photocopy around a light source and traced the signatures onto the stock redemption form.  “He put the form into an envelope, stamped it, and we drove to Wilkes Barre.  We pulled up alongside the post office and I mailed the form. McAndrew  then told me that once this goes out, we are committed.  There is no way to back out. “ That testimony took up the morning hours of the Monday session. 

Resuming the stand after lunch, the prosecution led Reid into some testimony that I find somewhat baffling.  The only explanation I can come up with is that they intended to lessen the effect of the horde of character witnesses they expected McAndrew to present during his defense.  Reid told of how McAndrew had a “girlfriend waitress” in Shickshinny.  That, I presume, would have been at the Foothills Manor where they were supposedly taking Bob and Mary.  At the point where Reid described McAndrew’s relationship with the waitress as sexual, Feldman raised a strong objection.  Ok, readers, I’ll give you three guesses as to what happened next and the first two don’t count.  The jurors were dismissed for a THIRD consecutive day and sent home while the attorneys met with Judge Bigelow in chambers. 

The story as carried WBR edition of Wednesday, October 23, 1968 is the biggest tangled mess I’ve had to figure out in quite a while.  The paper was obviously published as a morning paper. The reporter starts off by citing what happened at the END of Tuesday’s session. Only by following his entire account does one find out what happened all day Tuesday BEFORE the end of the court day.  I will try to put events in chronological order. The first thing that happened when court opened was Judge Bigelow instructed the jurors to disregard Reid’s testimony about McAndrew’s girlfriend.  It was disregarded on the basis that it had been irrelevant and non-responsive, and had been, in fact, volunteered by Reid.  Bigelow then admonished Reid to confine his responses to answering only specific questions that had been asked of him.

Reid then testified that he and McAndrew had gone to cash the check on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 1966, two days before the attack on Bob Rowan.  He also said that when he was introduced to Bob, McAndrew had cited Reid’s correct name and had mentioned that Reid, like Bob, was a pilot.  [Remember, readers, that, despite looking all over the valley for Bob so Reid could get a look at him, they hadn’t found him. Thus, the meeting in McAndrew’s office was the first time he saw Bob. McAndrew, by using Reid’s real name and citing his piloting hobby, was nailing down for Reid that this was the man they were to kill. Reid later told McAndrew that giving Bob his true name had been a mistake.  It turned out to have been a mistake from which Reid escaped temporarily, for Bob, when interviewed at the hospital didn’t recall what he had been told.  It was only by tracking McAndrew’s calls later that Reid’s ID was established.]

Reid then went on to describe how he had beaten Bob with the blackjack.  He said that his conscience wouldn’t allow him to kill Bob but that it would allow him to put Bob into a position where he could be killed.  He identified a photo taken by police at the Wolfe house as being where McAndrew  had parked the car.  He told that, as he was attacked, Bob ran toward the front of the car, beseeching McAndrew to help him. McAndrew, of course, did not help.  During the struggle Bob ripped off a part of Reid’s sleeve and ran away faster than Reid could run.  Seeking to retrieve the shirt part, Reid chased him while firing the .32 caliber handgun but the shots missed Bob.  Bob fell into the ditch and only then was he shot, in the back.  Reid bent over to shoot Bob again but found he couldn’t pull the trigger again while aiming at Bob’s head.  That was apparently the end of Reid’s testimony.

 Pete Wolfe then testified how McAndrew had called him, told him something had happened, and asked Pete to go have a look.  On the way to Sylvan Lake, he’d met McAndrew in Shavertown and McAndrew repeated that request.  The WBR article does not say whether Pete actually went there. Wolfe admitted that he had originally refused to talk to investigator Charles Hartman because he didn’t want to become involved. 

On Wednesday, October 23, 1988, Bob took the stand. He told of McAndrew having shown him the check for $132,175.35.  McAndrew had said that he’d sold Bob’s shares for him because President Johnson’s illness was affecting the market and that, for every $1 drop in the stock’s price, Bob would lose $17,000.  Bob had refused the check and told McAndrew to send it back.  He identified the wounds he had received during the attack.  Despite Feldman’s dogged cross examination, he would not budge from his story that it happened on a dark night and that McAndrew’s had been the only car in the area at the time.  He described the ditch into which he had fallen and how a bullet had entered his back.  [I believe the reporter must have incorrectly cited part of Bob’s testimony in saying that Bob admitted that he had “NEVER (caps added for emphasis) told anyone that McAndrew and Reid tried to kill him.” It’s a given that Bob had told the police at SOME point for, after all, McAndrew WAS being tried on a count of assault with intent to kill and Reid had already pled guilty to that same charge.  I believe a transcript would show that Bob truly admitted to not having told the police during the hospital interview about McAndrew’s attempt to run him down.] 

Feldman then asked if anyone from Investors Diversified was present in the courtroom.  They spoke up, and upon their presentation of a cancelled stock certificate for 17,000 shares, it was admitted into evidence.   Bob testified that he had surrendered said certificate to McAndrew sometime between May and September of 1966.  He had asked that McAndrew have those shares re-issued in smaller denominations that he could use as collateral for loans but those smaller certificates had never been given to him. McAndrew, Bob said, had told him that “these things take time.”  The 17,000-share certificate had not been received at the company until November 14, 1966, just before the crimes took place.

Thursday’s session, for as long as it lasted, pretty much involved just the testimony of Mary Rowan.   She told of their having been invited to dinner by McAndrew and how just her husband had gone, leaving home around 6:40 PM.   She next saw him in the emergency room of Nanticoke State Hospital, in a condition so bad that she barely recognized him.  She denied having signed either the stock redemption form or the resultant check.  In fact, she had never even seen the check until the police asked her to identify it in Decemebr,1966.

Court was once again cut short, adjourning at 1:30 PM.  No official reason was given for the adjournment but the courthouse was rife with a good, juicy rumor.  Both Judge Bigelow and defense counsel Feldman were Republicans from Hazleton.  Feldman, in fact, was the chairman of a veterans’ group for presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon and Nixon was to speak in Hazleton that afternoon.  [Note that Thursday, October 24, 1968 was just 12 days before the general election on November 5.  Despite that last-minute visit, Nixon failed to carry either Luzerne or neighboring Lackawanna County.]

Friday turned out to be nearly useless. Overnight on Thursday, six of the un-sequestered jurors had received harassing phone calls.  Judge Bigelow interviewed each juror individually and determined that none had actually been threatened.  The calls were more of just a harassing nature.  No testimony whatsoever was given and court adjourned until 10 AM on Monday.

Court on Monday didn’t get underway until 11:42 after yet another in-chambers discussion.  An account supervisor from Investors Diversified Services identified the stock certificate, the redemption request form, and the check for $132,175.35.  Two bank employees testified about McAndrew converting the check by depositing it in an account bearing his name.  With that testimony, the prosecution rested.  They had presented 19 witnesses and 31 pieces of evidence had been entered into the record.

Feldman’s opening statement for the defense said that; character witnesses would testify as to McAndrew’s reputation; other witnesses would show that THE MONEY DID NOT BELONG TO ROWAN (caps added for emphasis) [More on this point below]; and other testimony would be given to prove that McAndrew did not commit the crimes.

Following Feldman’s opening statement there was another delay as Judge Bigelow heard three more defense motions in chambers.  He denied all three.

The defense case began, as promised, with character witnesses.  Appearing on McAndrew’s behalf were: Paul C. Mailloux, Bear Creek; Paul V. Luty, Wapping CT; Joseph Grosskettler, West Hazleton; James F. McCabe, Shavertown; Stephen Balut, Bear Creek;  Edwin H. Dorrand, Wilkes Barre; Ann M. Colleran, Scranton; Dennis Dowling, Bear Creek; William Boesche, Bear Creek; Ernest G. Rosencrance, Bear Creek; Mrs. Ann Lewis Hutter, Bear Creek Village; Mrs. Betty Boesche, Bear Creek; Frank Rowe, Wilkes Barre; Thomas Murphy, Bear Creek; Thomas McLarney, Nanticoke; Mrs. Mary Ellen Woods, Wilkes Barre; Edward Burke, Wilkes Barre; Francis Busick, Wilkes Barre; and Catherine Manganello, Wilkes Barre.

After the final character witness had stepped down, Feldman recalled John C. Dema, account supervisor of Investors Diversified Services, who had previously appeared as a prosecution witness.  The point of recalling Dema has been totally lost on this researcher.  One would surmise that Feldman intended to somehow elicit testimony to prove the assertion he’d made in his opening argument, that the money did not belong to Rowan.  Had he actually obtained any such testimony, it seems certain that the WBR would have mentioned it, for it would have been essential to the defense case. Their article makes no mention whatsoever of any questions that were asked. My take on the assertion being included in Feldman’s opening statement is that, like many defense attorneys before and after him, he over-promised more than he could deliver.  Many wily defense attorneys will attempt to sway the jury into thinking that what THEY says constitutes evidence. Judges, even without prodding by the prosecution, will often instruct the jurors “only testimony given by witnesses is to be considered as evidence.”  Absent a transcript I have no way of knowing if that took place here or if the prosecution, in its closing statement, pointed out Feldman’s over-promising.]  The Tuesday, October 29 session finally wrapped up at 6 PM.

On Wednesday, October 30, 1968, court began with yet another in-chambers conference.  Emerging from the conference, Judge Bigelow advised jurors that the defendant had a constitutional right to NOT testify.  [The conference and the resultant judicial advice seems to me a move by the defense to show what a good guy McAndrew was for, at 11:55 AM, Thomas V. McAndrew took the stand to defend himself anyway.]

Over the course of Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, McAndrew’s defense consisted chiefly of more of what I will call “window dressing.”  On direct exam by Feldman, he recited his biography, which included his service in World War 2, his business career and memberships in community organizations, his marriage to Jean Flannery, and their five children (ages 11 to 20), all of whom were in court.  [Mary Rowan points out that at least one of the children wore a cervical collar and walked with crutches.  How very handy to elicit sympathy from the jurors !]

On substantive matters, McAndrew simply denied everything.  Yes, he knew Walter Reid for approximately 20 years.  Over that span he had loaned Reid money and even a car on various occasions.  In response to cross exam, he admitted he did own a blackjack that was kept in the Corvair’s glove box for his daughter’s protection.  Reid would have known it was kept there because McAndrew had loaned him the Corvair and Reid also knew where the Corvair was often parked. He had never noticed that the blackjack was missing until he saw it introduced as evidence.  However, he had never discussed killing Bob Rowan with Reid or anyone else.  Further, he was not with Reid on the day the crimes were committed, as he had spent the morning at the Kingston-Coughlin football game and then the rest of the day at his in-laws’ home.  He had invited the Rowans to dinner but only Bob had come, as Mary had other plans.  [My mind simply cries out here for a complete transcript of the trial. I am left with some unanswered questions that may well have been asked and answered yet not reported by the WBR.  Chief among these would take into account that, apparently, McAndrew said he took Bob to dinner and then back to his office.  He simply HAD to have been asked on cross by the prosecutors “If you were NOT with Reid and Bob on that dark night, how was it that you were already on your way to the hospital when Trooper Arch called your home a second time?  What made you think you were needed there?” and “Did Pete Wolfe lie in saying that you had asked him to go to Sweet Valley to see what had happened?”]

Feldman also brought up one point that, to me, seems to have been totally counter-productive to the defense case.  He had McAndrew deny that he had ever had any illicit affairs.  Remember, dear readers, that Reid had spontaneously offered, during the prosecution case, that Reid had been carrying on with a waitress.  Judge Bigelow had subsequently instructed the jurors to disregard that yet here was Feldman bringing the subject up again. [Trés stupid !!]

Taken as a whole, the entire defense case, in my humble opinion, provided not one shred of actual “evidence” to, as Feldman had promised in his opening statement, “prove that McAndrew did not commit the crimes.”  Mere denial, denial, denial does NOT, in my book, constitute factual evidence.  The jurors should well have expected such from McAndrew since the very fact that a trial WAS being held implied that he was denying the charges.  Had he admitted them, the jurors would have stayed home and gone about their lives.

The WBR did not report how long the jury was out but, at 8:50 PM on a Friday night, November 1, 1968, they issued their verdict.  Typical of what I have seen, a late-night Friday verdict essentially says “We’re tired after all the delays that have disrupted our lives for 16 days.  It’s the weekend and let’s get on with our lives.  Although we can’t reach total agreement on all 3 counts, let’s compromise.”  They found McAndrew guilty on the conspiracy and forgery charges but NOT GUILTY on the assault with the intent to kill. 

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“Verdict form on the assault charge. From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.”

Judge Bigelow did not sentence McAndrew immediately.  The prosecution, needless to say, was quite displeased with the not guilty verdict on what they likely took to be the most serious charge.  Within just a little over three weeks from that happening, they leveled another charge against him, that he had forged the Request For Redemption form.  I have no knowledge of why Feldman delayed filing an appeal until THIRTEEN MONTHS later, on January 7, 1970.  I don’t have the documents showing the basis of the appeal, but it’s fair to guess that it would have claimed that such a charge amounted to double jeopardy. On June 10, 1970, the appeal was quashed by the Superior Court in Philadelphia.  

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“Decision of the Superior Court on McAndrew’s appeal.
From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.”
  

The higher court obviously sided with what the prosecution must have been claiming, i.e., that forging a check is one thing and forging the form that caused the check to be issued is a second, separately-prosecutable offense.  

At this point, McAndrew finally gave up but, even so, HE NEVER SPENT A DAY IN JAIL !!!!  I don’t know why, but it took two separate sentencings, on July 23, 1970 and again on February 3, 1971, to lay down his penalties. 

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“McAndrew’s sentences. From the Luzerne County Clerk Of Courts Office.”   

All told, he ended up with only 6 years of special probation and paying $7,500 in court costs.  [Special probation, as I have researched, meant that he reported to a Pennsylvania state probation officer as opposed to a Luzerne County probation officer as he would have had his sentence been less than two years.] 

EPILOGUE

By the time McAndrew was ever finally sentenced, Walter Reid had already long paid his debt to society.  He was quite fortunate in that Bob Rowan was a very religious man.  Beyond that, Bob probably fully realized that Reid could have shot him once more, probably fatally, as he leaned down on that dark night so long ago.  Bob kept in contact with Reid and eventually, as Mary Rowan tells it, “led him to the Lord.”   Bob intervened with the court on Reid’s behalf, citing his new-found religion, and Reid served just one year of the one-to-two-year sentence.  I don’t know what became of Reid for the rest of his life but Pete Wolfe, who has followed this case, says (in 2005) that Reid has died.  I did not attempt to interview any Reid family members.  

McAndrew lived to be 78, dying on June 28, 2001.  His obituary, written by his survivors, did not, of course, make any mention of his criminal past.  His employment history was cited as having been “a self-employed broker-investor, a supervisor for Owens Illinois, a security investigator for Giant Markets, and a supervisor for Fairlawn Apartments.”   Mrs. Rowan knows that he lost the Owens Illinois job once they learned of his past. I would imagine he didn’t stay long at the other jobs either, for that same reason.  The rest of the obit was the standard stuff:  a WW2 vet, loving husband, father, and grandfather who loved trips to Atlantic City (here comes that gambling reference again—I think Mrs. Rowan was right about that.)   

Bob and Mary Rowan suffered no financial loss from the co-conspirators’ theft.  They were reimbursed by a bonding company.  It then became McAndrew’s obligation to repay the bonding company.  Mary, now in her 80’s, is still irate at the fact that McAndrew got off so lightly and never once expressed any repentance.  She holds that “the judge and the attorneys were mostly concerned that he repay the company, something he couldn’t do from behind bars.” Given his likely quite spotty post-conviction work history, it’s doubtful he ever made much headway toward repayment.  Like McAndrew and Reid, Bob Rowan has now passed on.  

In the course of researching this story, I spoke to many Sweet Valley residents.  Only Bob Gray, Jr., at whose parents’ home Bob showed up on November 25, 1966, has any recollection of the crime.  I find this most easily explained by the fact that no local person was involved.  Had a Hontz shot a Long, it would have reverberated for a hundred years.  As it was, with a victim from Wilkes Barre, bad guys from Bear Creek and Cleveland, and a lengthy judicial process, it has easily slipped from the collective conscience of the community.  Hopefully, my recounting will engrave it for as long as there is an internet.

Composed by Ron Hontz

Ronald E. Hontz

33 Whitcraft Lane

Shrewsbury PA 17361

(717) 235-5791

cell phone (717) 309-1402

e-mail: Sweetvalleykid@gmail.com


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