52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, My Family Tree, Paternal Side

Week 18: Crime & Punishment

This week’s prompt for Amy Johnson Crow’s weekly 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks genealogical writing series was easy for me as I knew from when I looked through the entire years themes who I was writing about today, my second cousin twice removed, Ralph Reed.

The Early Years

I really do not have a whole lot of information on Ralph from his early life, most of the information I have is about his last year. But Ralph was born on 1 June 1921 to Thomas C. Reed and the former Margaret Philips in Johnstown, Cambria, Pennsylvania. His father at this time worked at a local steel mill while it appears that his mother stayed home to care for their 10 children. Ralph was their sixth.

By 1930 Thomas Reed was working in the coal mines, and I don’t think it was a good fit as by September 1937 he was admitted to the Torrance State Hospital for mental health issues and died 31 January 1938 of General Paralysis of the Insane.

What all this does to a growing boy I am not sure. I’m sure it wasn’t ideal.

The 1940 Census

In the 1940 census, 19-year-old Ralph is not living with his mother, Margaret, and the five children still at home. When I do a search of likely candidates, there are 2 Ralph Reed’s that are 19 that show promise, 1-is living at the Pennsylvania Indiustrial School in Huntingdon County (this is essentially a prision) and the other is living in Maryland as a lodger with his wife. I tend to go with the Huntingdon location simply because on his death certificate his mother (the informant) states he was single, though i suppose there is a chance she was unaware of his marrying Winifred (the name of his wife).

How 10 Seconds Can Change a Life

Yes, there is a possibility that Ralph was in jail prior to his crime from the 1940 census that I found above, and maybe I tend to try to look through rose colored glasses in regard to my distant cousin, but I always feel a bit bad about what happened to Ralph Reed.

I discovered Ralph Reed when I came across his death certificate and saw that his cause of death was “Electrocution by Legal Execution” in Franklin County, Ohio. To get the details I turned to newspapers to discover the story leading to Ralph’s end.

The Crime

Ralph Reed, along with 3 others: Samuel LaDuca, James Esson, and Edsel Ford Muncy decided to rob the payroll office of the Reliable Steel Plate Company in Cleveland, Ohio on Friday, February 6, 1948. One has to remember that in 1948 payroll was paid with cash, but the 4-men made a fatal error, they arrived before the money did.

Being greeted by executives of the company, the men decided to get something out of nothing and robbed the employees. While attempting to get money from George Margulies, Ralph shot him in the back with a revolver.

When they left they had approximately $63, which made the headlines even more brutal. As the 4-men drove off in the getaway car, 2-telephone repairman were working in the vicinity and watched where they drove off too, letting the police know where they went.

By the end of the evening all 4 were brought in and Ralph signed a statement saying he was the triggerman for killing George Margulies.

February 7, 1948 Edition of the Akron Beacon Journal

The Trial

They did not mess around back in the 1940’s like they do today in crimes and trials. Ralph Reed and the 3-others were on trial by 6 June 1948. Ralph was sentenced to death while his 3-co-horts were sentenced to life in prison.

The Zanesville Signal, 7 June 1948 (this particular article I saved from the library version of Newspaper Archive)

There is a Case Text of the trial on the internet (you can read here) where more details were given:

  • Ralph Reed had become acquainted with Sam LaDuca while both were serving time in the Mansfield Reformatory
  • Reed, Esson & LaDuca were the ones who went into the Reliable Steel Plate Company for the robbery, Muncy was the driver of the getaway car.
  • All were masked while Reed & LaDuca had loaded guns.
  • When they arrived there were 3 women in the office, and they forced all 3 into a washroom
  • 20 Minutes elapsed while they waited for the money to arrive at the payroll office by the bookkeeper, while they were waiting the owners of the business, Emanual and George Margulis arrived.
  • They demanded the payroll and when they owners said they did not have it, LaDuca pressed his gun into the stomach of the elder Margulis and demanded their wallets, as Emanuel Margulis turned his wallet over to LaDuca, Reed pointed his gun into the back of George.
  • As George began to lower his hands to retrieve his wallet, the telephone rang and that is when Ralph shot him in the back.
  • Ralph and LaDuca grabbed the petty cash box and left the office.
  • George Margulis died a half hour later at the hospital.

Other aspects of the trial that did not favor Ralph was when the police brought in James Esson the night of the burglary, he said he only knew Reed about 3-days but that “they needed to be careful when apprehending Reed as he was dangerous”.

But despite Ralph not setting out to shoot George Margulis, as his killing was not premeditated, because they (the 4-men) had planned the robbery and the others stated Ralph was willing to do “anything to get money” they found him guilty and sentenced him to death, because he had confessed to the crime, he was not allowed a new trial.

What Happened to The Others?

As was stated in The Zanesville Signal above, James Esson, Samuel LaDuca, and Edsel Ford Muncy were all sentenced to life in prison for their part in the robbery and murder of George Margulis. But did they?

Edsel Ford Muncy

Edsel Ford Muncy was the driver of the getaway vehicle. I am unable to get to the Ohio History Connection as they do not have the files online, and due to Covid has been closed since March 2020, but I have found records on Ancestry.com stating that in 1972 he got married, divorced in 1985 and died in Beauty, Kentucky in 2001.

Samuel Charles LaDuca

Samuel LaDuca was the other fellow holding a gun when the trio of Ralph Read, Sam LaDuca and James Esson entered the payroll office at the Reliable Steel Plate Company. LaDuca also did not spend the rest of his life in prison. I was not able to find as much information about him as I did Edsel Muncy, but he died in Cleveland, Ohio in 1979.

James Esson

James Esson did die in prison on 19 May 1977. Sentenced to life in prison, in 1954 James Esson was transferred to work at the London (Ohio) Prison Farm on 31 August 1954. Esson worked himself to honor status but then on 27 May 1956 he stabbed a prison guard and then jumped out of the truck and fled.

Article from Wilmington News-Journal, Wilmington, Ohio from 28 May 1956

Esson stayed on the run until he was caught in Kansas City, Missouri when he was hitch hiking and offered a ride by a couple, Mr. & Mrs. Carl Wegner (Wagner?), who were on their way to an Air Force base in Kansas. He ended up locking them up in their trunk and was reported by a passing motorist. (The below photos were taken from The Tribune (Coshocton) on 19 August 1957).

Ralph’s Execution

Despite at least 2 stays of execution by the governor, Ralph Reed was executed on 4 May 1949 at 8pm. He was pronounced dead by 8:10pm. He had one of the least exciting final meals in the memory of the Ohio State Penitentiary warden: mushroom soup, chocolate cake, coffee with cream, and lemonade and he smoked cigarettes. His final visitors were his mother, Margaret (Phillips) Reed, his sister, Margaret (Reed) Smith, and his brother, John Reed. I’ll let the newspaper article describe the details of his electrocution in “Old Sparky” as journalism is just not this descriptive anymore.

Lima News, 5 May 1949

Ralph Reed wasn’t an ideal citizen. He most likely is the Ralph Reed in jail in Pennsylvania in the 1940 Census, and at some point between then and 1948 he was in the Mansfield Reformatory. But did Ralph deserve to die for shooting George in the back (oh, the back of all places). I say no. In todays world he would have been sentenced probably to 40 years to life (just a guestimate of an untrained person) and may have gotten out on good behavior on parole. But I don’t think in todays world, even shooting George in the back would have gotten him a death sentence.

Ralph Reed went into the Reliable Steel Plate Company to rob the payroll office. They knew who was suppose to be in the office when they went in there, but their timing was bad. I exaggerate with my 10 seconds, but it just shows how in a matter of minutes, be it 1 or 20, your life can change just like that (imagine my snapping my fingers here). That’s what happened with Ralph.

Oddly enough Ralph is my daughter’s favorite ancestor. I guess we all like to find one scoundrel in our midst, but Ralph was also only 27 when he died, and I don’t think his life was the best it could have been. But every time I look at his picture he just has this look of pure orneriness in his face, but not a cold-blooded killer.

Below is a photo of his headstone where he was buried with his family at Headrick Union Cemetery in East Taylor, Cambria County, Pennsylvania.

Photo added to Find a Grave by MPD

As for the unfortunate soul in all of this, may George Margulis Rest in Peace.

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