Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Battle of Chicken Hill

As you drive west bound on I- 376 thru the Fort Pitt Tunnels and come out bound from Downtown Pittsburgh as you come out of the tunnels on your right hand side you pass by the site of a famous Pittsburgh gun battle which took place in 1959 in what became known as the battle of Chicken Hill.
between the Pittsburgh Police Dept and 2 notorious bank robbers. I know about this chapter in Pittsburgh History because of the story my grandfather told me who lived near by in Westwood.

First a little back round Chicken Hill as it is known was called this because of early settlers who kept and raised chickens on the hill a small section of Pittsburgh's West End. Which was significantly cut back during excavation in early 1950's for I-376 also known as the Parkway west. where 2 railroad tunnels where day lighted and replaced with bridges over the parkway the lower one that serves the Old Pittsburgh and West Virginia Railroad which started as Wabash Railroad and the higher bridge Operated by Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad which started as the Norfolk & Western Railroad. My dad as a young man actually helped build the intersection known as the Banksville Circle which connects ramps under the bridges.

So on with the story July 23, 1959 a hot sunny summer day 2 men Joesph Gaito and Edward Kern walk into the no longer in existence People's First National Bank and Trust company in Hays Pa. a small ward of the city of Pittsburgh located between Baldwin Boro and Homestead Pa.
The thieves make a clean get away they think taking off thru Baldwin Boro into the south hills of Pittsburgh and over into the Mt Lebanon area  where they are spotted by police and take off towards the west end Crashing there get away car and then taking off on foot up Chicken Hill trying to escape there pursuers . which begins a several hour long gun battle in the hot dusty sunny day between Pittsburgh ,Allegheny County and Pa. State police which saw high drama as both crooks and police climbed around the bridges . Both criminals eventually surrender after both are wounded by sharp shooters but not before 2 police officers are wounded as well. Both men get 20 plus year sentences for bank robbery which Mr Gaito serves and is released never to be heard from again or so you would think . But in the late 80's an elderly Mr. Gaitos is once again a suspect in an armed robbery of a grocery store , he is eventually cleared when a local priest claims he was having dinner with Mr. Gaitos who quietly passes away a few years later in Florida.
There are no markers or any thing else to mark the area of the event just some fading memories , an old Pitt News reel  from KDKA TV and old newspaper articles of the event which happened several months before I was born.
There have been many high profile criminal dramas as well as horrific tragedies around South Western Pa. some even made into movies like Mrs. Soffel and the Biddle Brothers and there escape from the Allegheny County Jail with Mrs. Sofffel the wardens wife and the Murder of Union Coal boss Jake Yublonski and his family . But so many lost to history. I hope to do more research and present some of the more significant cases as they have many important safety and moral lessons that are useful to this day.

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