The Murder of Edith Ford

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In this presentation, we are going to explore the unsolved mystery of the death of Edith Ford, in Bangor, Pennsylvania. In 1935 she was strangled to death and dumped into a cistern where she floated undiscovered for 5 months.

Authorities were convinced that someone from the area murdered her, and that the killer or killers probably lived out their lives somewhere in the Slate Belt.

All of the facts in this story came from either newspaper articles or magazines and are attributed in advance to them.

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Our story begins shortly before noon on June 15th, 1935. Olga Di Thomas, daughter of Biaggio Di Thomas, went to their backyard cistern to fetch water for the garden. The cistern hadn't been used much that summer, but a prolonged dry spell precipitated its use that day.

When Olga opened the cistern, she saw something white floating below the surface of the water.

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She didn't think much of it until about 2 hours later, when she told her fiancée, Joseph Tiburzi, what she saw.

Tiburzi went to the cistern and opened it. He looked for a long time and finally recognized a human form floating in the water. He then ran to some nearby tennis courts where Nicholas Genteel, and Anthony Falcone were playing. They notified the Bangor Police.

Officer James Wagner was the first on the scene, followed by Chief Joseph Griggs. Soon afterwards, County Detective Herman Minikheim and his assistant, Russel Hahn; Detectives Clare Snyder and John Trout; and finally the County Deputy Coroner Theodore Reichbaum arrived.

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Biaggio Di Thomas, father of Olga, and the owner of the property, built the cistern many years before.

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The cistern was 17 feet deep and 18 feet square. The opening was 2.5 feet by 2 feet.

When all of the men were assembled they fastened a rope to the body and strained to retrieve it from the cistern. It took 4 men to raise the body from the well. When it was finally removed, they discovered it was the nude body of a young woman.

Seated by the cistern is County Detective, Russell Hahn.

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The reason the body was so difficult to remove from the cistern is that a large rock had been tied to it with a quarter-inch, 11-strand clothesline wire.

The wire was wrapped about the girl's neck and throat, under both arm pits, and over one thigh before wrapping around her back. 2 additional lengths were made into loops which were then tied about the rock.

The rock was later weighed at 126 pounds. The combined weight of the body and rock was 275 pounds. This of course raised the possibility that more than one person was involved in her death.

Later in the investigation geologists examined the rock. However it turned out to be ordinary limestone and was like a million other rocks in the area.

Additionally it was rumored that a length of wire was wrapped around the left hand's little finger. This was supposed to be a message that the victim had broken someone's heart and that this was why she was killed.

Like many of the rumors in this case, it turned out that this was not true. The little finger was tied with wire – but it was something the police did after they pulled her body from the cistern. They did it to position her arm out of the way in order to take photographs.

Holding the wire is Assistant Chief of Detectives, John Trout, who reminds me of the actor, George Raft.

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The information about the wire wasn't the only rumor of this case. I said that the body was nude when pulled from the cistern.

However, there was one article of clothing: a dark glove on her left hand.

The newspapers initially reported that it was a black glove, which immediately gave rise to the rumor that the Black Hand was involved with her death.

Many people think of the Black Hand as a criminal organization like the Mafia. But this isn't really true. According to on-line references, the Black Hand was a type of extortion racket. It was a method of blackmail, not a criminal organization, although the Mafia did allegedly practice it.

The typical method of blackmail was to send a letter signed with a black hand to the victim, demanding money. Violence often did occur when payment was not received.

The Black Hand was practiced in our area back in the day but it was not part of this crime. The glove Edith wore turned out to be dark blue, not black.

When the body was pulled from the cistern, and the police noticed it was naked, they called the Roseto Fire department to pump out the cistern in hopes that they would find more clothing.

At this time the police began investigating the larger crime scene.

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The house where this occurred was on Bangor Junction Road, which at the time was a quiet country road.

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There was an undeveloped alley that provided access through the back of the property up to the cistern.

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The police believe that the body was carried through this alley.

When the fire department finished pumping the well dry, there were no other traces of clothing to be found.

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After photographing the crime scene, the unidentified body was taken to the Bangor morgue, which was in the basement of Hough's furniture store, pictured on the left.

The police learned that an Edith Ford had been missing for about 5 months – since Jan. 12th, 1935. They arranged to have Edith's relatives come look at the body. When Edith's mother, Hannah, and her brother, Howard, arrived, the coroner showed them 2 scars that were from earlier operations: an appendix and gall-bladder removal.

They told the police that Edith had had both operations but they couldn't positively identify the body. Later, dental records established her identity as Edith Ford of Bangor.

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Edith Ford was born in 1898 in East Bangor. Her father was a tailor on First Street and the family was poor.

She worked in the silk mills in both Bangor and Reading. She also had some kind of work in Atlantic City, where she would go periodically.

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At some point the family moved to 302 S. Main Street. This is the house as it looked in the '30's.

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This is the house as it looks now.

With her identity established, the police questioned the family for clues. They were told that Edith had been missing since Jan. 12th, 5 months before she was found.

She supposedly had a date with a “boyfriend” at Finkbeiner's Cafe in Bangor. She never came back from that meeting.

The family wasn't really worried about her absence as they were used to her leaving home for long periods of time. They never reported her missing to the police.

From these scarce clues, the police began their investigation.

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The boyfriend was a Giuseppe Cimo, age 50, of 149 N. Eighth St.

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Cimo was born in Sicily. He emigrated to America in 1912. He was a cheese maker by trade. After marrying Esther Bettino Preori, a widow with 4 children, he set up his own business, making and delivering milk and cheese.

The police questioned Cimo and he admitted to having a long-standing affair with Edith. Newspapers stated that on one occasion, they stayed in Atlantic City for 15 days; on another trip, they stayed 20 days.

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Together, they would often meet in saloons and roadhouses around Bangor. A favorite place was the 4th Ward Hotel on N. 7th Street.

Again newspapers stated that Mrs. Cimo found Joe and Edith there on several occasions. Once, Mrs. Cimo and Edith came to blows, with Mrs. Cimo hitting Edith with a milk bottle and threatening additional bodily harm.

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The 4th Ward Hotel gained its liquor license the year before Edith's death over the objections of many people.

A newspaper account of the liquor board hearing stated, “Among the witnesses [against the hotel] were a girl ...14 years old, [who] had a rendezvous in a hired room in the hotel; a woman who “caught” her husband there with another woman; [and] the husband, who admitted he had used the place frequently as a house of assignation...”

This article may have been referring to Joe Cimo, his wife, and Edith Ford.

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In addition to Joe's admission of the affair between him and Edith, two other facts made Cimo the prime suspect.

The first of these facts was that he was one of the last people to have been with Edith before she disappeared. We will examine this later.

The second fact was that Joe had lived in the house next to Biaggio Di Thomas for 3 years and knew all about the cistern. This had happened 10 years prior to the murder. But when the police questioned everyone within 1.5 miles of the DiThomas house only a handful of people knew that the cistern existed.

This was very powerful evidence against Joe.

While Joe Cimo was the prime suspect, the police also questioned 3 other people as likely perpetrators in connection with the murder.

The first was Esther Cimo, Joe's wife. Since she had caught her husband and Edith together, and had threatened Edith with harm, she came under suspicion. A couple of days after the murder occurred, rumors were flying that Mrs. Cimo and her step-son had confessed to the murder. The police stated that this was untrue and nothing else came of it.

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The second suspect was a man named John D. Johnson, who went out with Edith over the course of a few months. When the police searched for him, they learned that he had been arrested and had been serving time in the county prison from October 10th, 1934, to February 10th, 1935.

Since the coroner stated Edith had probably died on Jan. 12th, 1935, Johnson had the perfect alibi. He was in jail at the time of Edith’s disappearence.

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The third suspect in the case was Al Shook, owner of Al Shook's tavern in Bangor. Al Shook's Tavern was part of a gas station on Washington St., on the left fork in the center of this picture.

He and Joe Cimo were good friends and he knew of Joe and Edith's love affair. Twelve days after the body was found, Al Shook was picked up on a gambling charge and was questioned at length in the Edith Ford case.

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He was found guilty of operating an illegal punch board but as far as I could tell he was not interrogated any further in the Edith Ford case.

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Now that we know the players, let's go back and examine the time line of Jan. 12th, the day Edith disappeared. Again, this information came from newspapers and a magazine.

On the afternoon of Jan. 12th, Edith's sister, Beatrice, fixed supper for her. It was liver sausage, fried potatoes, pickles and bread and butter.

When the body was found 5 months later, the medical examiner performed an autopsy and found pickles, meat and potatoes in her stomach. This fixed the date of her death as Jan. 12th, as the food hadn't had time to be digested before she was killed.

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After eating supper, she left her house to meet Joe Cimo at Finkbeiner's cafe around 6:30 pm.

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Finkbeiner's was in the basement of the Real Estate Building at 8 North Main Street, which is now the Century House.

While at Finkbeiner's, they had a beer, then Joe left to test some cheese. When he came back, he found she was gone.

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He asked around to see where she went and was told that she had gone to the Strand theater with another man. Joe waited for the movie to end to see her.

When the movie was over, he said she came out with another man and together they left in a car with NJ license plates.

Joe then went to Al Shook's tavern and stayed until about 12:00 am, closing time. He, Al Shook, and 2 other people from Stroudsburg went back to Al's house to drink some more beer.

This is all we know of Edith's doings on Jan. 12th, her last day alive. During the subsequent investigation, the police learned of two strange events that occurred after her death, which promised new leads, but when investigated, only confused their progress.

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A few weeks after Jan. 12th, Joe Cimo met Edith's brother Howard. Joe told Howard then that he had received a letter from Edith that came from Florida. It said she was fine and that she had a job.

Shortly after this meeting, the second event occurred. A magazine salesperson came to Edith's mother's house with a change-of-address request. Two magazines Edith subscribed to were now going to be sent to an L. Bergen, in Ruskin, Florida.

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These two events led people to believe that Edith was still alive and living in Florida after Jan. 12th.

The police first questioned Joe Cimo about the letter he said he had received from Edith. He said it came from Reading, not from Florida, which is contrary to what Howard Ford had said. Since Joe couldn't read or write English, he had taken the letter to Al Shook to read for him.

When Al Shook was questioned about the letter, he said he had received a letter from Edith to Joe from Reading, not Florida. But he also stated that this letter arrived in Oct. of the previous year, not in January when she disappeared.

Then a confidential tip came in that a woman had written a letter for Joe Cimo!

When this woman was interrogated by the police, she related the following story, “One night Joe Cimo and his wife came to my house. His wife stayed in another room and Cimo came into the dining-room. He asked me if I would write a letter for him. I said that I would and he dictated it to me.”

“It was addressed, 'Dear Al: I hope you are well, I am the same. Give this letter to Joe.'”

“Then he told me to write, 'Dear Sweetheart: I am very sorry for what I have done and can't write so well. I am going away to Florida and will stay there.' I signed the name Edith.”

The women who wrote the letter thought she wrote it in January. She said during the visit, Joe had complained about his truck needing repairs. Maybe the police could verify the date from that. When the police checked this lead, they found again that it had happened in October, not January!

Because of the confusion around this incriminating letter, Cimo was again arrested and brought in for questioning. He denied all knowledge of having the letter written, saying if he did do it, he must have been very drunk.

When asked why he would write a letter like this, he said it would be because the guys at Shook's tavern would tease him about Edith leaving him. If he had a letter, he could show it to them, and they would leave him alone.

Because this incident occurred prior to her disappearance, Joe couldn't be held. His wife was also questioned about the events but she denied them.

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Next, the police tackled the change of address. When they contacted L. Bergen in Florida, he denied any knowledge of Bangor or Edith Ford. Curiously he did work part-time in Atlantic City, where Edith also worked at times.

After talking with Bergen and the magazine publishers, the police learned the change of address was a simple clerical mistake. Edith's subscription number was 8861; L. Bergen's number was 8661. Edith's subscription was not to have been changed at all.

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The police investigation continued but it didn't have much momentum. These two leads were the hottest they had. The 5 months between the time of death and the discovery of the body allowed too many of the leads to cool. Not much else was learned in the case.

In August, two months after the discovery of Edith's body, Cimo was arrested on an adultery charge and questioned for an entire weekend. However, he was released on $1,000 bail and was not bothered again.

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Two years went by and nothing new turned up. In 1937, the county detective bureau offered a $100 reward. The county commissioners offered an additional $400 reward. But nobody collected. In January of 1938, the pulp crime magazine “True Detective Stories” ran a 10 page article on Edith Ford's murder and offered a $1000 reward.

It is interesting to note that many of the facts in the magazine were different when compared to the newspaper coverage of the events. Things like places and addresses were incorrect.

Even the large sum of money, $1500, couldn't penetrate the silence around this case and it was never solved.

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Edith Ford was buried in East Bangor cemetery.

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Al Shook's Gas Station and Tavern burned on Dec. 4th, 1940. There was $8000 worth of damage. A gas truck was filling a tank and it overflowed, spilling into the basement where the furnace ignited the flames.

He lived in Bangor until his death in June of 1955.

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Esther Priori (Mrs. Cimo) died in her home of medical complications on Oct. 4th, 1941.

Joe Cimo apparently remarried and lived until July 15th, 1968.

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In conclusion, somewhere in the Slate Belt, a killer lived with impunity. Whether people were scared of retaliation, or honestly did not know what happened, the following story shows what the police faced during their investigation.

Capt. Hahn received an unsigned letter on Nov. 19th, 1935. It read, "If I give you information on the Ford case, will my name have to be made public? If the information I give involves persons innocently drawn into the case and who had nothing to do with her death, would they be charged as accessories?

I will telephone your office at 3 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21st for the answer to my questions." But the phone call never came and the case was closed for good.

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The Bangor Daily News
The Easton Express-Times
True Detective Stories, January, 1938