About The Series

In 1935, a West Ender named Ray Kunselman fell in love with Dorothy Horne, a teenage factory worker. Their stormy, yearlong romance would only end in tragedy. “The West Enders: A Story of Murder in Desperate Times,” is a seven-part serial written by Park Burroughs, retired executive editor. A true story, this series is based on old newspaper accounts, local and state prison documents, the trial transcript and interviews with people living in Washington and the West End at the time.

Dorothy's final days

The West Enders, Chapter 4

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Park Burroughs/Observer-Reporter
Most of the places where the West Enders lived, loved and lounged were within a two-block area of the Eighth Ward School, which now serves as an auto parts store.
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The car owned by Elmer Kunselman and driven by his son, Ray, was a 1928 Hupmobile sedan, like the one in this magazine advertisement.

The story so far: Looking for a way to escape drudgery and poverty, teenager Dorothy Horne takes up with a man twice her age: Ray Kunselman. Jealousy leads to violence, and after Ray beats her and her daughter, Iva Horne bans him from their home.

The crowd that had gathered at Mike Lombardo's Napoli Spaghetti House on West Chestnut Street to listen to the radio broadcast of the Pirates-Cubs doubleheader had drifted off. The few left in the bar and pool room, and in most of the other beer joints in Southwestern Pennsylvania, were still talking baseball, but not so much about the fourth-place Pirates and their split that afternoon. They still couldn't get over what had happened five days earlier, when the Boston Braves came to Pittsburgh and Babe Ruth hit three home runs, one of them over the wall, across the street and all the way into Schenley Park. It was the first time a ball had completely cleared Forbes Field.

John Plott and Ray Kunselman had stopped at the bar for a beer that warm and clear evening. Ray's girlfriend, Dorothy Horne, had come with them, but decided to wait for them in the car – the 1928 Hupmobile owned by Ray's father, Elmer.

It was May 30, 1935 – Memorial Day – not a particularly eventful day in Washington, Pa., but a significant one elsewhere. At 9:42 p.m., an earthquake registering 7.5 on the Richter scale killed an estimated 60,000 people near Quetta, Pakistan. Although the Midwest was in the grip of the worst drought in its history – known as the Dust Bowl – a torrential downpour would cause the Republican River to flood, killing 100 in eastern Colorado and southwestern Nebraska. And across the state in Philadelphia's Baker Bowl, Babe Ruth would ground out in his only appearance at the plate in what would prove to be the final game of his storied career.

Sitting at the end of the bar in Lombardo's beer joint was a man who had been drinking throughout the day. He slid over next to Plott and asked, “Have you been going around with a little fellow and his little girl in a Hupmobile car?”

Plott could tell that Ray had heard the question.

“Yes, I have been loafing around with them,” Plott answered. “Well, why?”

“I want to tell you something,” the man said.

“All right, what is it?”

The man took a swallow of his beer and said, “That girl gave me the clap once.”

After a moment of chilly silence, Ray pushed away from the bar and faced the man.

“You're a liar,” Ray said.

“I can't help it, buddy,” the man said. “I can't help it if she's your sister, or your mother or your wife. She gave it to me.”

“You're a liar!” Ray growled before slamming his right fist into the man's face. The man staggered backward, knocking over a stool and a chair before collapsing against the wall, unconscious.

When they reached the car, parked down at the corner of Chestnut and Jefferson Avenue, Dorothy was standing by the curb, leaning against the passenger door, smoking a cigarette.

“I just seen one of your boyfriends up there,” Ray said to her. She sneered and gave him some smart remark that Plott couldn't hear, and then he slapped her hard – hard enough to knock her to the gutter.

The love nest

On the day that he showed up at the house on Wayne Street and threatened to shoot Iva Horne and her children, Ray Kunselman took Dorothy to Swingle's West End Hotel on Baird Avenue, where he had rented a room for her. Though she returned to her mother's home almost every day to help with the children and housework, Dorothy spent her nights at the hotel, often with Ray.

On the morning of June 5, Dorothy's friend Katherine Wilkinson stopped by the hotel to see her. It was a dingy room with a single, dusty window; the only furniture were a double bed and two cheap, battered dressers.

Ray sat, bare-chested, on the bed, smoking, while Dorothy, wearing a slip, ironed her dress.

Katherine noticed that Dorothy's legs had several black and blue marks, and that her lower lip was swollen. She had the feeling she had walked in on another one of their spats.

A year earlier, when Ray had made a fool of himself by falling head over heels for a girl young enough to be his child, Katherine, who had known Ray for half of her life, and her husband and their friends were amused. So cute, this romance.

But as she watched them that day in their sordid little room at Swingle's West End Hotel, it was most likely evident that all the love was gone. Here was an aging man anxious to hold on to his youth, and a teenager desperate to escape the drudgery of boredom and poverty. And it wasn't working.

The last day

On Wednesday, June 12, Katherine called on Dorothy at the West End Hotel at 1:30 p.m. Ray arrived a few minutes later, and Dorothy asked him for money to buy sandwiches. Ray angrily told her he had no money and left. The two women then walked to Schneider and Morrison's Beer Garden at the corner of McCarrell and Chestnut, where they stayed until about 4 p.m. before returning to Katherine's apartment to fix supper.

At about 5 p.m., Ray Kunselman came to the Wilkinsons' door and told Dorothy that he was going to borrow some money and would return.

Ray parked in Catfish Alley and went to the rear of Tucker's Beer Garden and spoke to the owner, John Tucker, who had known Ray all his life. Ray asked to borrow $20 so that he and Dorothy could take a trip to Toledo, Ohio, that night.

Tucker told Ray that he was making improvements to his building and didn't have the money to spare.

As he was leaving, Ray noticed a friend of his, Fay Aiken, entering Tucker's and followed him in. The two drank a couple of beers together and Ray asked to borrow some money, but Aiken told him he didn't have any.

Ray drove back to the apartment, and the Wilkinsons, their young daughter and Dorothy came down to the Hupmobile to go for a ride. They drove out Route 18 south to Prosperity, turned around and came back to the apartment. At about 8:30, they all got back in the car and drove out to Taylorstown. When they returned, Katherine went upstairs to fix her husband's lunch and put her child to bed, and then the four of them drove Ray Wilkinson to his job at the Washington Tin Plate mill.

Still looking for money

Ray, Dorothy and Katherine left the mill and drove to Schneider and Morrison's Beer Garden, arriving at about 11:30 p.m. Ray had no money, but he noticed that Walter Jacobs, a Lithuanian immigrant who ran a beer distributorship out of his Broad Street house, was there, and he told Katherine to ask him to come over to their booth, and maybe Jacobs would buy them some beer. Ray had seen him before carrying a thick roll of bills.

“Do you think he has any money?” Ray asked Katherine. She said she didn't know.

The group drank heavily for the next hour. At one time, Ray and Jacobs stepped outside, and Ray asked him, “What are the chances of getting a case of beer?”

“Yes, if you have a case of empties,” Jacobs answered. “You have to come to my house after it.”

“I'll be over later,” Ray said.

Dorothy, Katherine and Ray left the beer garden at 1 a.m. They stopped in front of Katherine's West Chestnut Street apartment, and Ray asked her if she wanted to go for a ride with them. Katherine said no, that she had to go to bed.

Dorothy started to get out of the car, but Ray grabbed her arm and said she was going with him.

Months later, at the trial, Katherine would testify that Dorothy wanted to spend the night at Katherine's apartment, but that Ray would not allow her.

That would not be the last time that Katherine Wilkinson saw Dorothy Horne. But it would be the last time she saw Dorothy alive.

Next: Death on a Red Dog Road

Park Burroughs has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1972. He is the winner of numerous state and regional awards for feature, column and editorial writing. He is the author of two books, “Enter, With Torches: Recollections of a Grumpy Old Editor,” and "Washington County Murder and Mayhem." He retired in September 2012 but continues to contribute to the O-R’s news pages.

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