90 years ago our country was in the middle of the Great Depression. The devastating national impact has not been fully felt in our region. Certainly there have been difficult times, but our farms, factories and small businesses have kept the wolves of poverty and desperation from completely invading the region.
By the mid-1930s, Green Lane marshalling yards had become an easy target for
thieves from out of town looking for goods to sell on the black market
While this kept many workers at work, it also made the upper Perkiomen Valley and surrounding areas a target for out-of-town opportunists seeking to earn a living from the sweat of local workers. Flying in the upper Perkiomen valley began to become commonplace, especially along the train tracks.
Many of these junket thefts were not random. Most were the product of planning and selection by those who knew what to ship – and when. One such incident occurred on October 26, 1935, when residents of Green Lane were woken up to gunfire at 2 a.m.
The railroad tracks at Green Lane station had become a target for thieves in recent weeks. Located near the junction of Highways 29 (Gravel Pike) and 63 (Sumneytown Pike), it provided an easy terminal for local businesses and industry to ship their goods. The location also offered plenty of escape routes for crooks to use as an escape.
Reading Railroad detectives decided to stake out Green Lane freight station that night in hopes of surprising the perpetrators. They didn’t have to wait long.
The Green Lane Hosiery Company was founded in 1929 by Willy Otto, who
emigrated from Gelenau, Germany. For many years he was known to make a
high quality product. Most of the early workers came from Germany.
Early in the morning, three men broke into a boxcar full of silk stockings made at the nearby Green Lane Hosiery factory. The company was well known at the time for its high quality and specialties in fashionable hosiery. Items of this quality were easy to sell on the black market in any city in the East.
The potential thieves, all from Philadelphia, drove their cars to the siding. Captain SM Leschliter and two other Reading Railroad detectives were hiding between several freight cars in the yard. The Philadelphians reached the boxcar and one of them slammed the lock on the door and climbed among the treats. It was then that Leschliter and his men lifted their trap. They ordered the thieves to stop. They did not do it.
According to newspaper reports, an intruder attempted to jump from the freight car to escape. As he attempted to jump for freedom, detectives fired three rounds of sawed-off shotguns, injecting him with 24 pellets. The other two crooks rushed into the car they arrived in.
During the escape, the two decided to go their separate ways. One of them made the not-so-smart choice to take the train back to the city of brotherly love. Worse yet, he made his way to Green Lane station to wait for his race.
He was found in the waiting room at 4 a.m. by police investigating the incident. The misguided thief admitted to being part of the network that had stolen thousands of dollars in freight from freight cars at the Green Lane yard in recent weeks. He also named his accomplices. The police knew all three well. Each had already been arrested several times on similar charges. All three were arrested again and sent to prison.
The man who was shot was taken to Grand View Hospital where most of the pellets were removed from his shoulder, chest, wrist, thigh and knee. While he was listed in serious condition for some time, he was eventually released to pay his debt to the company.
One thing to note when comparing the arrest back then to current policies. Things were very different. The United States was wallowing in the depths of the Great Depression and tolerance for anyone who stole at a time like this was non-existent.