As shots rang out around five o’clock on April 29, 1934, Ray Rutledge ran back to The Cleveland Cafe, located at 246 East Fourth St., and found Nazzareno “Sam” Fandacci lying on the floor of the kitchen dead with four gunshot wounds. Ray had just left the cafe after an argument between Sam and his partner, Fernando Sartini, broke out. Unclear of what the two Italians were arguing about, Ray left the cafe after failing to calm Sartini down. The only other witness in the area was Leona Vittelli, Sartini’s 22-year-old housekeeper, who was the possible cause of the argument. Vittelli was in the backyard at the time of the shooting.
Fandacci’s grave marker at Mansfield Catholic Cemetery
It doesn’t appear the partners were in Mansfield long. Sartini’s wife, Enrica, had died of a pulmonary embolism on Christmas day 1933 in Cleveland, leaving behind Sartini to care for their three children. The only mention of any of the participants in local newspapers prior to the shooting is on March 17, 1934, when Sartini’s children, Amedeo, Bruno, and Albina, were recognized for not being tardy for the term at Bushnell School. After the shooting, Rutledge stated that Sartini went upstairs to get his hat and coat and pack an extra suit. It took police over 15 minutes to arrive because Rutledge and mistakenly told them East First St., instead of East Fourth. After packing, Sartini went down Wayne St. to East Fifth to the home of a girl he knew. She was not home and Sartini crossed the creek towards Ashland Rd. Police believe he met some friends there who took him back to Cleveland.
The police had two theories on why the shooting happened. First, according to neighbors who were questioned, both Sartini and Fandacci had feelings for the housekeeper Miss Vittelli. Vittelli disappears after the shooting, there is no record of her anywhere before or after the events on April 29th. The other theory was that the same friends who had picked Sartini up had told him that Fandacci had been “attentive to Sartini’s wife.” Sartini then became enraged and confronted Fandacci. On March 10, 1934, a reward of $100 dollars was offered for information leading to the arrest of Sartini. Newspapers published the information on the reward all over Ohio. On May 31, 1934, the last update on the murder was made when a picture of Sartini ran in the Mansfield News-Journal, but he was never found.
It’s unclear what happened to Sartini’s children immediately after the murder, but the 1940 U.S. Census shows them living in Mayfield Heights, Ohio with the family of John and Edith Gattozzi. Amedeo’s World War II draft card lists Edith Gattozzi as his guardian and next of kin. Amedeo Anthony died in Independence, Ohio on October 9, 2009. His brother, Bruno Joseph, died in Riverside, California on February 14, 1986, and their older sister, Albina Barbara, married Anthony Difranco and died on May 28, 1997, in Cleveland, Ohio.
It’s believed Sartini returned to Italy following the murder, but it’s possible he returned in the 1940s. A Fernando Sartini shows up in Hampden, Massachusetts on a World War II draft card. The card lists an Augusto Sartini living in New Village, New Jersey as the person who will always know his address. In addition to this, a 1923 ship Manifest for S.S. Western World, sailing from Buenos Aires to New York, lists Fernando Sartini and his wife, Enrica, with their final destination being New Village, New Jersey. It is a tenuous connection at best, but the only one that exists. The Massachusetts Sartini died in 1965.
Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 30 April 1934, p 1.
Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 07 March 1934, p 7.
Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 30 April 1934, p 1.
Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 10 March 1934, p 1.
Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 31 May 1934, p 16.
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Year: 1923; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Line: 30; Page Number: 23
Social Security Administration; Washington D.C., USA; Social Security Death Index, Master File
The Cover family arrived in Ohio sometime between 1832 and 1834. The family had traveled from Frederick County, Maryland where Daniel Cover had married Lydia Stevenson on April 2, 1822. The couple had at least four children while in Maryland: Jason Jerome (b. February 5, 1823), Upton Aquila (b. March 18, 1826), Josiah Stevenson (b. July 16, 1829), and Thomas Wells (b. March 31, 1832). By 1850 the family had settled in Perry Township, Richland County, Ohio and added six more children to the family: Mary, Martha, Eliza, William, Daniel, and John. Thomas Wells Cover left the family in the 1850s, traveling west to make his fortune. His journey would take him to Montana as a gold prospector and vigilante and on to California, where he and one of his brothers would grow prize winning oranges. His death would come early and be filled with as much mystery as his life, where he would be the villain in some peoples stories and a hero in others.
It’s unclear where Thomas Cover was in the 1850s. In 1860 a man with the name Thomas W. Cover purchased land in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, but there is no other mention of him in the area. The next time we see Thomas is May 26, 1863, when he and 5 other men were prospecting for gold in Montana. The group set up camp in Alder Gulch. Thomas and three other men went out hunting while William Fairweather and Henry Edgar stayed behind. While waiting for the men to return, Fairweather and Edgar began panning for gold hoping to get enough to buy some tobacco when they returned to Bannack. The first pan turned up $2.40 worth of gold and the men laid claim to the area when they returned to Bannack and bought supplies. They tried to keep the claim a secret, but word traveled quickly and, less then a month later, cabins and tents filled the hillside and Virginia City, Montana was born. It’s estimated more than $30,000,000 in gold was taken from the Alder Gulch in the first three years.
Cover and others didn’t feel local law enforcement was doing enough to stop crime in the area, particulary those being robbed on the trails while transporting gold, and a group of men started vigilance committee to take the law into their own hands. The committee would track down those they thought guilty and, often with little evidence, hang them. One of the most famous was local sheriff Henry Plummer. The vigilantes claimed Plummer was not doing enough to stop the crimes or even aiding some of the robbers. This small group of vigilantes acted as judge, jury, and executioner, often not sharing the views of the community as a whole. Many believe the vigilantes were the true villains in this story, getting rid of the sheriff and others for their own nefarious reasons.
With his newfound wealth, Thomas returned to Ohio, marrying Mary E. Hess in Franklin County, Ohio. The couple would have three daughters Estell, Camille, and Blanche. It didn’t take long for Thomas to return to Montana with his new wife. Once back in Montana, he began working with John Bozeman, the creator of the Bozeman trail which led from the Oregan Trail to Virginia City and who is the namesake of Bozeman, Montana. Thomas was with Bozeman when he was murdered by a group of Blackfeet while traveling along the Yellowstone River on April 20, 1867. Though many at the time and today think Thomas Cover was the true murderer. It appears John Bozeman had a habit of making advances at other men’s wives and Mary was no exception. It’s possible Bozeman’s past caught up with him and Thomas Cover took the matter into his own hands. Whatever happened that day, Cover made his way to California a short time later, settling in Los Angeles.
The first record of Cover in California is in April of 1869 when he purchased a small lot in Los Angeles for $600. It looked like California would be a new start for Thomas Cover. He was a father of one daughter, with another on the way. A year later Cover would purchase the “extensive Robedeaux Ranch, in San Bernardino County” and began growing oranges. Thomas’ brother, Perry Daniel Cover, would join him in California and the two would grow prize winning oranges throughout the 1870s. The Covers were one of the first to import navel oranges to California. The tame, horticulturist life didn’t appear to be enough for Thomas and he soon caught gold fever again, making trips to the Colorado Desert in search of the fabled Peg Leg Mine.
Thomas “Peg Leg” Smith had allegedly found a hill littered with gold-bearing quartz while traveling from Yuma to Los Angeles. Peg Leg was never able to relocated the hill and efforts were made by many throughout the years to rediscover its location. Cover made many of these trips into the desert, the last happening in September of 1884. Cover and fellow horticulturist, Wilson B. Russell, and a team made their way out to the desert. The two split up, with Russell taking the team and Cover taking a short cut on foot. When Russell made it to the agreed upon meeting place, Cover was nowhere to be found. Russell continued on hoping to find Cover, but with no luck and returned to Riverside to organize a search party. A $1,000 reward was offered for his whereabouts or body and this brought in many stories of bleached bones found in the desert belonging to Cover. In 1891, reports began to circulate that Cover had run off to Mexico. Cover had his life heavily insured and the insurance company had yet to pay on his death. The company sent a man to Mexico to investigate the claim, but Cover was never found. In 1901 bones were found many miles from where Cover was last seen and trinkets next to the body were identified as once belonging to Cover. His brother, W. H. Cover, was notified and many believed the mystery was finally solved.
But what happened to Cover on that September day in 1884? Did the experienced prospector get lost in the desert, wandering for miles and finally succumb to the elements? Or was he murdered by some person he had wronged in the past, possibly during his time as a vigilante? Or did he simply stage his death, starting a new life in Mexico?
On Friday night, September 18, 1931, Dr. Harry G. Roby had just arrived home for the evening. Shortly after 8:00, Dr. Roby pulled into his garage and exited his Plymouth sedan. Carrying several magazines, a newspaper, and a small parcel, Roby had just reached the threshold of the garage when he was struck in the head with a two-foot-long, one and one-half inch thick piece of galvanized pipe. Roby received two more blows as he lay on the ground. Any one of the three would have been fatal. Two boys, Robert Logan and Robert Hunter, friends of Roby’s son, Harry Jr., discovered the body and ran to the front door to tell Roby’s wife, Hazel. A gruesome scene met Mrs. Roby when she left to investigate the boys’ discovery. A short time later, the residence at 516 South Main Street was abuzz with police and neighbors looking for answers.
Harry George Roby was born on September 30, 1888, in Rochester, New York to Frank Roby and Rose Doherty. The 1910 U.S. Census reported he was working as an errand boy for a motor company in Rochester. Three years later, Roby was in Cincinnati, Ohio, a graduate of the Cincinnati School of Dentistry, and recently married to Florence Koester. The couple had one daughter, Rita Mae, but three years later the marriage fell apart. Florence divorced Harry and sued for alimony and custody of Rita Mae. The following year, Dr. Roby was practicing in Toledo, Ohio, and married his second wife, Hazel Shoemaker, on August 8, 1917. Harry Roby Jr. was born August 24, 1918, and on January 11, 1920, a daughter, Mary Lou, was born in Toledo, Ohio, and a short time later the family moved to Elyria, Ohio.
Around 1921 Dr. Roby and his family moved to Mansfield, Ohio. On October 14, 1921, an ad appeared in the Mansfield News announcing the opening of his new dental office. The office was located at 63 ½ North Main Street above Lucas Bros. Drug Store. Roby would also become involved in the local boxing scene by promoting bouts and managing local bantamweight, Al Dundee, briefly in 1925. On April 13, 1925, Roby was able to arrange a bout between Dundee and Frankie Gerano at the Coliseum in Mansfield, Ohio. Gerano had won gold in the Olympics in 1920 and was the current flyweight champion. Gerano won the contest in 12 rounds. The Robys had another son, James, on January 19, 1927 By all appearances, Roby led a happy, prosperous life. He had a successful business and was a respected citizen and sportsman, but not all was as it seemed.
On April 6, 1930, Roby’s dental office was robbed. The thieves took teeth valued at $180, gold valued at $75-$80, and a revolver. The next year, on July 25, 1931, Mr. Roby’s wife, Hazel, filed for divorce. Mrs. Roby charged her husband with extreme cruelty and stated that he repeatedly beat her. Mrs. Roby also stated her husband had been guilty of habitual drunkenness for the past three years. A week later, for some unknown reason, the divorce action was withdrawn. Seven weeks later, Dr. Roby would be beaten to death outside his garage. Three theories were considered following his death: 1. Robbery, 2. A hired racketeer who was sent to kill Roby, and 3. Personal vengeance.
The robbery motive was quickly thrown out. Roby still had $130 in cash, a diamond stickpin, a wristwatch, and $105 in gold on him when his body was found. It was also questioned why the assassin would deliver two more blows to Roby if robbery was the only motive. The police had little evidence. No fingerprints were found on the galvanized pipe and neighbors, even though the area was well lighted, saw nothing unusual on the night of the murder. A few days later, a friend of Roby’s, an unnamed blond woman, came forward and said that Roby had told her he “was to be put on the spot” soon. Police believe that the last two weeks of Roby’s life were lived in fear. It was believed Roby received a letter warning him of his death. His home and office were searched, but no letter was found. Numerous people were brought to Mansfield from Toledo to be interviewed about the case. Little seemed to come from the investigation and very little information was given to the press by police.
In late October, letters were received by Mrs. T. W. Miller, wife of the millionaire president of Faultless Rubber Co. in Ashland, Ohio, which attempted to extort $1,000. The writer threatened that if the Millers failed to pay, their son, Parker, would be kidnapped. Mansfield dentist, Dr. Suter, was questioned and taken into custody for writing the letters. In January of 1932, it was reported in the Mansfield News that James Newsome, a convicted gas station robber, had confessed to murdering Roby. Newsome said he didn’t know why he murdered Roby, but he was just seized with a desire to murder. Later he also admitted to writing the letters to Mrs. Miller. Newsome later rescinded his confession, but handwriting analysis did connect him to the extortion plot. Dr. Suter was exonerated and given a clean slate. Police still felt Newsome was a possible suspect and began to question all his known associates. On February 4, 1932, it was reported that Mrs. Roby and her children were moving back to Toledo, and, in March, Dr. Suter took over Roby’s old office at 63 ½ North Main Street. The case went cold. Nothing else happened with the case until a year later when the galvanized pipe used to murder Roby mysteriously disappeared from the police station.
The case was closed and no longer mentioned in the local newspapers until February of 1956. 25 years later, Mrs. Alma Noblin in Toledo, Ohio was murder in a startlingly similar way. The victim was found in her basement with five blows to her head. Nothing was stolen and the murder appeared personal. Authorities did not believe there was a connection in the cases, but Mrs. Noblin happened to be the sister of Hazel Sortman, the former Hazel Roby. This murder, like Roby’s, was never solved, adding another layer of mystery to one of the unsolved murders in Mansfield.
Mansfield News, 20 SEP 1931, p. 1.
Roby, Dr. Harry G., Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.
Roby, Harry G., Ancestry.com. Michigan, U.S., Marriage Records, 1867-1952 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
Mansfield News, 14 OCT 1921.
Mansfield News, 14 APR 1925, p. 8.
Roby, James Farmer, Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Cards Young Men, 1940-1947 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
The snow had just begun to fall the night of November 22, 1926, when Captain John Miller and Detective Edgar Robinson of the Mansfield Police Department entered the home of Benjamin and Nettie Greenawald at 571 South Main Street, Mansfield, Ohio. They had just received a call from Arthur Zerby, the Greenawald’s neighbor. Mrs. Bonnie Sherman, the adopted daughter of the Greenawalds, had just entered the Zerby home frantic saying George W. Thoma had killed her mother. When Detective Robinson entered the home through the basement door, he scanned the room with his flashlight. On the floor was a trail of blood leading to a closet door. Cautiously Robinson opened the door, unsure if anyone was still in the home. Benjamin Greenawald’s head lay on the threshold, his body in a heap on the floor and covered with a carpet. Robinson next went upstairs to and found the body of Nettie Greenawald in a pool of blood on the floor next to her bed. Both victims had been savagely beaten about the head almost beyond recognition. Robinson made a call to the police station to be on the lookout for Thoma, but, unknown to him, Thoma had just walked into police headquarters and calmly given himself up.
George W. Thoma’s life wasn’t easy growing up. Many of the family members, including his uncles William and Philip Thoma and his brother, Samuel Thoma Jr., were well known by Mansfield Police. They were often picked up for intoxication. On May 18, 1917, George’s brother, Wilbert, was killed when lightning hit the telephone wires entering the house. The bolt, following the wires into the home, struck Wilbert in the head. George, the only other person in the house at the time, discovered his brother’s body and ran for help. The family settled with the Mansfield Telephone Company for $500. Later that year, on the morning of September 28, George was walking on the railroad tracks and saw someone lying under a tree in a nearby field. When George went to investigate, he saw it was his uncle Philip who had apparently died the night before. George would later enter the U.S. Navy, only serving for a year before being honorably discharged. A police report in the Mansfield News on June 13, 1919 is the first indication that George Thoma and Bonnie Sherman knew each other, or at least ran in the same circles.
Little is known about Bonnie Sherman. Later testimony indicates that the Greenawald’s adopted Bonnie when she was approximately 2-years-old. On January 3, 1918, Bonnie married Ernest T. Sherman. The marriage license says Bonnie was 17 years old on October 19, 1917, though the 1920 U.S. Census shows an 18-year-old Bonnie living at South Main Street with Benjamin, Nettie, and Nettie’s mother, Mary Byers. Later testimony would also indicate that Bonnie was younger than 17 at the time of her marriage. Ernest had been drafted into the service a few months earlier and the two may have been determined to get married before Ernest left. Ernest Thomas Sherman would end up dying at Camp Sherman in Chillicothe, Ohio on November 24, 1918, due to bronchial pneumonia following an attack of influenza, making the young Bonnie a widow. Bonnie worked as an assembler at an electric company and later as a waitress and laundress. Newspaper reports also show Bonnie was arrested in August of 1920, along with Myrtle Keeler, who was accused of running a “disorderly house.” Myrtle said that Lawrence McVicker had asked if he could “call on” Bonnie Sherman. The McVicker brothers, Lawrence, Leroy, John, and Clyde, were also well known by police at the time. At least three of them had spent time in the state penitentiary for forgery. After the arrest, Bonnie was sent to the Girls Industrial School in Delaware, Ohio for 13 months.
George and Bonnie began “keeping company” after her return from the industrial school and, on August 10, 1922, the first reports began to surface of a troubled relationship. Bonnie reported to the Mansfield police that she was afraid for her life, saying George was hanging around outside her home with a gun. She claimed George had threatened to shoot her if she came home with another man. The police handed the case over to the Sheriff’s department and Sheriff Kaufman investigated and found George asleep in his bed. No charges were filed. Nothing else is heard of George and Bonnie until the night of November 22, 1926.
Thoma did not have the means to pay for an attorney, but the court allowed him to choose his representation. He chose George Biddle and T. R. Robison. Thoma continued his calm demeanor. The Mansfield News noted you could “not indicate whether he had been indicted for first-degree murder or for the theft of a dilapidated Ford car.” A week after the murders were committed, Thoma pleaded not guilty before Judge Galbraith, surprising many. His attorney, T.R. Robison, requested a physical and mental examination of Thoma. Robison said if Thomas is found competent, his client should plead guilty, adding: “there is no question that Thoma killed Benjamin Greenawald, and his wife, Nettie Greenawald.” Galbraith denied the request unless Thoma changed his plea to guilty. The week before the trial on December 15, 1926, Thoma did change his plea and a Dr. Morgan from Akron was called to examine both him and Bonnie Sherman. The doctor determined that both were “subnormal but that Bonnie was of higher mentality than Thoma.” The trial for the killing of Nettie Greenawald would begin on December 20, 1926, with the fate of Thoma in Judge Galbraith’s hands.
On the morning of December 20, a packed courtroom heard the testimony given by local law enforcement and medical examiners. Testimony indicated that Thoma had gone to the Greenawald home to confront Bonnie’s adopted parents. They had felt that Thoma was unfit for Bonnie. While confronting Nettie, Thoma claimed she called him a vile name and he saw a ball of fire appear. When he came to he was standing over Nettie’s body with the 13-inch piece of wood in his hand. He then went to the basement to wait for Mr. Greenawald, clubbing him in the head as well. Bloodstains were also found on a small tack hammer. Medical examiners said anyone of the many blows would have killed the victims. Bonnie Sherman was next to take the stand.
Bonnie, giving her age as 24, said she was supposed to meet Thoma on the night of the murder after she got off work at the New Method Laundry. Thoma didn’t show up and she decided to get a car to take her halfway home. She then walked the rest of the way. When she entered the home, Bonnie said Thoma grabbed her and put his hand over her mouth. Later she asked where her parents were and Thoma said they were downtown. Thoma suggested she to go into the bedroom to calm down. He came in and made a request of her, which she refused. Thoma then said if she consented this time he would be out of her life forever. She then consented. She didn’t want Thoma to leave afterward because she was afraid to be in the house alone. She soon discovered the body of her mother and ran to the Zerby home and told Mrs. Zerby George had killed her mother. Judge Galbraith asked how she knew Thoma was the killer. Bonnie said George had told her if she ever found her mother dead, she would know he had done it. The final witness on the first day of testimony was Dr. Brown of Mansfield. Brown stated that Thoma had the mentality of an 11-year-old boy.
The second and final day of testimony was filled with witnesses speaking about the mental capacity of Thoma. Witnesses agreed Thoma suffered from mental issues. A former neighbor said when Thoma was twelve he enjoyed playing games with younger children. A school truant officer inspected the house on various occasions since the children only went to school about half the time. Most said he seemed like a good person but eccentric. All evidence indicated a guilty verdict with no more surprises to come, but the next day, as Judge Galbraith sentenced Thoma, he was given the opportunity to explain his actions on the night of November 22. What he said left more questions than answers.
When asked why he killed the Greenawalds, Thoma rose, looking majestic, from his seat and said dramatically, “it is written on a card. The card is turned face down. I’ll never reveal it, except that it was love for that woman. My father and sister may turn against me, but I will never tell.” Judge Galbraith then had no option but to sentence Thoma to death in the electric chair, setting the date for April 8, 1927. After the sentence, Thoma was given one final chance to speak. He rose a dramatically as the first time and said, “I have only a few words to say. Keep your eye on that woman. Then you may find what I am holding back.” After the trial, Thoma was sent to Columbus to await his sentence, and Bonnie, who had inherited the Greenawald property, left the city and moved to Springfield, Ohio, where an old acquaintance, Myrtle Keeler, also lived. She began going by May B. Sherman and spent the rest of her life in Springfield until her death on April 6, 1965.
When Thoma was left at the Ohio penitentiary in Columbus by Sheriff Sells and Deputy Sheriff Valentine, he was in good spirits saying “I am going to the chair laughing, if I can.” Robison and Biddle submitted an appeal, but it was denied. On March 5, 1927, a report came out of Columbus saying that Thoma had denied the murders and said a woman who he would not name was the true culprit. He also claimed this woman had threatened to kill another Mansfield girl if Thoma did not stop seeing her. A few days later, Thoma denied this. George William Thoma gave his life, at least in his mind, for the woman he loved on April 8, 1927. He was the second man put to death that day. The first to die was Jim Lyon, who was convicted of killing Frank E. McGrath, an American Railway Express company detective. Lyon cursed and damned everyone he could on his way to the chair, anger seething from him until his life was extinguished. Thoma’s death could not have been more different. He kept his calm demeanor throughout. Thoma walked in, “immaculately dressed,” with his head slightly inclined, lifting it slightly to the crowd while the hood was placed over his head, a trace of a smile on his face.
In a letter to be read after his death, Thoma thanked everyone involved, and apologized to his attorneys for not allowing them to properly defend him. He expressed sympathy for the boys incarcerated at the prison and thanked the warden and Chaplin for their kindness. He found God in his final days and urged all to “dig in and hunt those bibles that are lying in a vacant room or on some shelf.” Thoma’s body was returned to Mansfield to be buried in Mansfield Cemetery along with his secret.
The Mansfield News. 23 NOV 1926, p1
The Mansfield News.14 JUL 1919, p4
The Mansfield News. 10 AUG 1922, p3
The Mansfield News.26 NOV 1926, p1
The Mansfield News.29 NOV 1926, p1
The Mansfield News.15 DEC 1926, p1
The Mansfield News.20 DEC 1926, p1
The Mansfield News.21 DEC 1926, p1
The Mansfield News.22 DEC 1926, p1
1927 Springfield, Ohio City Directory, p. 594
Ohio Department of Health; Columbus, Ohio; Ohio Deaths, 1908-1932, 1938-1944, and 1958-2007