Newspaper accounts of Capt.
The Legend of John T. Ruth
Harvey's Lake Police Chief John T. Ruth developed a reputation for hard-nosed crime fighting, taking on illegal stills in the region, as well as the money crowd.
Following World War I summer visitors crowded the lake roads, hotels, parks and cottages. The Harvey’s Lake Protective Association, formed in 1919, created a Law and Order Committee to provide police protection. Luzerne County deputy sheriffs were initially employed on a part-time basis, followed by other temporary “local” policemen paid by the association and Lake/Lehman Townships. Traffic control was a major issue, particularly on weekends, with illegal alcohol during the Prohibition Era and unlawful slot machines also very troublesome against a backdrop of widespread political corruption.
In 1924 the Protective Association hired its first full-time true police chief at $50.00 monthly in salary. John T. Ruth had a long background as a private detective in Philadelphia and as captain of Wilkes-Barre’s Hazard Manufacturing Company’s private detective squad. He later served as chief deputy for Luzerne County Sheriff John MacLuskie.
Ruth was actually chief of police, at the rank of Captain, for both Lake and Lehman Townships. On the night of June 30, 1926, Ruth became embroiled with Luzerne County Sheriff Remmel W. La Bar over slot machine raids at Lake Silkworth. (La Bar defeated MacLuskie for election as Sheriff in 1923.) Both Ruth and La Bar appeared at three Lake Silkworth hotels to confiscate illegal “slots.” But the rest of the story was never clear.
Which police authority arrived at the lake first to seize machines was disputed. Ruth claimed La Bar was drunk. La Bar claimed Ruth had a personal interest in the machines at issue and was using a forged search warrant to grab the machines. La Bar claims Ruth smashed the sheriff in the face in a street brawl. But the evidence is more clear that La Bar tried to assault Ruth several times before he finally struck Ruth who then hit La Bar.
In any event, La Bar had Ruth arrested on the spot and hauled him to jail in Wilkes-Barre. At first it was believed cooler heads would prevail and the matter would be dropped. But La Bar pressed his case and after a hearing filled to capacity with a curious public, Alderman Frank B. Brown bound Ruth over for trial on serious assault charges. A Lehman farmer, Jacob Winter, who never met Ruth, put up his house as bail for the respected Ruth.
While Ruth was waiting for trial in September 1926, sensational charges of political corruption were widely reported in the newspapers. In July 1926 Ernest G. Smith, publisher of a Wilkes-Barre newspaper, publicly charged that local politics were “never before so rotten, civil pride so low, election boards so crooked, politicians so unscrupulous.” He claimed the Sheriff failed to follow Court orders to properly dispose of illegal booze and slots.
Smith’s charges were partly based on the widely-held belief that high-placed people controlled the slot machine trade. After Smith’s charges Sheriff La Bar sought to counter the claims with a display of seized liquor and slot machines. A stung court system ordered a grand jury investigation into local corruption - and practically ordering the grand jury to haul Smith to court to prove his charges. But witnesses were scarce or had no explicit information on slot machine owners and in the end the grand jury came up empty. (In 1948 Wilkes-Barre honored Ernest G. Smith by creating a children’s playground in his name behind the Court House. It was later abandoned and the site was converted to Court House parking.)
In mid-September 1926 Ruth went to court. Despite a full trial with allegations and counter-allegations none of the facts were clear. There was substantial church support for Ruth with “law and order” interest groups solidly behind him. Ruth was represented by Atty. (later Governor) John S. Fine. Whatever the evidence or the lawyer’s arguments the verdict was actually sealed when Judge Henry A. Fuller essentially laughed the case out of Court and the jury agreed.
Copyright 2006-2007 F. Charles Petrillo
Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo