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This child was the source of a dispute that led to the death of William West in May 1920. (c1920) Full Size
In 1920 a group of laborers, mostly poor African-Americans, were working on improving the New Bedford Road (modern-day Route 422) west of New Castle, Pennsylvania. They were working for a contractor named G. W. Gardner. They lived in makeshift camps and moved their quarters as the work progressed along the road. On Monday, May 31, 1920, as the workers were bivouacked in tents and cabins on the Patton farm near Harbor, a dispute led to a sensational murder case. It was a day of leisure and no work as it was Memorial Day.
24-year-old laborer William West of Norfolk, Virginia, upon returning to his two-story cabin, found his wife Eva West and his baby lounging about in an upstairs bedroom with another young laborer named George A. Spradley. Mrs. West was laying in bed while Spradley was sitting in a chair holding the baby. There were rumors in camp that Spradley, who boarded with the West family, was the actual biological father of the baby.
West grew enraged and a dispute arose. Spradley, nicknamed “Yellow Gal,” quickly went downstairs and left the cabin. West grabbed his loaded .38 revolver and followed in pursuit. They apparently ran into a nearby apple orchard and a scuffle ensued. Spradley, who either had his revolver or disarmed and took his pursuer’s weapon, shot West in the side of the chest. West fell dead. Spradley returned to the cabin and asked Mrs. West for some money. He then fled into hiding. Spradley, although reports listed him as older, was only about eighteen years old. He came from a large family in Farmville, Virginia.
A crowd soon gathered around the body of West and included his grieving wife Eva. Someone ran to the nearby Eckles Store and called the authorities. County Detective M. J. Young and Sheriff J. H. Boyd soon arrived on the scene and organized a search party. They searched the surrounding area but could not locate the assailant. They did find someone who said the fugitive tried to sell them the revolver. West’s remains were taken to the Rice’s Funeral Home in New Castle. Mrs. West old the police that she gave her husband no cause for jealousy and she and Spradley were just good friends.
Spradley was arrested by detectives a few days later. Yellow Gal was put on trial for murder in New Castle beginning on Wednesday, June 23, 1920. Judge Emery presided over the case. Spradley was defended by attorney’s Thomas W. Dickey and Edward K. Logan, while the prosecution was led by District Attorney George Muse. There were no actual witnesses to the shooting, although several people saw West running into the apple orchard with a revolver. Mrs. West testified that she gave her husband no cause for jealousy and she and Spradley were just good friends. Spradley was soon acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.
Spradley was released on Friday, June 25, and began making his way back to the camp at Harbor. Before he could get too far he was detained by police and returned to jail for questioning. It was a case of mistaken identity as police were looking for the suspect in the shooting of City Detective Logan G. Creighton. Creighton, responding to a stabbing incident, had been shot several times that same afternoon by an American-American man named James “Red” Purdue. Spradley’s identity was soon verified and he was released. Creighton made a miraculous recovery from his wounds, while his assailant was soon captured and sentenced to several years in prison.
The New Castle News of Saturday, August 28, 1920, reported, “Mrs. Eva West, wife of William West, who was shot and killed by George Spradley on Memorial day has left for her southern home in Norfolk, Va. That she did not have any hard feelings towards Spradley is shown by the fact that he accompanied her home.”
Spradley, who soon got married to a woman named Ophelia, found work in an oil refinery in Marcus Hook outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He resided for most of his life in nearby Chester and passed away in February 1980 at the age of seventy-eight.