Com. v. Wilson

Decision Date05 January 1959
Citation148 A.2d 234,394 Pa. 588
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania v. Raymond Philip WILSON, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Raymond Philip Wilson, in pro. per., Louis F. McCabe, Joseph J. Cronin, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Victor H. Blanc, Dist. Atty., James N. Lafferty, First Asst. Dist. Atty., Theodore B. Smith, Jr., Juanita Kidd Stout, Asst. Dist. Attys., Philadelphia, for appellee.

Before CHARLES ALVIN JONES, C. J., and BELL, MUSMANNO, BENJAMIN R. JONES, COHEN and BOK, JJ.

BENJAMIN R. JONES, Justice.

Midmorning on July 4, 1955, a maid found in a room in the Adelphia Hotel, Philadelphia, the dead body of Lulubel Rossman, a widow 76 years of age and a longtime resident of that hotel. Mrs. Rossman's arms and legs were bound with 2 inch adhesive tape and stockings and her mouth gagged; her death was due to strangulation at the hands of some person or persons and the time of death fixed at approximately 6-7 p. m. Sunday, July 3, 1955. There was evidence of attempted robbery; open handbags were present in the room, a bureau drawer was open and clothes were lying on a chair beside the body. From that incident stemmed the events which eventually led to the conviction of Raymond P. Wilson, appellant, of murder in the first degree with the penalty affixed at life imprisonment, the conviction which forms the basis of this appeal.

Mrs. Rossman was the widow of Palen Rossman, an accountant, who died September 7, 1953 leaving an estate in excess of $400,000. Subsequent to her husband's death, Mrs. Rossman lived in Overbrook and later at the Adelphia Hotel. An eccentric and somewhat unusual person, usually she had with her, either on her person or in her room, large quantities of money, particularly in new $100 bills.

In April 1954, while in Florida, Mrs. Rossman met a Reverend Ridgeway and his mother, the former being engaged in evangelistic work in the Island of Jamaica, and Mrs. Rossman became interested in Rev. Ridgeway's work. She purchased for him a pick-up truck costing $1,565, a travelling van costing $4,400, a house trailer costing $5,700, and contributed $4,359 toward his church in Jamaica. Sometime later Mrs. Rossman grew suspicious of Rev. Ridgeway and asserted to various persons that he had taken from her approximately $20,000. Through a Mrs. Coleman, a nurse in the jail at Dade County, Florida, Mrs. Rossman became acquainted with one Paul Huizenga, a Dade County deputy sheriff, in November 1954, and requested his official aid in an investigation of Rev. Ridgeway. Huizenga and one R. W. Thomas, another deputy sheriff, investigated Mrs. Rossman's claims and, after interrogating Rev. Ridgeway, became convinced that the matter involved no breach of the law. In January or February, 1955, Mrs. Rossman engaged Huizenga in a private capacity to keep Rev. Ridgeway under surveillance and in March or April, 1955 Huizenga turned the matter over to his fellow deputy Thomas. From that time on various telephone calls were made by Mrs. Rossman, particularly from Philadelphia, to Thomas or Huizenga in Miami and several days before her death she sent a $250 money order to Thomas for the services of both Thomas and Huizenga.

The theory of the Commonwealth was that Thomas, through his relationship with Mrs. Rossman, became aware of her habit of having large sums of money on her person or in her living quarters at all times. Motivated by a desire to obtain this money, Thomas entered into a conspiracy with one Gus DeMoss, a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, one Frank Ellsworth and the appellant Wilson to rob Mrs. Rossman. In 1948, Thomas, then a Tulsa police officer, with DeMoss had arrested and testified against both Ellsworth and Wilson when they were charged with and convicted of 2nd degree burglary. In pursuance of the conspiracy, the Commonwealth contends, Ellsworth and Wilson went to Philadelphia and in the early evening of July 3, 1955 caused Mrs. Rossman's death by strangulation and took from her room a considerable amount of money.

The defense consisted of a complete denial of the existence of any conspiracy or that Wilson had any part in or knowledge of the robbery and death of Mrs. Rossman.

The proof of Wilson's complicity in the felony murder rested entirely upon circumstantial evidence together with statements alleged to have been made by Wilson to one Edward Nixon, for a short time Wilson's cellmate in a Las Vegas, Nevada, jail.

On June 26, 1955, Wilson, under the assumed name of 'Ray Cox', and Ellsworth, under the assumed name of 'Harry Stokey', met in Miami, Florida, with Thomas. While in Miami, Ellsworth,--for this purpose using the name 'McGee',--telephoned DeMoss in Tulsa. 1 On July 3, 1955 and several days prior thereto, Wilson and Ellworth were in Philadelphia. 2

On the evening of July 3, or the early morning of July 4, both Ellsworth and Wilson, under assumed names, flew to Miami and Atlanta, respectively. 3

Before 1 p.m. on July 4, 1955 there were five telephone calls by Ellsworth and Thomas in Miami with DeMoss in Tulsa. 4 DeMoss then flew from Tulsa to Tampa arriving there at 9:53 p.m. July 4. 5 Ellsworth flew from Miami to Tampa arriving there at 6:06 p.m. July 4. 6 Ellsworth, Wilson and DeMoss met at a Tampa nightclub on the evening of July 4. 7 At approximately eleven o'clock that evening DeMoss called Thomas in Miami 8 and then flew to Miami where he arrived at 12:44 a.m. July 5. 9 DeMoss and Thomas met in Miami, 10 after DeMoss had engaged a room and a safe deposit box in the Columbus Hotel. 11 On July 6 at 1:00 a.m. DeMoss returned by plane to Tulsa. 12

On July 6, 1955 Wilson and Ellsworth, under assumed names, flew from Tampa to Tulsa. 13 On July 7, 1955 Ellsworth and Wilson were apprehended in Las Vegas not in connection with Mrs. Rossman's death but because they were in possession of large sums of moneys, principally in $100 bills. When Wilson was taken into custody he gave his correct name but denied that he had ever seen Ellsworth--who was then in custody of the police and in Wilson's presence. 14 Wilson had on his person $9,680, including 95 $100 bills and Ellsworth had $6,700 in $100 bills. In Ellsworth's pocket was found a key to a room in the Dunes Hotel, Las Vegas, in which was found--stuffed in suitcases, shoes and a sock--$69,000, $66,200 of which was in $100 bills. The total amount found on the persons of Wilson and Ellsworth and in the Dunes Hotel room was $87,273.18.

The $100 bills and their serial numbers are very important and significant. On May 25, 1953 the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia received from the Federal Reserve agent a series of $100 bills, the serial numbers of which began with the letter 'C' and had the first five digits '00323', 'C00323', and these bills were placed in circulation between May 25, and June 8, 1953. Palen Rossman, the victim's husband, on July 15, 1953 cashed a check at the Land Title & Trust Company, Philadelphia, in the amount of $27,055.54 and received $27,000 in $100 bills. 15 Mr. Rossman's journal indicated an entry concerning the cashing of this check and posting of that item under a heading in 'Bryn Mawr Trust Company, Box 3 (1949)'. 16 In the Bryn Mawr Trust Company was a joint safe deposit box in the names of Mr. and Mrs. Rossman, being Box B-1494. One of the appraisers of Mr. Rossman's estate testified to counting the cash in the various safe deposit boxes in the Bryn Mawr Trust Company and there was a total of $297,427, significantly the same amount left by Mr. Rossman at his death, most of this money being in $100 bills. Box B-1494 was closed by Mrs. Rossman two months prior to her death; on April 12, 1955 she had taken a safe deposit box in the Fidelity-Philadelphia Trust Company which she had access to 15 times within less than three months prior to her death. In the newly opened box in the Fidelity-Philadelphia Trust Company were the same series, type and denominations of bills placed by Mr. Rossman in the Bryn Mawr box and the same series, type and denomination of bills found in appellant's possession when arrested. The Commonwealth does not contend that in Wilson's and Ellsworth's possession nor in the safe deposit box of the victim were only $100 bills beginning with the serial number 'C00323'; on the contrary $100 bills with entirely different serial numbers were found on Wilson, Ellsworth and in the safe deposit box. What the Commonwealth does contend is that it is very significant that so many bills of the same serial sequence were found on Wilson, Ellsworth, in the Dunes Hotel room, in the safe deposit box and in the purse of the victim, and further, that the lowest serial number of any of the 'C00323' series was 'C00323531A' and the highest number of the same series was 'C00323800A' found on any person or in any place relevant to this case, the difference between the highest and lowest serial numbers being 270 $100 bills or the exact amount withdrawn by the victim's husband on July 21, 1953.

In the safe deposit box were found 10 $100 bills of the 'C00323' series, the lowest number being 'C00323537A' and the highest number being 'C00323800A'. In Mrs. Rossman's handbag was one $100 bill with the serial number 'C00323599A'. On Wilson's person were found 23 $100 bills of the 'C00323' series; the lowest serial number was 'C00323531A' and the highest serial number was 'C00323789A'. On Ellsworth's person were found three $100 bills of the 'C00323' series; the lowest serial number was 'C00323581A' and the highest serial number was 'C00323789A'. In the Dunes Hotel room were found four $100 bills of the 'C00323' series; the lowest serial number was 'C00323548A' and the highest serial number was 'C00323651A'. Thomas spent three $100 bills bearing serial numbers 'C00323743A', 'C00323744A' and 'C00323768A'.

After the arrest of Wilson in Las Vegas he called Mrs. Ellsworth, the mother of F. J. Ellsworth, in Tampa on three occasions 17 and received...

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