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January 5, 1959


Appeal, No. 340, Jan. T., 1957, from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County, Nov. T., 1955, No. 633, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Raymond Philip Wilson. Judgment affirmed; reargument refused February 20, 1959.


Louis F. McCabe, with him Joseph J. Cronin, for appellant.

Juanita Kidd Stout, Assistant District Attorney, with her Theodore B. Smith, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, James N. Lafferty, First Assistant District Attorney, and Victor H. Blanc, District Attorney, for appellee.

Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Musmanno, Jones, Cohen and Bok, JJ.

Author: Jones

[ 394 Pa. Page 590]


Midmorning on July 4, 1955, a maid found in a room in the Adelphia Hotel, Philadelphia, the dead body of Lulubell 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 laying 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

[ 394 Pa. Page 591]

    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 on the Island of Jamaica, and Mrs. Rossman became interested in Rev. Ridgeway's work. She purchased for him a pick-up truck costing $1565, a travelling van costing $4400, a house trailer costing $5700, and contributed $4359 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 Huzenga, 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

[ 394 Pa. Page 592]

    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.*fn1 On

[ 394 Pa. Page 593]

July 3, 1955 and several days prior thereto, Wilson and Ellsworth were in Philadelphia.*fn2

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.*fn3

Before 1 p.m. on July 4, 1955 there were five telephone calls by Ellsworth and Thomas in Miami with DeMoss in Tulsa.*fn4 DeMoss then flew from Tulsa to

[ 394 Pa. Page 594]

Tampa arriving there at 9:53 p.m. July 4.*fn5 Ellsworth flew from Miami to Tampa arriving there at 6:06 p.m. July 4.*fn6 Ellsworth, Wilson and DeMoss met at a Tampa nightclub on the evening of July 4.*fn7 At approximately eleven o'clock that evening DeMoss called Thomas in Miami*fn8 and then flew to Miami where he arrived at 12:44 a.m. July 5.*fn9 DeMoss and Thomas met in Miami,*fn10 after DeMoss had engaged a room and a safe deposit box in the Columbus Hotel.*fn11 On July 6 at 1:00 a.m. DeMoss returned by plane to Tulsa.*fn12

On July 6, 1955 Wilson and Ellsworth, under assumed names, flew from Tampa to Tulsa.*fn13 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 money, principally in $100 bills. When Wilson was taken into custody he gave his correct name but denied that he had ever ...

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