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COMMONWEALTH v. DEMOSS (10/10/60)

October 10, 1960

COMMONWEALTH
v.
DEMOSS, APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 278, Jan. T., 1959, from judgment of Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County, Feb. T., 1956, No. 813, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Gus Alfred DeMoss. Judgment affirmed; reargument refused November 23, 1960.*fn*

COUNSEL

Albert S. Oliensis, with him Donald J. Goldberg, for appellant.

F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Second Assistant District Attorney, with him Domenick Vitullo, Assistant District Attorney, Paul M. Chalfin, First Assistant District Attorney, and Victor H. Blanc, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

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

Author: Jones

[ 401 Pa. Page 397]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BENJAMIN R. JONES

At approximately 10 a.m., July 4, 1955, a chambermaid discovered the dead body of Lulubel Rossman, a 76 year old widow, in her room in the Adelphia Hotel, Philadelphia. Mrs. Rossman's death*fn1 was caused by strangulation at the hands of some unknown person or persons who had bound her arms and legs with two-inch adhesive tape and had gagged her mouth. The appearance of the room - disorder, open pocketbooks and handbags, personal effects strewn about - suggested that a robbery had taken place, although there was no evidence that the room had been forcibly entered.

For this homicide the Commonwealth subsequently indicted and tried, separately, Raymond Wilson, Frank Ellsworth, Robert Thomas and Gus A. DeMoss, the present appellant. Wilson's conviction of murder in the first degree was considered by this Court (Commonwealth v. Wilson, 394 Pa. 588, 148 A.2d 234) and we affirmed his conviction and sentence. In February, 1956, DeMoss was tried in the Court of Oyer and Terminer of Philadelphia County and he was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to

[ 401 Pa. Page 398]

    life imprisonment. From this judgment and sentence DeMoss has appealed.

On this extremely voluminous record with its complicated set of facts DeMoss presents one narrow question: Is the evidence sufficient to sustain his conviction of murder?

DeMoss contends that the Commonwealth failed to show any actual connection on his part with the robbery and homicide and that the only evidence presented by the Commonwealth was that he had been in association, prior to and subsequent to the happening of the robbery and homicide, with the persons who did participate in both crimes. DeMoss argues that, absent any evidence in proof of his actual participation in the robbery and homicide, his conviction cannot be sustained on a theory of "guilt by association".

The Commonwealth's theory is that DeMoss, acting in concert with Thomas, Ellsworth and Wilson, conspired to rob Mrs. Rossman and, in the course of such robbery, Mrs. Rossman met her death at the hands of Ellsworth and Wilson. In determining the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain DeMoss' conviction it is our duty to examine and scrutinize in detail all the evidence in this record and to attempt to place in juxtaposition each act, scene and character in this macabre drama. In so doing, we review the evidence and the inferences reasonably arising from such evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth: Commonwealth v. Scoleri, 399 Pa. 110, 115, 160 A.2d 215; Commonwealth v. Moore, 398 Pa. 198, 202, 157 A.2d 65.

Palen Rossman, deceased's husband, at the time of his death on September 7, 1953 left the deceased an estate valued in excess of $400,000. The deceased was eccentric in many respects: among her eccentricities

[ 401 Pa. Page 399]

    were a fetish for new $100 bills and a custom of having either upon her person or in her living quarters large sums of money, mostly new $100 bills.

In the spring of 1954, the deceased, vacationing in Florida, became acquainted with a Reverend Ridgeway and his mother, the former then engaged in evangelistic work in Florida and Jamaica. Interested in the Reverend Ridgeway's work, the deceased, over a short period of time, contributed approximately $20,000 toward his personal comfort and ministry. Sometime later, the friendship of the deceased and the Reverend Ridgeway having ended, the deceased claimed that he had taken from her approximately $20,000 and, through a mutual acquaintance, the deceased prevailed upon Paul Huizenga, a Dade County [Miami] deputy sheriff, to investigate her claim against the clergyman. Huizenga and his colleague, Thomas, then a deputy sheriff, after an investigation of the matter became convinced and so advised the deceased that she had no criminal action against the clergyman. However, the deceased persisted in her complaint and, during the early part of 1955, she engaged Huizenga, in a private capacity, to keep the clergyman under surveillance. A short time later Huizenga abandoned his work for deceased and turned her over to Thomas. From that time until the date of her death the deceased and Thomas were in close contact. On various occasions Thomas and the deceased communicated by telephone and, shortly before her death, she posted a $250 money order to Thomas for the services rendered by Thomas and Huizenga.*fn2

[ 401 Pa. Page 400]

Under the Commonwealth's theory, it was this close association of the deceased and Thomas during the first six or seven months of 1955 which set in motion the chain of events and the interaction of a host of circumstances and characters which led directly to Mrs. Rossman's death. It is the contention of the Commonwealth that Thomas, through his close association with the deceased, learned that she customarily carried about on her person or in her living quarters large sums of money and that Thomas conspired with DeMoss, his former colleague on the Tulsa, Oklahoma, police department, to obtain the aid of two persons with criminal records, Ellsworth and Wilson, to rob the deceased. Wilson's complicity and role in the events which led to the deceased's death and the part played therein by Ellsworth and Wilson are discussed at length in Commonwealth v. Wilson, supra. While the Commonwealth concedes that Ellsworth and Wilson actually robbed and killed the deceased, yet it ...


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