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Stanley Hoss captured nation's attention with string of murders

| Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010

First in a series.

Convicted of killing two local law enforcement officers and suspected of killing a Maryland mother and her child, Stanley B. Hoss captured the nation's attention in the late 1960s and throughout the '70s.

The career criminal with a “Born to Lose” tattoo led hundreds of police on a nationwide manhunt after he fatally shot Verona police officer Joseph P. Zanella and brought then-Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp to Clairton after Hoss murdered Western Penitentiary prison guard Capt. Walter Peterson.

Retired prison unit manager James Hollock said Hoss' criminal activities “captured the public's imagination and it went on for some years.”

“It really runs from his earliest major crimes from March 1969 up to his death in December 1978,” he said. “In that time span, he was virtually always in the news. Even when he was put behind bars, he was such a force — and a violent one.”

Hollock's first book, “Born to Lose: Stanley B. Hoss and the Crime Spree that Gripped the Nation,” will be published by Kent State University Press in May.

In addition to killing Zanella, 25, of Verona, and Peterson, 42, of Clairton, and committing numerous thefts and rapes, Hoss is suspected of killing Linda Peugeot, 21, and her 2-year-old daughter in Cumberland, Md. Their bodies were not found and may never be because Hoss reportedly killed himself at age 35 in prison in December 1978. Hollock said some people believe Hoss was murdered.

Hollock interviewed hundreds of people for his book.

White Oak police Chief Joe Hoffman, who was a Western Penitentiary prison counselor from 1971-73 at the beginning of his law enforcement career, was interviewed for the book.

In his role as a prison counselor, Hoffman attended group prison therapy sessions with Hoss.

“He was in my caseload,” Hoffman said. “He turned to me one time and said, ‘I'm a born killer and I don't know why.' I remember that from one of those sessions and that really jumped out.”

Hollock came to work for Western Penn 15 months after Hoss was transferred out.

He said Hoss' name always came up when he told people he worked at Western Penn.

“All they wanted to talk about was Stanley Hoss,” he said.

“He was notorious,” Hoffman added.

Hoss was born in Saxonburg on March 1, 1943.

“His mother always believed that one time Stanley fell and hit his head very badly and they couldn't take him to the hospital because they couldn't afford it,” Hollock said. “She said, ‘I always thought Stanley's troubles began then.' That was when he was 9 or 10 years old. Hoss himself said he became a criminal at age 14.”

Hollock said Hoss was “very good at being a criminal.”

“He stole cars,” he said. “He was in burglary rings and he was a robber. He was not much afraid of anybody.”

Hoss was convicted in 1969 of the rape of a 17-year-old Shaler girl and was in the Allegheny County Jail awaiting sentencing. Hollock said because of overcrowding, Hoss was sent to the former Blawnox workhouse and he escaped on Sept. 11, 1969.

“He knew he was looking at 10-20 years,” Hollock said. “He never did any big time. He did six months or weekends — nothing big. He escaped with a man named Thomas Lubresky. They had a daring rooftop escape. They had tied bed sheets.”

On Sept. 19, 1969, Hoss was spotted driving through Verona in a yellow Chevy and Zanella began following him.

“There was a brief car chase,” Hollock said. “Hoss stopped his car and Joe Zanella got out. He went for the arrest and Hoss stuck a gun out the window and gunned him down. This was a cop killing in a small town and it was huge. There were helicopters, dogs, hundreds of cops all geared up. What happened was nobody could catch the guy. There were tips here and tips there. He kept getting away.”

Two days after killing Zanella, he kidnapped a young woman praying at her father's grave at a Pittsburgh cemetery. Hollock said Hoss used this woman's car to get out of town, kept her for 18 1/2 hours and raped her. Hoss left the woman alive on Sept. 22, 1969, in Wheeling, W.Va., stole another car and headed to LaVale, Md. — a small town near Cumberland, Md.

“The question was asked of him during an FBI investigation, ‘What made you go to LaVale, Md.?'” Hollock said. “He said, ‘No reason at all,' which is scary because of what happened there.”

He said Hoss was running low on gas and pulled into a department store parking lot on Sept. 22, 1969.

“He's just sitting there wondering what to do and he sees Linda Peugeot — a very pretty girl — and her 2-year-old daughter Lori Mae Peugeot,” Hollock said. “Linda's husband was in the Navy. She was driving a car Hoss liked — a GTO.”

He said Hoss pulled out a gun and demanded the Peugeots get into their car.

“By 5 p.m. that day, he murdered the mother and put her in the trunk,” Hollock said. “It was in the Johnstown area where he murdered her. He put her in a trunk and buried her elsewhere.”

He said Hoss was seen in Franklin only with the daughter. Hollock said he kept the 2-year-old alive for approximately a week before killing her, as well.

Hoss finally was captured Oct. 4, 1969, in Waterloo, Iowa.

“They saw the car he was in sitting outside this diner,” Hollock said. “This Waterloo cop had a good eye. They had been briefed on Hoss that morning. Unbeknownst to Hoss, he parked right across the street from the police department that had its sign on the other side of the building and he didn't see it.”

He said the numerous police officers entered the restaurant in plain clothes acting as normal customers.

“They started fanning out behind him as he walked out to his car,” Hollock said. “Hoss always was armed. It was a warm, beautiful day and he didn't want to put on a jacket or hide the gun so he put it in a brown paper bag on the front seat of this GTO. When he went to reach for the handles, one of the cops said, ‘Hold up there. Let's see some ID.'”

Hollock said Hoss opened up the door to reach for the gun and one of the detectives kicked the door shut and said, “We want to see some ID right now.”

“Hoss went into this fury of fist-fighting and he hurt a couple of the cops,” he said. “It was a titanic struggle with six guys around him trying to get him down. He's grabbing for another cop's gun and almost got it.”

Hoffman said Peugeot's mother would visit Western Penn every year to try to see Hoss and ask where her daughter and grandchild were.

“He would never see her,” he said. “We knew when she was coming. All the correctional officers and the prison counselors would hope he'd see her. But he wouldn't do it. He had no remorse.”

Hollock said Hoss never was brought to trial on the Peugeot killings because there was a question about whether his Constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated.

“Judge James Getty felt certain by his words in these court proceedings that he did order a continuance,” Hollock said. “But the state Supreme Court in Maryland disagreed.”

Hoss planned and carried out Peterson's murder with inmates George Butler, Robert McGrogan and Daniel Delker.

On Dec. 10, 1973, the four men lured Peterson down to a recreational basement area of Western Penn and beat the prison guard to death.

“This was a racial killing,” Hollock said. “This was a hate crime before we came to understand that term.”

He said it was later determined McGrogan didn't have much to do with the killing and cut a deal with prosecutors.

Hoss' prison psychiatrist Dr. Herb Thomas said Hoss was very strong and was always exercising.

“He was very intense and very tense,” he said. “He had a great deal of energy. He was trying to control a huge amount of rage in himself.”

Thomas said Hoss mostly kept to himself other than two or three inmates he befriended in the Home Block, which was a maximum security cell block.

Hoss had six children — four with his wife and two with his mistress, Hollock said.

Hoss' widow declined an interview request.

Hollock worked on researching and writing his book for approximately 10 years.

“It wasn't specifically, ‘I want to write about Stanley Hoss,'” he said. “It was, ‘I'd like to be an author one day.' I had a leg up. I was sitting in the driver's seat as far as this story goes. What amazed me was no one ever did a book on Hoss.”

He said his book is not just about crime.

“It's about effects of crime and the ordinary lives that were touched by this,” Hollock said.

Hollock, of Pittsburgh's North Side, worked for the state Department of Corrections for 30 years in such roles as prison counselor, counselor supervisor of the treatment staff and unit manager. When Western Penn closed in January 2005, Hollock became a director of a community service center in East Liberty for six months and then retired. He graduated from Butler High School followed by Marshall University and was with the Peace Corps for two years.

Hollock and his wife Marilyn have one child, Sarah Hollock.

Western and Eastern penitentiaries were the first two prisons in Pennsylvania, dating back to the 1880s. Western Penn reopened as State Correctional Institute Pittsburgh in June 2007.


Next, Daily News staff writer Stacy Lee will discuss the effect the murder of Walter Peterson had on his family, his hometown of Clairton and state correctional institutions.

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