Stanley Hoss' evil still haunts Valley
Western Pennsylvania's biggest manhunt started 41 years ago today and ended two weeks later. But unanswered questions still haunt survivors.
On Sept. 19, 1969 — a Friday — jail escapee Stanley B. Hoss Jr. eluded Pittsburgh police in afternoon rush-hour traffic along Allegheny River Boulevard.
About 4:45 p.m., Verona Patrolman Joseph P. Zanella saw the stolen yellow Chevrolet driven by Hoss.
Zanella followed Hoss to Plum Street in Oakmont, near the Plum line, where the wanted man pulled into a parking lot.
Hoss — with a "Born to Lose" tattoo on his arm and a gun on the car seat — waited.
Seven days before, Hoss, then 26, of Tarentum, and a New Kensington man used knotted bedsheets to go over the wall of the old Allegheny County Workhouse in Blawnox. Hoss was awaiting sentencing for the rape of a 17-year-old Shaler girl.
Now he was caught in a stolen car with a stolen gun.
Zanella, 25, a married father of two doing the job that family and friends said he always wanted, radioed for backup, got out of his police car and pulled his service revolver from its holster. He had made felony arrests before in his 2 1⁄2-year police career.
"This wasn't his first felony arrest. He arrested an armed robber and held him at gunpoint for Penn Hills police," retired Verona Officer Ken Eichledinger said. "He knew what to do."
This time was different.
"Get out of the car with your hands up!" Zanella ordered. Inside the sedan, Hoss acted.
A witness saw Hoss facing forward — straight ahead — but he was actually looking into his rear view and side mirrors to see his prey.
Suddenly, without turning around, he pointed the small caliber pistol over his shoulder and pulled the trigger. Twice.
Fatally struck in the heart — police body armor had not yet been invented — Zanella fell to the street.
Dennis Schaal, now almost 60, was 18 when he heard the gunshots and saw Zanella fall from about 60 yards away.
"He was a couple years older than me," said Schaal, now of Monroeville. "I knew him from (Verona High) school. It was a small school."
Schaal ran over to Zanella, who was lying face down, and turned him over. He then grabbed the police radio and called for help. By then, there was a crowd surrounding Zanella. Schaal went back to work at a car dealer in Verona.
"They say that the good die young. Well, Joe was certainly proof of that," Schaal said.
The killing so alarmed the Alle-Kiski Valley that most of the Friday night high school football games were canceled.
More than 300 local, state and federal officers armed to the teeth searched for Hoss, who was now a cop killer.
Forty-one years later, Indiana Township police Officer Dick Curti remembers the search for Hoss.
"There were police from every level — police dogs, officers with rifles and shotguns searching cars and watching for Hoss," Curti said.
Despite roadblocks and an all-points bulletin, Hoss escaped.
Privately, the officers thought that Hoss would flee the Alle-Kiski Valley.
"That's what we thought would happen, and that's exactly what he did," Curti said.
Hoss on the run
Hoss' bid for freedom soon took him to Lower Burrell, where he kidnapped Karen Malgott, a 20-year-old Arnold woman, stole her car and took her to Wheeling, W.Va., where he let her go.
He continued to western Maryland, where he kidnapped 21-year-old Linda Peugeot and her 2-year-old daughter, Lori Mae, near Cumberland.
Now the subject of a nationwide manhunt, Hoss headed to the Midwest. He was finally arrested there Oct. 4, when the nationwide dragnet snared him in Waterloo, Iowa.
Hoss was arrested in a restaurant across the street from a police station. He had left his revolver in a paper bag in the car.
He told jailers he "screwed up," according to a story in the Valley Daily News, a predecessor of the Valley News Dispatch. He said that at all other times, he carried the gun, even sleeping with it, after gunning down Zanella.
After her husband was killed, Zanella's widow moved to Arizona, where she made a new life. Contacted through her son, she declined to comment about Hoss.
Hoss' ex-wife, Pat Hoss, who still lives in the Alle-Kiski Valley, declined comment through a writer whose book on the case will be published next year.
Karen Malgott couldn't be located for comment.
Did he or didn't he?
In the Allegheny County Jail awaiting trial, Hoss told some people he killed Peugeot, the petite blonde from Bel Air, Md. whose husband was in the Navy. But he claimed that he didn't kill her daughter.
"Hoss adamantly denied killing that baby," William Robinson, a retired deputy jail warden, said recently. "Hoss always said he left the baby in a basket along the road somewhere between Cleveland and Iowa."
Others, however, say it's clear that Hoss killed the two.
Robinson said it's not hard to understand why inmate Hoss would deny killing a child.
"Remember, many inmates have kids, and they don't tolerate inmates who kill kids," Robinson said. "I heard some of them calling from their cells, 'Hey, Stanley — kill any more kids?' and he'd yell, 'No!' "
Allegany County, Md., Detective Bill Baker doesn't buy Hoss' story.
Baker interviewed Hoss after he was sentenced to prison for killing Zanella.
"He admitted to killing Linda. He shot her in the car. He said a couple of days later, he put a bag over the head of Lori and suffocated her. Then he emptied his pistol into her," Baker said.
"He was the worst of the worst," said Baker, now 90 of LaVale, Md. "And Hoss told me he'd kill me, too, if he got the chance. And I believed him."
The bodies of Peugeot and her daughter never were found.
Peugeot's mother went to Western Penitentiary several times to ask Hoss where the bodies were so that they could receive a Christian burial. Hoss refused to see them, Baker said.
"He snarled at me and screamed: 'I don't care if they drove 1,000 miles!' " Baker said.
After a widely publicized trial for killing Zanella, Hoss was sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court, though, overturned the penalty.
Sentenced to life in prison, Hoss went to the maximum-security Western Penitentiary on Pittsburgh's North Side.
"He led a very violent life in prison," remembers retired Western Pen prison counselor Joe Hoffman, now White Oak's police chief.
By 1972, Hoss had become a weightlifter and leader of a white supremacist group in Western Pen.
Hoffman said he witnessed Hoss attack a black inmate, Eugene "Gino" Sproul, who led the prison's Sunni Muslim gang.
Hoss taped knives to his hands "like Conan the Barbarian" and tried to stab the much bigger Sproul, Hoffman said.
When Hoffman and the guard pulled Sproul behind a locked gate, he refused to say it was Hoss who attacked him.
On the other side of the gate, Hoss was "in a kind of a frenzy" and his "eyes were rolling back," Hoffman said.
Hoss was sent to solitary confinement. It was there in 1973 that Hoss and two other prisoners used table legs, a chair and parts of a plastic razor to beat and slash to death guard Capt. Walter Peterson.
Found guilty of second-degree murder, Hoss was sentenced to 10 to 20 years on top of his life sentence for killing Zanella.
The state Corrections Department transferred Hoss to the state's other maximum-security prison outside Philadelphia.
In December 1978, the violent life of Stanley Hoss ended. He was found dead in his cell with a blue shoelace hanging around his neck. Hoss was 35. Suicide was listed as the official cause of death.
William Robinson, who by then was a corrections official, said Hoss left a suicide note for him.
Valley News Dispatch reporter Tony Klimko, who frequently interviewed Hoss and wrote to him, disagreed. In a conversation before he died in 2005, Klimko said he didn't believe Hoss committed suicide.
"Suicide• No," Klimko said. "There were too many who wanted him dead."
Prominent Pittsburgh attorney Edgar Snyder, who was Hoss' public defender, agreed.
"He was obviously killed in prison," Snyder said. "He was a maniac, and he was killed by another maniac.
"He no sooner killed himself than the man in the moon."Additional Information:
• Sept. 11, 1969 : Hoss and a New Kensington man escape from Allegheny County Workhouse, Blawnox, where he is serving time for rape.
? Sept. 19 : Fatally shoots Verona Patrolman Joseph Zanella in a parking lot off Plum Street in Oakmont; steals car at Hillcrest Shopping Center, Lower Burrell.
? Sept. 21: Ditches that car near North Park and takes another one. Steals license plate in Leechburg.
• Sept. 21: Kidnaps 20-year-old Karen Malgott of Arnold at Greenwald Memorial Park in Lower Burrell, takes her to Bedford and then to Wheeling, W.Va. He releases her and steals a sports car.
? Sept. 22: Kidnaps Linda Peugeot, 21, and 2-year-old daughter Lori Mae in LaVale, Md. Keeps her late model Pontiac GTO; bodies never found.
• Sept. 29: Orders a dozen roses at a florist in Wellington, Ohio, to be sent to his girlfriend in Brackenridge.
• Sept. 29-Oct. 3: Spends time in Des Moines and Sioux Falls, Iowa.
? Oct. 4: Arrives at Travelers motel in Waterloo, Iowa, about 1:20 p.m.; arrested later that day outside of a restaurant.
? March 10, 1970: Convicted of first-degree murder. The jury deliberated 65 minutes.
• Aug. 16, 1972: Stabs inmate Eugene 'Gino' Sproul in Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh.
• Dec. 10, 1973: Helps to kill prison guard Walter Peterson in the prison.
? June 13, 1974: Convicted of second-degree murder in Peterson's death.
? Dec. 6, 1978: Found dead, hanging in his cell; ruled suicide.