May 17, 1946: Fred Garrow was a Uniontown coal miner and boxer until he joined the vaudeville circuit as a baritone with a barbershop quartet known as The Dixie Four. Once the singing gigs dried up he operated pool halls and eventually moved to Pittsburgh.
And he continued singing. In East Liberty nightclubs, he’d croon a few tunes and get paid in coffee and cakes — Garrow didn’t drink. He gained a reputation as a happy-go-lucky chap who loved to chew tobacco, even when eating a sandwich.
Still, he was a tough guy. Tough enough to act as an unofficial bouncer at a Penn Avenue joint called Allen’s Restaurant.
It was there on a Thursday night in May 1946 that Garrow met with a man named Frank Evans. This bothered restaurant manager Red Drosnes, one of Garrow’s buddies. Drosnes knew about this Evans guy. He was bad news.
Drosnes watched as the two chatted quietly. When Evans and Garrow prepared to leave. Drosnes pulled Garrow aside and gave him a warning. “Don’t leave with him,” Drosnes said, “or you may never come back.”
Garrow brushed off the advice.
Early the next morning, two East End men driving to work noticed blood on a black Pontiac parked on a short stretch of road near Washington Avenue. They checked out the vehicle and saw Evans sitting upright in the back seat. He’d been shot 14 times. Eight bullets had torn apart his face.
Garrow’s body was jammed face down in the back floorboard. He’d been shot eight times. A bizarre photograph published in The Pittsburgh Press shows his foot sticking awkwardly from the rear of the back of the vehicle while detectives dust the steering wheel for fingerprints.
Police figured the killings were part of a war in the city’s lucrative numbers racket. They searched Evans’ clothing and found an adding machine slip indicating he’d collected $6,000 in numbers plays the previous week. Evans’ take was $600.
The numbers racket was big business. Authorities said the East Liberty numbers syndicate took in $20,000 each day. And it had just embarked on a business expansion plan, pushing into Homewood-Brushton.
Evans was tied up with the Homewood gang, which is probably what got him killed. He had an extensive police record and had, in fact, recently received a “quickie” parole from a judge moved to leniency by the “Easter spirit.” If not for the celebration of a resurrection, Evans may have stayed in jail and lived to be murdered another day.
And Garrow? Police had picked him up a few times on gambling raids, but Garrow had never been held for court. He was, police said, a small-time player with the misfortune to have as his companion a doomed man.
Read part two: Dapper suspect in the killings takes a “fall” in his jail cell.