patrick mcgovern

The notorious Biddle Brother. A Love Story.

( how can you let that handsome face rot behind the bars?)

Ed Biddle and his brother Jack Biddle were born in Ontario, Canada. They made their way to Western Pennsylvania and form a small gang called the chloroform gang, which was a nonviolent way to rob people’s houses.The six-person chloroform gang terrorized the city with a rash of burglaries and then turned deadly on April 12, 1901. In the midst of a heist, the Biddle brothers shot and killed Thomas Kahney, a Mt. Washington grocer. Detectives Charles “Buck” McGovern and Patrick Fitzgerald cornered the brothers, but Fitzgerald was killed in the encounter. The brothers were put on trial, found guilty, and sentenced to die by hanging.

According to newspaper accounts, Ed was so good-looking that the ladies of Allegheny County opined his innocence. And so charming that Mrs. Soffel, the warden’s wife and mother of four, fell in love with him.  Eventually she agreed to help the brothers escape and run away with them by smuggling saws and guns to them.

The brothers sawed openings in the bars of their cells, and at 4 am on January 29, 1902 one of them called out that his brother was ill. As a guard approached, Jack Biddle lunged through the opening between the bars and, seizing the guard by the waist, threw him over a railing to the stone floor sixteen feet below.Ed Biddle shot and wounded a second guard.

The Biddles locked the wounded guards, and the third guard on duty, in the prison “dungeon”. After changing from their prison jumpsuits into the guards’ street clothes, they left the prison to rendezvous with Soffel. Only at the guard’s 6 am shift-change was the escape discovered.

The three took a trolley to West View, Pennsylvania, then walked a mile to a farm on Route 19, where they stole a sleigh and a shotgun and started for Butler County.

Meanwhile, Charles “Buck” McGovern (one of the detectives who had originally arrested the Biddles) gathered a posse, assuming the fugitives were headed for Canada and would follow back roads.

McGovern stationed his men at the Graham Farm in Butler County and waited. After some time the brothers approached, bringing the sleigh to a halt as they realized they were surrounded

What precisely happened during the showdown is uncertain, but the police may have opened fire on Soffel and the Biddles when they made their attempt at suicide. Reporters later described John Biddle as “riddled with buckshot”, mentioning that the Biddles were armed with a shotgun, but stated that the police only carried revolvers and rifles.[6]

As detectives approached the wounded brothers, Kate Soffel lay near them; she had shot herself. The detectives believed Ed Biddle to be reaching for a pistol, and so they shot him again, with McGovern firing at the brothers until his rifle’s magazine became empty.

All three were taken to the jail at Butler, where the brothers were placed in adjoining cells. There Jack denied killing the Mt. Washington shopkeeper and a detective who had been shot dead during the Biddles’ arrest.

Ed had sustained three gunshot wounds, and Jack was described as literally “riddled with bullets." Jack died at 7:35 pm on February 1; and Ed, who was largely unconscious for most of the time, died at 11 pm.

The brothers’ bodies were returned to Pittsburgh where they were met by a large crowd: they had become local celebrities. Theere was an overwhelming female presence in the crowd who went hysterical over the death of Biddle Brothers.