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January 31, 2014

Bad-guy blog: Scotsman’s focus on New Castle crime earns Internet praise

NEW CASTLE — A New Castle-themed blog has received national recognition for its tales of transgressions captured in a “Dragnet” motif.

Diarmid Mogg’s “Small Town Noir” details the misdeeds of local criminals during a 30-year period beginning in the 1930s. Starting with his collection of discarded city police mug shots and delving into archives, the Edinburgh, Scotland, native tracks the offender to the misdeed.

The online magazine Slate.com applauded Mogg’s research in naming smalltownnoir.com one of its top five digital history sites of 2013.

“I’m amazed that Slate included Small Town Noir in a list containing such excellent historical resources,” Mogg responded in an email conversation. “The other sites are produced by teams of people with the backing of academic institutions, and I’m just a guy with a computer and access to the New Castle News archives!

“It’s quite an honor.”

The work attracts the attention of locals, some who uncover ties to relatives with rogue pasts. The stories evoke responses of amusement and embarrassment to disgust and anger.

One woman learned her father, who died when she was 5-months old, had been an accomplice in an armed robbery. Her mother never disclosed the incident.

“My sister is embarrassed by it but I’m intrigued,” she wrote to Mogg. “I guess my mother was embarrassed by it as well since we were never told this about my father.

“Since never really getting to know my father, its nice to have a little piece of history even if it is negative.”

One mug shot-based story featured Norman Ross. He was apprehended in 1948 as an “intox driver.” A relative noted, “That’s my granpap, as u can probly tell he was awesome.”

Harold Geary’s theft of $50 in January 1945 sparked indignation.

“That scumb bag is my biological Grandfather. ... Left my grand mother to fend for herself, with my mother and uncle in tow.”

Despite the subject matter, the response to Mogg’s work has been positive.

“I think people understand that I’m trying to preserve the history of the town by writing about the lives of its ordinary people (who, in this case, just happen to have been arrested for something). And, of course, people like to read about the shady pasts of their neighbors’ families.”

Mogg journeyed to New Castle twice to visit crime scenes, to talk to historians and to explore Lawrence County. In his second visit, he traveled with a film crew that documented his hobby.

“American Mugshot” is scheduled to air May 1 in Canada. The producers talked to Mogg and fellow mug shot collectors. Mogg’s segment is expected to last eight minutes.

“(It) looks at the way the cultural significance of mug shots, from the old ones that people like me have collected and used in art and literary projects to the new ones that show up in supermarket tabloids like ‘The Slammer’ and websites like ‘The Smoking Gun,’” he said.

A date for a U.S. showing has not been announced.

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