Strange things happen in this world, and Carmen Piccirillo can tell first-hand about a lot of grueling and bizarre things he’s seen during his five decades in law enforcement and crime prevention.

He started out as a state trooper, then became an FBI agent, and, ultimately, the police chief of New Wilmington Borough. In between the latter two, he ran his own private investigative and executive protection company.

Piccirillo, 73, will retire from his colorful career Tuesday, passing the borough police chief’s badge on to newly appointed Chief Eric Jewell, who comes from the chief’s job in Hermitage. and like a game of musical chairs, Piccirillo’s son, Adam, is being seated as the new police chief in Hermitage.

Piccirillo insists he had nothing to do with his son’s appointment, the younger Piccirillo earned the badge in Mercer County on his own merit, having been a Hermitage patrolman who moved up through the ranks.

Carmen Piccirillo has led the New Wilmington police force for 20 years, having seen occasional odd crimes in the college town borough surrounded by a rural, Amish community, but has not always been so quiet.

Sherie Babb has worked with Piccirillo for nine years as New Wilmington’s mayor, and before that, four years on borough council.

“Chief is just a really good man,” she said. “He’s been a very devoted employee of the borough. He always puts everyone else first and his life pretty much last. He really has a good heart. He might come off like a tough guy, but he has a heart of gold and would do almost anything for anyone.”

The devotion he has shown to the borough is not easy to find, she said, remembering times when he covered shifts without pay and he didn’t always take his vacations.

“He’s had a work ethic that’s hard to come by, and he brought forth a lot of knowledge,” Babb said. “He’s really going to be missed.”

During Piccirillo’s tenure in the borough, he solved two bank robberies, and his department has been in the midst of two officer-involved shootings, one a fatality, within borough borders. The latter involved a state trooper shooting and killing a suspect who had stabbed a person to death at a house on Route 158 in February 2021.

But those incidents might pale in comparison to the strange cases Piccirillo encountered in his earlier lines of police work.

As a state trooper, Piccirillo was an integral member of a task force that solved the multi-state case of a brutal serial killer named Edward Surratt who knocked on doors of homes and blew the men away with a shotgun when they answered the door, then raped and killed their wives, among other victims. There were other variations of the murders.

Police confirmed Surratt during 1977 and 1978 brutally killed 18 people, some as nearby as Beaver County and close to the Boardman Plaza in Ohio in 1977 and 1978. Other murders were in the Pittsburgh area, in Breezewood and in South Carolina and Florida.

At first, the state police believed the killings were random, but they soon saw a pattern, Piccirillo explained, and they got some breaks in the case identified Surratt of Aliquippa as the killer, and they believe there might have been more victims.

Surratt, now 81, is serving three life sentences.

Piccirillo was assigned as an active investigator on a task force formed to solve the homicides, and his police intelligence and investigative expertise helped to finally identify and capture Surratt in Florida. Piccirillo explained Surratt was not brought to trial in Pennsylvania because he already had three life sentences and will die in prison, anyway.


A native of Corry, Erie County, Piccirillo, as he neared adulthood was a classic example of someone who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. He graduated from Corry High School, then tried to enlist in the Air Force, but the draft was going on and those chosen for the Air Force then were sons of heroes who had medals of honor. He felt discouraged, and landed a short-lived labor position at a cast iron manufacturing company, which he described as “a dirty, filthy job.”

It was loud there, he worked night shifts and his coworkers were experiencing serious health issues — all reasons to move on.

He enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh in Titusville, where he attended school for two years. Then, on his on his 21st birthday, he turned a different page and applied to the state police academy.

“I was always impressed by a trooper who was a family friend,” he said, who motivated his decision.

When Piccirillo emerged from the academy as a state trooper, he spent four years assigned to Butler, then was sent to the New Castle station, which his fellow officers back then considered punishment.

The New Castle “barracks” at the time was in a ranch house on Route 422 at the Harbor. Then later, the station on Route 224 was built. It was a couple of decades later when the existing, more deluxe building was built on Route 18.

“I was told by the sergeant that no one came to New Castle unless they were being disciplined or a screw up,” Piccirillo said. He didn’t fit either category. He just took his lumps.

He remembers having to work 23 days straight on patrol, and he was first to respond to major crises in Lawrence County.

During that time, around 1973-74, was the first big gasoline crisis, “and prices went through the roof,” he recalled. People who owned big Cadillacs and Lincoln Continentals and other gas-guzzling vehicles were trying to get rid of them, and suddenly, many were being reported stolen, he said. “We’d find them in the quarries, burned. At one point it was almost daily.”

Piccirillo was made public relations and safety education officer for the state police, an assignment he took seriously and conducted safety education classes in all of the schools in Lawrence County.

“It turned out to be a good thing,” he recalled. He conducted driver’s education and crime prevention programs, a stint that lasted nearly 3½ years out of the six he spent in New Castle.

The state police also sent him to California State College to become certified as a motorcycle safety officer. Back then, “a lot of kids were just going out riding motorcycles, and were getting injured.”

Piccirillo, as a result of his diligence in promoting safety, was awarded the Outstanding Young Law Enforcement officer for Lawrence County in 1976 from a local service club.

Working with youths fueled him to start the State Police Camp Cadet in Lawrence County at SNPJ Borough. About 50 youths were in the program, some of whom later became local municipal police officers.

He credited David B. Rishel, now senior district judge and Shenango Area Fire District chief, for his help with the program, which also included fire safety and water rescue.

“He was amazing,” Piccirillo said.

Piccirillo remembers being first on the scene of the gruesome, still officially unsolved murder case in Neshannock Township of a babysitter and a child, in the late 1970s, known as the Gargasz-Withers murders.

“That memory will stick with me until the day I die,” he said.


Piccirillo’s first break in cracking a significant case was one day in 1974, when he was sent to take a radar set to the Butler barracks. He wasn’t thrilled with the assignment, but by happenstance, he was driving on Route 422 near Route 19 and Cooper’s Lake Campground when he saw a Lincoln Continental with Michigan plates make an illegal left-hand turn.

He took down the vehicle identification number from the dashboard and called it in to the Butler station, learning the car was reported stolen in Michigan. Piccirillo located the car and the driver at a nearby campground and fingerprinted him, and he contacted the FBI office in New Castle. He learned the man was a fugitive, wanted in multiple states for extortion, bribery, counterfeiting, theft, weapons charges and other offenses.

The FBI arrested the suspect and turned him into an informant to solve other cases, Piccirillo said.

As a result of that case, then-local FBI agent Jim Pickerell put in a recommendation to the FBI for Piccirillo, then 24, to receive a commendation.

“After that, Pickerell tried to recruit me as an agent, but the FBI required a college degree,” Piccirillo said, and he had never finished his courses at Pitt. So he re-enrolled at Pitt’s main campus, earned his bachelor’s degree, and applied to the FBI in August, 1976.

His last assignment with the state police was as a member of the task force that identified Surratt as the serial killer and arrested him.


It was after that case was solved that Piccirillo got a call at the state police station one day and was told to report to the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. His big regret is that his father died just before his graduation from the FBI academy.

He was sent to Cleveland that December and was assigned to investigate bank robberies, track fugitives and solve tractor-trailer thefts, “nothing I didn’t already have experience in from the state police,” he recalled.

Then in February the next year, he was sent to Canton, Ohio, where he and Pickerell became partners, he said, chuckling,“Pickerell and Piccirillo.”

Pickerell’s demeanor was low-key in conducting a bank robbery suspect interview, and that impressed Piccirillo.

“That was the best one I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” he said.

“That’s how I learned my interviewing skills. I credit so much to that man. He was my role model.”

Piccirillo went on to help solve 34 bank robberies in Canton, two of which involved homicides. One was when a man wearing a fake beard demanded money and the teller complied, and he shot her in the face and killed her. Diebold was located in town and had a high-resolution 35-millimeter camera system in the banks before they used surveillance video.

“We got great photos, but we couldn’t tell who it was because of the disguise,” Piccirillo said.

One picture showed the bank robber from head to foot, wearing a pair of sneakers with a hole in the right shoe, he said.

“Pickerell taught me you always (search) a neighborhood first,” he said, “then you expand out. As we expanded out, we went into a bar half a mile from the bank and took the photos with us.”

They showed the bartender the photos, but he had no idea from the disguise who the guy was. As the agents were walking out the door, Piccirillo glanced down at the shoes of a man sitting in a booth and noticed a hole in the man’s right sneaker.

“It was a perfect match,” he said. “It was our guy.

“This was the kind of work Pickerell taught me to do, and we solved every one of them,” Piccirillo said.

Piccirillo spent 14 years in the FBI, during which time he also investigated drug cases with the Drug Enforcement Administration and was part of a drug task force in Stark County, Ohio.

“We took down a huge cocaine ring that involved a car dealership owner’s son,” he said.

Piccrillo also did undercover work that dismantled the Outlaw Motorcycle Group from Detroit that was trafficking cocaine, in 1986-87. He received a commendation for that case.

He left the FBI at age 43 and, living in Minneapolis, he became the director of the Minnesota Crime Prevention Officer’s Association and was chairman of the board of directors of Minnesota Crime Stoppers, Inc. He also ran his own private investigation and executive protection firm in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. One of his details was to protect former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. He also stopped an attempted kidnapping, in progress, of a woman professional in Minneapolis who had been stalked for months.

Piccirillo received a citizens meritorious service award from the Minneapolis Police Department, for the capture of an armed robber whom he witnessed brutally assaulting, robbing and injuring a woman on a Minneapolis sidewalk.


He made his move to New Wilmington in 2001 at the urging of former borough councilman George Shaffer, whose daughter was dating Piccirillo’s son at the time. They were later married.

Shaffer persuaded Piccirillo to accept the opening chief job when Chief Richard Hanna retired.

“I saw it as a challenge to take a small department and update it, from the uniforms to computers,” he said. The department’s old gray uniforms were like those worn by prison guards in the 1950s. The department had only one police car, now there are three. The graphics on the car were green electrical tape. There was one desktop computer, used only for managing parking tickets.

The officers had to type or hand-print reports, and they were carrying revolvers. Other departments had advanced to semiautomatics five years earlier, he noted.

New Wilmington had no rifles, no laptops nor a computerized records management system. There were no Tasers or pepper spray, and the officers couldn’t run license plates through LEOC.

“It was all done by hand,” he said, using 3x5-inch cards.

Now the office has two desktop computers, three laptops and a counter desktop, paid for with a grant.

New Wilmington is one of two police departments in the state to recently receive a Drug Intelligence Grant from the state Department of Justice, through Penn State and the state Office of the Attorney General, Piccirillo said. Those funds will be used to update all of the desktop computers.

Also under his watch, the department joined the county’s Drug Task Force, only to see one of the county’s biggest cases right in the borough — the 2015 arrest of Dr. Van Scott, known at the time to be the second largest prescriber of pain medication in Pennsylvania. Scott would write unlawful prescriptions to drug-dependent individuals who would resell the medications on the streets. He was one of several pain doctors arrested and convicted in Lawrence County, who contributed to its opioid addiction epidemic.

The borough police department is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and its full-time patrolmen currently are Eric Berger, Randy Russo, Justin George and Tobias Ochs.

Piccirillo, a resident of Wilmington Township, said he decided to retire because, “It’s time to go. It’s time to let the younger people do this.”

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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