HANOVER TOWNSHIP, Penn. — It will be 99 years on July 1, 2019 since the shooting death of 21-year-old Peter Vrountas of Wilkes-Barre, a waiter trying to protect an 18-year-old woman with whom he was sitting next to a creek in a former park here, but it’s still not forgotten.
He reacted quickly when a man sprang from the bushes and grabbed the arm of Winifred Conahan, struggling to free her when he was shot in the chest at a spot that is now near the Hanover Area High School baseball field in what used to be Sans Souci Park.
At that time, the Times Leader Evening News and Wilkes-Barre Record newspapers first reported that detectives and township police had a number of theories that were discounted when they caught up with Harry Jacobs, 42, who was known to frequent the park and swim in the creek. Having spent time in prison for firearm and theft crimes, detectives focused their sights on Jacobs, a resident of a boarding house in Lee Park, today’s Times-Leader said in a report on what happened there so long ago.
It was police work and Conahan’s recollection her attacker had a “gruff” voice that cracked the case after detectives looked at Conahan’s father, believing he didn’t want his daughter being courted by a Greek. They even though the woman may have shot him in what the theorized was because of a lover’s triangle and that he didn’t propose to her.
It ended tragically for the young man who worked at Presto Lunch on Public Square, Wilkes-Barre, near a seafood restaurant where Conahan was employed in a restaurant, both busy places with plenty of customers from the 109th Field Artillery at the end of WWI.
Before apprehending Jacobs, detectives also thought the perpetrator might have been a soldier who liked Conahan and who had been in an argument with Vrountas.
It all turned over her recollection of the attacker’s voice, the Wilkes-Barre record write on July 3, 1919 as the murder was quickly solved although Jacobs initially denied everything and said he wasn’t even at the scene.
Jacobs matched the description of the suspect by the park’s watchman, who stood on a nearby bridge at the time of the shooting and saw the gunman run away and detectives found a revolver and a blood-soaked shirt in a foot locker in Jacobs’ room at the boarding house.
Without the ability to decipher DNA, detectives relied on Conahan’s testimony and that the suspect had no teeth, resulting in him speaking in a rough, distinctive tone.
Four months after his arrest, Jacobs was found guilty of second-degree murder after a trial at the Luzerne County Courthouse in November 1919 although he claimed he was mentally impaired because of a snake bite.
He was sentenced to 18 years in prison and sent to the Fairview State Hospital for the criminally insane, where he escaped twice in 1920 and 1921, both times on a horse. After he was caught after the second escape, he was transferred to the infamous Eastern Penitentiary in Philadelphia to serve the remainder of his sentence.
Sans Souci Park closed in 1970, and the land was used as a landfill following the 1972 Agnes flood. The Hanover Area School District purchased 10 acres of the former park in the mid-1970s, and constructed a high school that opened in 1979.
Conahan moved to New York City where she married and had three children. She died in September 1977 – as the high school was being built – and buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Hanover Township.