Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Biddle Boys Stop for a Bite

Six ham sandwiches and a pint of whiskey add a footnote to the tale of the notorious brothers and Mrs. Soffel.



There may never be a juicier, more wicked and romantic tale in Pittsburgh history than the story of the dastardly and murderous (although famously handsome) Ed and Jack Biddle. In 1902, the brothers escaped from the Allegheny County Jail downtown thanks to help from the infatuated Kate Soffel, who was then the warden’s wife and who fled with the Biddle boys as they headed north.

The story is a bit Bonnie-and-Clyde-ish; it’s Madame-Bovarian; it’s Wild West dramatic, occasionally Fargo-like and comic, and oh-so-romantic with Doctor Zhivago-like scenes in Butler County. And yes, in 1984, it was made into an odd and oddly beautiful, big-time movie called Mrs. Soffel with Diane Keaton in the title role, opposite a young Mel Gibson as Ed Biddle and the oft-forgotten Matthew Modine as Jack.

The movie, proudly promoted with the words “A True Story” full-screen, used the facts loosely at times and ignored some of the nicest details that were originally reported in newspapers at the time. In the film, the Biddles seem to escape on New Year’s Eve, but actually they broke out on Jan. 29, and they got as far as the village of Perrysville in Ross Township by the next night. They hid out in a schoolhouse, Perrysville School No. 2, for several hours, and they stole a horse and sleigh from a local stable before heading on, maybe toward Canada, maybe toward New Castle.

“Their escape and Mrs. Soffel’s involvement made front-page news from Canada to California,” says Diane Holleran, who’s a Ross Township historian and writer. She’s collected many articles, photos, maps and copies of ancient newspaper headlines that prove her point. “It was just such a great and exciting story. It was a hundred-plus years ago, but people are still fascinated.”

Holleran points out that one of the places they stopped for food is still here. It’s now a light-blue apartment building (shown below) on Route 19 (Perry Highway) at Atlantic Avenue, on the left as you head north in downtown Perrysville. Records show it was built in the late-1840s, and it was called the White House Inn back in those exciting days, although some folks knew it as the Weller Hotel because it was run by Christopher R. Weller, who was tending bar on the evening of Jan. 30, 1902.

Some accounts have both Biddles and Mrs. Soffel coming to the White House Inn for something to eat, but the Pittsburg Dispatch on Feb. 1, 1902, reported it was just Ed who showed up late that evening in search of some grub. There was a church group in the hotel having a little post-sleigh-ride party, and Weller said dinner was over and all he could rustle up were ham sandwiches. Ed Biddle ordered six. And a pint of whiskey.

When the six sandwiches and the whiskey couldn’t fit into Ed’s overcoat pocket, he had to take his revolver out to make room. (This wasn’t in the movie!)

Kate Soffel and the Biddle boys may have eaten the sandwiches at the schoolhouse before setting out in their stolen one-horse open sleigh. Or maybe they ate them on the road as they traveled northward in the dark after 1 a.m.
By mid-afternoon on Jan. 31, the fugitives were confronted on the road by law-enforcement types, and the Biddles and Soffel were all three shot in a field just west of Mount Chestnut in Butler County. Ed and Jack died the next day from their wounds. Mrs. Soffel lived on for several years, until 1909, disgraced, shunned by her family and undoubtedly full of good stories.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The 400-Word Review: The Lion King

Despite a great voice cast, the new version of "The Lion King" was a bad idea from the start.

Why These 6 Days in 1969 Were So Important to Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but we're not the only ones. We take a look at six notable events from 1969.

Women in Power: The Pros Changing Allegheny County

Allegheny County breaks the old boys’ club by placing women in key positions.

Growing Together: Farmers and Chefs Elevate Pittsburgh Dining

These seven farmer/chef pairings are leading the charge toward more vital vegetable dishes.

Afraid to Go to the Dentist? Consider the Sedation Solution

For some patients, dental work wouldn’t be possible if they were fully alert.

Restaurant Review: Spirits & Tales at the Oaklander Hotel

Executive chef Jessica Lewis’ strong voice is undermined by inconsistencies throughout the restaurant.

Perspectives: A Big Life

A former newspaper reporter's assignment leads to a lifelong friendship with a man who battled a food addiction.

Our 50 Years: Why This Movie Landed on Our Cover

Hollywood could be found on the Mon, quite literally, in 1993 — leading to some fawning coverage of the mostly forgotten (but very, very Pittsburgh-centric) action flick “Striking Distance.”

George S. Kaufman’s Sensational Scandal

The Pittsburgh-born playwright made tabloid headlines in the 1930s. (it didn’t slow him down a bit.)

You Can Ride a Roller Coaster Classic

Roller coaster history is hidden nearby — and not where you might think.

Tea, Cake and Death: A Safe Place to Discuss a Scary Subject

“Death Cafes” seek to reduce taboos around the act of dying.

How He Makes the Mundane Sound Magical

Experimental sound artist R. Weis creates otherworldly sonic compositions from everyday materials.

Uber’s New Service Puts Riders in the Driver’s Seat

Passengers in Pittsburgh now can pay for a most customized experience with Uber Comfort.

The 400-Word Review: Secret Obsession

Netflix is on a bit of a hot streak with its original thrillers. Unfortunately, this dud isn't part of it.

After Dark Hall of Fame: Primanti Bros.

The beloved bar-and-restaurant chain has become a Pittsburgh emblem. It's the 10th inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


Uber’s New Service Puts Riders in the Driver’s Seat

Uber’s New Service Puts Riders in the Driver’s Seat

Passengers in Pittsburgh now can pay for a most customized experience with Uber Comfort.

Comments

Do You Want to Pay More Taxes to Improve Parks?

Do You Want to Pay More Taxes to Improve Parks?

The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy hopes to restore the city’s parks to their former glory, but they may need a tax increase to do so.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
The Latest Restaurant and Bar Openings in Pittsburgh

The Latest Restaurant and Bar Openings in Pittsburgh

We say hello to a new concept from Justin Severino, a summer-long dance pop-up and a new spot for cocktails.

Comments

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

Recommended Pittsburgh Eating: 4 Recent Dishes I Loved

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein says a corned beef sandwich, Sichuan smashed eggplants, smoked chicken wings and a cornbread dessert have his attention.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

5 Best Spots to Hang Out with Your Dog

For those who can’t stand the idea of leaving their dogs home alone on a beautiful day, these dog-friendly stores, restaurants and bars in the Pittsburgh area welcome humans and canines alike.

Comments

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

5 Races You (Yes, You) Can Run This Year

Even novice runners can work their way up to these fun and (mildly) challenging races.

Comments


After Dark Hall of Fame: Primanti Bros.

After Dark Hall of Fame: Primanti Bros.

The beloved bar-and-restaurant chain has become a Pittsburgh emblem. It's the 10th inductee in the After Dark Hall of Fame.

Comments

The Park After Dark

The Park After Dark

Kennywood’s “Night Rider” tickets may be the best bet for many visitors.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

Pirates’ Possibilities Include Contention in Surprising Season’s Second Half

It hasn’t gone according to the original script, but the Pirates have found a way to stay relevant — and may yet be capable of finishing what they started.

Comments

Pens’ Conundrum: The Coach and the Culture

Pens’ Conundrum: The Coach and the Culture

Try as he might, General Manager Jim Rutherford has so far been unable to change the makeup of his team as intended. It may, thus, ultimately fall on head coach Mike Sullivan to adjust the attitudes of players with a recent track record of resisting change for the greater good.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: The Lion King

The 400-Word Review: The Lion King

Despite a great voice cast, the new version of "The Lion King" was a bad idea from the start.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Secret Obsession

The 400-Word Review: Secret Obsession

Netflix is on a bit of a hot streak with its original thrillers. Unfortunately, this dud isn't part of it.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Book a Band for a Different Kind of Wedding Sound

Book a Band for a Different Kind of Wedding Sound

For many couples, family and tradition means everything. Having a band that helps reflect those can be a great way to pay tribute to your heritage, while getting your guests on the dance floor.

Comments

Eleven Couples to be Married after Love at First Bite

Eleven Couples to be Married after Love at First Bite

Wedding bells will be chiming for multiple couples this weekend … and it’s taking place at Primanti Bros. in the Strip District.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
5 Pittsburgh Vintage Homes Stores You'll Want to Explore

5 Pittsburgh Vintage Homes Stores You'll Want to Explore

PM Editoral Intern Ellie Pesetsky shares some of her favorite up-cycled furniture and home decor stores in and around Pittsburgh.

Comments

Oakmont Glassware Company Looking to Join the Big Time

Oakmont Glassware Company Looking to Join the Big Time

Amanda Lee began painting glasses in her basement to help pay for her college education. Today, she ships her products across the globe from a new, shabby-chic warehouse and gift shop.

Comments