Historical Series: The Time the World’s Gaze Was on Venango County and Peace Hung in the Balance

| December 31, 2022

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – Historical Series: “The Time the World’s Gaze was on Venango County and Peace Hung in the Balance,” Part I. In 1957, a Filipino “war bride” is accused of fatally shooting her husband at his father’s residence in Pleasantville, Pa.

(Pictured above: Lydia Dean sits in her cell inside Venango County Jail. Credit: AP Wirephoto, 1957.)

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“Mrs. Lydia Dean, 22, a Filipino war bride, in jail cell yesterday in Franklin, Pa, where she is being held in connection with the fatal shooting of her husband.”

That’s the first sentence I read about the death of Sergeant Ronald Dean, a 29-year-old Air Force enlisted man who met his end on December 7, 1957. It was published in the Lancaster New Era under an “AP Wirephoto” of Lydia sitting in a cell in the Venango County Jail, her hair perfectly arranged, makeup fastidiously applied.

The thing about old newspapers is that they valued space over perfection in reporting. Unlike today’s digital media, column inches were in short supply. Publishers only printed enough pages to fulfill their advertising commitments. Editors’ jobs were mostly to make sure the news that was fit to print filled the gaps. Sometimes, they made mistakes.

(Marriage contract between Ronald Dean and Lydia Dean, 1953. Credit: “Philippines Marriages, 1723-1957”, database, FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:H195-916Z : 15 February 2020)

Lydia Dean, for example, wasn’t 22–or maybe she was. Or maybe she was 21, as was reported by numerous other papers. Honestly, I’m not sure. What I do know is that on a marriage contract that was signed on November 22, 1953, it lists her age as 17 when she married the 25-year-old Air Force Sergeant. What a different time, eh? That puts her birthdate somewhere between November 23, 1935, and November 22, 1936.

Anyway, she definitely wasn’t married in 1955, as was reported in the Daily Leader-Times. It was 1953. See what I’m getting at? We can’t count on accuracy.

War brides, as they were known, were women who married military personnel from other countries in times of war or during military occupations. The Korean War had come to an end on July 27, 1953, but servicemen were still deployed throughout Southeast Asia. Ronald Dean was one such serviceman.

According to early reports of Lydia’s arrest and arraignment, she was taken into custody on Saturday, December 7, 1957, just a few hours after she shot and killed her husband with an old .45-70 caliber “buffalo rifle.”

For context, the rifle was an earlier variant of the 1874 Sharps rifle used in Quigley Down Under. It’s not the same gun, but it looks similar enough.

(.45-70 “Buffalo Rifle” reproduction. Credit: The Hunter Wikia.)

I bring up the gun so you can imagine a 21-year-old (For now, let’s just agree she was 21, okay?) Filipina who looks like she was 110 pounds soaking wet raising the barrel at her husband and pulling the trigger. It’s quite an imaginary sight.

The shooting, according to the Daily Leader-Times, occurred in the home of Ronald’s parents in Pleasantville, Pa.

The story, no matter where you read it, goes something like this: Ronald Dean was deployed to England for a 17-month tour of duty. Two weeks prior to his death, he returned to Pennsylvania.

(Three-year-old Phyllis Dean stayed with Mr. and Mrs. William Flick while her mother was in jail. Credit: AP Wirephoto, 1957.)

Apparently, he had fallen in love with an English woman while he was deployed and communicated to his wife that he wanted a divorce.

“Ronald told me he wanted a divorce to marry an English girl—that they were expecting a child,” Lydia told someone. (I have no idea who, but it was published in multiple papers.)

“I thought once I’d return to my home, as he wished. Then, I just went out of my mind,” Lydia continued.

On Friday night, December 6, 1957, Ronald left Lydia and their daughter “at home.” Home was actually Ronald’s parents’ home. She had been staying with them during his deployment.

When he left the house, he was accompanied by his parents and a sister. They made a visit to Titusville, then returned later that night. Ronald went to sleep on a living room couch.

Then, as the story goes, Lydia got the rifle and shot her husband in the head. She fled with her daughter to the home of some friends, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd S. Kline at Frills Corner (near Tionesta). She told them what happened, and they summoned the state police.

That’s how the crime was described on December 9, 1957. However, the description changed in the newspapers by the time the trial got underway.

The story of the murder of Ronald Dean and the trial of his accused murderess, Lydia Dean, spread throughout the United States, and then the world.

According to an interview that Lydia’s lawyer, J.G. McGill, did with The Derrick in the 1970s, communist countries had used the trial as propaganda to show that a non-white person could not get a fair trial in the United States.

The world’s eyes were on our little corner of Western Pa. as a young, attractive “war bride” sat in a cell at the Venango County Jail.

Then, something strange happened. It was remarkable, really. And I’ll tell you all about it in Part Two of this series.

Read Part 2: Historical Series: The Time Venango County Rallied Behind an Accused Murderess

Venango County Historical Series is brought to you by First United National Bank – The FUN Bank!

Stop at one of their offices in Fryburg, Clarion, New Bethlehem, Oil City, Franklin, or Cranberry and allow First United National Bank to make you one of their satisfied customers.

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Gavin Fish is a reporter for EYT Media Group and YouTuber based in Venango County. In addition to his YouTube Channel, he has contributed to investigations and reports for ABC News, Investigation Discovery, and Fox Nation, and has collaborated on projects developed for Netflix, Oxygen, Discovery Channel, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
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