As you’ve read before, there are many rumors and stories that have circulated throughout Delaware and Pennsylvania about Cossart Road, otherwise known as Devil’s Road. You can read those rumors by clicking here. These stories entail the DuPonts, sacrifices, ghosts, and a cult house, and awful amount of superstitions…
The Actual Truth…
The actual truth of Devil’s Road begins with a family known as the Johnston’s. Bruce Alfred Johnston Sr. (March 27, 1939 – August 8, 2002) was the leader of this gang that became the most notorious gang in the history of Pennsylvania. It all began in the 1960s and came to an abrupt end in 1978 when his own son testified against him. Fun fact: a 1986 film At Close Range is loosely based on the Johnston’s.
The Johnston’s were known for stealing antiques, drugs, and especially tractors within Chester County, Lancaster County, Maryland and Delaware. The gang members were highly skilled in lock-picking, cracking safes, disarming security systems and hot wiring vehicles. They paid close attention to police scanners to stay one step ahead of local law enforcement. They would go as far as diverting state police by phoning in a false report of a crime. A retired police officer of the area stated, “Nothing in my experience ever compared to what they were. They were damn good at what they did.”
Gang members (As you can see some were “moles”…)
- Bruce Johnston Sr.
- David Johnston
- Norman Johnston
- Richard Mitchell → later became a witness for the State
- James Griffin → later became a witness for the State
- Edward Otter
- Davis Schonely
- Leslie Dale → later became a witness for the State
- Gary Wayne Crouch, deceased
- Richard Donnell
- Roy Meyers → later became a witness for the State
- Jack W. Baen, drowned in 1970; murder charges were filed against Leslie Dale and Richard Donnell
- Francis Matherly
- Ancell E. Hamm: killed two police officers of the Kennett Square Police Department, William Davis and Richard Posey, in 1972 and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. He was one of the earliest Johnston Gang members.
The Crime Timeline Starts With Dutch Wonderland…
August, 1971 (Dutch Wonderland-Lincoln Highway East)
One of the Johnston gang members was able to pry open the door to the theme park’s shop with a crowbar. The shop was located just off of a side street that was hidden from the main roads. The gang gathered their tools; crowbar, rope, blowtorch, hammer, walkie-talkies. This operation would become known as the worst ever burglary to ever happen at the popular tourist attraction. They came away with $33,000 worth of loot.
1975 (Meadia Heights Country Club, Lancaster, PA)
Once again, the Johnston boys used a crowbar to break their way into a pro shop at a country club in Lancaster, PA. With skills in disarming alarm systems, they were able to drill holes through the wall of the shop and break the system. When they got in, they dynamited the safe and came out of this mission with golf equipment and $15,000. The equipment was never recovered.
A woman by the name of Janet Gazzerro, along with her husband Frank were convicted of bribing a juror who was on the Chester County Common Pleas Court. This is where the gang leader Bruce Johnston Sr. was accused of stealing a tractor. Janet and Frank received $83,000 in stolen Oriental rugs, jewelry, and exotic furs. Gazzerro admits Bruce Sr. gave her three garden tractors. Janet kept two and one went to the juror. Ultimately it paid off, and Bruce Sr., David and Norman Johnston and Roy Myers were acquitted of the theft charges.
April – May, 1977
In April 1977, the Johnston gang had stolen cigarettes and transported them successfully across state lines The amount of stolen cigarettes totaled $21,900. In 1981 they all accepted the charges and plead guilty for steeling the cigarettes.
May 1977 rolls around and three of the brothers burgle Longwood Gardens in Chester County. They successfully stole $28,000 from the Gardens and ended up serving two-to four year sentences for convictions on state charges for this crime.
August 1978 Victims
As the Johnston brothers and gang members start gaining more attention, the only way they thought to stop people from talking was to get rid of them, including Bruce’s own son…
- James “Jimmy” Johnston (18) half brother to Bruce Jr. — murdered August 16, 1978
- Dwayne Lincoln (17) — murdered August 16, 1978
- Wayne Sampson (20) — murdered August 16, 1978
- James Sampson (24) — murdered August 21, 1978
- Robin Miller (15, girlfriend of Bruce Johnston Jr.) — murdered August 30, 1978
- Bruce Johnston Jr. (19) – critically injured during an attempted murder – August 30, 1978
Bruce Senior Tells His Son To Start His Own Gang…
Bruce Johnston, leader of the infamous Johnston gang leads his son into forming his own gang, making his son the leader. Little Bruce gathered his friends and started committing crimes like their false role models had told them to. Little Bruce’s gang was short lived and he was arrested on charges for petty crimes in Oxford, PA. He was taken to prison and it was there that things started to really go downhill for the Johnston gang.
During the summer Little Bruce was imprisoned, his girlfriend, Robin Miller had written him a letter stating that Little Bruce’s father had raped her. Bruce Sr. had offered to take Robin to see her boyfriend in prison, but instead gave her some whiskey, took her to a motel, and sexually assaulted her. Enraged with fury, Little Bruce spoke to the police and told them everything about the Johnston family and what they had done…
The Violent Ending of The Kiddie Gang
The Johnston family becomes known as The Kiddie Gang around Chester and Lancaster County. Little Bruce was being held in jail under protective custody after spilling out secrets to the police. Rumors started to spread like wildfire. In order to silence the other potential informants the gang was dealing with, they went as far as murdering their own members. This resulted in four gang members’ deaths and an attempted murder of Little Bruce’s 18 year old half brother, James. The gang members were led into an isolated field off of Cossart Road in Chadds Ford, PA, told to dig their own graves, and were killed right then and there.
After hearing about the murders, Little Bruce decided to sign himself out of protective custody. He went and spent the day with his girlfriend at Hershey Park and as they pulled in to their driveway, two men came out from the cornfield across the street and started firing. In August of 1978, Little Bruce and Robin Miller were ambushed by their uncles David and Norman. Robin Miller was shot in the face and killed. Robin was only 15 years old. Little Bruce was shot 9 times, including 3 times in the head, but somehow he survived and managed to get into the house and phone the police.
Little Bruce survived and testified against his father and his uncles and ultimately sent them all to life in prison. Bruce Sr. died in a Pennsylvania prison in 2002 at the age of 63. The Johnston family is still known as one of the most dangerous and infamous gangs in the United States. Disturbingly enough, they went as far as killing their own family members to protect themselves from the Feds and it all happened right here in Pennsylvania…
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