Small Town Noir is, and probably always will be, one of my favourite blogs.
Each blog entry includes the mug shot of a criminal arrested in New Castle, Pennsylvania and the story behind it. Using local sources, the blog puts the entry’s crime in a historical context and often provides information on the lives of the individuals in the mug shots before and after they were taken. As described on the site “The mug shots on this site were all taken in New Castle, Pennsylvania, between 1930 and 1959, and were rescued from the trash when the town’s police department threw them out. The information that has been used to reconstruct the stories behind the pictures comes mostly from old copies of the local paper, the New Castle News.”
The stark images of each of these apprehended suspects alone make this site worth a visit by anyone running a game set in the 30s, 40s or 50s. It provides a glimpse of the fashions and faces of the kind of hard cases that PCs and NPCs are made of. Moreover, it also provides a healthy stock of names and background stories that can be easily appropriated by a GM who is looking to create a tough NPC with an authentic sounding name and a bit of off-the-shelf history.
Take Ross Paswell and Harold Geary, for instance. In the winter of 1945, this duo, one bounced out of the Navy and the other unable to join, help up a cafe and made off with a relatively trivial amount of cash. Stealing cars and living it up with the girlfriends, the Ross and Harold are a classic pair of human-seeming henchmen that could be dropped into any adventure set in the middle of the 20th century. Ross Paswell is a particularly interesting figure.
His entry recounts his protests against prison conditions and his support of radical social causes thoughout the rest of his long life. A life, it must be said, sprinkled with other crimes ranging from petty to violent. Emerging from prison in the early 70s, Ross went on to work with prisoners and became a model rehabilitator, if also a bit of crank. Were I in need, I think Ross is a tailor made mouthy, smart alec crook who may be a little too smart for his own good. Alternatively, he may be a good PC patron if you were to use him as a model for a charitable man with a chequered past seeking help.
Even if you were playing in a more pulpy or super game, I still think the mug-shots and stories of these suspects can be easily wrapped in more garish costumes and still feel real.
For me, at least, every entry of Small Town Noir is a feast of hard-boiled history that gets my imaginative juices rolling. I look forward to its updates and if you are thinking of running any game set in the middle of the 20th century, ranging from Call of Cthulhu, to any Golden Age or Silver Age supers game, I strongly recommend you subscribe to the RSS feed and get regular inspiration.