WILKINSBURG (KDKA) — If you remember the movie “Mrs. Soffel,” starring Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson, you already know the story of how a warden’s wife helped the Biddle brothers escape from jail.
It’s a real story, and it happened right here in Pittsburgh at the old Allegheny County Jail.
Now, two items that were part of that story have surfaced, and you’ll be able to see them in an unusual –and at the same time — a perfectly fitting spot.
Joe Davis named his coffeehouse in Wilkinsburg “Biddle’s Escape.” After all it’s on Biddle Avenue.
“I named it after the street and that it’s an escape for myself,” said Davis.
Little did the Baltimore native know that “Biddle’s Escape” is an infamous piece of Pittsburgh history. That is, until a customer gave him copy of the movie “Mrs. Soffel.”
It depicts the real-life story of the Biddle brothers, known in 1901 as the chloroform bandits. Jack and Ed Biddle would use it to knock out their victims.
But after shooting and killing a grocery store owner, they were caught and sentenced to death.
However, the jail warden’s wife, Mrs. Soffel, fell in love with Ed, and smuggled hacksaws and a pistol in to help the brothers escape.
Now back to Davis, as he unzips a case for vintage-looking pistol.
“It’s the gun that Mrs. Soffel snuck into Ed Biddle, and how they escaped from the Allegheny County Jail,” said Davis.
He says a family who acquired it had passed it down through generations, but then: “The Arthur family really wanted the gun to be shown.”
He says a plan to put it a museum didn’t work, and by pure coincidence someone called a friend of Davis’.
“He said, ‘Oh I have the perfect person,’” ironically just as Davis walked in the door.
But there’s more: The brothers were caught two days later, along with Mrs. Soffel, on a stolen sled in Butler County.
Though all three were shot, they were taken to the Butler County Jail and the brothers later died.
And that brings us a second item Davis now has in his possession. A lock reportedly from their cell in Butler, which was also kept for years by the family who had the gun.
Davis says he has plans to put them both on display in his coffeehouse in a special case.
“We’re going to put it in the ceiling,” said Davis. “It’s an oddity, and I truly love oddities.”
So Biddle’s Escape will have a part of the Biddles’ escape right there to see, hopefully, by the middle of month.
“It is a piece of Pittsburgh history,” says Davis.
By the way, Mrs. Soffel survived her wound. She spent 19 months in prison, and her husband, the warden, divorced her.