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Former New Kensington woman answers question of ‘Who is Biff?’

August 8, 2018
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Gail Lewis holds a photograph of her and Biff at the intersection of Seventh Street Freeport Road in New Kensington, Thursday Aug. 2, 2018.

Gail Lewis says she knows exactly who the mastermind behind New Kensington’s iconic ‘I (heart) Biff’ graffiti was.

She was.

“Everybody knows it was me,” said Lewis, 59, of Penn Hills. “I can swear to God on anything holy: I’m the very first one that put that up there.”

Her friends back her story.

“She’s the one that did it,” said Patsy Diggs, 68, of New Kensington. “She was just so in love.”

“Biff” was actually a man by the name of David Allen Cooper, who died in August 1992. Lewis, whose maiden name was Checkeye, was dating him at the time.

She said Cooper was a sweet and funny person who liked to ride his motorcycle and cook. He worked as a chef.

“He just had a beautiful sense of humor,” said Lewis, who used to live in New Kensington. “He was just funny, the whole way around.”

Lewis was about 27 when she spray painted the message, which originally read, “I (heart) U Biff.” It was done in black spray paint.

Diggs can attest to that because she acted as the lookout while Lewis did the deed. She said the two were driving somewhere late at night when Lewis stopped the car to tag the wall.

“I just kept looking out, ’cause I thought we’d go to jail,” Diggs said.

Lewis put the graffiti where she did -- on the Freeport Road side of the recently demolished Metal Working Machinery Co. building that faces Mount Saint Peter Parish -- because Cooper would pass by it on his way to work.

She said he thought it was funny: “He laughed.”

The graffiti stayed on the building for at least 30 years -- even though the building owners would continuously paint over it.

People would keep redoing the graffiti.

Attempts to reach the owner of Metal Working Machinery for comment weren’t successful.

At some point it morphed from “I (heart) U Biff” to “I (heart) Biff.”

The newer messages were done in white spray paint.

Lewis and Diggs went back at least once to re-paint the message when it faded, but they couldn’t say who kept going back and re-doing it all those years.

“It was just weird,” Lewis said. “It always came back up in that spot. It just kept coming back for years and years and years. They covered it, it would come back.”

Kelly Torok is another friend of Lewis’ who agrees that Lewis was behind the original “Biff.” She remains amused.

“We just want to know who in the heck was re-doing it all these years,” said Torok, 54, of Lower Burrell. “I don’t know why somebody kept it alive.”″

The graffiti was so memorable that New Ken residents Rick Radvansky and Chris Lowe made T-shirts paying homage to it. The shirts look like the old red brick building and the ‘I (heart) Biff’ decal is exactly the same as what was spray painted on the wall.

Lewis said Cooper would find it hilarious that people are selling T-shirts bearing the graffiti.

The Tribune-Review did a story on the shirts earlier this week, and the day article ran was July 31 -- the same day Cooper bought Lewis an engagement ring in 1991.

“He would just be sitting there laughing his (butt) off ... knowing that that was that popular,” Lewis said. “I’m just laughing because I’m thinking to myself I should just go out here and start making those T-shirts and (sell) them myself.”

The two eventually broke up, and Cooper moved to Kennerdell.

He was shot and killed by a man named John Bullotta at the age of 28.

According to May 23, 1993 edition of The Titusville Herald, Bullotta admitted to shooting Cooper on Aug. 16, 1992 following a struggle.

Bullotta was found not guilty of homicide by a Venango County jury.

Lewis spoke with Cooper’s mom the same day the Tribune-Review article ran. She said his mother cried.

“She said, ‘You’re the one who gave him the nickname,’” Lewis said. “I guess I did. I don’t know. I’m getting old.”

Cooper’s mother declined to comment for this story.

Born in New Kensington in 1964, Cooper was a graduate of Valley High School and the Pennsylvania Culinary School of Pittsburgh, according to his obituary.

He was a cook at Cross Roads Restaurant in Kennerdell, Venango County, as well as the Lamp Post restaurant in Lower Burrell. Lewis said Cooper also worked as a chef at the former Adams restaurant along Greensburg Road. She was a waitress there, and believes that’s where the two met.

The identity of the original tagger didn’t stay a secret for long following the article, which included some theories about “Biff’s” supposed origins.

Chris Lowe, one of the T-shirt sellers, assumed the truth would come out after the article ran, but had hoped that his origins would remain a mystery.

“I kind of liked the urban legend -- like the Bigfoot situation where nobody actually knew the truth,” he said.

The T-shirts have proven to be popular, which has thrown Lowe for a loop. The two men quickly ran out of seven dozen and had to order more.

“I never expected it to take off like this,” Lowe said. “I thought we’d be washing our car with ‘I (heart) Biff’ shirts.”

Diggs said she was surprised by how many origin stories there are.

Lewis thinks the origin stories are funny, and said anyone who knew her in the old days would have known that she did it.

“That’s just the way I was,” she said.

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