David Evans, his wife, Louisa (nee Varner), and their five children – Josephine, Minerva, Sarah, Louise, and Arrabella – lived in poverty on Sampson Street (now Sampsonia Way), Allegheny, an area now known as the North Side.
Evans, a Pittsburgh-born unemployed carpenter, often stayed out late at night. Despite neighbor and newspaper portrayals of the quiet suffering, devoutness, and rectitude of Evans, references to his late hours and drinking suggest a more complicated reality.
After coming home on the night of May 11, 1858, he fatally stabbed Louisa. When she fell, the baby she was holding, Arrabella, was injured; she died three days later. After killing his wife, Evans attempted to burn her body to conceal his crime.
The authorities were alerted by neighbors after Evans ran into the street to raise an alarm about the fire. He was promptly arrested.
Under questioning, Evans offered the dubious claim that he was sleeping downstairs due to a toothache on the night of the murder and that an intruder entered and killed his wife. Investigation quickly cast doubt on this scenario; the razor with which Louisa Evans was killed belonged to her husband, as did the cloth used to wipe it clean of blood after the murder.
With no other assailant ever identified, no evidence to support his story, and numerous witnesses to establish that Evans was present, he was convicted of first-degree murder on November 13, 1858, after a five-day trial.
No motive for the murder was clearly established, though the family’s financial problems and associated strains were most often mentioned.
Evans’ motion for a new trial was rejected and he was sentenced to death on December 14, 1858. At sentencing, the judge offered this argument in support of the conviction:
David Evans was hanged on May 20, 1859, side-by-side with Christian Jacoby, who had also killed his wife. Evans spoke at length from the gallows, declaring his innocence and his Christian faith.
The following day, the Pittsburgh Gazette editorialized that yesterday “was the scene of one of those terrible vindications of the majesty of the law, which transpire only too frequently for the honor and credit of society.”