George Dunn

On August 19, 1844, young George Dunn crossed the Allegheny Bridge into downtown Pittsburgh. As he did, he evaded the fare being collected by John Anderson by falsely claiming to be a bridge employee, something Dunn had been doing for months.

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Sherman Day, 1843, Allegheny River on left

On this day, Anderson challenged his claim, having previously warned him. Dunn responded by stabbing Anderson. Fleeing into the city, Dunn was apprehended by citizens in the area. In this era before regular policing, he was taken to Mayor Alexander Hay’s office.

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Anderson, a married father of five children, died the next day, after having been able to provide a description of Dunn and his actions.

At trial, Dunn claimed he had dropped his fare on the ground and Anderson had fought with him as a result. He was convicted on November 14, 1844, and sentenced to death on November 26. Due to his youth, questions about the extent of his guilt, and sentiment against the death penalty that was common to the era, there was an active public effort to gain his pardon. Sympathy turned against him after reports of his involvement in fights while in jail.

George Dunn’s conviction was reversed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on September 23, 1847, largely on the grounds that it could not be clearly established that he was present in court throughout his trial (Dunn v. Commonwealth, 1847). He was not retried.

Relased from jail, he was arrested for disorderly conduct that same day after threatening to kill a companion (he had also been the aggressor in a brutal fight while in jail). Apparently sensing an opportunity to dispose of the matter, rather than retry Dunn or bring new charges, he was fined and released on the promise to leave town.

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Pittsburgh Daily Post, September 30, 1847

The hope of a changed man was short-lived.

On August 9, 1853, Dunn, who was working as crew on a steamship, is alleged to have killed Martin Sutton, a fellow crewman, in Memphis, Tennessee.

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I have been unable to obtain any information about the disposition of this case. Newspaper reports from Louisiana indicate that a sailor named George Dunn was killed aboard ship en route from Panama to San Francisco in April 1854.

 

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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