Rudert’s Jewelry Store, in Tarentum, was open late on December 23, 1889, to accommodate last-minute holiday shoppers. Hearing the sound of breaking glass, Mary Ann Rudert ran in to the showroom while her husband, Paul, went in search of a weapon.
Interrupted as they loaded the contents of the display cases into bags, the men shot Mrs. Rudert once in the head. She died on the scene.
Witnesses reported three men fleeing the scene.
Alexander Killen was arrested early the next day in Tarentum. A gun with a single shot fired was found in his possession. Killen’s alleged accomplices, Peter Griffin and Thomas Conroy, who were implicated in the robbery and were believed to be the principals in the murder, were never arrested.
Killen operated a ferry on the Allegheny River, very near the scene of the killing. After his arrest, he denied knowledge of the robbery and murder and stated that three men borrowed his boat to cross the river after the murder and paid him in jewelry, apparently stolen from Rudert’s store. He later confessed.
Killen had a record of similar offenses. He was part of group of youths convicted of assault with intent to rob in 1876, for which he served a prison sentence. He had also served sentences for vagrancy, disorderly conduct, and burglary.
At trial, Killen was convicted of first-degree murder on October 19, 1890, and sentenced to death. It was Allegheny County’s first felony murder involving a store robbery, a circumstance that would become far more common as retail proliferated.
The foreman of the jury is reported to have wept while reading the verdict, while Killen’s attorney forcefully proclaimed that the matter was not yet settled. Newspaper coverage echoed the sense of injustice these actions suggested. The issue was the belief that Killen was a minor player in the murder.
Due to questions about the extent of his involvement in the crime, Killen’s death sentence was commuted on October 29, 1891, and he was moved to Western Penitentiary to serve a life sentence.
Pittsburgh Press, December 31, 1908
Despite his record and confession, questions about Killen’s role in the Rudert murder grew over time. The belief developed that he was entirely uninvolved in the case, a cause that was taken up by Pittsburgh civic, religious, and business leaders. With their support, his case was presented again to the Pardon Board, which granted him a full pardon.
Alexander Killen was released from prison on April 24, 1909.
Killen’s release was treated as a cause for celebration, with closely observed newspaper accounts of his emergence into a modern world after almost twenty years behind bars.
Pittsburgh Press, April 24, 1909
Alexander Killen died in obscurity on January 25, 1925.
Paul Rudert remarried and became a prominent jeweler and businessman.