Anthony McGowan and his wife, Sarah, quarreled frequently. The Irish-born McGowan, who worked at Carnegie Steel’s Carrie Works and owned several rental properties in Rankin, had repeatedly threatened her life. He is also reported to have threatened the lives of at least one of their three children, all of whom had been driven out of the house by his drinking and violent behavior.
On New Year’s Eve 1897, a drunk McGowan shot Sarah in their Second St., Rankin home. She was able to walk to a neighbor’s home, where she implicated her husband before dying. The police responded and arrested McGowan as he slept. A gun was also found in the home.
At trial, McGowan claimed self-defense and drunkenness. With two of his children testifying against him, he was convicted on April 28, 1898. After his motion for a new trial was rejected, he was sentenced to death on June 4.
On appeal, his claims that his responsibility were mitigated by drunkenness and self-defense were again rejected (Commonwealth v. McGowan, 189 Pa. 641, 1899).
With his execution seemingly assured, the Pardon Board recommended McGowan’s commutation on May 3, 1899. The Governor supported the recommendation. Though McGowan’s history of violence created an expectation his execution would be carried out, the legal indifference to marital violence likely weighed against the application of the full force of the law.
Anthony McGowan was transferred to Western Penitentiary, where he died on June 29, 1919. He was 73. He had been denied a pardon a month before his death.