Albert Charles Carelli

Philip Flynn was tending bar at the Hotel O’Connor on Frankstown Avenue in East Pittsburgh when it was robbed by three masked members of the infamous “Blue Bandana” gang on September 14, 1923.

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After refusing the demand for money, Flynn was shot in the stomach. The assailants fled. The robbery was part of a crime spree.

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Pittsburgh Press, September 15, 1923

Flynn died on September 18, 1923.

Albert Carelli, a 21-year old member of the gang whose already impressive criminal record began at age 15, was caught in a police dragnet and arrested for shooting Flynn. So began one of the longest and strangest capital cases in the annals of Allegheny County.

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Pittsburgh Post, October 24, 1917
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Pittsburgh Press, October 25, 1917

Also arrested were Raymond Dugan and George Thompson. Police claimed the three young men confessed to the murder and reenacted the scene for police. The men claimed they were beaten and coerced.

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At trial, Carelli denied any involvement in the Flynn case, claiming instead he was beaten into confessing and that he was in Burton, Ohio, at the time of Flynn’s death. That claim was supported by a relative whose home Carelli said he was visiting as well as a number of others from that area.

Carelli, who was tried first, was convicted of first-degree murder on March 17, 1924. Thompson was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and Dugan was convicted of second-degree murder. After his motion for a new trial was rejected, Carelli was sentenced to death on June 24, 1924. He maintained his innocence throughout the case.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld Carelli’s conviction and death sentence on January 5, 1925, leaning on Carelli’s confession to support its conclusion (Commonwealth v. Carelli, 281 Pa. 602).

The Pardon Board viewed the matter differently. Relying on Carelli’s youth, his clean record (stating he was “never before charged with or convicted of crime”), and affidavits of Ohio residents stating that Carelli was there when Flynn was killed, the board commuted Carelli’s death sentence to life imprisonment on March 18, 1925. His custody was transferred to Western Penitentiary.

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A few weeks later, on April 14, 1925, Carelli, along with his confederates Dugan and Thompson, pleaded guilty to five charges of robbery and three charges of larceny related to their involvement in the Blue Bandana Gang. Sentences for those offenses were suspended due to Carelli’s life imprisonment.

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Pittsburgh Press, April 14, 1925

Six months later, Carelli was pardoned by Governor Pinchot after the secretary of the Pardon Board traveled to Burton to verify Carelli’s alibi. He was released from prison on October 2, 1925.

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The day after his pardon, news reports indicated Carelli was attempting to flee to Italy to escape sentencing for his suspended robbery and larceny convictions. A massive police search was launched, but was unsuccessful.

After Carelli was arrested in connection with a robbery and shooting in Cleveland in  January 1926, he fought extradition all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Returned to Pittsburgh, he was sentenced to 28 to 56 years in prison for robbery on October 21, 1926. His appeal of that sentence, which argued that the court lacked the authority to reimpose sentences that previously had been suspended, was rejected (Commonwealth v. Carelli, 90 Pa. Super. 416, 1927).

With the support of prominent Pittsburgh attorney, Michael A. Musmanno, and newspaperman, Ray Sprigle, a second pardon effort was mounted in 1934. That effort achieved some success in 1935 when Carelli’s sentence was commuted from 28 to 56 years to a minimum of 11 years. Pennsylvania Attorney General Charles J. Margiotti expressed strong opposition to any additional leniency for Carelli, declaring “his [1925] pardon was a great miscarriage of justice, the greatest ever perpetrated in this state” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 22, 1935). Carelli was paroled in 1938.

After avoiding conviction on federal counterfeiting charges in 1942, Carelli was convicted of burglary in 1945 and sentenced to 3 to 6 years in prison after being arrested for stealing tires from a service station.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 13, 1945

At the same time, Carelli’s father, also named Albert Charles, was convicted on federal charges of impersonating a federal officer. Health problems led to his collapse during legal proceedings. The elder Carelli, who was sentenced to six years, died in federal prison in Missouri in 1945.

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Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, November 12, 1944

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Younger Albert’s 1945 conviction and sentence were supplemented by the violation of his 1938 parole, extending Carelli’s prison term until he was paroled again on December 1, 1952. A 1955 commutation prevented Carelli from returning to prison for a parole violation if he were to be arrested again.

Carelli was back in court in 1958, this time for failure to pay damages related to a car crash.

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Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, November 7, 1958

So ended Carelli’s long criminal career, at least as far as I can determine, but not the debate over whether he was a small-time offender caught up in a series of mistakes and frame-ups or a serial and violent robber and killer able to persuade powerful people of his innocence.

Albert Carelli died in 1982 at age 80. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery.

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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