Elmer Clyde Johnston

James Krache was shot during a robbery of his business, Suncliff Garage, on Frankstown Rd., Penn Township, late in the evening of February 18, 1922. He died early the next morning.

James Krache in front of his business (undated photo)

Elmer Johnston, his brother, William Johnston, Joseph Peter Vallino (identified in newspaper and court records and Villano), and Paul Agresti were arrested March 2 in Uniontown for their involvement in an unrelated theft case. Once in custody, they confessed to police that they had robbed and killed Krache. They were also implicated in a series of robberies in the area.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, March 2, 1922

Based on their confessions, it was determined that Elmer Johnston, a 23-year old coalminer, was the group’s leader. He stole the car used in the robbery. He entered Krache’s business while his accomplices stayed outside. He fired the initial shots, though Agresti later fired the fatal shot.


At trial, Johnston argued that his confession was coerced and should be excluded. That argument was rejected. His argument that he went to the garage to transact legitimate business and acted in self-defense when Krache argued with him and threatened him was likewise rejected.

Pittsburgh Daily Post, November 16, 1922

Elmer Johnston was convicted of first-degree murder on November 17, 1922.

Agresti, who testified against Johnston, was convicted of second-degree murder on January 8, 1923, and sentenced to five to ten years in Western Penitentiary. Vallino was convicted of second-degree murder on November 24, 1922, and sentenced to eighteen to twenty years in Western Penitentiary.

Pittsburgh Post, June 13, 1923

On appeal, Johnston argued a series of technical points; all of them were rejected (Commonwealth v. Johnson, 279 Pa. 40, 1924).

Johnston’s death sentence was commuted to life on April 17, 1924. In making its decision, the Pardon Board noted that Johnson’s accomplices were convicted of second-degree murder and that Johnson had not fired the fatal shot.

From Allegheny County Jail’s Murder Book, courtesy of Ed Urban

Elmer Johnston was transferred to Western Penitentiary. After at least ten pardon requests, he was released from prison in 1941. He moved to Victory, Venango County, where he died in 1992.


Paul Agresti died in 1997 at age 94. Joseph Peter Vallino died in 1978 at age 75.

Western Penitentiary Records of Agresti and Villano

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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