Frank Dombek

On the morning of February 3, 1919, Frank Dombek went to the Bingham St., South Side home of Jacob and Marie (Latocha) Rzasa, with whom he had previously boarded. All were Polish immigrants.

1102 Bingham St, Summer 2019

Finding Marie alone, Dombek demanded all her money. When she refused, he beat her with a brick and strangled her. He then stole several hundred dollars in cash and securities and fled.

Pittsburgh Post, February 4, 1919

The murder occurred in the midst of the effort to enact Prohibition, which Pennsylvania had voted to support the same day as the murder.


That effort was supported by sensationalistic stories of alcohol-fueled immigrant lawlessness. Probably not coincidentally, alcohol figured prominently in the official narrative of Rzasa’s death, though it is not clear that it figured prominently in Dombek’s actions that day.


February 5, 1919

Dombek, 26, who had a 1911 conviction for burglary, was apprehended more than a month after Rzasa’s killing, on March 8, 1919, in a New Jersey post office. He had gone there to pick up a letter containing the money he needed to return to Pittsburgh to turn himself in.

It was subsequently revealed that not long after the murder, Dombek, overcome by remorse, sought the counsel of a priest and made arrangements to return to Pittsburgh. At his arrest, he immediately confessed.

Pittsburgh Post, March 19, 1919

On the basis of his signed confession, strong witness testimony, and evidence he had used stolen securities to purchase jewelry, Dombek was convicted of first-degree murder on November 14, 1919.

Immediately after Dombek’s conviction, his attorney filed a motion for a new trial alleging that the foreman of the jury was biased against him, that one juror had misrepresented himself in being seated as a juror, and other improprieties. That motion was rejected and Dombek was sentenced to death on March 8, 1920.

Dombek then appealed his conviction, raising the same issues about juror misconduct. His conviction was affirmed in an unusual single paragraph decision (Commonwealth v. Dombek, 268 Pa. 262, 1920).

Members of the jury supported and advocated for Dombek’s commutation, which was granted on March 29, 1921. In its recommendation, the Pardon Board went so far as to suggest Dombek may not have been responsible for Rsaza’s death.

Pardon Board recommendation, March 28, 1921

Dombek was transferred to Western Penitentiary, from which he was paroled in 1933.

Screenshot 2019-02-01 09.01.06

From the Allegheny County Jail Murder Book, courtesy of Ed Urban

Claiming he had been coerced into confessing to a crime he did not commit, Dombek sought a full pardon. His request was granted on July 18, 1940.

Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, July 19, 1940

Once released, Frank Dombek returned to Chicago, where he had lived before moving to Pittsburgh. He died there on September 25, 1984, at the age of 89.


Jacob Rzasa died in Pittsburgh in 1958.

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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