George Pritchard shot and killed Fairy Belle Walker in the Sharpsburg home of her sister, Ruth Garrison, on New Year’s Eve, 1921. She died immediately. He then shot himself in the head in a failed suicide attempt. Pritchard was reported to be jealous of attention Walker had given to another man.
Pritchard, who was married and worked as a chauffeur, was infatuated with Walker. Pritchard and Walker, who was single and worked as a domestic, had been neighbors in the Hill District, where Walker continued to live, while they were growing up. Pritchard’s employer was Judge Charles H. Kline, who would be elected mayor of Pittsburgh in 1925 and resign in the face of scandals in 1933.
In a trial that received scant attention, Pritchard used an insanity defense. He was convicted of first-degree murder on February 21, 1923, and sentenced to death on July 27. After his attorney, William H. Stanton, one of the first Black criminal defense attorneys to practice in Pittsburgh, concluded that a motion for a new trial and an appeal would be futile, attention turned to the Pardon Board.
Questions about Pritchard’s mental health led Governor Pinchot to commute his sentence to life imprisonment on March 5, 1924. He was transferred to Western Penitentiary.
George Pritchard died in Western Penitentiary on April 20, 1952. He was 57 years old.
As a young man, Pritchard had twice been recognized for heroism. First after injuring himself in an effort to alert a family to a fire in their home in 1913 and then again in 1914 when he assisted in apprehending a knife-wielding robber.
Pritchard’s was the fourth capital case in less than thirty years involving a man who killed his real or imagined intimate partner on New Year’s Eve; the others were McMullen, McGowan, and Malinowski. In three of the four cases, the male killer subsequently attempted suicide. All four cases resulted in commutations.
Garrison’s home was damaged and then demolished after a gasoline truck that had stopped at a red light exploded, injuring at least a dozen people and leveling much of the block, on August 29, 1939.
1721 Main St., Sharpsburg today