Christopher Caldwell and four others, Allen W. Williams, Eric D. Anderson, Alton L. Smith, and John Morris, killed Sarah and Boykin Gibson, an elderly couple, in their Monticello St., Homewood residence on January 15, 1985.
The Gibsons, who had lived in their home for 53 years and had refused to move despite pleas from their children after multiple recent burglaries, were stabbed to death. The defendants, all of whom lived in the same neighborhood, knew the victims and targeted their coin collection.
Boykin Gibson, 88, had worked for four decades as a doorman at the renowned William Penn Hotel. Sarah Gibson, 84, had been a teacher. Across their decades in Homewood, the neighborhood, which had been developed by the city’s aristocracy a century earlier, transformed from a vibrant and diverse middle class community into a poor, mostly black, blighted area. White flight, redlining, and deeply flawed urban renewal plans drove the decline.
After turning himself in to police the next day, Caldwell, who was 18 at the time and out on bond after two burglary arrests in the previous two months, provided a lengthy taped confession implicating himself as the central figure in the crime and identifying his accomplices. They ranged in age from 14 to 21. Williams, the oldest of the group, had a lengthy record, was wanted for rape, and was on parole for robbery.
At trial, Caldwell pleaded guilty to all charges on January 11, 1986. The judge determined that the killings constituted first-degree murder. After a three-day penalty hearing, the jury sentenced Caldwell to death, plus 15 to 30 years on other charges on January 16. That sentence was formally imposed on March 31, 1986.
On October 16, 1987, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated Caldwell’s death sentence and imposed two life sentences on the grounds that the jury’s finding of aggravated circumstances was unwarranted (Commonwealth v. Caldwell, 516 Pa. 441). In a sharply divided opinion, the majority ruled there was inadequate evidence of torture, an aggravating factor used to justify a death sentence.
The other defendants were convicted of lesser degrees of murder.
Caldwell was a tenth grade dropout who later completed his GED. He remains in prison, where he has developed into a prolific jailhouse lawyer.