After gaining access to the Riverview Center for Jewish Seniors, in Squirrel Hill, on September 17, 1988, Thomas McCullum robbed, raped, and murdered Tillie Katz, an 83-year old widow, in a stairwell.
He then boarded a bus. At the last stop in Braddock, he assaulted the Port Authority Transit bus driver with a hammer.
McCullum, who was born in Mississippi and lived in Braddock, was taken into custody the next day after police cross-checked employment applications at Riverview with arrest records and found a match for the description of the suspect provided by witnesses.
Under questioning by police, McCullum admitted to the murder, explaining that he set out to commit robbery, then decided to rape and kill his victim. Jewelry and blood found on his clothing were obtained as evidence.
McCullum had recently been released from the Allegheny County Jail after serving three-months for a firearms conviction. His lengthy record included multiple rape convictions, including convictions in Michigan in 1963 and 1970, in 1972 in Erie, and for assault and attempted rape in Michigan in 1974. He was paroled in 1983. In 1972, he had sought psychological evaluation in Erie due to his inability to control his sexual urges.
McCullum was found guilty of first-degree murder in the Katz case on June 22, 1989, and sentenced to death on November 1, 1989. On October 25, 1989, he was convicted of assault against Port Authority Transit bus driver, Joan Turner.
The evidence against McCullum in the Katz case was overwhelming. His conviction and sentence were sustained on appeal (Commonwealth v. McCullum, 529 Pa. 117, 1992), after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected each of his numerous and wide-ranging claims. McCullum’s appeal under the Post-Conviction Relief Act, in which he alleged ineffective assistance of counsel, was likewise rejected (Commonwealth v. McCullum, 558 Pa. 590, 1999).
McCullum died on death row on November 1, 2007.