Albert Woodley, a 36-year old widower, and Jennie Buchanan, 28, and soon-to-be-divorced, were planning to marry. Though the couple was reported as happy, dormant tension came to the surface when Woodley lost his job and resumed drinking.
On May 9, 1894, one day after Buchanan expressed disapproval of his drinking and threatened to break off their relationship, Woodley purchased a gun and shot her. He attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head immediately afterwards.
The killing occurred in Buchanan’s father’s Sturgeon St., Allegheny City home, where she lived. Buchanan’s father was in the home at the time.
On the way to the hospital, Woodley admitted the murder, claiming jealousy and drunkenness.
After a trial in which Woodley argued that the death of his wife had left him morose, unstable, and reliant on alcohol, he was convicted of first-degree murder on July 12, 1894. The verdict surprised legal observers who had expected a second-degree conviction. After his motion for a new trial was rejected, he was sentenced to death on October 7.
Born to British parents in Washington, D.C., Presbyterian, and until recently employed as a painter in a variety of industries, Woodley was consistently portrayed in sympathetic terms, as attractive, composed, polite, and well-mannered.
Drawing on the connections his favorable treatment suggested, he aggressively contested his conviction and execution on appeal (Commonwealth v. Albert Woodley, 166 Pa. 463, 1895) and through a pardon request.
The focus of these efforts was that Buchanan’s killing was not appropriately first-degree, though evidence that Woodley purchased the pistol the previous day and deliberated the day of the killing suggested otherwise. Though these efforts ultimately failed, it was reported that his execution was respited more than any other in state history.
Albert Woodley was hanged in the Allegheny County Jail on January 2, 1896. Accounts of his execution indicate that he slowly strangled to death.
In a conclusion seemingly drawn more from Woodley’s race and upbringing than an assessment of his abilities, the Pittsburgh Press noted afterwards that “beyond question, the man hanged today was far superior in intelligence and accomplishments to any who have suffered the extreme penalty of the law in this county for years.”