Albert W. Woodley

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.

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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.

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Sturgeon St., Allegheny City

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.

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Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, July 13, 1894

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.

image002The 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.

image002Albert 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.”

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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