Frank Ousley, John Johnson, and Richard Childs murdered James Donnelly during a robbery of his Bedford Avenue, Hill District grocery on the evening of December 31, 1903.
Donnelly, a well-known and respected businessman, was shot twice.
Ousley and Johnson, both of whom had lengthy criminal records, were arrested on January 2, 1904. Ousley, arrested in New Castle, confessed upon arrest. Childs evaded apprehension for years before being arrested in Albany, New York, for burglary in 1906. Linked to the Donnelly murder, he was tried in 1907.
In an era in which escalating racial tensions led to particular punitiveness in cases involving black defendants and white victims, Ousley and Johnson were convicted of first-degree murder remarkably quickly, on February 14, 1904, and sentenced to death. With Ousley as the acknowledged ringleader and shooter, Johnson’s conviction was unexpected due to his lesser role in the murder.
In one of the fastest executions in Allegheny County history, Ousley and Johnson hanged together on July 14, 1904. Just over six months had elapsed since their crime and only five months since their convictions. They were described as model prisoners.
It was the first double hanging in Allegheny County since Murray and Myers hanged together in 1876.
Johnson wrote a confession that was read post-mortem in which he identified himself as a hobo, traveling by rail, who had committed this and four other killings in Pittsburgh and Uniontown.
Nearly three years later, on March 13, 1907, Childs was convicted of second-degree murder for his role in the killing and sentenced to Western Penitentiary.
2219 Bedford Avenue today
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