Charles Jackson, Charles Miles, and Walter Obey, Black laborers who worked on the Wabash Railway and were active armed robbers, robbed and shot Ivan Kluzor, a Croatian-immigrant, in Leetsdale on May 7, 1904. Kluzor, who was shot once, died the next day.
The three “negro highwaymen,” all of whom were armed, accosted Kluzor, his brother, Jacob, and a friend, Mike Villen, on the street. Kluzor, who worked at American Bridge Company in Ambridge, was shot when he tried to flee.
After the incident, Miles, Obey, and Jackson, who, according to police, “were armed to the teeth with heavy revolvers,” fled to Allegheny City and were arrested there “only after a lively encounter and chase.” They were subsequently identified as Kluzor’s assailants by the surviving victims.
Jackson and Obey had previously been among those arrested in the dragnet that followed the murder of Hill District grocer James Donnelly.
Tried together, the three men were convicted on June 29, 1904. The surviving victims and the arresting officers provided compelling testimony for the state, though who had fired the fatal shot was never established. Their death sentences were imposed on September 3, 1904.
After the defense sought a continuance of its appeal, a tactic the Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette (October 29, 1904) called out as “encouraging the lynching spirit,” the state refused and the appeal was dismissed on October 24, 1904.
Originally scheduled to be executed in February, respites were granted to consider their pardon requests. Those requests, which challenged the imposition of three death sentences for a single killing, were also rejected.
Charles Jackson, Charles Miles, and Walter Obey were hanged in the Allegheny County Jail on April 27, 1905, less than a year after having committed murder. Jackson and Miles were executed together on the double scaffold. After their bodies were cut down, Obey mounted the gallows and was executed.
The case was unusual in that each defendant was charged with, convicted of, and executed for first-degree murder. This is the only case in Allegheny County history in which three people were executed for the same crime and one of only three cases in which three people were convicted of the highest available charges for a single killing.
One of the other cases likewise involved three Black defendants and a white victim. In multiple defendant cases, it is usual for at least one of the defendants to be able to demonstrate a lesser degree of culpability. The third three-defendant case involved Eastern European steelworkers wrongly convicted of killing a mill boss in a period of fervent anti-immigrant tension.
Acknowledging the unusual intensity of the activity on the gallows, the news noted “[w]ith today’s executions Sheriff Dickson has pulled the lever that has sent 12 condemned men into eternity in the one year and four months he has been in office. In that period he has broken all previous records, hanging six more men in that time than any other sheriff has hanged in three years, the full term of office.”
In conjunction with the executions of Ousley and Johnson less than a year earlier, five Black men had been executed for killing two white men. A campaign of white vengeance was underway.
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