John Williams and his wife, Goldie, were fighting so much that she left their Wadsworth St., Hill District home with their newborn child and moved in with her mother, Mrs. Mary Quinsey, on Locust St. in the Uptown neighborhood.
The two women made plans to travel to Cincinnati, away from the violence that John Williams threatened.
Enraged over the separation and his mother-in-law’s perceived interference, Williams shot Quinsey five times in her home on September 16, 1905. He then shot his brother-in-law, Charles Quinsey, twice. Charles survived to testify against Williams.
Knowing that her husband was armed and dangerous, Goldie Williams went to the police when he arrived. The killing occurred while she was away.
Williams fled on foot after the shootings, waving his gun at bystanders. Once apprehended by police, he confessed to the arresting officer.
Unsurprising in a case with a black defendant with no resources to support his defense, Williams’ trial came quickly and ended quickly. With strong inculpatory evidence, the testimony of the surviving victim, and his confession to police, he was convicted of first-degree murder a month after the killing, on October 17, 1905.
His defense argued that he was intoxicated and that his mother-in-law had sewn discord in the home.
The Virginia-born John Williams was hanged in the Allegheny County Jail on September 6, 1906, moments after Cornelius Combs was executed for domestic murder and less than a year after killing his mother-in-law. The newspaper described a gruesome scene of Williams’ prolonged suffering before being declared dead.
Williams and Combs were the first men hanged on the county’s new steel gallows.