John Williams

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.

Wadsworth St., 1911

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 ran to the police when he arrived at the Quinsey residence. The killing occurred while she was away.

John Williams fled on foot after the shootings, waving his gun at bystanders. Once apprehended by police, he confessed to the arresting officer.

Pittsburgh Post, September 17, 1905

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.


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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