Norris B. Holmes

When Nancy Miller moved from St. Louis to Pittsburgh in 1906, Norris Holmes followed her in an effort to develop a relationship she had resisted. When his efforts continued to be rebuffed, Holmes became more menacing.

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Pittsburgh, 1907

After fighting with another man whom Holmes imagined as his rival, he purchased a butcher knife and stabbed Miller to death in the kitchen of the Stewart Hotel in East Pittsburgh, where she worked as a cook, on March 27, 1907.

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There were multiple witnesses to the killing. Holmes was held by some of those witnesses until police arrived.image001.png

Newspaper reports were peculiarly charitable toward Holmes, characterizing him as “youthful” and Miller as his “sweetheart,” despite the absence of evidence of any prior relationship between the two and an account in the coroner’s record that “Nancy told me several times that she did not want to have anything to do with him.” As in the Wasco, Patterson, and Dabrydino cases, among others, such language normalized the calculus by which female rejection invites male violence.

As in the Woodley and Glazner cases, news accounts also sought to distance the white and native-born Holmes from common working men by emphasizing that he possessed a  “mentality considerably above the average” (Pittsburgh Press, March 12, 1908).

A crowd of 1,000 gathered the day after the killing of the popular Miller and pressed toward Holmes as he was being moved by police, perhaps with the intention of lynching him.

At trial, the twenty-four year old Holmes claimed he was too drunk to realize what he was doing. With numerous eyewitnesses and no doubt about the circumstances of the crime, he was convicted of first-degree murder on September 13, 1907.

image001.jpgPittsburgh Press, September 13, 1907

Holmes was sentenced to death on October 5, 1907. When Judge Swearingen, newly appointed to the bench, collapsed after reading the sentence, Holmes “smiled contemptuously at the judge” and laughed (Washington Post, October 6, 1907).

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His pardon request refused, Norris Holmes went to the gallows on March 12, 1908. As he awaited execution, he delivered a message urging men to “flee from women and whisky as you would from Hell itself.”

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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