Reno Dardaia, an Italian immigrant working in the Pittsburgh Coal Company mines of Imperial, west of Pittsburgh, stabbed fellow miner Thomas Sinclair with a stiletto during the morning of December 16, 1903.
Dardaia and Sinclair, a Scottish immigrant, had quarreled the night before. Reportedly, Sinclair owed Dardaia a dollar and refused to pay it back and refused to share his whiskey. During the quarrel, Sinclair struck and cut Dardaia, who threatened revenge.
The next morning, Dardaia approached Sinclair as he stood outside and stabbed him in the abdomen. He was apprehended immediately by a group of miners and turned over to authorities. There was talk of lynching him.
Having confessed to police and with few resources to support his defense, Dardaia’s case was resolved quickly and easily. On March 4, 1904, just eleven weeks after Sinclair’s murder, he was convicted of first-degree murder.
His pardon request was rejected on June 15, 1904, and his appeal (Commonwealth v. Dardaia, 210 Pa. 61, 1904) was rejected in a one-page opinion on November 4, 1904.
Dardaia’s execution was much slower in coming. Claims that the killing he committed was properly second-degree murder and that he was mentally unfit to be executed resulted in four postponements of his execution.
After a sanity commission deemed him fit for execution, Reno Dardaia went to the gallows on March 23, 1905.
William Byers, whose sensational case overshadowed Dardaia’s, was hanged immediately afterwards.
As with many other steel and coal towns of that era, Imperial was a company town. Imperial Coal Company, which established its operations in the community formerly-known as Montour City in the 1880s, was purchased by Pittsburgh Coal Company in 1899.
On December 19, 1907, Pittsburgh Coal Company’s Darr mine in Westmoreland County exploded, killing 239 men. It was the worst mining disaster in Pennsylvania history and was one of three major mine disasters that month, An explosion at Monongah, West Virginia, on December 6, killed at least 362 men and boys, the worst single-incident loss of life in American mining history. On December 1, an explosion at the Naomi minein Fayette City, Fayette County, Pa. killed 32 miners. In all, at least 3,242 people were killed in coal mining incidents that year, making it the deadliest year in American mining history.