William L. Hartley

William L. Hartley and Ernest O. Johnston, co-workers at the Pittsburgh, Virginia and Charleston Railroad, had been on bad terms for some time.  Johnston had gotten the better of Hartley in several fights, the last of which led Hartley to vow revenge.


Armed in anticipation of an encounter, Hartley happened upon Johnston at Henry Jouver’s barbershop at 2832 East Carson St, South Side, on March 28, 1903.


As Johnston sat in the barber’s chair, Hartley shot him five times at close range. The barbershop was crowded at the time of the killing.

Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, March 29, 1903

Captured as he tried to flee down the street, Hartley was prevented by the arresting officer from carrying out his intention to commit suicide. He confessed to police, saying that Johnston deserved it.

Confronted by numerous witnesses for the prosecution and his own statements, Hartley was convicted of first-degree murder on October 3, 1903, and sentenced to death on December 5. A record three death sentences were handed down that day.

A noteworthy feature of an otherwise unremarkable and lightly contested conviction was evidence that Hartley had been treated for years for head pain and that episodes of such pain were associated with erratic and violent behavior. He had a record of violence in his native Maryland, including a non-fatal shooting and a non-fatal stabbing. Such evidence was insufficient to prevent Hartley’s conviction or to gain him commutation.

Johnston likewise had a history of violence, including an assault charge against a teacher when he was fifteen.

Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, March 11, 1904

William Hartley was hanged on May 5, 1904. Originally scheduled to hang next to James Edwards, who is Black, on a double scaffold erected for the occasion, Hartley’s request that they be hanged separately so as to spare his family the indignity was granted. The men were hanged in succession. Hartley hanged first.

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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