William Patterson

In a case that parallels in time, circumstances, and results the Wasco case, William Patterson (aka Newman) killed Alice Warner (aka Van Horn), a “comely mulatto,” at her residence on June 23, 1899.

Warner resided at the home of Minnie Walls at 314 Grant St. (the present location of the Grant Building) after recently separating from her husband and relocating from Buffalo. Patterson worked as a bootblack and lived at 16 Sachem St. in the Lower Hill District.

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Grant St., 1913

Newspaper accounts describe Walls’ home as “disorderly” and as a “resort” and the women who live there as “inmates,” all of which suggest that Warner was a sex worker and Walls’ home was a brothel.

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Patterson, described as an “opium fiend,” had become infatuated with Warner. They quarreled on the evening of June 22, 1899, due to her involvement with another man. Patterson returned to her home the next morning and shot her twice in her bedroom.

At trial, Patterson claimed that he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol and that he had a family history of mental illness. His mother and family friends offered similar testimony, to no avail.

He was convicted on July 7, 1899, a remarkable fifteen days after the murder, and sentenced to death. The trauma of the ordeal led his mother to attempt suicide on the street outside the courthouse.

Patterson likewise contemplated suicide. His suicide plot, with fellow condemned inmate, William Wasco, was foiled by jail guards.

A modest pardon effort was undertaken. Included in the materials presented to the Pardon Board were letters that sought to diminish Patterson’s culpability by claiming that he had been raised in a brothel and that Warner was a “vile prostitute.”

After a final statement in which he struck the confessional notes of the era by encouraging “all wayward boys” to learn that “high living” will bring “disgrace and ruin” and to “look to God, who is everybody’s friend,” William Patterson was hanged on January 16, 1900.

A 1903 police sweep of brothels suggests that Walls’ was one of at least two Black-owned brothels operating in the city (Pittsburgh Press, July 13, 1903).

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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