William Wasco

William Wasco met Anna Sestak, a fellow Hungarian immigrant, not long after he had been released from the Allegheny County Workhouse on an assault charge and she had arrived in this country. When Wasco’s attention escalated to persistent efforts to marry Sestak, “a well formed, handsome girl of the Hungarian type of beauty,” she rebuffed him and changed her home and job to avoid his advances.

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Wasco, who worked as a broommaker at a downtown factory, followed her. His attention escalated to pleadings and then to threats and then to violence.

On Saturday, May 6, 1899, Wasco shot and killed Sestak at her 862 Second Avenue, downtown residence and then turned his gun on himself. It was reported that his wounds would be fatal.

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Second Avenue, 1910

Despite Wasco’s obvious harassment of Sestak, news reports described his interest in her as “love.” Despite the lack of evidence that Sestak ever reciprocated any interest in Wasco, news reports described their relationship as a romance and caused by her beauty.

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Pittsburgh Post, May 7, 1899

With multiple witnesses and an undisputed set of facts, Wasco was convicted on June 28, 1899, and sentenced to death. His defense was drunkenness.

After his conviction, Wasco again attempted suicide by making a “ vigorous attempt” to jump through a window on the Bridge of Sighs and then by bashing his head against his stone cell walls.

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Bridge of Sighs, 1889

Later, he and fellow condemned inmate William Patterson were stopped by jail authorities before they could carry out their plan to slash their throats with razors.

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Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, September 8, 1899

Compounding the tragedy of the case, Wasco’s brother, Joseph, committed suicide in a blast furnace in Braddock on December 17, 1899, just weeks before his brother’s execution. He had worked tirelessly for William’s release and killed himself when he saw it was hopeless.

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Pittsburgh Post, December 18, 1899

William Wasco was executed on January 9, 1900. Newspaper accounts described the hanging as especially religious and successful. Eights months had passed since Sestak’s murder.

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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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