Buck Dunmore and Bennie Rowland were among the thousands of rural southern black migrants, mainly single men, who arrived in Pittsburgh during World War I. They found work at the massive Clairton Steelworks, on the Monongahela River well south of Pittsburgh, and lived in the Carnegie Camp, company housing for steelworkers. Also living there was Rosendo Hernandez, a Mexican immigrant steelworker.
“On a lonely road near Clairton” on the night of July 4, 1918, 19-year old Dunmore and 18-year old Rowland robbed Hernandez of $160 and shot him twice. He died at the scene.
Dunmore and Rowland fled. They were apprehended in Lumberton, South Carolina, on July 23, and were reported to have confessed to police.
In separate and brief trials, Rowland was convicted of first-degree murder on January 28, 1919, and Dunmore on January 30. Their death sentences were imposed on June 5, 1919.
Describing the sentencing, the Pittsburgh Gazette Times drew on racist caricatures to claim that Rowland “executed the movements of the jazz dance – his shoulders swaying, fingers snapping, and feet keeping time – and sang, ‘I’se done going to be ‘electrocuted till I’se dade, dade, dade.”
No appeals were undertaken. Though evidence indicated that Rowland killed Hernandez, clemency was rejected for both men.
Buck Dunmore was taken to Rockview and executed on April 27, 1920.
Benny Rowland was executed on June 1, 1920, the same day as William Russell and Edward Brown, two other Allegheny County Black capital defendants. It was the first triple electrocution in Pennsylvania history.
As was typical of the time, cases involving non-white defendants and victims received only perfunctory newspaper attention, a sharp contrast to the media storm that often surrounded cases involving Black defendants and white victims. No details of the Harnandez’s murder or the parties to the case were provided.