Robert Henry Brown

During the early morning hours of June 6, 1917, Robert Henry Brown broke into Elford’s Wholesale Liquor, at 3703 Fifth Avenue in Oakland. When William J. Elford, the son of the owner, notified police of a burglary in progress, Pittsburgh Police officer Charles Edinger responded.

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3700 block of Forbes Avenue, 1910. 3703 is the fourth door on the left.

Entering the store, Edinger encountered Brown. Shots were fired by both sides, with Brown shooting Edinger and Elford before being shot and injured by Edinger’s partner, Harry Hamilton.

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Pittsburgh Press, June 6, 1917

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Edinger died later that morning in the hospital. Elford died on June 23, 1917. The injured Brown was arrested at the scene.

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Brown, who was born in Virginia and worked as a chauffeur for department store-magnate Edgar Kaufmann, was convicted of first-degree murder in Elford’s death and second-degree murder in Edinger’s death on February 25, 1918. Police witnesses testified that Brown had confessed to the crime. The lesser conviction in Edinger’s death was due to some question as to whether Brown or Hamilton fired the fatal shot.

On appeal, Brown focused primarily on the prejudicial effect of testimony that he was an Army deserter. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court (Commonwealth v. Brown, 264 Pa. 85, 1919) rejected that argument and Brown’s appeal. After several respites to consider pleas to spare Brown, the Pardon Board also ultimately rejected his case.

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Pittsburgh Daily Post, January 6, 1920

Robert Henry Brown was executed on January 5, 1920.

Amidst a backdrop of the US entrance into World War I and the brief and bitter war that followed, the killing of a police officer by a Black man received remarkably little attention.

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Front page on the day of the shooting

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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