William Russell

Antonio Perry operated a candy store at 269 Paulson Avenue in Larimer. On the evening of September 18, 1918, William Russell and Moses Carter, residents of the Hill District, robbed the store and shot and killed Perry.

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The Italian-immigrant Perry was the father of five, including three sons in service in World War I.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 19, 1918

Russell and Leonard Graham were arrested after a shootout with police on November 13, 1918, in connection with a series of armed robberies of pedestrians on Penn Avenue. World War I had ended two days earlier.

After intensive questioning by police, Graham confessed to multiple robberies and implicated Russell in those robberies, as well as two murders, including Perry’s. The second murder is said to have occurred in Cleveland.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 14, 1918

Russell, who had migrated from Mississippi, also confessed under intensive questioning.

Based on information provided by Russell and Graham, Moses Carter was arrested on November 16.

Police determined that Russell was the principal of a group of men described as “the most desperate crooks to operate in the city since the days of the Biddle gang.” They had committed numerous robberies throughout the eastern neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.

Nineteen year old Moses Carter was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter on May 13, 1919, and sentenced to Western Penitentiary.

image002.pngfrom the Allegheny County Jail Murder Docket

Russell, who had fired the shot that killed Perry, was found guilty of first-degree murder on June 24, 1919, and sentenced to death on June 30. Despite a “strong plea” for clemency based on allegations that he was beaten into confessing, the Pardon Board refused to hear Russell’s case.

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Paulson St., Summer 2019

William Russell was executed on June 1, 1920, the same day as Benny Rowland and Edward Brown, two other black Pittsburghers convicted of interracial homicides. Theirs was the first triple electrocution in Pennsylvania. With these executions, Pittsburgh entered the most racially biased period in its death penalty history. Over the next five years, thirteen black men and four white men would be executed. Between 1918 and 1926, seventeen men had their death sentences commuted; all of them were white.

Graham later served as a prosecution witness in the trial of Paul Orlakowski, who was sentenced to death for the murder of two Allegheny County Jail guards in 1924.

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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