James Davis

James Davis worked in a steel mill and, with his wife, Sadie, operated a brothel in their Vallejo St., Hill District home. Charles Clark, a Pittsburgh-born teamster, and Alfred Rushin, a Georgia-born coalminer, were patrons there on the afternoon of Monday, January 14, 1918.

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Hill District, circa 1920s

A quarrel broke out when Bertha Stevenson, who worked in the home, accused Clark of stealing $7 from her purse.

The quarrel drew the attention of Davis, who told his wife to go to a nearby pawnshop to buy a gun. When she returned, Davis shot Clark. When Rushin intervened, he also was shot. Clark died immediately; Rushin died four days later.

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When police arrived and searched the home, they found a gun that Mrs. Davis admitted purchasing that had been used in the killings. They arrested Davis.

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At trial, it was alleged that Davis intervened in the matter due to his concern that the money stolen from Stevenson was due to be paid to him as rent. Davis was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder on November 20, 1918.

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Pittsburgh Post, November 21, 1918

That trial, involving a black, Maryland-born defendant and two black victims in a time dominated by news of the end of the Great War, a global pandemic, and the rise of Bolshevism, was scarcely noted.

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November 21, 1918

Davis was sentenced to death on March 20, 1919.

After his perfunctory appeal (Commonwealth v. Davis, 266 Pa. 245, 1920) was unsuccessful and his clemency request was rejected, James Davis was executed on February 28, 1921. Though the next day’s news would include front page coverage of the pursuit of Joseph Thomas, Davis’s execution was noted in a single paragraph on the bottom of page two.

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Pittsburgh Press, February 28, 1921

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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