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.
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.
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 James Davis.
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.
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.
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 alleged interracial killer Joseph Thomas, Davis’s execution was noted in a single paragraph on the bottom of page two.