Charles Steele

Semple Hill in Millvale, described as “Pittsburgh’s greensward Monte Carlo,” was “the site of “the biggest open-air crap games in this part of the country” in the 1920s, commonly drawing fifty or more players and thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in wagers.

Attracted by the action, Charles Steele (aka Alvin Case), a professional gambler, came to Semple Hill and lost big during the summer of 1924. To recover his losses, Steele and his associates robbed the game during the afternoon of August 12, 1924.

Tying thirty or more men to trees, they robbed them of thousands of dollars in cash and jewelry. Dmitri Nezevorich, a Russian steelworker at the Pressed Steel Car Company, was shot and killed when he tried to escape.

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Steele was apprehended the next day; no one else was arrested in the case.

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Warren (Pa) Tribune, August 13, 1924

At trial, Steele denied shooting Nezevorich or giving the order to do so, though witnesses testified he fired the fatal shot. He was convicted of first-degree murder on April 30, 1925. After his motion for a new trial was rejected, he was sentenced to death on November 25.

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Pittsburgh Press, April 30, 1925

In his clemency request, Steele argued that his childhood poverty, lack of education, and independence from his family since he was 13 or 14 should be considered in sparing him. He also claimed that an accomplice who had since died was responsible for the killing and that he had become a Christian. His request was supported by his trial jury

In a highly unusual sequence of events, the Pardon Board recommended commutation by a 3-1 vote – a decision that had previously been treated as dispositive – but Governor Gifford Pinchot rejected their recommendation.

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Pittsburgh Gazette Times, February 20, 1926

After a series of respites, Charles Steele was executed on June 1, 1926.

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Pittsburgh Post, June 2, 1926

 Illegal gambling and related violence continued at Semple Hill, “the greatest gambling resort in Western Pennsylvania,” due in part to police corruption (see Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 13, 1925).

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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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