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.
Steele was apprehended the next day; no one else was arrested in the case.
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.
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.
After a series of respites, Charles Steele was executed on June 1, 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).