William Sled and Martin Avery entered the drugstore of Edward J. Kretz, Sr., in the Hill District late in the evening of June 21, 1929, intending to commit robbery. As Kretz reached for a pack of cigarettes that Sled requested, the 18-year old Avery shot and killed him. A third man, William Walker, may have been stationed outside the store. Several customers witnessed the killing.
The three assailants, all residents of the Hill District, were arrested on June 24. Under questioning by police, Avery confessed, acknowledged firing the fatal shot, and implicated Sled and Walker. Sled and Avery, both Southern-born migrants, the former a World War I combat veteran, had criminal records.
Kretz was a prominent businessman and the son of a wealthy family.
Robbery combined with revenge to form the motive for the killing. Avery acknowledged that after entering the store and recognizing Kretz as having testified against a friend of his in an earlier robbery case, he shot him.
Having confessed to a crime committed in front of multiple witnesses, with many other witnesses after the fact, Avery and Sled pleaded guilty. On February 12, 1930, the court fixed their crime at first-degree murder. They were sentenced to death on February 14.
Walker pleaded not guilty. At trial, his alibi defense of having been at the movies that evening was successful; he was acquitted on February 13. Despite the acquittal, Judge McConnell invoked a rarely used English common law allowing Walker to be held pending payment of a $3,000 bond intended to insure that he keep the peace.
With juries now having the option to impose a life sentence or a death sentence for first-degree murder, Sled and Avery were the first convicted murderers sentenced to death since the Jaworski case almost three years earlier.
As Black migrant laborers and perpetrators of an interracial felony murder of a prominent victim, such a result was to be expected. Though Black Pittsburghers had by this time developed an “impressive set of institutions” (Glasco, 2001), including the Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays, and Urban League, levels of racial tension and racist activity were also peaking ahead of the white flight and “urban renewal” that would soon decimate the Hill District in particular.
Their clemency requests unsuccessful, William Sled and Martin Avery were electrocuted in quick succession on the morning of June 30, 1930, barely a year after Kretz’s murder. A third man, Frank Tauza of Wilkes Barre, was executed after Sled.
In a sharp criticism of “reformers,” an editorial in the Pittsburgh Press (June 24, 1929) suggested that those who opposed placing the full weight of the law on the offenders in this case should themselves be shot: “…a bullet which would most rudely stop all flow of the milk of human kindness…there’d be no harm in trying it out.”
1800 Webster Avenue today