William Henry Sled and Martin Avery

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, Avery shot and killed him. A third man, William Walker, may have been stationed outside the store. Several customers witnessed the killing.

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The Pharmaceutical Era, 1923

The three men, 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 recent migrants, had lengthy criminal records.

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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.

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Pittsburgh Press, February 14, 1930

Walker, who did not enter the store, pleaded not guilty. He offered an alibi defense of having been at the movies that evening.  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.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 14, 1930

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 perpetrators of an interracial felony murder, 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.

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Their clemency requests unsuccessful, William Sled and Martin Avery were electrocuted in quick succession on the morning of June 30, 1930. 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.”

image001                                              1800 Webster Avenue today

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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