William Durant (Buttons) Cole, a 28-year old former boxer with a lengthy record of sex offenses and a prior confession to a murder in Akron, Ohio, raped and killed his landlady, Pearl Lean Williams, in her Rose St., Hill District home on May 30, 1954. Williams, 30, had been strangled.
Cole, who had been released from prison on another rape conviction five months earlier, turned himself in to police and confessed on the same day as the murder.
At trial that December, Cole pleaded guilty, anticipating such a plea would result in a life sentence. He was instead sentenced to death by a three-judge panel on February 14, 1955.
As part of his earlier conviction, for sexual assault of a 12-year old girl, Cole had been diagnosed as homicidal, perhaps indicative of boxing-related brain damage. The resulting report, which was read at Cole’s sentencing, concluded “there is no penance possible for persons of this kind. No hospital or prison can rehabilitate or make socially acceptable a human type like William Cole.” While in prison, Cole was involved in multiple violent incidents.
Cole aggressively pursued appeals and was aggressively rejected (Commonwealth v. Cole, 384 Pa. 40, 1955). In its opinion, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote “The details of the murder to which the defendant in this case pleaded guilty are so revolting that no purpose can be served in sullying the printed pages of the State Report with a narration of the loathsome particulars. It is enough to say that a reading of the record establishes beyond the light’s shadow of even a mist of uncertainty that the facts spell first degree murder under the Criminal Code and all the decisions of this Court on the subject.”
William Durant Cole was executed on May 14, 1956. He was buried in the prison cemetery in Bellefonte, Centre County.
Though Cleveland Thompson was executed three years later, Cole’s death sentence had been imposed later, making his the last Allegheny County death sentence to result in an execution.