William McKinley Blackwell

William McKinley Blackwell and his common law wife, Eleanor Edwards, lived in a third floor apartment in the home of Annie McDonald in the mill town of Whitaker. Blackwell, who was employed as a steelworker at American Steel and Wire, also had a wife from whom he was separated and seven children in his native Virginia.

American Steel and Wire, Rankin

Blackwell and Edwards had purchased some furniture from Richard Parker (aka Alvin Carter), the former owner of the home and Ms. McDonald’s stepfather. Parker was also involved in a relationship with the 22-year old Edwards, which Blackwell said he learned first hand when he found the couple in a compromising position.

When Parker, 44, came to the home at 1214 River Rd. on July 9, 1937, to collect payment on the furniture according to the state or to claim his right to Eleanor according to the defense, Blackwell, 42, shot him numerous times before shooting and also killing Edwards.

Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, July 9, 1937

He was promptly arrested. Under questioning by police, Blackwell, who had a reputation for extreme jealousy, confessed on July 12.

The case was barely noted and poorly explained in local newspapers.

At trial, Blackwell claimed self-defense, asserting that Parker drew a knife and that Edwards attacked him with a knife after Parker had been shot. He was convicted on January 28, 1938, and sentenced to death.


While awaiting execution, Blackwell elaborated on the circumstances of the killing, claiming he was justified in killing Parker to “protect his happiness,” as any other man would do in similar circumstances.

image001Pittsburgh Press, February 26, 1939

Due to the strength of his religious convictions, the efforts of his supporters, and “an unprecedented religious demonstration” by all 468 inmates in the Allegheny County Jail, his execution was delayed several times while commutation and pardon were considered.

William Blackwell was executed on February 27, 1939.


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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