Daniel Rastelli

John Ross Dennis was a payroll officer for the Pittsburgh Coal Company’s Harrison mine driving a motorcycle escort for the company’s Christmas payroll when a group of three robbers ambushed the convoy and shot and killed Dennis on December 23, 1922. The Beadling Rd., Mt. Lebanon robbery netted $20,000.

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Pittsburgh Press, December 23, 1922

Despite considerable law enforcement and public attention, no suspects were initially identified. The Pittsburgh Coal Company also became actively involved, hiring private investigators and promising to “spare no expense” in solving the case. Large awards for information were posted.

Daniel Rastelli, an Italian-born, Washington County coalminer, was arrested with three other men on December 29. He had no prior record. Rastelli apparently became a suspect after a woman came forward claiming to have overheard a fellow train passenger identify him as a robber. Police surveillance followed, which is reported to have found patterns of spending that supported their suspicions. Once apprehended, survivors of the robbery positively identified Rastelli.

Despite “severe grilling” by police, Rastelli and his alleged accomplices denied any involvement in the case.

After a trial built on circumstantial evidence, Rastelli was convicted of first-degree murder on June 15, 1923. He offered an alibi defense, claiming he was at work at the time of the killing. That defense was corroborated by a company foreman, co-workers, and company records. The jury deliberated 162 hours before returning their verdict.

Rastelli’s two alleged accomplices, Orlando Fabbri and John Burchianti, who offered similar alibi defenses, were acquitted.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 13, 1924

Rastelli immediately filed a motion with the trial court asking for a new trial due to the weakness of the case against him. That motion was granted.

After a four-day trial and a day of jury deliberations, Rastelli was acquitted on retrial on December 12, 1924.

Once acquitted, he was held for suspicion of involvement in a March 11, 1922 payroll robbery near Connellsville, Pa. He was released when his employer provided an alibi for the date of the crime.

With Rastelli’s acquittal, authorities were “completely baffled as regards the Beadling road holdup.”

After being arrested for the Coverdale payroll robbery, a remarkably similar robbery in the same area south of Pittsburgh in 1927, gangster Paul Jaworski, leader of the notorious Flathead Gang, confessed to killing Dennis and completely exonerated Rastelli.

Jaworski, who was executed on January 21, 1929, claimed to have no knowledge of Rastelli.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 14, 1934

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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