John Leach

John Leach, who was black and born in Haiti in 1866, shot and killed his British-born wife, Mary Ann, who was white, and Samuel Robbins, an Alabama-born black laborer, in Garfield on July 1, 1915.

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Jordan Way, 1911

No official accounts of the case survive and newspaper accounts were limited, making it difficult to determine the precise circumstances of the killings. However, it appears as though Mary Ann Leach was involved in a relationship with Robbins or another man, Frank Turner. Leach went to the 5231 Jordan Way, Garfield boarding house where the men lived to plead with his wife to return home, at which time the shootings occurred.

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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 4, 1915

At trial for killing Robbins, Leach withdrew the confession he provided to police at the time of arrest and claimed he acted in self-defense after being attacked by Robbins and Turner. He also claimed his wife was shot accidentally during the altercation.

Leach was convicted of first-degree murder on January 12, 1916. In a separate trial, he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in his wife’s death. The disparate outcomes of the cases raise troubling questions about the perception of Mary Ann Leach as having contributed to her own killing.

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Pittsburgh Press, May 24, 1916

After a motion to the trial court, John Leach was granted a retrial and was convicted of second-degree murder on May 24, 1916, and sentenced to 18 to 20 years in Western Penitentiary.

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From the Allegheny County Jail’s Murder Book, courtesy of Edward Urban

John Leach died as a result of untreated syphilis in Western Penitentiary on March 18, 1923.

The Leachs had a daughter who died in infancy in December 1914.

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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