Joseph Hess

Joseph Hess shot his wife, Agatha, five times in their Madison Avenue, Allegheny City home on the morning of April 7, 1882. Several of their five children witnessed the killing and provided information implicating their father. The Hess’s marriage had been troubled by Joseph’s jealousy and mental instability, and included a history of threatened violence.

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Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 8, 1882

By the time of his trial, Hess’s mental health was in sharp decline. Nonetheless, he was convicted of first-degree murder on September 8, 1882. His attorneys presented an application for a new trial on September 11, 1882, on the grounds of insanity.

Under the circumstances, the court appointed a master to determine how to proceed. On December 15, 1882, Hess was examined by a doctor who pronounced him of unsound mind. Five weeks later, on January 23, 1883, he was moved from the Allegheny County Jail to Dixmont State Hospital.

On February 23, 1883, Hess was granted a new trial. In lieu of trial, the District Attorney offered a deal of second-degree murder in return for a guilty plea. That offer was rejected and Hess was scheduled for trial in April 1884.

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Pittsburgh Daily Post, April 10, 1884

It does not appear as though that trial ever occurred. Joseph Hess died at Dixmont on July 13, 1884.

Located in a neighborhood that has been all but erased by highways, Madison Avenue is home to an iconic mural of famed Puerto Rican and Pittsburgh Pirates baseball star Roberto Clemente.

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Photo by Jared Wickerham

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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