Harry H. Exley, John Curtis “Jack” Smith, and John L. Williams

Allegheny County Deputy Sheriff Harry Exley and Pennsylvania State Police Officers Jack Smith, and John Williams, were shot and killed by strikers during the infamous Pressed Steel Car Company strike in McKees Rocks, on August 22, 1909.

State Police, mounted on horseback, were referred to by strikers as “Black Cossacks” for their close ties to the company. In a heavily armed effort to put down the strike, twelve to twenty-six people are estimated to have been killed that day. Exley was targeted by strikers for his mistreatment of a family being evicted from company housing.

Martial law was declared the next day. The strike against the Pressed Steel Car Company, which manufactured railroad cars, began on July 13 and ended on September 8. Pressed Steel employed a mostly foreign-born workforce of 6,000 who lived and worked in conditions described as “industrial peonage,” including very low wages, dangerous workplace conditions (estimates of a worker death per day), and sexual exploitation of worker wives and daughters. The plant was referred to at the time as “the slaughterhouse.”

No trials were held for the killings of these officers or any of the others who were killed.

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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