Joseph A. Coghill, an officer with the Dormont Police Department, was shot in the head and killed instantly as he and his partner, Byron Schwartz, responded to a report of a prowler, on December 25, 1921. The assailants fled.
John P. Rush was arrested on January 23, 1922, on an unrelated charge in the Hill District and was held for Coghill’s murder. Prior to Rush’s arrest, enraged citizens had threatened to lynch two groups of suspects.
Rush attempted suicide in his jail cell soon after being apprehended. Then, on March 20, 1922, Rush was found in jail in possession of a gun and was implicated as the leader of an escape plot that included three other inmates facing murder charges.
Rush was convicted on June 24, 1922, and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life by Governor Pinchot on October 31, 1923, due to concerns about his mental health.