William Shields

Pennsylvania State Constable William Shields was shot and killed during a gun battle with John Houston and James Milton in Glassport on October 16, 1903. Houston was also killed.

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Pittsburgh Daily Post, October 17, 1903

The incident began when Officers Shield, Joseph Norris, and Peter Kelly attempted to apprehend Houston and Milton. Descriptions of the the circumstances of the arrest diverge widely. In one account, Houston and Milton were “Negro desperadoes” engaged in an armed crime spree involving a series of robberies and assaults on the streets of Glassport. In another account, the two black men had been reported to police after a minor incident with a local white resident and responded with violence when encountered by police.

Whichever the case, a gunfight ensued when police sought to apprehend the two men in an Allegheny Avenue store. Kelly shot and killed Houston while Norris and Shields engaged Milton, who killed Shields and fled. It does not appear as though Milton (also identified as Meldon, Melton, and Bolden) was ever arrested.

The failure to apprehend Milton led to considerable local controversy, with accusations that both local and county law enforcement officials had not pushed the matter with adequate urgency.

The absence of an arrest or trial leaves considerable uncertainty as to the details of the events leading to Shields’ death.

Houston was a Civil War veteran.

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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