Serial Murders

Among the 201 death sentences imposed in Allegheny County history, two have been imposed on serial murderers: Martha Grinder and Louis Lane.

Their cases bear remarkable similarities. Both occurred in the 1860s. Both were committed with arsenic. Both resulted in execution. Both were committed by people whose social status, as a woman in Grinder’s case and as a Black man in Lane’s case, allowed them to kill those close to them without attracting attention.

It is this latter point that likely contributes to another feature common to these cases: unanswered questions about how many people they killed. Grinder was sentenced to death for one killing, clearly linked to a second killing, and suspected in at least several killings of family members whose deaths would have benefitted her financially.

Lane was likewise sentenced to death for killing one person, who was probably his fifth or sixth wife. He had previously been convicted and served time for the attempted murder of a previous wife. He gave conflicting accounts of how many of his other wives he had killed; perhaps all four of them. However, it does not appear as though any of those deaths were investigated. Indeed, beyond the names that Lane provided before his execution, the identities of these women have yet to be confirmed.

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