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The Ghost of Adam Volkovitch

The Luzerne County prison as it appears today

In the early hours of the 14th of August, 1887, a gruesome crime was committed just outside the city of Wilkes-Barre. It was a crime so cold-blooded and heartless in nature that, for several weeks, it became the hot topic of conversation for much of the eastern United States.

On a Friday afternoon, a well-dressed stranger, sporting a gold pocket watch and chain, appeared in the village of Miner's Mills, about three miles from Wilkes-Barre (a neighborhood that is presently Scott Street in Plains Township). The wealthy stranger entered a tavern owned by a man named Fenton and asked for directions to the house of Adam Volkovitch, explaining that he was an old acquaintance. Volkovitch received his friend with open arms and for the rest of the weekend the two men were seen palling around the city of Wilkes-Barre, drinking at taverns all over town and having a good time. The stranger was introduced by Volkovitch as an old childhood friend named Stanislaus Bioski.

Late Saturday night, Volkovitch persuaded his friend to accompany him on a walk along the railroad tracks towards Pittston. They walked along, laughing, joking around, and catching up on each other's lives. But then, about a mile and a half above Miner's Mills, shortly after midnight, Volkovitch's demeanor quickly changed. Adam Volkovitch drew a revolver and shot Bioski three times in the head. Volkovitch then robbed his victim of his gold watch, chain, clothing and wallet, and left Bioski on the tracks to die.

Bioski was found a few hours later by a train engineer named Charles Vanwhy, still clinging to life. He was rushed to the Wilkes-Barre hospital, where he died on Tuesday, August 16. Detectives had found the murder weapon in a ditch and traced Volkovitch to Jersey City, NJ, where he was arrested five days later. Volkovitch confessed to the murder, but claimed that he had shot Bioski in self defense, stating that it was Bioski who had tried to kill him. Volkovitch's trial began on the 19th of September. He would be found guilty and sentenced to death.

The evidence against Volkovitch was overwhelming. Armed with the killer's confession, Bioski's dying words, and the recovered murder weapon, the prosecutor easily convinced the jury that Volkovitch had slain Bioski for his money. The only person to testify on the killer's behalf was Volkovitch's wife, who claimed that the wealthy stranger attempted seduce her, and had tried to convince her to murder her husband and run away with him. But the jury was unmoved, voting 11 to 1 for murder in the first degree. The judge, Charles E. Rice, refused the defense's request for a new trial and in October, Volkovitch was sentenced. Volkovitch's attorney made an appeal to Governor Beaver to stay the execution, but the request was denied. At 10:30 in the morning, on Tuesday, April 3, 1888, Adam Volkovitch would be hanged.

Enormous crowds gathered around the prison with a morbid desire to witness the execution. About two hundred people were allowed to enter the prison yard, including Sheriff Search, his deputies, and members of the jury and press. At 11:05 the announcement was made that the gallows were ready, and Sheriff Search and his deputies entered Volkovitch's cell, bound the arms of the condemned, and led him to the gallows. After a few final words were said by Father Ydoski, a black cap was placed over Volkovitch's head. A few seconds later it was all over, the execution accomplished with hardly a quiver. Volkovitch's wife bid her husband farewell, the crowds then went home and the story of Adam Volkovitch was over.

Or so everyone thought.

Less than a month after the execution, strange things began to happen. From the May 4, 1888 edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian:

A dispatch from Wilkes-Barre dated last Friday says: The inmates of the Luzerne County Prison are much terrified by a report that the ghost of Adam Volkovitch, the executed murderer, is haunting the cell which he occupied. A Hungarian prisoner recently confined in this cell aroused the inhabitants of the jail last night by his shrieks of terror and informed the night watchman that Volkovitch had just entered the cell and approached the bed upon which he lay. [1]

And then there is this report, which appeared in the May 11, 1888 edition of the Bloomsburg Columbian:

Wilkes-Barre, May 8.-- The ghost of Volkovitch, who was executed April 3, seems to be wandering around the corridors of the jail to the great alarm of some of the more timid and superstitious inmates. About 10 o'clock last night, while Warden Brockway and Deputy Smith were sitting in the main office, they were suddenly surprised by loud cries from the corridor in which the long-term prisoners are kept. Upon arriving in the corridor the discovery was made that a prisoner named John Jones was nearly crazy with fright over the alleged visitations of murderer Volkovitch's ghost at the door of his cell. Discovering that he could not be quieted, the warden ordered his removal to another cell.

Not long after, watchman McDonald was again aroused by alarming cries proceeding from Jones' new quarters. He went to him and found cold beads of perspiration standing out on his forehead and his limbs quaking violently. He asserted that Volkovitch's ghost had again appeared to him. He was taken into another cell with his brother, who is also confined in the jail. In the meantime his companion in the first cell called for McDonald, and with his face showing signs of alarm he said that he had been disturbed by mysterious noises and the rising up and down of the cover of the little table in his quarters. Another man also testified to having seen the ghost. All the prisoners were more or less excited over the event, and but few of them slept after the disturbance occurred.

Why was the spirit of Adam Volkovitch so tormented? Was it because he really was telling the truth when he told detectives that he killed Stanislaus Bioski in self defense? Perhaps there were other reasons for his torment. Our research into the life and death of Adam Volkovitch ends with this newspaper blurb, published in the Bloomsburg Columbian two weeks after the hanging:

Mrs. Volkovitch, the wife of the murderer who was hanged at Wilkes-Barre Tuesday of last week, eloped Friday night with a butcher named Tradesky. They went to Pittsburg where they will be married. The Polish people of Wilkes-Barre are indignant at the woman's conduct. [3]

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