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April 9, 1890: The Day of the Hangman



Wednesday, April 9, 1890 marked a strange day in Pennsylvania history, as four criminals in four different counties were hanged within hours of each other.


10:34 a.m.-- The Hanging of William Bartholomew

The first of the day's four executions occurred in Easton, Northampton County, when William Bartholomew was hanged for the murder of Aaron W. Dilliard.

The crime for which Bartholomew paid for with his life took place on Friday, Sept. 6, 1889, when he killed his friend, Aaron Dilliard, in order to steal his wife, whom was having an affair with Bartholomew. He had tried, unsuccessfully, to get Dilliard's wife to assist him in the killing for several weeks, until she finally agreed to help. On the Wednesday night before the murder Bartholomew went to the Dilliard home while Aaron was at work. After sending the victim's 13-year-old son on an errand, Mrs. Dilliard helped Bartholomew devise the cunning plot.

Bartholomew took Dilliard's gun and removed the firing pin, rendering the weapon useless. After midnight, he would return to the property and make a scene by disturbing the chickens. At this signal, Mrs. Dilliard would awaken her husband and implore him to go outside and confront the trespasser. Bartholomew, hidden behind a tree, would shoot and kill Aaron Dilliard.

The plan went off without a hitch, but afterwards the victim's wife began to feel guilty and confessed to detectives. She received a life sentence at the Eastern Penitentiary, while Bartholomew was sent to the gallows.

At the scaffold, Bartholomew expressed no remorse. As the rope was placed around his neck he cursed his accusers and cursed Mrs. Dilliard, insisting that she deserved to be hanged every bit as much as he did. The trap was sprung, Bartholomew's body fell and was pronounced dead at 10:34 a.m.


11:03 a.m.-- The Hanging of Alfred Andrews

Alfred Andrews


Andrews has hanged in Bellefonte, Centre County, for the murder of Clara Price. Three hunters discovered the body of Clara Price-- the 16-year-old daughter of a prosperous Karthaus family--lying facedown alongside the public highway. She had been raped and shot to death after returning home from visiting a friend. Andrews was convicted on circumstantial evidence; witnesses claimed to have seen a man fitting Andrews' description following the girl as she walked along the highway.

(Note: Clara Price's gravesite is one of the strangest and most remarkable in Pennsylvania. I wrote about the gravesite in a previous post)

At 10:45, Andrews began the death march to the gallows. He was calm and composed throughout the ordeal. As the rope was placed around his neck he read a passage from the Bible and asked everyone present to forgive him. He then bid the 500 onlookers farewell. Andrews' neck was not broken in the fall; he died as a result of strangulation. It took several minutes for him to expire, and he was pronounced dead at 11:03.


11:12 a.m.-- The Hanging of Zachary Taylor

As lawmen were cutting down the lifeless body of Alfred Andrews, another criminal was being marched to the scaffold in Waynesburg, Greene County. Unlike the others who were executed earlier that morning, Taylor professed his innocence to the very end.

On Saturday, Sept. 10, 1887, a Pittsburgh stockbroker named William McCausland was murdered in Greene County, his mutilated body found in a ravine near the Monongahela River. He was still alive when the body was discovered, but died without gaining consciousness. A revolver bearing the inscription "J.T.C." was found beside the body, which led to the arrests of John T. Clark, Frank Clark, George Clark and Taylor. Frank and John Clark were acquitted, but George Clark was convicted and hanged on Feb. 26, 1890.

At the scaffold Taylor gave a speech declaring his innocence. He claimed he never saw the murder take place. After praying, he shackled his own ankles and then dropped a white handkerchief as a signal that he was ready to die. His neck was broken and Zach Taylor died almost instantly.


1:50 p.m.-- The Hanging of Charles Carter

On April 9, the first three executions took place within 45 minutes of each other. The final execution of the day took place in the afternoon, when Charles Carter was hanged in Ebensburg, Cambria County, for the murder of John Matthews.

Carter was a 22-year-old black man from Richmond and came from a family with a bad reputation. His brother, Jesse, was hanged in Allegheny County years earlier while another brother was serving out a life sentence at the Western Penitentiary for manslaughter.

In November of 1889, the murder for which Charles Carter payed the ultimate penalty took place in Johnstown, at the the home of John Roberts. Roberts ran a house of ill repute and it was at this house where Carter and John Matthews became infatuated with the same woman, Emma Dunn. A quarrel ensued and Matthews was shot through the chest. Carter was arrested in Harrisburg while attempting to borrow money to flee the state and returned to Ebensburg.

Carter, who had grown rather religious during his imprisonment, met his death calmly. He walked to the scaffold with a firm step and gave no speech or statement as the rope was placed around his neck. His neck was broken by the fall, and his death was instantaneous.

Four hangings in four different counties, separated by a little more than three hours, secures April 9, 1890 as one of the most unusual days in the history of Pennsylvania.

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