It seems there has always been a fascination with crime; today we have crime dramas on almost every major network, but when did this fascination with crime begin. One hundred years ago, there was another form of entertainment for those “criminal minds” and that was public executions.
Murder and Executions
Executions were publicized and often public events. Here in Indiana County, public hangings occurred in the courthouse courtyard. The earliest known hanging in Indiana County occurred in June 1880 with the execution of James G. Allison for the alleged murder of his father, Robert Allison. A later blog post will explore Indiana’s first execution in great detail.
A second execution during this time was Joseph Sarver, who was hanged on September 23, 1884 after being found guilty of killing his father, William Sarver, on November 10, 1883. Sarver’s guilt was not seriously disputed, and the defense pleaded insanity, but the jury brought in a verdict of first-degree murder. The defense made an application for a sentence of life imprisonment but was denied. Judge Blair presided over the sentencing of both Allison and Sarver. It was reported that His Honor was affected when pronouncing the penalty of death on Allison.
There were other murders; one of the most noted was Pasquale Renaldo, an Italian, who on November 14, 1888 was killed by Jesse Palmer. Palmer was intoxicated and had a shotgun, while Renaldo carried only a knife. Renaldo and his friend, Mike Mireon, were described as “quiet, inoffensive and good workmen” being employed at Meldren’s Brickworks at Blacklick. The trial began on March 12, 1889. The jury was out for four hours when they returned a verdict of “not guilty” on March 19. After the verdict was reported there was considerable unfavorable comment about that verdict. The Indiana Times that many thought that Jesse Palmer should have been found guilty on one of the counts and failed to see his justification for shooting Renaldo.
There were other crimes as well during the early period of Indiana County, including an unusual activity in counterfeiting. Martin L. Stewart, of Brush Valley, was arrested for counterfeiting postal currency in August 1866. He had $50 of the counterfeit currency on his person when he was arrested. Although the counterfeit money was in his possession, he denied producing it; he was found guilty by a Federal jury in Pittsburgh and sentenced to pay a fine of $1,000 along with a five-year term in the Western Penitentiary.
About a decade later in 1877, three counterfeiters were sentenced. The ringleader, Scott Mardis, was sentenced to four years in the penitentiary and $1,000 fine; Adam Leck three years and $1,000 fine; and Shirley B. McMillan three years and $1,000 fine. These were not the only counterfeiters either; James S. Black was arrested in July 1881 for giving counterfeit money to a detective who sold him bogus jewelry. In October 1887, a government detective searched the home of “Devil” Dave Black in South Mahoning and found molds used in making counterfeit money.
Beyond murder and counterfeiting there were the usual robberies and burglaries. One of these occurred on March 17, 1871 when four men attempted to break into the safe of the First National Bank in Indiana.
There were also reports of vandalism as well. In April 1867, there was a report that boys were breaking windows in the Episcopal Church in West Indiana with stones and clubs. The college was not left out of vandalism either, as it was reported during the first week of March 1876 that some Indiana Normal School students “abused the building and furniture…in a fearful manner,” this included knocking down plaster, breaking the doors of several rooms, etc.