At 4:30 p.m. on November 18, 1936, a drink-maddened man entered the Keystone Coal Company store in Saltsburg and announced to the manager, W.S. Lockard, “I killed the Spelocks.” Mr. Lockard doubted the story, at first, and went to investigate and found the Spelocks dead. Lockard immediately notified Sheriff Harry E. Koozer, who with Deputy Sheriffs A. Eugene Wilson and J. Clair Irvin immediately came to Saltsburg and met Lockard and Andy Yacos, the suspect.
The sheriff and his deputies returned Yacos to the Spelock home, where Yacos reenacted the slayings. “I done it. That’s all,” he told the officers as they came upon the bodies of Mrs. Spelock on the blood-stained bed and of her husband on the floor. The bloody knife was found on a kitchen cabinet.
Yacos related that he would have also killed the two Yacos children at home, Joseph (9) and Vincent (8), but they had eluded him and he could not catch them.
Andy Yacos, 52-year-old coal miner was living in White Station with Mr. and Mrs. Spelock as a boarder. The sheriff was informed that Yacos and the Spelocks had been drinking for the three weeks prior to the murder. The parties had ran out of alcohol, so the Spelocks had given Yacos $5 to purchase a quart of liquor. He returned with he whiskey and the change, but Yacos was short a dollar, which caused a fight to ensue and Mrs. Spelock slapped him in the face. After the fight, the Spelocks and Yacos drank the quart of whiskey, and Yacos kindled the fires. The afternoon of November 18, 1936, Spelock got another pint of liquor, but they would not give Yacos any. Around 4:00 p.m. the Spelocks went upstairs to sleep off their drunken state and Yacos followed them still asking for a drink. The Spelocks again refused him a drink, so Yacos went to the kitchen, grabbed the knife and returned back upstairs again asking for a drink. He was told to “get out,” and drove the knife into the heart of Mr. Spelock and then three times into the breast of Mrs. Spelock. As Yacos went downstairs, he saw the children, lunged at them, but they escaped. The children discovered their parents were dead, they went to the home of their uncle, Mike Spelock.
On the way to the county jail, Yacos expressed to Sheiff Kooser sorrow for the death of Mrs. Spelock, but not for Mr. Spelock. Yacos did not seem concerned as he said, “I get one more ride, to Rockview.”
Yacos had intended to kill himself, but he was afraid the knife would “hurt too much” and he could not find a little revolver he had planned to use. The revolver was later found during the investigation under the Spelock’s bedroom mattress.
Yacos was charged with murder by Sheriff Harry Koozer before Squire Walter H. Jackson, before whom the preliminary hearing was held. Attorney R.J. Hogan was appointed as counsel for Yacos by Judge E.E. Creps. District Attorney Edwin M. Clark, called Mike Spelock as the first witness at the preliminary hearing.
Clark: Do you know Andy Yacos?
Spelock: Sure, I know him. I worked with him in the mine.
Spelock then testified that Yacos visited his home at around 3:00 p.m. on the day of the murder telling Spelock “By Gee, I am going to get a knife and cut him.” Spelock went on to explain, “I think he mean my brother but maybe he just making fun.”
Spelock was then asked if he considered Yacos to be intoxicated when he left. To which Spelock responded, “He was not too drunk.”
The next witness to present testimony was Ward Lockard, the store manager. He testified that Andy Spelock came into the store and stated, “I killed two people. I want you to call the sheriff.” Lockard responded, “Who?” To which, Yacos responded, “Andy Spelock and his wife.” Lockard believed that Yacos had apparently been drinking some, but was not so drunk, because he talked plainly.
Coroner John Woods testified about the deaths, describing the butcher knife wounds as determined by the autopsies. Deputy Wilson testified that Yacos was not drunk and did not seem nervous when he told him and the other officers of the stabbings. Yacos told Deputy Wilson that the Spelocks had money hidden in the bed, upon which they were slain, and a subsequent search during the investigation revealed $203 in the bed.
Deputy Wilson added that Yacos reported that he told Andy Spelock prior to the fatal thrust, “If I don’t drink, you don’t drink either.”
Deputy Wilson said, “He (Yacos) said he knew if he killed him, he would go to the electric chair at Bellefonte but he didn’t care.”
District Attorney Clark made his closing address on January 22, 1937, to the jury of nine men and three women in the Criminal Court of President Judge E.E. Creps. It was during his closing argument that he asked for death in the electric chair.
A hush fell over the well-filled courtroom as Yacos, a stocky, dark-complected, partially bald defendant, was called to the stand by his counsel in his own defense. Yacos reported that he had been drinking whiskey with the Spelocks for three weeks and wept as he recalled his friendship with Andy Spelock and his wife, Anna. He then reported that the morning of the murder, he went to Moween for more liquor. He had a drink there, and his mind was a blank until he saw the blood in the Spelock home. He was frightened, so he went to Moween where he remembered ordering some pop and eating sandwiches. He then went to Saltsburg but his mind again became a blank and his memory did not return until several days afterward in the county jail.
The defense also called Dr. Frederick J. Kellam and asked if the tolerance of alcohol varied in individuals. Dr. Kellam replied in the affirmative and also testifying that a shock would tend to have a sobering effect on a person who was intoxicated.
After closing arguments by Attorneys James W. Mack, Jr. and R.J. Hogan, defense counsel, and District Attorney Clark the jury was informed of the five possible verdicts: first degree murder with the death penalty; first degree murder with life imprisonment; second degree murder; voluntary manslaughter; and not guilty.
Those serving on the jury were: Mrs. Alice Tyger, Gordon Johnson, Mrs. Clare Bee, Mrs. S.B. Bailey, Harry Good, J.H. Blose, John Shaffer, B.F. Hilderbrand, L.J. McKee, Robert Pollock, Charles Marshall, and Burt Kinter. Alternates were: Meade Fisher and Mrs. Margaret Sowers.
The jury deliberated for an hour and half, finding Andy Yacos guilty of murder in the first degree in the fatal stabbing of Mrs. Anna Spelock. There was no recommendation of mercy was made in the verdict as it was read by jury foreman, Mrs. Alice Tyger, and under Pennsylvania law, the verdict was a mandate for capital punishment in the electric chair.
As Yacos was taken back to his cell, he commented to the guards, “That’s the finish for poor Andy,” and he also inquired whether there was a chance that the penalty could be changed to life imprisonment.
Sentencing was held on February 15, 1937, and Yacos asked, “Mr. Judge, If you can change to life…?” Judge Creps explained, “Well, Andy, the court can’t do that. We have no power to change it.” And then Judge Creps handed down the sentence:
Now, therefore, the sentence of the law is that you, Andy Yacos, here present in open court, be taken hence to the jail of Indiana County from whence you came and that from thence, at a time later to be determined, you be transferred to the custody and keeping of the warden of the Western Penitentiary in Centre County, Pennsylvania, by his warrant may direct, and at such time you be taken to the place of electrocution at said penitentiary and that a current of electricity of sufficient intensity to cause death be then and there passed through your body and so continue until you are dead. And may God in His Infinite Goodness have mercy on your soul.”
As Yacos was escorted back to his cell, he asked Warden Irvin to explain again why the court had no power to change the verdict, Yacos said: “Maybe get the governor to change it then.”
Governor George H. Earle set the date for execution for May 3, 1937. On April 21, 1937, Yacos’ attorneys went to Harrisburg to ask the Pardon Board for commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment. Their main argument was the drunken condition of Yacos removed any specific intent to take a life. Unfortunately the Board of Pardons refused the commutation, and the execution moved forward. The Board reported that state psychiatrists who examined Yacos found him sane. District Attorney Clark said it was “a most revolting murder,” and termed Yacos a “vicious character.” Thus ends the story of the Spelock murder.