The Murder Trial of Frank and Angelina Borgio

Saturday June 17, 1916 marked the beginning of the trial of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Frank Borgio and Angeline Borgio.  On May 2, 1915, Frank Borgio went to Iselin at approximately 9:00 a.m., he and his wife were leaving their home in Nowrytown, because of the lack of work.  They had planned to spend the day with friends in Iselin, prior to leaving town.  The couple arrived in Iselin and awaited the return of Sam Russo, when he got off of work in the mines which they knew would be around 5 or 6 in the evening.  When Russo returned from working in the mines.  Now the Borgios knew Rosso as he was at one time a border with them. He greeted Mrs. Borgio, as he normally would, and she returned the greeting.  Just as he was entering the boarding house, Mrs. Borgio drew her hand which was covered with a handkerchief, which concealed a revolver and fired twice, both shots lodging in Russo’s back.

Russo ran through the basement of the boarding house and was on his way to the first floor when Frank Borgio appeared and fired three shots, two of which hit Russo.  Frank Borgio left the house and the injured man tried to reach his room on the second floor.  Mrs. Borgio escaped those who could have detained her, raced up the stairs and came face-to-face with Russo, being exhausted, had sunk to the steps.  Without saying a word, Mrs. Borgio drew the revolver and fired twice, striking Russo in the face.  Despite these life-threatening wounds, Russo lived almost two hours.

In the meantime, a foreigner had secured a gun and ordered Frank Borgio to hold up his hands, but some intervening force caused Borgio to escape along with his wife. The couple got in a car and went as far as the Conemaugh Township election house, and then continued on to Nowrytown.  The couple was arrested on the Owl train of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Saltsburg.  They were brought to Indiana on May 3, 1915 by Sheriff Boggs.  Mr. and Mrs. Borgio were approximately 30 years old, and expressed no regret over what they had done and took their imprisonment nonchalantly.

At the time of their arrest, Mrs. Borgio told Sheriff Boggs that her husband was jealous of the alleged suspicious attentions Russo had paid to her and the best way out of the family difficulty was to do away with the cause of it.  They planned and executed the murder. 

During the trial, the defense claimed that Russo had assaulted Mrs. Borgio.  The alleged assault is said to have occurred in July 1914, while no one was at the home, except for Russo.  Russo allegedly solicited improper relations (today we would call this either sexual assault or potentially an attempted rape), but she refused.  Russo is then said to have pointed a pistol at Mrs. Borgio and made various threats and accomplished his purpose.  After the assault, according to Mrs. Borgio, Russo stated that if she told anyone about what had happened, he would kill her.  Because of the threats, she did not tell Mr. Borgio, but he had heard through rumors around town and confronted his wife, and she then told him the story.  The defense claims that Borgio immediately declared his wife’s honor had to be avenged, and that is when they planned the murder.  

When the jury first went to deliberate, their first vote on the charge against Frank Borgio came in with 11 for first degree murder and one for second degree.  The second vote came in with 8 for first degree and 3 for second degree.  The third and final vote by the jury came in a unanimous guilty for murder in the first degree.

The vote for Mrs. Borgio came in the first time at 1 for first degree and 11 for second; the second vote resulted in a unanimous vote for conviction of murder in the second degree.

After the verdict was announced, Attorney James Mack, for the defendants, made an application for a new trial.

Frank Borgio was calm as his sentence was imposed, aside from a shrug of his shoulders, he maintained his quiet attitude which marked his entire captivity.  When Mrs. Borgio learned of her and her husband’s sentence, she became hysterical.  After the sentencing, when Mrs. Borgio was returned to her cell, she made threats to kill herself, so to avoid this from happening, a guard was placed with her until the time for her to be taken from the Indiana Jail to the Western Penitentiary, where she was to serve 10 to 15 years.

The sentence was as follows:

The verdict rendered in this case requires the Court to impose upon you the most serious penalty known to the law.  The sentence about to be imposed upon you is not the discretionary act of the court; it is the sentence of the law.  The jury has found you guilty of causing the life of Sam Russo to be taken and the jury has also found that you did it willfully, deliberately and premediately and without excuse or justification.  You had a fair and impartial trial and was defended from the beginning to the end by able, zealous and conscientious counsel.  Your situation at this hour appeals most feelingly to our sympathy.  We trust that you make so direct the remaining days of your life that you may meet the end with fortitude.

And now, January 8, 1917, You, Frank Borgio, being in open Court, the motion for a new trial and reasons therefore having been carefully and fully considered, it is ordered overruled, and it being demanded of you in open Court if you had anything to say why the said Court of Oyer and Terminer should not proceed to judgment and sentence against you, now, therefore, the sentence of the law is that you, Frank Borgio, here present in open Court, he taken hence to the jail fo 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 Center County, Pennsylvania, and there by him detained until such time as His Excellency, the Governor of the Commonwealth, by his warrant may direct, and at such time you be taken to the place of execution 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 continued until you are dead.

And may God, in His infinite goodness have mercy on your soul.

On January 9, 1917, it came time for Mrs. Borgio to be taken to the Penitentiary, a sorrowful good-bye was shared between Mrs. Borgio and Mr. Borgio. 

Sheriff Harry A. Boggs, along with County Commissioner W. Bruce Wagner, and some newspapermen read Frank Borgio the Governor’s warrant fixing the week of September 10, 1917 as the time for his execution.  Afterwards Borgio remarked, “There’s no law in this country for me,”  and proceeded to make preparations for his departure to Rockview, Center County, where the execution was to be carried out.

A stay of execution was issued by the Governor late on Saturday September 8, 1917, which postponed the execution until November 5, 1917.  In the interim period, the Pardon Board would review the case.  A recommendation was made that an Executive Order be issued which would commute the death sentence and substitute a sentence of life.  This recommendation was made by the Pardon Board and submitted by Frank B. McClain, Lieutenant Governor; Cyrus E. Woods, Secretary of the Commonwealth; Francis Shunk Brown, Attorney General; and Paul W. Houck, Secretary of Internal Affairs. 

Frank Borgio was pardoned by the State Board when his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.  

The story does not end here, as a further order of court was made on October 24, 1930:

And now, October 24, 1930, it appearing to the Court that in October 5, 1921, this Court made an order of removal of Frank Borgio from the Western Penitentiary to the Farview State Hospital for the Criminal Insane at Waymart, Wayne County, Pa., pursuant to the report of the Commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the mental condition of the said Frank Borgio; and it further appearing to the Court that the said Frank Borgio has been treated in said institution since his admission therein, and upon petition of William M. Lynch, Superintendent, praying that this Court make an order discharging the said Frank Borgio from the State Hospital for the Criminal Insane for the reason that he has sufficiently recovered, and no longer needs the custodial care and treatment of said hospital.

….where he has been serving a commuted life sentence for the crime of first degree murder for which he was convicted June 21, 1916.

….Direct Elmer Borland and return the said Frank Borgio to the Western Penitentiary, located at Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Pa…

J.N. Langham, P.J.

It was reported in the Indiana Evening Gazette on January 16, 1931 reported that Borgio would get his freedom as he was issued a commutation of the minimum sentence, however, it was not reported when or if he was released, as there seems to be no further mention after this date.

Indiana County Judicial System Part IV

In 1894, Judge Harry White came up for reelection; he had been on the Bench since January 1885. White was reelected, but by a narrow margin, and despite numerous efforts to put himself in a favorable light, as discussed in a previous post, Judge White had a controversial career, and he tread a thin line between ethical and unethical actions. However, White was unable to erase the memories of 1894-95, because when the election of 1904 came around, he was defeated for a third term, and never held an elective public office again. He was succeed by Stephen J. Telford who served until January 1916, when Judge Jonathan N. Langham took over his seat.

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Judge Stephen J. Telford

During the late 1800s and early part of the 1900s, Indiana County was fortunate to have the honor of having two of its native sons on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Justice Silas M. Clark (who died November 20, 1891 in office and was eulogized during a moving funeral) and Justice John P. Elkin, who after serving as Attorney General of Pennsylvania from 1899-1903, was nominated in 1904 for the PA Supreme Court, was elected and took his place on the bench in January 1905 serving until his death on October 3, 1915.

The period from 1891-1916, saw an increase in crime, due in part to a “Wild West” climate in some of the new mining towns; there were numerous murders and other crimes and disturbances. This can been seen in 1898 in Glen Campbell and in Whiskey Run in 1911 which resulted in four deaths.

By 1920 the courthouse was showing its age at 50 years old. When it was constructed, electricity and modern toilet facilities were unheard of, therefore remodeling needed to be completed at various times. In 1917, there was a $3,370 contract for public “comfort stations” to be put in in the courthouse basement. Then in 1929 it was decided to complete the basement, it was previously divided into rooms but never finished because the space was not needed. A street-level entrance to the basement was provided, which eliminated the former steps on the Sixth Street side to the first floor. The toilets on the first floor were removed and two toilets were provided in the basement, along with eight office rooms.

Another addition was begun in December 1917 and completed in the spring of 1918: the “Bridge of Sighs” connected the courtroom with the jail.

By the time the Depression hit, the courthouse needed painting and maintenance, estimated at a cost of $600; the labor was to be provided by the Civil Works Administration. Officials and attorneys contributed $290 toward the cost. Another incident during the Depression Era, was the leaning of the courthouse tower which was noticed by June 1936; an option discussed was the removal of the clock tower, but this was met with protests from citizens. Other plans during this time included the removal of the stone wall and the iron fence surrounding the courthouse, cleaning and painting the exterior, raising the roof and constructing an additional story, remodeling the interior to provide much needed office space, and the installation of an elevator. The Grand Jury approved the project, with labor to be done as a W.P.A. project. By late July, the local WPA office approved the repainting of the courthouse and jail, and Washington also gave its approval on September 11; but the commissioners cancelled the project due to the impending cold weather and the cost of scaffolding. In December the Grand Jury were presented with reconstruction plans, but postponed the matter for further study.

It was in 1923, that women began serving on juries. The Indiana Evening Gazette reported on May 1, 1923 that 73 women accepted to serve on the grand petit and traverse jurors along with 131 men. To put this in perspective Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919 and being ratified on August 18, 1920, giving women the right to vote.

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Jury Chairs 9 and 10

It was also during this period that an amusing incident occurred on January 5, 1924. The story begins when everyone in the courthouse began to cry, investigators found two rapidly emptying tear gas bombs in the corridor, and the mystery as to why everyone was crying was solved. It seems that outgoing Sheriff J.R. Richards had the bombs to use in a scattering a mob, and two practical jokers thought it would be fun to release them, that is until they were among the ones weeping. The windows and doors to the building were opened, and the gas weakened, but they had to be closed at the end of the day and the fumes began to collect again. On Sunday morning, the Lutherans, entered the building to worship in while their new church was being constructed; however, they were almost forced to leave due to the fumes.

The final era of the judicial system that we are going to look at is moving into the modern era, mostly after the 1950s through the 1980s. Starting in the 1950’s the grandeous courthouse was described as an “eye sore” and there was a proposed modernization of the building which was estimated to cost between $800,000 and $850,000, but these proposals got no further than the planning stage. Then on October 29, 1962, plans were announced to construct a new courthouse at the rear of the old courthouse, but the Gazette ran several editorials in November which disagreed with the choice of a site and urged that the Pennsylvania Railroad station site (on the corner of Eighth Street and Philadelphia) be chosen. Bids were advertised around January 1, 1965, but it wasn’t until December 7, 1966 that the Commissioners chose the PRR site.

The public got a preview of the new courthouse on June 3, 1967 when the Gazette published a picture and plans. By August the Indiana County Redevelopment Authority purchased the entire PRR property for $300,000 and transferred a portion of the property to the county for a courthouse. On December 6, the Commissioners approved a $2 million bond issue to finance the problem. Construction contracts were signed on January 3, 1968 and ground-breaking ceremonies were held on January 10. Construction continued through 1969 and by the beginning of 1970 contracts for new furnishings were awarded. The last session of court in the old courthouse was held on November 2, 1970; and on December 17 the last county office, the prothonotary, moved out and the doors were padlocked soon afterward.

The Commissioners announced on April 22, 1971 that the old courthouse would be sold in the near future. This set off a history of the old courthouse. There was an auction of the furnishing held in June. In May 1972 there was a survey related to the distribution of the courthouse with three choices: retain the buildings and the property, retain the land, sell to the highest bidder. A large majority desired to keep the old courthouse. By the end of the year the National Bank of the Commonwealth (NBOC) made a proposal to lease and restore the building for bank purposes.

Renovation work began during the summer of 1973, starting with the placement of the old courthouse on the state and national registers of historic places. An “Open House” was held on October 1974.

The new courthouse proved to be less than ideal. There were some people felt that the colonial design was inappropriate, because Indiana did not exist during that period. Moreover, the structure proved to be poorly insulated, heating cost exorbitant, and expensive corrective measures had to be taken. In 1987, at an estimated cost of $200,000, asbestos was removed.

Ground-breaking of a new jail took place on September 9, 1972 and the $1 million 3-story facility was dedicated on September 28, 1973 but not occupied until the end of October. The issue of jailbreaks did not end, and the first occurred on September 21, 1974, followed by three more on November 3. The jail was referred to as the “Ninth Street Hilton.” There were suggestions to put bars on the windows, on November 4 the Commissioners voted to proceed with the installation of bars immediately.

The justice-of-the-peace system was replaced by the District Justices, first elected in 1969 and taking office in January 1970. The first district justices were: James Lambert, Geraldine M. Wilkins, Louis J. Nocco, and Albert Cox. Mrs. Wilkins was the first Indiana County woman to hold the post of District Justice. Judy Monaco was sworn in on May 3, 1971 as the first female member of the Indiana County Bar Association and the first to be admitted to practice in the new courthouse.

Another big change during this period was the elimination of the indicting grand jury system, which was authorized by a 1973 constitutional amendment. The last Indiana County Grand Jury closed its work in December 1978.

The Indiana County Judiciary system is continually changing, with the election of new judges, new District Judges, and the admission of new attorneys to the Bar Association.

Honorable Jonathan Nicholas Langham

Jonathan Nicholas Langham was born August 4, 1861 in Grant Township. He was the son of Jonathan and Eliza Jane (Barr) Langham. He attended the local schools and then entered Indiana State Normal School (now IUP) from which he graduated in 1882.

At age 16, like others of his day, Langham began teaching school at Salt Well School, Susquehanna Township, Cambria County. It was during this time, as was customary at the time, he read law at the office of J.N. Bands of Indiana. Langham was admitted to the Indiana County Bar in December 1888. It was in 1915 that Jonathan N. Langham was elected as Indiana County judge and was reelected in 1925 and served until 1936.

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Judge Jonathan Langham

Langham married Clara Cameron, daughter of John Graham and Jane (Wilson) Cameron. She died in 1928, and the two had two children: Nora Louise and Elizabeth Cameron Langham.

Judge Langham also served as postmaster of Indiana, appointed by President Harrison, which he served for four years in this capacity. He was also Corporation Deputy in the office of the Auditor-General in Harrisburg, where he served for five years. He was also elected to the United States Congress for the 61st, 62nd, and 63rd sessions of Congress. Judge Langham was also, at the time of his death, a Pastmaster of Indiana Lodge No. 313, Free and Accepted Masons; a member of the Pennsylvania Consistory, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Pittsburgh; and an honorary member of the Supreme Council, Thirty-Third Degree, Scottish Rite. He was a Past Noble Grand of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and a charter member of the Benevolent and Protective Orders of Elks. He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Judge Langham was known for his conscientious serves and great understanding when rendering decisions. Many people believed that he aided justice by granting mercy to those who deserved it and punishing the guilty.