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.

The First Hanging in Indiana County

The first hanging in Indiana County was the execution of James E. Allison for the murder of his father, Robert Allison, but a grave error was made in the guilt of the executed.

Prior to 1877, Robert lived with his family on his farm in Washington Township, but owing to fights and quarrels with his wife and children, particularly James, he left home around January 1, 1877 to live first with his sister and then his brother, Alexander. Robert’s home was about a quarter of a mile from Alexander’s home.

Robert tried to return home, but was thrown out by James, and was assaulted by him, this occurred on March 13, 1880. The assault was set for trial on June 17, 1880. The two agreed to a peaceful settlement, and the left for home with the understanding, that the dispute between them should be submitted to amiable arbitration.

The following set of facts was submitted at trial:

On the Friday following the return from court, at dusk, James Allison asked a neighbor boy to tell his father that Alonzo Allison (Robert’s son) wanted to see him at the road at dark. The boy delivered the message and returned home.

Robert immediately went to the road, and a few minutes later John Allison (another of Robert’s sons) heard shots. He ran to the road and saw James fleeing and Robert lying on the ground. Robert reported that James shot him.

Leon Smeltzer, a neighbor, heard the shots and voice which he took to be James cursing to the person to whom he was talking. John also heard shots and heard Robert yelling out that James was shooting him. Earlier in June, Alonzo overheard James threaten to shoot his father if he met him at court. Many witnesses heard Robert exclaim: “For God’s sake, don’t kill me, Jim, this time,” and after the shooting, they heard the expression, “You damned old son-of-a-b***, how do you feel now?” The last expression was recognized as James’ voice.

James did not resist arrest the following day, at which time he was working in the cornfield with the murder weapon found on his person. James was taken to the Indiana County Jail. Robert died the following Monday, June 21, 1880 at 5:00 pm.

At the September court session charges were filed against James for the murder of Robert Allison. The case was continued until March 1881, when it was tried. The trial began on March 15, 1881. The Jury consisted of: John K. Myers, James A. Black, W.S. Linsenbigler, Alfred Lovelace, William J. Elwood, James Neely, James M. Creps, William Wachob, Joseph Atkinson, William McConnell, Isaac Warner, and Valentine T. Kerr.

The District Attorney M.C. Watson, Harry White and Joseph M. Thompson presented the case for the Commonwealth, and Silas M. Clark, H.K. Sloan, and J.C. Ruffner were represented Allison. Judge Blair presided over the case.

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Silas Clark, attorney for Allison

Testimony closed on Saturday March 19, 1881. The case was argued on Monday and the jury was sent out on Monday evening. The jury remained out overnight and returned with the verdict of guilty of murder. A motion was made for a new trial and in arrest of judgment. The motions were argued on May 20, 1881; they were overruled and the James Allison was sentenced to hang.

As with any murder conviction, a writ of error was taken to the October term of the PA Supreme Court. On November 14, 1881, the opinion of the PA Supreme Court was delivered, affirming the conviction.

A record of the case was sent to Governor Hoyt who ordered the execution to take place on February 17, 1882. An application was made to the Board of Pardons sitting in Harrisburg on January 15, 1882, for a change to the sentence for life imprisonment, but that application was refused.

James was visited by all ministers of Indiana, between the time of reception of the warrant for his execution and the day set for carrying it out. They attempted to impress upon him the seriousness of his crime and the necessity for a quick and sincere repentance, but James was unmoved.

On Wednesday night, February 3, 1882, James was alone in his cell. He was heard pacing the floor and stirring the fire frequently. He only slept a short time.

On Thursday morning, the building of the scaffold for the hanging was begun. The majority of the day was spent completing it. On Thursday evening, Sheriff Jamison requested that James put on a new suit of clothes which he had gotten for him. James refused to accept the suit, despite the fact that his clothes were dirty and ragged.

That evening, James had a hearty dinner, but did not seem excited about the events of the following day. There was no explanation why there was a change of the date of the execution.

That evening the guards, H.S. (Barney) Thompson and John Sherman, stayed with James. He talked with them freely until midnight, but made no reference to the execution during the conversation. Again, James did not sleep much; at eight in the morning he had a hearty breakfast.

Later Monday morning, James was visited by his mother, Alonzo and a sister; he turned them away when they entered his cell and refused to speak with them. He told Sheriff Jamison to take them away, stating they were no friends of his.

The Sheriff selected the following as witnesses to the execution: George R. Lewis, C.C. Davis, Dr. J.K. Thompson, James Johnston, G.W. Bodenhamer, G.T. Hamilton, William McWilliams, J.A.C. Rairagh, William Mabon, Dr. W.L. Reed, J.B. Sansom, and Johnston Miller.

As was customary in the day, a crowd had gathered in front of the jail by ten a.m. It was shortly after ten, when the front door of the jail was opened and those having tickets were admitted. At four minutes before eleven, the Sheriff and his assistant went for Allison; James said he would not go. The Sheriff told Allison that he would have to order H.C. Howard and John W. Brooks, to take him to the scaffold.

The Sheriff and Henry Hall walked in front, the others followed, marching slowly in to the courtyard and up to the scaffold. Allison was visibly agitated and trembled. After a brief time, the Sheriff asked Allison whether he had anything to say why the sentence should not be executed. James stated he was not guilty. It was at that point that the execution took place and a short time later, James Allison was pronounced dead. The body was lowered, a shroud put on it, and then placed in the coffin. The crowd that had gathered in front of the jail, was given a chance to the view the corpse, which they did as they passed through the hall and out of the side entrance. The body was taken in charge by his relatives and taken to Plumcreek church for burial.

Some years later, Mary Allison, widow of Robert Allison, became quite ill. As she lay on her death bed, she confessed that on the evening of the murder, she dressed in James’ clothes and shot her husband.

The first hanging in Indiana County may have been a grave error. Was the execution a mistake? Was James Allison guilty? These are all questions that you must answer for yourself based on the facts of the case.

Allison v. Commonwealth, 99 Pa. 17 (1881).; Clarence Stephenson 175th Anniversary History.