One message sent to would-be criminals as the new year began a century ago was that local judges, prosecutors and juries were not going to be soft on crime.
Owen Boyle, 26, and William Tyler, 24, each received 10-year prison terms for a robbery and assault against Mrs. Bridget Gallagher, 65, of Water Street, Coaldale, on the day after Christmas in 1910. The Tamaqua Courier called the crime "one of the worst in the history of the county."
The woman was enjoying her evening meal when she heard a knock on the door. Lifting the latch she saw two men, both from town. She immediately recognized Boyle, who was a friend of her son's and had recently stayed at the home for a week while she was visiting friends in Wilkes-Barre.
In fact, she had been approached by Boyle for a handout twice before that very day. Feeling charitable during the Christmas holiday, she gave him a dollar each time, which he used to buy whiskey. When the knock came on her door on the evening of Dec. 26, Boyle was accompanied by his pal Tyler.
While Boyle had no arrest record, Tyler had seen the inside of a prison before. He spent 27 months in the lockup for robbing the Nesquehoning train station.
Gallagher later testified that when she ordered the two to leave, they became very hostile. After Tyler threw a shawl over her head, one of the thugs struck her over the head with his fist.
After she was bound and gagged, the ruffians ransacked the house looking for money. They found five silver dollars and, before leaving, threatened the woman not to tell anyone.
After struggling for an hour, Gallagher freed herself and went to a neighbor for help. It didn't take police long to track down the culprits. Both men were found in a saloon, and were allegedly using the stolen money to pay for their drinks.
Less than two weeks later and with her face still discolored from the brutal attack, Gallagher appeared in county court in Pottsville. One reporter reported that she still carried a lump on her forehead "as large as an egg."
Gallagher trembled as she positively identified her attackers, swearing that their motive was robbery.
In his testimony, Boyle claimed he initially told Gallagher he wanted to use the first dollar she gave him to telephone a girl in Allentown but that he later changed his mind and bought whiskey. He claimed he was going to use the second dollar to buy beer for Gallagher but instead, he and his friend Tyler decided to drink it themselves.
Both men claimed that while they were sitting in the home drinking the brew, Gallagher suddenly went to the door and yelled "murder!" They were frightened by her outburst and fled.
Judge Edgar W. Bechtel didn't buy Boyle's story. He imposed a 10-year prison sentence plus a fine of $25 on each man.
Another heinous act, this one even more brutal since it involved rape and murder, occurred about two months earlier at Auchey's Station, about five miles from Auburn in Schuylkill County.
Joseph Christock was a farmhand working on the Peter Faulds farm in South Manheim Township. Fauld's wife, Elizabeth, was in a storeroom cleaning horse lines and Christock was shelling corn in the same room when the assault took place.
After Christock threw the horse lines over her head, he bound her arms and was taking her upstairs when her mother, Mrs. Mary Ann Richards, rushed in after hearing her daughter's screams. Christock grabbed a shotgun which was standing in the stairway and shot Mrs. Richards, killing her instantly.
He then bound, beat and raped Mrs. Faulds in her bedroom and looted the house before fleeing. After his capture, the farmhand faced quick justice. On Nov. 25, a Schuylkill County jury found him guilty of first degree murder.
A Tamaqua Courier opinion writer said Christock deserved no mercy. Under the the headline "An Eye for an eye," he considered the "shocking" case worthy of the death penalty.
"He is a loose-jawed, low-browed fellow, a brother to the ox under the fine-spun skin of the human," the Courier writer said. "He slew a working woman, a woman the hem of whose skirt he was unfit to touch, and for that he should die.
"There is something about the man so revolting that he cannot even be associated with tender and gentler things. If he were to be given his freedom tomorrow, it would be an affliction upon the world for he would go forth a menace to humanity – and particularly good women.
"To our mind the most fitting punishment that could be inflicted would be to keep him confined where God's sunlight never penetrates until the mercy of death descended upon him."
The writer urged the new governor, John Tenor, to not hesitate in signing Christock's death warrant.
"He should not allow any influence, no matter though it be political or otherwise, to stay him in his first duty to the high office he has just assumed – that of carrying out the laws fearlessly and without favor.
Tenor did not waver and signed the warrant. Within three months Christock died on the gallows, becoming the 657th person executed in Pennsylvania since the first man was hanged in 1693.