Guide to the Allegheny County, Pa. Coroner's Office Records, 1884-1976 AIS.1982.07

ULS Archives & Special Collections

Summary Information

Repository
ULS Archives & Special Collections
Title
Allegheny County, Pa. Coroner's Office Records
Creator
Allegheny County (Pa.). Coroner's Office.
Collection Number
AIS.1982.07
Date
1884-1976
Extent
1087.5 linear feet (870 boxes)
Abstract
The Coroner’s Office investigates suspicious, unusual and sudden deaths in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. These records contain inquest files dating between 1887 and 1976, which reflect coroner’s verdicts for over ninety years. In addition to the final inquest report, materials in the files may include eye-witness testimony, grand jury reports, physician notes, affidavits, press clippings and other documentation. Also included in these records are morgue reports covering intermittent years from 1901 to 1941, along with a small amount of administrative files. Digital reproductions of some of the notable case files are scanned and online.
Sponsor Note
Funding for this project was made available in part through a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Preferred Citation

Allegheny County, Pa. Coroner's Office Records, 1884-1976, AIS.1982.07, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System

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History

The Office of the Coroner for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, has developed into one of the leading medico-legal programs in the country. Historically, the title of coroner could be held by any land owning citizen, with professions ranging from a cabinet maker, to a silver smith, farmer, or lawyer, but seldom were they physicians. Until recently, the coroner had jurisdiction over crimes such as robbery, rape and burglary, in addition to homicides. As late as the early nineteenth century, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that these common law powers still inherently rested with the coroner. In 1972, the coroner statutes became codified and those seldom-used common law powers of the coroner were officially abolished.

By the turn of the century, the Coroner's Office in Allegheny County was well on its way to becoming a fully developed medico-legal investigative agency. Employees took an active role in performing autopsies, rather than hiring private physicians to do the work. In 1965, Allegheny County voters elected their first physician as coroner, Dr. William Hunt. Since that time, the office has made its professional expertise available upon request to Coroners' Offices and law enforcement agencies in surrounding counties.

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Scope and Content Notes

These records contain information about the causes of death in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, from 1884 to 1973, along with other legal information from the Coroner's offices through 1976. There are three series: Coroner inquests files, morgue reports, and administrative records. For the individual scope and content notes, please see below.

The Coroner Inquest files date from 1887 to 1973. They are public records open to all, as affirmed by the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office. The records were created by the Coroner’s Office to satisfy public law. In addition to the final inquest report, materials in the files may include eye-witness testimony, grand jury reports, physician notes, affidavits, press clippings and other documentation. Ephemeral material such as photographs, tissue samples, bullets, suicide notes, and other items have been retained with the original files. There is a five year gap in the records between 1933 and 1938; these records are not present.

These records also contain morgue reports from the Allegheny County Coroner's Office. The responsibilities of the Coroner include transporting and disposing of bodies, investigating causes and manner of deaths, and determining whether an autopsy is needed. The morgue reports allowed for record keeping of arrivals, transfers and releases of the bodies to funeral homes. See below for more detail of the files.

A small amount of administrative records include case files that are undated, correspondence, minutes from meetings, and other records from the Coroner's Office.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

ULS Archives & Special Collections, February 2009

University of Pittsburgh Library System
Archives & Special Collections
Website: library.pitt.edu/archives-special-collections
412-648-3232 (ASC) | 412-648-8190 (Hillman)
Contact Us: www.library.pitt.edu/ask-archivist

Revision Description

 Information and scans of the files regarding the fatalities that occurred as a result of the Homestead Steel Strike were added to the finding aid. August 2014

Access Restrictions

No restrictions.

Copyright

No restrictions exist.

Acquisition Information

In 1982, the Coroner's Office of Allegheny County transferred and deposited inquest case records, morgue reports, and administrative records from 1884 to 1976, to the University of Pittsburgh.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by archival assistants under the direction of Kate Colligan during 2007-2008.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • Allegheny County (Pa.). Coroner's Office.

Genre(s)

  • Judicial records

Geographic Name(s)

  • Allegheny County (Pa.)

Subject(s)

  • Coroners -- Pennsylvania -- Allegheny County -- Records and correspondence
  • Death -- Pennsylvania -- Allegheny County -- Causes
  • Government
  • Morgues -- Pennsylvania -- Allegheny County -- Records and correspondence

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Previous Citation

Allegheny County, Pa. Coroner's Office Records, 1884-1976, AIS.1982.07, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

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Collection Inventory

Series  I. Coroner Case Files 

Scope and Content Notes

The records are arranged by docket number, which were numbered in order by the date the case was filed by the Office of the Coroner. Please note that date of death and date of inquest may be months and in some cases years apart. The Archives Service Center has created a separate name and date index available electronically which can be searched on site to help patrons identify material. Please contact the Archives Service Center for more information about this service.

Subseries  1. Coroner Case Files 1887-1973 

  Box
Coroner Case Files 1887-1973 1-867

Subseries  2. Notable Case Files 

Scope and Content Notes

This subseries features some of the notable case files found within the collection that have been digitized and are now available online.

Section: Homestead Steel Strike 1892 

Scope and Content Notes

These are the inquest files for the seven steelworkers and three Pinkerton guards that succumbed to injuries sustained during the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892. In addition to a Press Report incident summary, Proof of Identity affidavit, and jury verdict for each case there are also witness lists and several pages of witness testimony. In each case the blame is placed on an "unlawful assembly" of locked out steelworkers.

  BoxFolder
Witness Lists 16a1
Online
  Folder
John T. McCurry Testimony July 8, 1892 2
Online
  Folder
Witness Summons and Testimony July 9-12, 1892 3
Online
  Folder
Witness Testimony July 26, 1892 4
Online
  Folder
Witness Testimony August 2, 1892 5
Online
  Folder
Charge to the Jury 6
Online
  Folder
Joseph Sotak, a.k.a. Soppa, Steelworker, File 189208_159 7
Online
  Folder
John E. Morris, Steelworker, File 189208_160 8
Online
  Folder
Silas Wain, Steelworker, File 189208_161 9
Online
  Folder
Thomas Weldon, Steelworker, File 189208_162 10
Online
  Folder
Henry Striegel, Steelworker, File 189208_163 11
Online
  Folder
George W. Rutter, Steelworker, File 189208_165 12
Online
  Folder
Peter Farris, Steelworker, File 189208_167 13
Online
  Folder
Telegrams to Coroner Regarding the Shipment and Identification of Killed Pinkerton Guards, July 6-7, 1892 14
Online
  Folder
Thomas "T.J." Connors, Pinkerton Guard, 189208_166 15
Online
  Folder
J.W. Klein, Pinkerton Guard, 189208_158 16
Online
  Folder
Edward A.R. Spear, Pinkerton Guard, 189208_169 17
Online

Section: Victims of Jack and Ed Biddle, 1901 

Scope and Content Notes

These inquest files document the investigation of two murders attributed to Jack and Ed Biddle. The file of Thomas Kahney includes testimony that recounts the Biddle brothers’ robbery attempt and the victim’s death. Patrick Fitzgerald’s file includes testimony that details the attempt to arrest the brothers. The Biddles later became part of local lore when the wife of Allegheny County Jail’s warden, Kate Soffel, helped them escape and fled with the fugitives. Police caught up to the group and both brothers were fatally injured in a shootout, succumbing to their wounds in a Butler jail cell on February 1, 1902.

  BoxFolder
Thomas Kahney, 190103_404 6721
Online
  Folder
Patrick Fitzgerald, 190103_405 22
Online

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Series  II. Morgue Reports 

Scope and Content Notes

The files do not cover all cases received at the public morgue; however some cases are documented from the following years: 1901-1902, 1911-1921, and 1928-1941. Each report contains the following information about the deceased received at the public morgue: the date received, the time received, the deceased's name, sex, color, age, residence, where they were found, who found them, articles (coffin) ordered and where it was ordered from, which undertaker the body was delivered to and which county each body is buried in and when, along with the grave number.

  Box
 1901, 1902, 1911-1921 868
  Box
 1928-1941 869

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Series  III. Administrative Records 

Scope and Content Notes

A small amount of administrative files generated by the Coroner's Office contain some information on particular investigations. The files are arranged in one box, in the order in which they were found. Each folder is clearly marked and the information in these folders covers the entire time period from 1884 to 1976.

  BoxFolder
Scraps from case files in Box 1 of the Coroner Case Files, 1887 8701
  Folder
Miscellaneous case files, 1884 - 1934 2
  Folder
Statement of Deaths, , January 1887 3
  Folder
Correspondence, 1893 4
  Folder
County Contract with Monaghan Brothers, 1926 5
  Folder
Clinical Diabetes Association, Dr. Mirsky, February 1956 6
  Folder
Commissioner's Meeting, January 4, 1960 7
  Folder
Employment Applications, 1968 8
  Folder
Latshaw Papers: Stenographer, 1953-1956 9
  Folder
Albert Goodman Misc. Papers, 1954-1955 10
  Folder
Gregory A. Mill Accident: Note and Photos only, 1975 11
  Folder
Raymond M. Carrol, 1976 12
  Folder
Edward Schaffer, unknown 13

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