Rimersburg man hanged in 1911 for stabbing death
By Randy Bartley
It is a fact Vincent Voychek was hung for the murder of Andrew Stupka on June 1, 1911, but the facts of the case are anything but certain.
According to his death certificate, Voychek was born in Austria and was 34 years old at the time of his death. He was listed as a miner who lived in Rimersburg.
Voychek was accused of stabbing Stupka to death on October 18, 1909. But the accounts of the "tragic" incident differed.
The trial of Voychek began on March 2, 1910, with District Attorney W. J. Geary's address to the jury. He told the jury Voychek was arrested after he had been found in an alley in Rimersburg with "blood on his face and clothes."
At the place he was arrested, the police found a bloody Case knife sharpened to a point.
Stupka had "at least" nine stab wounds. Dr. J.T. Rimer testified to four stab wounds, four in the victim's face and, one in the chest and four in the abdomen. The doctor said the wound in the chest caused "instantaneous" death.
According to the testimony, Stupka was planning on moving from Rimersburg and on the day of his death was drinking in several hotels in Rimersburg.
Voychek was also drinking that day but they did not drink together.
Stupka ran a boarding house and Voychek may have been one of his boarders. Later that evening Voychek went to Stupka's house at 9 p.m.
Stupka gave Voychek dinner but then things became less cordial.
According to the testimony appearing in the March 3 edition of the Clarion Democrat, Voychek became angry when Stupka gave him a drink of whiskey but would not drink with him.
That angered Voychek who "threw whiskey" in Stupka's face which temporarily blinded him.
Mrs. Stupka put Voychek out of her house but soon after Stupka left the house "with a lantern in one hand and a common poker in the other" and went out looking for Voychek.
With Stupka was another boarder, Mike Sidor.
Sidor testified Stupka said he did not want Voychek on his property and that he might "burn him out."
According to the newspaper, Stupka went past an empty piano crate when he was attacked and "the light went out."
Stupka was taken into his house by his three male boarders but "only breathed once or twice after being brought in."
One witness said Voychek said, "Me kill him deader than hell."
One witness testified Voychek said Stupka had made "trouble."
Defense attorney John T. Reinsel called former Clarion County Sherriff S. W. Best and two prisoners to the stand to testify. The two prisoners had been incarcerated when Voychek was brought into the jail.
They testified Voychek had "fresh wounds" on the back of his head about one and one half inches long. They also said there was blood on his face and shoulders.
Voychek took the stand in his own defense and said he had been invited to have dinner at Stupka's house. He said Stupka asked him if had enough to eat. When he said he had, Stupka reached under the table and pulled out a bottle using it to strike Voychek.
According to Voychek's testimony, Stupka then seized a poker and hit him three times.
Voychek said Mrs. Stupka knocked the poker out of her husband's hands. According to Voychek, Stupka then began looking for a gun so he could "kill that SOB."
Voychek testified Mrs. Stupka opened the door and told him to leave or her husband would kill him. Voychek said he left the house and did not see Stupka after he left the house. He said he did not own a knife and did not cut or stab Andrew Stupka.
The case went to the jury on Friday following three days of testimony.
The jury deliberated for four hours. At 4 p.m. the court bell apprised the people that a verdict had been reached.
Jury foreman A.L. Wiser of Sligo delivered the verdict: Guilty of murder in the first-degree.
According to the newspaper report, Voychek "bowed his head and apparently was very much distressed."
Monday morning, Voychek's attorney filed a motion for a new trial stating he had uncovered new that evidence might impact the case.
Squire G.B. Stopp of Rimersburg told the court Voychek knew "perhaps one word in 10 of English."
Voychek was not the only one at the boarding house who did not understand English. The testimony of all of the boarders was taken through an interpreter, Mrs. Teresa Kosko of Brockwayville, Jefferson County.
Judge Harry A. Wilson denied the motion for a new trial. The state Supreme Court also denied the motion for a stay of execution so on June 1, 1911, Clarion County conducted the first, and only, hanging in the county's history.
Voychek was hanged inside the then Clarion County Jail. The building still stands behind the courthouse.
The account of the hanging appeared in the June 1, 1911, evening edition of the Pittsburgh Press.
The Press stated Vincent Voychek was hanged in the jail yard of the Clarion County Jail at 10:07 a.m. and was pronounced dead 14 minutes later.
The Press said Voychek spent a very "restless" night and rose at 3 a.m. He "ate sparingly" asking only for coffee and cake. Rev. Deckenbrock of the local Catholic Church said Mass at 8 a.m.
The Press said a deputy sheriff from Pittsburgh, "who had considerable experience in executions in Allegheny County" supervised the arrangements.
Clarion County Sheriff Winfield Scott Smathers sprung the trap.
The Press said the execution caused a "tremendous amount of comment" among the people of Clarion.
The Press said a "large crowd" besieged Sherriff Smathers for admission tickets to the hanging but the court limited the number of witnesses.
In the end, two physicians, "as many spiritual advisers as the condemned man wanted," 12 deputies and a jury composed of 12 people were allowed to witness the execution.
Voychek had no family in the United States. His mother and siblings all resided in a section of Austria that had once been part of Poland.
When Voychek was asked if he wanted his mother to know his fate, he replied that he did not. He said he did not want his mother to know what became of her son.
Vincent Voychek was buried in the Catholic Church in Clarion. Only Rev. Deckenbrock attended his burial.