Friday, January 30, 2015

Bold Escape from Pittsburgh's Allegheny County Jail

On this day in 1902, two brothers escaped from the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. John and Edward Biddle were in prison for the murder of a grocer on Mt. Washington, the neighborhood where my relatives were living at that time.

Genealogy: Pittsburgh Newspaper Article on Biddle Brothers' Escape
The Daily Republican (Monongahela, Pennsylvania), January 30, 1902

While the crime itself was high-profile, when the warden's wife helped the brothers escape from prison after falling in love with Ed, it became a sensational news event. Even decades later, it was considered fascinating enough for a movie about the event to be produced: Mrs. Soffel was released in 1984, starring Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson.

The Biddle brothers were tracked down by policemen and died after a Butler County shoot-out on February 1, 1902. They are buried in the Hazelwood area of Pittsburgh in Calvary Cemetery, and you can see their headstone on Find A Grave. Kate Soffel was injured but survived and eventually served two years in prison. Her husband divorced her, and I wonder if she ever had any contact with her four children.

The sleigh that the three of them used during the escape is in the Heinz History Center and was featured on the Travel Channel's Mysteries at the Museum (there's a short clip on the show's website). You can read more in the museum's blog post "Mrs. Soffel and the Biddle Boys in the Archives" and see a photo of the sleigh in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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