James Westwood and "the curse of the kick" | Pittsburgh City Paper

James Westwood and "the curse of the kick"

click to enlarge James Westwood and "the curse of the kick"
Photo: unknown / HMdb.org
Initial excavation of McKees Rocks Mound

To learn the full story of the Westwood trial and the great-grandson rediscovering his family's history read this week's feature: A community builder in McKees Rocks faces a dramatic family murder from 1935.


Even for a man convicted of killing his wife, James Westwood’s sympathizers point out he was beset by inexplicable misery.

Four years before his wife, Martha, was murdered, their youngest daughter Clara died from an accidental gunshot wound. A few months later, Westwood found his in-laws dead in their apartment from what an inquest ruled as a murder-suicide. At the time of Martha’s death, the Westwoods were in temporary accommodation after being displaced by a fire. James fell to his death from a loose scaffold while imprisoned, and a year later his son met the same untimely end in the same unpleasant manner.

One explanation for Westwood’s woes that’s now etched in local lore traces them back to his boyhood.

A young Jimmy Westwood was playing with his friends on a rocky bluff overlooking the Ohio River, the story goes, when he stumbled upon some human remains. The reckless youths carelessly handled the skeletons, and Jimmy kicked a skull into the river, thus invoking “the curse of the kick.”

In 1896, archeologists from the Carnegie Museum of Science excavated 33 Adena remains from the site, and after a brief exhibit, placed them in storage. Recently, representatives of the Seneca Nation of Indians have been working to repatriate them appropriately.

Some, though, like McKees Rocks Historical Society President Sandy Saban, fear the damage had already been done for the Westwood family, and the McKees Rocks community that’s seen its share of deprivation in the years since the excavation. Saban says she and some friends even tried a prayer ritual to reverse the curse where they burned tobacco and pleaded for forgiveness.

“I think that the spirits were just so upset that it was being excavated — and there was James Westwood kicking the skull,” Saban tells Pittsburgh City Paper. “They were angry.”

click to enlarge James Westwood and "the curse of the kick"
Photo: Google Maps

1 — Site of McKees Rocks burial mound
2 — Murder site of Martha Westwood
3 — Penitentiary where James Westwood died
4 — Job site where James Westwood Jr. died
5 — Ryan Westwood's home

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