In Focus | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

In the Carnegie Museum of Art's ongoing exhibit Teenie Harris, Photographer, the image below appears briefly — a graffiti-marred jail cell wedged between photos of black-owned storefronts in a continual slideshow projection. But as with much of the legendary Pittsburgh Courier photographer's work, the photo is framed by the stories of Pittsburgh's Hill District. A place with big-city problems like racism and crime, but small enough for a police officer to be on friendly terms with the man who would one day kill him. And as the stories written around that photo and dug from microfilm files suggest, different communities and their media saw life through different lenses — in 1954 just as today.

click to enlarge © 2004 Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles "Teenie" Harris Archive
© 2004 Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles "Teenie" Harris Archive
Macabre Ending: Aloysius (Al) Spaulding, 35, of 2835 Centre Avenue, former pugilist, weight-lifter and parolee, who was charged with murdering Patrolman William (Bill) Heagy ... last Thursday night, was found dead — strangled with a bunk chain — in his cell at Central Police Station, Sunday night. Police said Spalding looped at 36-link chain around his neck, twisted his body, and pushed forward. His feet never left the floor. Officers said Spalding had smashed his bunk loose from one chain Friday night, had been placed in another cell Saturday, where he broke another chain on that bunk and finally broke the other chain of the same bunk Sunday and committed suicide. ... His shoe laces and belt were removed from him to prevent a suicide attempt, police said. —Pittsburgh Courier, 4/3/1954

A veteran city policeman was shot and killed last night in a bullet-spattered police chase of a gunman through a congested Hill District area. ... Patrolman William Heagy died at 12:15 a.m. this morning in Mercy Hospital. ... Identified by police as the gunman was Al Spaulding, heavyweight prize fighter, who ironically was well known to and had been befriended by the dead officer. Spaulding ... once boxed an exhibition with Joe Louis." – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/26/1954

"Ironically, the weapon was found to be a gun stolen in an auto holdup last February 28, which Patrolman Heagy himself had helped to investigate. ... Heagy was one of the best-known officers on the force and was on friendly terms with hundreds in the Hill District. He was a champion blood donor and had helped deliver at least 16 babies on emergency calls. ... After he had been given last rites at Mercy Hospital, Heagy told [police Assistant Superintendent Lawrence] Maloney, "I'm hurt bad and I know I'm going to die." — Post-Gazette, 3/27/1954

"'[H]e kissed me goodbye and said, 'Lu, listen to the police radio. Something's going to happen,' [Heagy's widow Luella said]. That night, a police cruiser came to the door and she was told he had been shot. It was a tortuous ride, seemingly endless, to Mercy Hospital. And all he was able to say to her was: 'See, Babe, I told you something was going to happen.'" — Post-Gazette, 3/27/54

"Within four days, two men, both well-known, each tricked by fate, had their lives snuffed out. The first to go was Heagy. He was an unusual, even extraordinary, police officer. ... The second [death was that of] Spalding Sunday night by 'suicide.' ... The public does not believe the police story. ... There are too many people who know what happens to an unfortunate citizen who runs afoul of the law, finds himself in the custody of the police and is given a 'going over.'" – Pittsburgh Courier editorial, 4/3/1954

"Charges of police brutality [in Spalding's death] will be investigated ... at the request of Mayor David L. Lawrence. In directing the investigation, the Mayor said: 'If there is police brutality to any citizen, we want it stopped. ... If there is a campaign of misstatement and suspicion being waged against the police, we want that stopped too.'" – Pittsburgh Press, 4/13/1954

"'Those who are shouting 'police brutality' would do well to investigate the amount of abuse — physical and verbal — which our police must stand to maintain law and order in the Hill,' [FOP president Joseph Stanek said.] 'Or they might drive out to the grave of Patrolman Heagy, to dwell upon the everlasting abuse this officer suffered at the hands of a Hill District felon.'" – Post-Gazette, 4/30/1954

"The coroner's jury investigating the deaths of Patrolman William H. Haegy and Aloysius Spalding deliberated twenty-three minutes ... before bringing in a verdict that Heagy died from a gunshot wound inflicted by Spalding, and that Spalding was a suicide. Before the case went to the jury, a third prisoner testified that the alleged murderer was beaten and police officers denied the allegations." – Pittsburgh Courier, 5/1/1954

"The Civic Unity Council today reported that police brutality in arrests is less than one-twentieth of one percent in Pittsburgh. ... Spaulding's death came in a police cell under circumstances which brought the probe. ... But members of the council were unable to discover any evidence of criminal brutality. [In their report, committee members said they] 'recognized the grave charges levied against the police force and these allegations have not been satisfactorily resolved.'" – Pittsburgh Press, 5/27/1955

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