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COMMONWEALTH v. VASSAR (05/26/52)

May 26, 1952

COMMONWEALTH
v.
VASSAR, APPELLANT



Appeal, No. 132, March T., 1952, from judgment of Courts of Oyer & Terminer and Quarter Sessions of Westmoreland County, Feb. T., 1951, No. 176, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Beatrice Vassar. Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL

Fred B. Trescher, with him P. K. Jones and Kunkle & Trescher, for appellant.

Joseph M. Loughran, Assistant District Attorney, with him L. Alexander Sculco, District Attorney, for appellee.

Before Drew, C.j., Stern, Stearne, Jones, Bell, Chidsey and Musmanno, JJ.

Author: Musmanno

[ 370 Pa. Page 552]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

On January 13, 1951, Beatrice Vassar, 55 years of age, shot and killed her husband, 71 years of age, in

[ 370 Pa. Page 553]

New Kensington, Westmoreland County. She was indicted, tried, and convicted of murder in the first degree; and sentenced under the finding of the jury, to life imprisonment. Her motion in the lower Court for a new trial was refused and an appeal has been taken to this Court.

A new trial could possibly bring to the defendant ill omen because, on the evidence presented by the Commonwealth and defense itself, another jury could quite reasonably return a first degree murder verdict with the death penalty attached. Although a horrible crime has been committed and the defendant now faces the dismal fate of freedomless days for all the years yet remaining to her, we can appreciate, in behalf of the respect for human life, the urging of the able district attorney of Westmoreland County, joined in by the assistant district attorney who capably tried the case, that the judgment of the lower court be affirmed, for in the event of another trial: "... there is a great possibility that under the uncontradicted facts of this case, another jury might recommend the death penalty for Beatrice Vassar."

However, regardless of possibilities, the case is before us for a full review on all features involved and will be so considered.

The record covers a story as sordid as any coming out of an Algerian Kasbah, but revulsion at its gross details will not lessen in any way the guarantee of a fair trial which is the defendant's right under the Constitution and the laws of our Nation and Commonwealth.

Beatrice Vassar was only 16 years of age when she began her career in harlotry, assisted by the man she was later to marry and to slay. Married in Jacksonville, Florida, they travelled into various cities and states and finally took up permanent residence in New

[ 370 Pa. Page 554]

Kensington, Pennsylvania. Partners in shame, the husband Newton Vassar acted as procurer in their abased trade. With side excursions also into gambling and other vice, punctuated by occasional incarceration for their transgression of law, Mr. and Mrs. Vassar, eventually, now advanced in life, settled down with a house of their own, to carry on as proprietors in the business of sin. They employed three women to cater to their customers, and this profligate trio was present on January 13, 1951, when the partnership was liquidated by the shooting, of which the defendant now stands convicted.

Owing to the peculiarities of the enterprise which kept the occupants of the house occupied most of the night, the Vassar establishment did not ordinarily begin the day's activities until afternoon. On this particular day the defendant got up at about noontime, attended to some household functions and then aroused her workers at 4:30 p.m. for trade which had arrived. Her husband, who had somewhere acquired the sobriquet of "Ten Nights," had adjusted himself in a large easy chair in the living room, stretched out his feet on a hassock and prepared to pass away the time playing solitaire. The defendant, after serving supper to the trio of inmates, picked up in the kitchen a 32 calibre Colt revolver, which she had deposited there earlier, and advanced with it through the dining room. The girls leaped up from the table and scurried for safety. Witness Sheppard testified that one of the girls remonstrated with the defendant: "What are you going to do? Don't do that." Witness Harris testified she said to the ...


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