Mystery Monday – Who Murdered John A. Witt?

On 29 September 1942, 78-year old shopkeeper John A. Witt woke around 6 a.m. and shortly thereafter lit the furnace in his grocery store that also served as a post office substation. It was probably a routine that played itself out hundreds of times during the 40 years he was a shopkeeper in the Brushton neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Brushton was a mostly German and Irish enclave in east-central Pittsburgh where John no doubt knew most of his customers. He may have even known his last customer.

John was born on 25 November 1863 in nearby Butler, Pennsylvania. His father Martin had emigrated from Hessen, Germany in 1832 and John grew up in a city caked in coal dust under the glow of steel mills. He married Johanna Thaner and together they had a large family of girls with son John Jr stuck in the middle.

The details are sketchy and the verdict unknown, but on that fall day in 1942, John Witt was shot and killed by an unknown assailant in his store. The motive has yet to be discovered. The cash was still in the register; the stamps still in the drawer. His daughter found him slumped against the wall, shot in the abdomen and finger. He was dead upon arrival at Pittsburgh Hospital.

My limited research on John’s death has not turned up any information on who may have committed this crime or if they were ever charged, but this is a story that I certainly hope to learn more about.

Relationship to me:
John A Witt (1863 – 1942)
son of:
Martin Witt (1830 – 1921)
father of:
Joseph F Witt (1868 – 1943)
father of:
Francis John Witt (1899 – 1992)
father of:
Howard D Witt (1929 – 2001)
father of:
Rebecca A Witt:
mother of:
Joseph P Lowry


(click to enlarge)

UPDATE 7/19/15: For more information on John Witt’s death, see my follow-up post here:

“Grocer’s Death Laid to Bandit.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 1 October 1942. Accessed 5 November 2012.

“Aged Grocer Fatally Shot in Bruston.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 30 September 1942. Accessed 5 November 2012.

7 thoughts on “Mystery Monday – Who Murdered John A. Witt?

  1. My guess, based purely on the few newspaper articles and warching a lot of COPS episodes, is that it was a robbery gone bad. Maybe the perp got scared?

    One family member wrote yesterday that the murder was never solved. Next time I'm in Pittsbugh, I plan to do a little in-person research to see if I can learn anything else about this crime.


  2. Well, this solves this part of the mystery. From the Pittsburgh Police website:

    Please note that reports and investigative records generated by, or in the possession of, the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police ARE NOT subject to public access under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law (RTKL), 65 P.S. §67.101 et seq.
    However, the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police will provide Offense Reports (i.e. police blotter, or “2.0 Reports”), to the public for a minimal cost. “Offense Reports” typically identify the offense, time and date of occurrence, time and date the incident was reported, location of the incident and the name of the Officers who responded to the call with a brief narrative regarding the call for service.
    To obtain Offense Reports, you must go in person to the Municipal Courts Building located at the following address:
    Municipal Courts Building
    650 First Ave, 3rd Floor
    Pittsburgh, PA 15219
    Alternatively, you may view Offense Reports at Bureau of Police locations in the respective Police Zones in which the alleged offenses occurred. Click here to view a map of the City's Police Zones.
    To learn more about viewing or obtaining offense reports and what information is contained in them, you may call the Bureau of Police at 412-255-8817 or 412-255-2920.


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