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.
UPDATE 7/19/15: For more information on John Witt’s death, see my follow-up post here: https://lowrygenealogy.com/2013/03/11/mystery-monday-who-murdered-john-a-witt-part-2-the-autopsy-report/
“Grocer’s Death Laid to Bandit.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 1 October 1942. Accessed 5 November 2012. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=j7pRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=D2oDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5430%2C712430
“Aged Grocer Fatally Shot in Bruston.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 30 September 1942. Accessed 5 November 2012. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=jrpRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=D2oDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4023%2C937851