|Rockview's electric chair, nicknamed "The Pennsylvania Phantom"|
Henry and Jacob Sallada, executed for the 1917 Coal Township murder of Charles Schleig, hold a dubious distinction in the annals of Northumberland County history-- of being the first criminals sent to the electric chair by a judge at the county courthouse in Sunbury.
Although the Sallada brothers resided in the Schuylkill County village of Sacramento, in Hubley Township, their criminal exploits often took place over the county line in neighboring Northumberland County, perhaps due to the fact that Northumberland County was known for imposing lenient sentences on hardened criminals.
Henry, the older of the Sallada brothers, was a notorious bandit who had a lengthy criminal record long before he committed the murder that led to his execution. In May of 1915 he was arrested and sent to jail in Pottsville for stealing $2,000 in gold from an elderly resident of Sacramento, which he buried in a tin can beneath a chicken coop at his home. Police recovered most of the money, though $164 in gold coins was never recovered.
It's unclear how long of a sentence Henry served for the robbery, but it must not have been very long, because newspapers report that he was married in September of the following year, to Mary Daub of Williamstown. A rather humorous anecdote is attached to this story-- at least humorous to anyone well versed in Coal Region slang. When Squire George H. Hensel asked, "Do you take this woman for your wedded wife?", Henry raised a few eyebrows at the otherwise formal ceremony by responding, "Yea bo!" (which, as any linguistics expert will point out, is the Schuylkill County, or "Skook", equivalent to the "Ho butt!" exclamation so popular in other parts of the Coal Region).
The younger brother, Jacob, however, was considered to be the more dangerous of the two. He had a reputation for always being armed, and was "intimately acquainted" with local lawmen, especially those in Shamokin, where he was alleged to have pulled off a string of petty heists.
On the afternoon of January 5, 1918, two miners, Howard Weikel and Grant Benson, were walking home from work at the Big Mountain Colliery along the mountain trail to Gowen City. Along the way they stumbled over the body of a man whose skull had been basked with a blunt object. County Detective Joseph Gill identified the body as that of Charles H. Schleig, a 31-year-old merchant from Gowen City. It was learned that the victim had been to Shamokin on business and was returning home when he was killed. When he had left for Shamokin that morning, he was carrying a revolver and a wallet containing a large sum of money. Both items were missing when police examined the body.
Detective Gill and Coal Township police learned from locals that two strangers had come into town asking for directions from Gowen City to Shamokin, and were directed to the path (the path in question is presumably modern-day Route 125, which wasn't paved until the early 1930s). Later that evening a posse was formed and the mountain was searched, but without success.
Coroner Fred P. Stock performed the autopsy on the victim and recovered a bullet from the base of the brain, proving that Schleig had been shot from behind. His attackers had then bashed in his skull with the butt of the revolver. By this time the State Police were already on the case, searching for two strangers from out of town who had spent the night of Saturday, January 5, in the boiler house of a local colliery. The two men fit the description of the strangers who, the following morning, has asked for directions to Shamokin.
On the following Friday, January 11, a similar robbery took place on a stretch of lonely highway between Urban and Klingerstown. Gordon Groscious, a bill collector for the Bell Telephone Company in Mandata, was driving along the highway in a Ford Runabout when two men with handkerchiefs over their faces jumped out and stopped the vehicle. They placed their guns to Groscious' head and demanded his money. The bill collector gave the bandits $300. According to Groscious, one of the men was about six feet tall with a heavy build. The other was short and slender. Groscious' description matched that of the two men who killed Charles Schleig a week earlier.
The police already suspected that the Sallada brothers might be the ones behind the murder; both Henry and Jacob were well known to local authorities. In fact, even though the Sallada brothers didn't know it at the time, they had once robbed their victim on a previous occasion. Police records revealed that, some time before, the brothers had been accused of stealing chickens from Schleig's property. The brothers settled the case out of court.
The brothers were last seen at their home in Sacramento a few days after the Groscious robbery, and troopers from the State Police barracks at Pottsville were dispatched to the Sallada home. They were unable to locate them. However, they managed to trace the brothers to Clearfield County after intercepting a letter which the younger brother had recently mailed to his mother.
The Sallada brothers had gone to Dubois seeking employment with the railroad. Henry, who was 24, had no problem, but the younger brother, who was still a minor, needed to obtain permission from his parents in order to get the job. Jacob, not realizing that he was a suspect in the Schleig murder and unaware that post offices across Pennsylvania were on the lookout for any letter bearing his name, sent a letter to his mother asking for permission to work on the railroad.
The irony is remarkable, of course; for the Sallada brothers had never worked an honest job in their lives, and had been stealing and plundering, it seemed, since the day they were born. And yet their capture and execution came about as a result of their attempt to secure honest work. Who knows-- if they had never made any attempt to go on "the straight and narrow", they very well might have gotten away with murder!
On the morning of January 26, Detective Gill and Special Officer Albert McNutt set out for DuBois to bring the Sallada brothers back to Northumberland County on the 4:46 Pennsylvania Flyer to face justice. They were sent before Justice of the Peace Rooke, where they pleaded not guilty. During questioning at the city jail in Shamokin, Henry broke under the strain and confessed to Assistant D.A. Gribbons, but pinned the blame on his younger brother. According to Henry, he and Jacob were wandering about Big Mountain when they ran into Schleig near the Big Mountain Colliery around noon and asked him the way to Gowen City. Schleig said that he was going to Gowen City as well, and they might as well all go together. Just as they reached the top of the mountain, Jacob fell a few feet behind. He then placed the gun to the back of Schleig's head and fired without warning. Henry claimed that his brother then turned the gun on him, forcing Henry to accompany Jacob to Shamokin. From there they went to Sunbury to find a place to stay overnight, the older brother registering under the name Henry Kline and the younger brother under the name of Jacob Solloday. The following morning they caught a train to Dubois.
The date of the older brother's murder trial was set for May 21. At 7:15 in the evening, the jury reached a verdict, finding Henry Sallada guilty of murder in the first degree. It was the first such verdict in Northumberland County since 1912, when Frederick Nye was convicted (and later hanged) for the murder of Harry Miller. But the gallows had been retired, and there was a new method of capital punishment in Pennsylvania-- the electric chair.
During the trial, Henry clung to his claim that it was his brother who pulled the trigger. He was innocent, he insisted.
Jacob's trial began the next morning. The jury only one hour and forty-two minutes to find him guilty of first-degree murder.
Both brothers were sentenced on June 5, 1918. It marks the first time in county history that two defendants were sentenced simultaneously, and it was also the first time in county history that anyone was sentenced to death by electrocution. After Judge Cummings read the sentence, Henry Sallada was asked if there was anything he'd like to say. "Goodnight, Mr. Judge, there are certainly no flies on you," stated the condemned.
While they languished in jail waiting for the day of their execution, the Sallada brothers wrote a number of letters to Governor Brumbaugh, asking for a pardon. They even went so far as to inform the governor that they should be pardoned so that they could join the war effort in Europe. "If we are permitted to go to war, we'll slay the Huns by the score," the Salladas promised in one letter.
On October 21, 1918, Henry and Jacob Sallada paid for their crime in the electric chair at Rockview Penitentiary in Bellefonte. Jacob was the first to be taken to the chair. As he was being led away by guards, Henry told his brother to be strong and not to lose his nerve. However, as Henry Sallada was being taken to the chair, he passed a gang of carpenters constructing his coffin. He collapsed and had to be dragged to the chair.