Ghosts in the PA Wilds: The Hanging Of Vincent Voychek
Clarion County was founded on March 11, 1839, and formed from parts of Armstrong and Venango Counties. It was named for the sound the river made, which was said to sound like a distant clarion. Clarion is the westernmost county along the I-80 Frontier of the Pennsylvania Wilds.
In the years since its founding, Clarion County has had quite a bit of history.
And in all that time, there has only ever been one hanging.
Oddly enough, the hanged man is thought to still be haunting the jail.
That man would be Vincent Voycheck, who in 1911 probably was not all that happy with this dubious claim to fame. It probably didn’t help that he may have been innocent.
The drama began on October 18, 1909, when Voychek, an Austrian immigrant coal miner, was out at a bar with several other men. His landlord, Andrew Stupka, was also present.
An article from the Clarion Republican, supplied by the Clarion County Historical Society, details the night: An argument broke out at the bar, and Stupka left with his wife. That night at 9 p.m., Voychek arrived home, had dinner, and began the argument again. Stupka threw him out of the house, and then went out with a lantern and a fireplace poker to make sure he’d actually left, accompanied by another man, Mike Sidor.
A few minutes later, Sidor returned, announcing that Stupka had been stabbed to death. Doctors later found that Stupka had been stabbed eight times. Meanwhile, Voychek was seen approaching a nearby house carrying a bloody knife and asking for assistance. It took the police literally ten minutes to arrest him.
The trial began on March 1, 1910, and lasted for four days. Attorneys John T. Reinsell and J.S. Shirley were appointed to represent Voychek, which was challenging as he didn’t speak English. He did, however, maintain his innocence the entire time. And in the end, the jury came back with a guilty verdict for first-degree murder.
The sheriff of Clarion County, Win S. Smathers, sold tickets to the hanging. As one does. Several important community members purchased the right to be witnesses, to the annoyance of the people who hadn’t.
The hanging was performed on June 1, 1911, in the corridor of the jail. When they began to construct the gallows, Voychek commented, “Not for me.”
He turned out to be wrong about that.
At 10:05, Voychek was escorted to the gallows by an Erie priest and a deputy sheriff. The newspapers of the time say that the execution was performed by the sheriff, with assistance from a professional executioner from Pittsburgh, traveling under an assumed name. Other sources claim that Zoe Himes, a secretary of the courthouse, was given the job of pulling the lever.
“The black cap was placed over his head, and at 10:07 the trap was sprung,” announced the Clarion Republican. “He dropped 4 feet 2 inches. The neck was broken. In 14 minutes and 7 seconds he was pronounced dead.”
There has always been some suspicion that Voychek was falsely accused, according to Mary Lea Lucas of the Clarion County Historical Society. Lucas related an incident that happened to her over a decade ago, when Stupka’s grandson visited the society to research the execution. He claimed that he believed Voychek had been set up, and was innocent of the crime. The Clarion Republican hints at this, mentioning that the public was largely not in favor of the hanging. The article uses the words “Skeptical,” “revulsion,” and “hopeful.” Many locals seemed to be holding out hope that Voychek would be exonerated.
Vincent Voychek was buried in the Immaculate Conception Cemetery with no marker. Stupka is buried in Saint Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Cemetery. The jail still stands, behind the current courthouse, and some sources say it’s haunted by the ghost of Vincent Voychek, either regretting his crime or waiting for justice.
“Ghosts in the PA Wilds” describes a series of ghost stories from the region written by historian Lou Bernard, who also revels in folklore and the paranormal. Each Wednesday of October, and leading right to Halloween, the PA Wilds Are Calling blog will feature a new ghost story to celebrate the spooktacular season upon us.
Know of another good PA Wilds ghost story worth investigating and sharing? Let us know in the comment section below!