Did You Know? (Monaghan Part 1)
Did you know that there was really more than one famous Monaghan case in
Uniontown? There was the well-known 1936 case that resulted from the death of
Frank “Moonie” Monaghan. It’s been the subject of books and local lore since
Yet, Monaghan, who was a successful businessman among other things, had had
numerous scrapes with the law before he was brutally beaten to death while in
police custody in the Bertillon room in the basement of the Fayette County
courthouse. In fact, that wasn’t the first time Monaghan had taken a beating at
the hands of the police.
Monaghan’s serious legal problems seem to have started 20 years before his
In April of 1917, Monaghan and his wife were taken to court and legally put out
of the cigar selling business in Uniontown. The Monaghan Cigar Company (no
relationship to Frank Monaghan) had sued, claiming it owned the rights to the
use of the name “Monaghan” for the sale of cigars.
In August of 1920, Monaghan bought a former blacksmith shop and carriage factory
on West Peter Street in Uniontown. That location would figure prominently in
Monaghan’s future dealings.
Three months later, the Uniontown Morning Herald carried the front page story of
21 people who’d been snared in an illegal liquor operation. Monaghan was one of
those people arrested. On March 8th, 1921, Monaghan’s bootlegging trial began,
and it was alleged that he had “large quantities of liquor in his possession and
that he sold it by the barrel in Uniontown,” under the guise of a dummy company
known as Fayette Chemical.
During his trial, Monaghan testified about his numerous businesses. He’d been a
promoter of the Penn Theatre building. He’d been in the cigar business (before
he was forced to close it down). He’d engaged in wholesale manufacturing, for
which boasted of selling 30,000 pounds of sugar.
He also was the owner of a trucking company known as Uniontown Bottling Company,
which he claims supplied trucks to haul goods for Fayette Chemical.
The trial developed so much local interest that on March 18th, the following
item appeared in the Daily News Standard after weeks of testimony: “In view of
the fact that the case is billed for another week why not advertise Monaghan
On March 25th, 1921, 15 years before the second Monaghan case, the Uniontown
Morning Herald discussed the verdict of the first case. “Seldom has there been a
verdict in Fayette County courts awaited with more general interest than that in
the Monaghan case,” it was written. The verdict, after four hours of
deliberations, was guilty.
In June, Monaghan was sentenced to serve a year in the Allegheny County jail,
and to pay a $2,000 fine.
On June 22, 1922 (almost a year after he’d been sentenced) Frank Monaghan
arrived at the county jail in Pittsburgh to begin serving his time. He’d spent
less than six months behind bars before he petitioned the courts to have doctors
examine him because he claims he’d suffered a stroke before he’d gone to jail,
and he was in need of a “delicate and dangerous” operation.
On December 5th, 1922, the Morning Herald reported that Monaghan had been
transferred from Allegheny County to the Somerset County sanitarium. On February
8th, 1923 the Connellsville Weekly Courier reported that Monaghan, thanks to “a
petition in his behalf signed by the citizens of Uniontown and vicinity,” was
paroled. He was, however, restricted from returning to Uniontown until June 7th.
His early release set off a flurry of controversy in early March.
There was a scathing repudiation of the attorneys who petitioned for Monaghan’s
early release in a local weekly newspaper. That was followed by an equally
scathing repudiation of the editor of that weekly by the editors of the Daily
The editor of the News Standard ended his admonishment of the editor of the
local weekly by proclaiming, “The next time you are tempted, take the advice of
a brother editor and count ten.”
On February 10th, 1923 Uniontown’s newspaper readers may have been more
interested in news of the first ever performance by the Uniontown Symphony
Orchestra, or that the Ku Klux Klan had set three crosses on fire in the city
the previous night, but they probably didn’t note the ironies that could be
found in two other front page stories in the Daily News Standard that day.
There was short story about how Monaghan, in conjunction with Uniontown Mayor
William H. Smart, was planning to extend his lot on Peter Street for the
purposes of making it into a “taxi terminal,” when he returned to Uniontown from
his enforced absence.
The fact that Monaghan was looking forward to entering into a new business
venture, probably didn’t surprise many people.
While he’d had his serious legal problems, nobody seemed to question his
Yet directly below that item there was another one that was stunning, in light
of what would happen 13 years later.
State Trooper John Wall, the item said, had recently been transferred to the New
Salem barracks. Lt. Charles Smith was quoted as saying, “He’s one of the best
troopers we have.”
In 1936, the names John Wall and Frank Monaghan would appear in the same news
story. It would be Detective Wall’s throat that Monaghan slit, that led to
Monaghan’s arrest and subsequent bludgeoning.
But in 1923, while Monaghan was still in exile, another Frank Monaghan made the
local news. Frank Monaghan, Jr. was pictured on the front page of the Daly News
He was taking a decidedly different path to fame than his infamous father. He,
and his fellow Uniontown High School honor students, was selected to be part of
the upcoming commencement ceremonies.
It would not be the first time Frank Jr. would gain notoriety. In fact, he would
later be accorded an honor few Americans have been given. One that was similarly
accorded Uniontown’s favorite son, George C. Marshall.
Frank Jr. would also become an integral part of his father’s murder in 1936.
I’ll complete the story next week.