John Barkoski

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John Barkoski
DiedFebruary 10, 1929
Cause of deathMurder
ResidenceTyre, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, U.S.

John Barkoski (killed 1929; also spelled as John Barcoski, John Borkovski, or John Barkowsky) was a Pennsylvania miner brutally beaten to death by Pennsylvania’s Coal and Iron Police on February 9–10, 1929. His passing and subsequent acquittal of his murderers on the first-degree murder charges provoked public indignation, which eventually led to the end of Pennsylvania’s private anti-labor Coal and Iron Police system.


Barkoski was both a local farmer and a union employee of the Pittsburgh Coal Company's Montour Mine #9 in McAdams, Pennsylvania. On the evening of the 9th, he went to his mother-in-law's home, and there encountered two private officers also employed by the Pittsburgh Coal Company. Eyewitnesses said one of them launched an unprovoked attack on Barkoski, who received a laceration of the left cheek, five or six head wounds, two broken ribs and a fractured nose. Later at police barracks over the course of four hours, according to trial testimony, a third officer beat Barkoski with a strap while he lay semiconscious on the floor, twisted his ears until the miner cried aloud, and twisted his broken nose until he lapsed again into unconsciousness. Then he beat Barkoski over the chest with a poker until the poker bent, straightened the implement and beat the man again. He stripped the miner to the waist in order to better use a strap and kicked Barkoski until the miner's body rolled over and over on the floor. The original attacker also beat Barkoski, kicked him, struck him over the head with knucklers, and slapped him on the arms and legs and neck with his blackjack. The next morning he was taken to a hospital where he died. A jury acquitted the three officers of murder.[1]

Later, two of the police responsible for his death were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and his widow was paid $13,500 by the Pittsburgh Coal Company as compensation.[2]


In the words of the Chicago Tribune, "It was the fatal beating of John Barcoski, a miner in the Pittsburgh district several years ago, that hastened the end of "the system."[3] Researchers acknowledged the historical role of John Barcoski's slaying in the demise of Coal and Iron Police.[4][5][6]

Pennsylvania state legislator and former miner Michael Musmanno was outraged by the case, and introduced a bill to banish this private police force. The bill was vetoed by the Republican governor John Stuchell Fisher, which led to Musmanno's resignation.[7] Musmanno then published a short story about the case, entitled "Jan Volkanik," blending Barkoski's identity with a semi-legendary Polish coal mining figure.

That story in turn was basis for the 1935 film Black Fury starring Paul Muni and directed by Michael Curtiz.[8] The film's subject matter was controversial. The executive secretary of the National Coal Association, D.J. Battle, attempted to stop production through political pressure. Its release was banned entirely in Chicago and several countries.[9] The British Board of Film Censors deemed a speech describing the unfair relationship between the miners and union leaders as inflammatory, and ordered it removed. [10]

In 1966, Musmanno published a novel version of the screenplay also named Black Fury.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Butler, Frank (October 16, 1929). "Coal and Iron Justice". The Nation.
  2. ^ O'Conner, Harvey (1933). Mellon's Millions: The Biography of a Fortune. The John Day company. p. 225. OCLC 634189.
  3. ^ Coal and Iron Police abolished in Pennsylvania: Long reign marked by much violence, Chicago Tribune, June 16, 1935
  4. ^ Klein, Philip Shriver, and Ari Arthur Hoogenboom. A History of Pennsylvania. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973, p. 449.
  5. ^ Sadler, Spencer J. Pennsylvania's Coal and Iron Police Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub, 2009, p. 109.
  6. ^ Richard P. Mulcahy, University of Pittsburgh - Titusville. A Murder at the Police Barracks: The John Barcoski Slaying, 2015 Annual conference of the Appalachian Studies Association
  7. ^ The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Pub, 2000
  8. ^ Herzberg, Bob. The Left Side of the Screen: Communist and Left-Wing Ideology in Hollywood, 1929-2009. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011, p. 42-46.
  9. ^ Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960, by Alan Gevinson, 1997, page 101
  10. ^ Hollywood in Crisis: Cinema and American Society 1929-1939, by Colin Schindler, 1996, page 187
  11. ^ Musmanno, Michael. Black Fury. Fountainhead Publishers. OCLC 1600729.