Funeral mass for the Yablonskis was conducted by Msgr. Charles Owen Rice. (Pittsburgh Press photo by Al Hermann Jr.) Wire photos of Margaret, Charlotte and Joseph Yablonski. The Yablonskis lived and died in a 200-year-old stone farmhouse. (Pittsburgh Press photo by Al Hermann Jr.) State police examine a Yablonski car with flattened tires. (Pittsburgh Press photo by Al Hermann Jr.) Newspaper coverage of the murders. The bodies were discovered Jan. 5, 1970. Prison bars reflected in the face of W.A. Tony Boyle at Western Penitentiary. (Pittsburgh Press photo by Ross Catanza)

Dec. 31, 1969: “Murder of the Yablonskis”

Three small-time burglars from Cleveland celebrated New Years Eve in 1969 by sitting in a car on a lonely road near Clarksville in rural Washington County. They drank beer and whiskey and waited for the lights to go out in an old brick farmhouse they were watching not far away. Perhaps the men were building up their courage. This was no routine theft job. This was the big time — murder for hire.

At 1 a.m., the farmhouse went dark. The three men — Paul Gilly, Aubran Martin and Claude Vealey — approached the house, flattened the tires on two cars in the driveway, cut telephone wires, then entered the residence through a back door. After taking off their shoes, the three crept upstairs.

They carried two weapons — an M1 carbine and a revolver. Martin wielded the revolver. He snuck into the bedroom of  Charlotte Yablonski, 25, and shot her two times in the head. Vealey and Gilly entered the bedroom of Charlotte’s parents, Joseph (known as “Jock”) and Margaret Yablonski. Vealey attempted to fire the carbine but the clip fell out. Gilly picked up the clip, inserted it into the weapon and managed to fire one shot at Joseph Yablonski. Then the gun jammed.

By then Martin had entered the room. Joseph Yablonski was making a move for a nearby shotgun. Martin fired four shots with the revolver, killing both Joseph and Margaret.

So went the final political assassination of the bloody 1960s.

Joseph Yablonski died because he was considered a threat by W.A. “Tony” Boyle, a cantankerous bully who served as president of the miners union, United Mine Workers of America. Charlotte and Margaret died because the killers wanted no witnesses left behind.

Three weeks before the murders, Yablonksi had challenged Boyle for the union presidency but had lost his bid by a nearly 2-1 vote. Yablonski felt the election was fixed and said so. Federal authorities were looking into the matter.

Mining was a tough business. The UMWA was a tough union run by a tough guy — Boyle, who was corrupt and out of touch with the miners he represented. Yablonski believed changes were needed. He’d been working in mines since he was a boy. His involvement in the union began after his father was killed in a mine explosion.

Yablonksi met with Boyle in June of 1969, and the two ended up shouting at each other. About this time, Boyle decided Yablonski had to go. For good. Gilly, Martin and Vealey were hired for the job.

Police would later classify the three men as “clowns.” They left fingerprints all over the Yablonski place and were soon captured, tried and convicted.  Before Boyle was to appear in court on charges of instigating the murder plan, he tried to kill himself by overdosing on drugs. He failed, only to die later in prison while serving three life sentences.

At a funeral mass for the Yablonskis, Msgr. Charles Owen Rice called the murders an “echo” of the killings of John and Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Joseph, Margaret and Charlotte were then laid to rest on a windswept hillside in subzero temperatures.

Major reforms were soon enacted in UMWA politics and in miners’ health and safety. The changes sought by Joseph Yablonski and others finally arrived. The price: $1,700 offered to each of the three inept assassins and the blood of the Yablonski family.

— Steve Mellon

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