1771: Henry Stroud and Robert Campbell, for revenge 1917: “John Nelson”, mystery man

1920: Lee Monroe Betterton, three strikes and you’re out

July 9th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1920, Lee Monroe Betterton (addressed by his middle name) was electrocuted in Oklahoma for the murder of his wife, whose unusual name has been given variously as “Elzeana,” “Aldazia” and “Elzadah.” (This account will use the latter spelling, which was the one used in Betterton’s Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals syllabus.)

Little is known about Monroe Betterton’s background, other than that he was born in Missouri and was the seventh of twelve children, ten of whom survived to adulthood.

He was a heavy drinker and his violent nature was self-evident: Elzadah was, sadly, not the first wife Betterton killed. Nor was she even the second wife Betterton killed.

Betterton killed his first wife, Laura Elizabeth, in Barry County, Missouri in 1904. They had four young children together, two sons and two daughters. During an argument he beat her unconscious and she was taken to the hospital, where she soon died. For some reason, her husband was not prosecuted.

By 1908, Betterton had remarried and was living with Rosie, Wife #2, in Neosho, Missouri. They were walking to nearby Monett to visit some of his relatives when they started quarreling. Both of them had been drinking. About two miles outside of town, Betterton suddenly pulled out a knife and stabbed Rosie in the heart. She died instantly and he laid her body beside the railroad tracks.

This time he was arrested and charged with the crime. Betterton maintained that “I was guilty of that woman’s death, but it was an accident.” He got 99 years in prison, but served only ten before he was paroled in 1918.

He was 48 by then, and he returned to Monett and began courting Elzadah Lockwood, a widow close to his own age who was unfamiliar with the old adage that while once is a coincidence, twice is a trend. They got married, but their relationship turned rocky almost immediately and they argued constantly.

The couple separated after only a few months and filed for divorce. However, they reconciled after Betterton’s son Clifford married Elzadah’s daughter Mamie. In the first week of July 1919, a mere week after their divorce was final, Monroe and Elzadah remarried and settled in Vinita, Oklahoma.

Their previous problems resurfaced, however, and within days they were fighting like cats.

On July 9, 1919, Elzadah was preparing to leave her son-in-law Arthur Thomas’s house after yet another argument when Betterton shot her three times in the back. One of the bullets blew away the whole right side of her heart, and she was dead before authorities arrived at the scene.

When questioned, Betterton implicated everyone: the son Clifford; the son-in-law Arthur; even Elzadah herself as a phenomenally effective suicide. Mamie had been present at the scene, though. She and Elzadah’s eight-year-old son Raymond saw the whole thing, and both testified against their stepfather at his trial.

The case was pretty open-and-shut: As the Vinita Daily Journal noted, “The prisoner seems to be the least [a]ffected of the family and pays close attention to the testimony for or against him … There was practically no defense.”


Hobart (Okla.) Daily Republican, June 21, 1920.

Less than an hour before his execution, Betterton gave an interview in his cell and continued to assert his innocence: “I am not guilty of the crime with which I am charged. I am ready to die. I am ready to meet my God. I do not fear death, but I do not want to die for a crime which I did not commit.”

Approximately 100 people witnessed his execution. He had no final statement.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Guest Writers,Murder,Oklahoma,Other Voices,USA

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