Archive for May 24th, 2016

1935: Tully McQuate, “If I hang, I hang”

Add comment May 24th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1935, one of the all-time great names in American gallows history hanged at California’s Folsom Prison for one of the all-time crimes of ingratitude.

Tully McQuate (or Tulley, or Tullie; the name means “peaceful”) entered the annals of criminology via a sack of dismembered human remains discovered in San Diego’s harbor in 1934.

These gory parts turned out upon examination to have formerly constituted a well-to-do 74-year-old widow named Ellen Straw. Mrs. Straw, it transpired, had taken a shine to an Ohio-born drifter thirty years her junior after hiring him to do her yard work, and finally invited said McQuate to live with her.

Period reportage describes her as his “benefactress” but it appears the favors were reciprocal.

“She took a liking to me and I took a liking to her,” he explained in a matter-of-fact confession. (Los Angeles Times, May 28, 1934)

She took me into her home and we got along pretty well for about a year. Then she began to get jealous of me and we began to quarrel.

One night we went down to a mission — neither of us was very religious, but we used to get a kick out of it. We quarreled on the way home. She went to her room and I went to mine. She kept on quarreling with me — I could hear her through the wall.

Finally I got up to get a drink of water. I found a clawhammer that I had been using around the house. I took it and went in and hit her over the head with it. I guess I hit her twice. [The court would find that he hit her six or seven times. -ed.]

I never had any intention of killing her, but when I saw she was dead, I just covered her up and went back to bed.

“Well, if it’s done, it’s done,” I said to myself. I knew it was all up with me then. I knew they would find me some time. But I didn’t care. When I lost my family I had nothing left to care about. [McQuate’s wife had divorced him years before. -ed.]

I left the body there for six days. I never did see her face again. Then I decided I’d better get rid of it, so I took the knife and a saw — I couldn’t get the body into the sack.

McQuate projects a pragmatic matter-of-factness about the situation that’s equal parts disarming and blood-chilling. One can at least say for him that he faced the consequence with the same equanimity.

Well, I guess my time has come. I’ve confessed — told the whole truth — and I’ll plead guilty. There’s no use putting the State to the expense of a trial. I’ve paid taxes myself.

McQuate was as good as his word. Indeed, when the legal proceedings required two days — perhaps anticipating appeal avenues, the District Attorney successfully insisted that McQuate, who had intended to represent himself, must have an attorney in a death penalty case — the murderer griped on the second day, “It’s so foolish. I did it; let ‘em sentence me and get it over with. If I hang, I hang.” (Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1934)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,USA

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