From the New York Times, September 17, 1853:
Last Hours of Reese Evans.
Correspondence of the New-York Daily Times.
WILKESBARRE. Tuesday, Sept. 13, 1853
On Friday last, at 1 o’clock, P.M., the youthful murderer, of whose trial and conviction I gave brief sketches, for the benefit of the readers of the TIMES, a few months since, suffered the extreme penalty of the law.
Soon after his conviction, he made a full confession of his guilt, and professed, to his spiritual adviser, contrition for the enormous crime. He also had prepared a history of his life, disclosing many other brutal adventures in wickedness, to be published after his death.
During the greater portion of the time subsequent to the arrival of the warrant for his execution, he gave himself but partially and unsteadily to the work of preparation for death. Small events diverted his attention, and interrupted his progress.
He was a perfect stoic, and his heart seemed frozen. He would talk of his numerous sins with no apparent emotion. He seldom wept or sighed. He seemed to have the most perfect control of his feelings.
The last few days of his life were spent in solemn preparations for his end. He spent much time in prayer, and seemed desirous to do his utmost to wipe the stain of blood from his soul.
He had an interview with the widow of the murdered man, which was truly affecting.
“Evans,” said she, “did Reese say anything when you shot him?”
He answered, simply, “No.”
“Did he not say anything about the child?”
“No,” was the answer.
“Had you any spite against him?”
“O, I would give you my two stores if you had only spared my husband.”
Evans covered his face with his hand, and seemed to struggle against his feelings.
He then said, “Mrs. Reese, I am very sorry I did it; if you can, I hope you will forgive me.”
After a little hesitation, and a look at him which seemed a mingled expression of resentment and compassion, she answered, in her somewhat imperfect English, “If I not forgive you, it don’t bring back my husband — Reese was a young man, and you are a young man, you both now be gone — O, you ought not to do it — but I forgive you.”
Her sad black eye swam in tears, and she gazed upon him for half a minute — he looking down, only glancing at her for a moment at a time. She then gave him her hand, and bad him “good bye.”
This scene transpired on Thursday, before noon, just after he had received holy baptism.
He had the company of several ministers alternately throughout the night. On Friday morning he received the holy communion — his father, sister and brother being present.
It was a deeply affecting season, and yet he merely moistened his eyes with a tear or two.
He took leave of his counsel, and of his friends, with a little increased evidence of feeling. He was disturbed with the prospect of more spectators than he desired; but was directed to loo to God, before whom he would soon appear, and pay no attention to surrounding circumstances.
He chose not to be dressed in his shroud, but to die in his ordinary dress. He walked out of his cell into the yard, and ascended the scaffold without faltering. He was seated upon a stool, which he occupied during the religious service.
Rev. Dr. Peck, his spiritual adviser, announced the order of the exercises. Two short prayers were offered; the clergy took their leave of him with a brief exhortation; the Sheriff then adjusted the rope, and upon taking him by the hand, said “Farewell, Evans.”
He responded, “Farewell, Sheriff Palmer — I thank you and your family for all your kindness to me.”
The Sheriff descended, and with a firm nerve gave note of the time, during which Evans stood erect, praying in a low tone, but so as to be heard.
At length the drop fell, and he was launched into eternity.
Evans was a few weeks past eighteen when he murdered the Jew, Louis Reese, in open day, for the purpose of plunder.
How a mere beardless boy should attain such a desperate daring has been to many a profound mystery. His own disclosures show that he did not become a murderer by a sudden impulse, but that it was by commencing early and taking terrible strides in vicious conduct, that he, so early in life, became a giant in wickedness.
His penitence, although unattended by the usual signs of mental anguish, seemed deep and sincere. He had to struggle against habits of thought and feeling which had become imbued in his nature; and made great efforts to resuscitate a conscience which he had well-nigh succeeded in annihilating. This was hard work; and the process was slow, and attended with results but too dubious, down nearly to the day of his execution.
The story of this young man is briefly this: His father was a drunkard when he was a child; he forsook his family, and his mother became insane.
He was partially cared for by strangers, from the age of seven to that of eleven.
After this he wandered about, having no home or steady employment.
He early commenced a system of thieving, to meet his necessities, and proceeded, from step to step, until he reached the climax of wickedness in cold-blooded murder; and ended his career upon the gallows.
The history and fate of this young offender furnish a terrible warning to intemperate and negligent parents, as well as to idle and reckless young men. Small beginnings in crime may soon reach a fearful magnitude. The boy who steals a pen-knife may die by the halter before he is twenty!