Posts filed under 'Ohio'

1895: Lafayette Prince

Add comment May 29th, 2019 Headsman

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 29, 1895. The hot swap from “Chaplain Winget” to “Chaplin Wingate” is all [sic].

Columbus, May 28. — (Special.) — Lafayette Prince partook heartily at 6 o’clock of his last meal, at which he was given porterhouse steak, fried eggs and coffee, finishing the meal with strawberry short cake and cream. The other seven inmates at the annex were present at the meal. All appeared to relish the dainty dishes with the exception of Molnar, who was very nervous and excited.

Chaplain Winget conducted general religious services in the annex, in which all took part. At 8:35 Capt. John Langenberger entered the annex and informed Prince that the time had arrived for him to enter the death cage. It was expected that the murderer would weaken when the time came for the final separation from the others, but Prince surprised all by promptly replying to the request of Langenberger, “All right.” He then bade the other inmates farewell and with a light step ascended the stairway to a little narrow cell which he was to leave only to go to his death. At 10 o’clock a report reached the front office that the man so soon to enter eternity was at that time whistling “Irish Moll.”

Prince has always expressed great affection for his little boy and has often wished to see him before his death. When Chaplin Wingate visited the murderer at 10:30 Prince gave him a box of letters and a few small trinkets and requested that they be given to the boy. The letters were those received by the murderer since he was received at the penitentiary.

Prince was still holding out well at 11:30, and when asked how he felt responded “tip top.” He regretted very much that his brother at Cleveland had failed to be present, and said his brother had written him a few days ago that he would be here. “But that makes no difference,” said Prince. “I have made my peace with God and man and am prepared to go.”

Warden James read the death warrant to Prince at 11:30. The condemned man was unmoved during the reading of the instrument, and at the conclusion remarked that he was ready to go and anxious for the execution to be over.

Prince was hanged shortly after midnight. The drop fell at 12:11, and in fourteen and one-half minutes life was pronounced extinct. Prince’s nerve did not desert him to the last, and he died without a show or emotion or a struggle.

While the fastenings of death were being adjusted by two guards the condemned man gazed intently before him and appeared to be the least concerned of all present. Prince was asked if he desired to make a statement and replied: “No; I have nothing to say.” The black cap was then adjusted, the rope placed about his neck and the lever sprung. The body shot through the drop with lightning like rapidity, rebounded, turned half around and then hung limp until life was pronounced extinct. The neck was broken by the fall. The dead house gang entered, removed the body and the final act in the tragedy was completed.


The crime for which Lafayette Prince was hanged was the murder of his wife in Nottingham on the morning of Sept. 17, 1894. Prince had difficulty with his wife for several months. They did not live happily together. She insisted that she would go and assist her brother in gathering his grape crop. Prince remonstrated and insisted that she and the only son, Freddy Prince, should devote their time to gathering the crop on the Prince farm. Mrs. Prince argued that the grapes on the Prince farm were not in a condition to gather. The breach widened and on the afternoon of Sept. 16 Mrs. Prince and her son returned from her brother’s farm, which was two miles distant, and gathering a few personal effects went to her brother’s house and remained all night.

Prince returned home that night and discovered the absence of his wife. He prepared his own supper, ate it and walked over to the house of his brother. The twilight had settled and he hid behind a hay stack to ascertain as to whether his wife would leave the house.

Her brother had loaded a wagon with grapes the night before and was to take them into town early in the morning. He appeared before dawn and hitching the horse drove toward the city on the Nottingham road. Prince could not discover in the darkness whether his wife was on the wagon or not. He ran home, mounted a horse, and, taking a short cut, hid under the shadow of the Nottingham bridge. When the wagon appeared he discovered that his wife was not with the brother. He returned to his house, coolly cooked his breakfast and went back to his brother-in-law’s house, arriving there about 7 o’clock. His sister-in-law was in the kitchen preparing breakfast. The women were alone, the only man in the house having taken the grapes to the city.

Prince knocked at the door and said:

“I want to see my wife, Caroline.”

“I don’t know whether it would be best to do it or not,” replied his sister-in-law.

Prince then shoved her aside, walked through the sitting room and went up stairs.

“For God’s sake, Lafe, don’t go up there; you’ll murder her,” screamed his sister-in-law.

He went up stairs and into a back room, where Mrs. Prince and the boy were in bed.

“Caroline,” said Prince, “I want you to come home with me.”

“I can’t do it, Lafe,” she said, “you’ve promised to treat me right so many times that I’ve no faith in you.”

Prince kneeled on the floor and crying bitterly asked her to come. Freddy was also crying.

“Freddie,” said Prince, turning to his son, “won’t you come home? Come home to your father. I’ll treat you right, my boy. I’ll treat you right.”

The boy cried bitterly and said he wouldn’t do it. Prince arose hurriedly and went down stairs. His sister-in-law followed him out. Prince went out of the house and went to the woodhouse. He was watched carefully by his sister-in-law. He appeared from the woodhouse with an ax in his hand. His sister-in-law screamed and bolted the door. Prince knocked the door in with the ax and rushed up into his wife’s chamber. She was apprised of his approach and leaped from the bed. She ran down stairs, followed by her husband and the boy. He caught her in the yard and was about to strike her with the ax when the boy interfered. He threw the boy roughly aside. He again caught his wife in the road and struck her twice in the head with an ax. She sank to the ground and the boy again interfered. He was thrown roughly aside. Prince struck his wife several times in the head and twice on the body. She was clad in her night clothes and had no protection. One blow nearly cut her body in two. Prince went home and attempted to commit suicide by cutting his throat with a razor. He was unsuccessful.

During last term of court he was tried. Counsel attempted to work the insanity dodge without success. The jury was out forty-five minutes and the case was carried no higher.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,USA

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1890: Elmer Sharkey, wretched matricide

Add comment December 19th, 2018 H.M. Fogle

From the out-of-print The palace of death, or, the Ohio Penitentiary Annex: A human-interest story of incarceration and execution of Ohio’s murderers, with a detailed review of the incidents connected with each case by H.M. Fogle (1908):


The Terrible End of Elmer Sharkey

Exit Elmer Sharkey and Henry Popp. The night of December 18, 1890, [i.e., after midnight on the 19th. People are just egregious with dates. -ed.] witnessed the double execution of Elmer Sharkey and Henry Popp.

Elmer Sharkey, serial number 20,517, was the picture of physical manhood, young, handsome and accomplished; but his crime was the most diabolical one that ever disgraced the fair pages of Ohio’s history.

About nine o’clock on the fatal night of December 18, Father Logan appeared at the Annex and baptized Sharkey in the Catholic faith. Shortly after this the two murderers were taken out into the reception room of the Annex, where they remained until after the reading of their death warrants. It was just a few minutes after eleven o’clock when Father Logan came into the Annex to comfort the condemned men. He informed them that there was no earthly hope; that the Governor absolutely refused to interfere, and that they should prepare for the worst. Sharkey and his doomed companion were then taken back into the Annex proper, where they bade good-bye to those who were left behind. A little later Warden Dyer came down the corridor and entered the reception room, to which the condemned men were again taken. Facing them the Warden said: “Boys, I have a painful duty to perform; but the law requires it. Henry,” to Popp “this is your death warrant.” Popp shook as with the ague, and stammered, “Yes sir.” He then arose to his feet and listened attentively to the reading of the warrant. The reading of Popp’s warrant finished, the Warden turned to Sharkey who was leaning against the steam heater and read his warrant. Sharkey stood with his hands in his pockets, seemingly indifferent. This over, Chaplain Sutton and Father Logan each offered up a fervent prayer, and then the Warden left the Annex to make further preparations for the executions that followed a few minutes later.

Promptly at midnight Warden Dyer, Deputy Porter and Assistant Brady at his side, stepped into the guard room. A mad rush was made for the gate. But a careful separation of the sheep from the goats was made by the Captain of the guard room, who carefully scrutinized each passport. Noiselessly the procession passed down the long, dimly-lighted corridor to the Annex. Once inside the enclosure Warden Dyer promptly mounted the scaffold, and placed everything in readiness. But a moment thus, and the approach of the doomed man was heralded by appearance of Father Logan who stepped from the cage onto the scaffold, and took his stand on the right of the trap door. A hush fell as the pale and bloodless countenance of Elmer Sharkey appeared. He moved with a nervous, gliding motion toward the fatal trap, hesitated for a moment, and then stepped squarely upon it; and with downcast eyes and drooping head, stood there in waiting, a picture of silent despair and hopeless agony. Once, twice, three times he raised his eyes and cast a quick, sweeping glance over the throng of spectators, then resumed his downward look of misery, murmuring in a low tone: “My God, make quick work of it!” When asked if he asked [sic] anything to say, he raised his head slightly and said: “I ask God’s forgiveness, and all I have wronged; and I forgive everything.” The Father pressed the cross to his passive, bloodless lips and he kissed it fervently. The hood was then made ready and he was asked for his last words. “That is all I can think of now.”

As the hood was being adjusted he faltered and would have fallen backward in a faint, but was sustained by ready hands. Just as the noose was being drawn around his neck, he again lost control of himself, and started to fall; but the noose was slipped with a quick movement; the trap sprung, and down he went. As a result of his fainting he fell in a partially horizontal attitude, and the tightening of the rope produced a swinging motion of the body, thus breaking the force of the fall. The result was that the neck was not broken, and the poor, wretched matricide was left to die by strangulation. The sounds that floated out over the awe-hushed group as the dying man struggled for breath, is [sic] beyond description. The sickening sight and horrible sounds drove many of the spectators from the execution room.

The drop fell at 12:05, and for several minutes the terrible struggle lasted, then the sounds from the throat, and convulsions of the body grew less frequent. At 12:34 the quivering heart ceased to beat, just twenty-nine minutes after the drop fell. All within that narrow enclosure breathed a sigh of relief when the attending physician finally pronounced him dead.

His execution was one of the longest on record, and the longest in the history of Ohio.

Elmer Sharkey suffered death on the scaffold for the cold-blooded murder of the woman who gave him birth, a widow of Preble County. No wonder his death was such an ignominous and horrible one. Mrs. Sharkey had violently opposed his marriage to the woman of his choice, and threatened to disinherit him if the marriage was consummated. The unnatural son, in a spirit of revenge, butchered his poor old mother with a meat axe, mangling her almost beyond recognition. He confessed his guilt, and “died in the hope of a glorious immortality.”

[Popp, not dwelt upon by Fogle, was a Bavarian immigrant who fatally stabbed the barkeep who attempted to eject him while rowdy in his cups. -ed.]

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,Other Voices,USA

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1880: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment July 9th, 2018 Headsman

A half-dozen murderers hanged in five different U.S. states on this date in 1880.


Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, July 10, 1880. We make the count six, not four.
George Allen Price (Pennsylvania)


Harrisburg (Penn.) Patriot, July 10, 1880.

George Sanford and Richard McKee (Arkansas)


Columbus (Ga.) Daily Enquirer, July 13, 1880.

Alexander Howard (North Carolina), Daniel Washington (South Carolina), and Henry Ryan (Georgia)

(Note: Henry Ryan’s execution is missing from the Espy File of U.S. executions.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arkansas,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Georgia,Hanged,Murder,North Carolina,Ohio,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,South Carolina,USA

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1894: William Whaley, “the horror of the situation”

Add comment June 22nd, 2018 H.M. Fogle

This ghastly description of a botched hanging comes courtesy of the out-of-print The palace of death, or, the Ohio Penitentiary Annex: A human-interest story of incarceration and execution of Ohio’s murderers, with a detailed review of the incidents connected with each case by H.M. Fogle (1908):


Chapter 19

William Whaley
June 22, 1894

A negro robber who beat out the brains of Allen Wilson, near Yellow Springs, Ohio, with a dray pin. Hanged June 22, 1894

A Brutal Robber Meets a Just Fate


William Whaley, serial number 25,257, was executed in the Ohio Penitentiary Annex twelve minutes after the birth of a new day, June 22, 1894, for the brutal murder of Allen Wilson, a thrifty and hard working colored man.

The crime was committed near Yellow Springs, Greene County, Ohio, on the night of June 6, 1893. Robbery was the motive for the crime, and a dray pin the instrument of destruction. He sneaked upon his victim in the dark, and literally beat his brains out.

Whaley was a young man not over twenty-five years of age, and with perhaps one exception, was the most profane man that was ever incarcerated in the Ohio Penitentiary Annex. He refused all spiritual consolation, and cursed his executioners almost with his dying breath. He was a cowardly cur, and betrayed his cowardice while on the scaffold. Three times he sank to his knees as the noose was being adjusted. The attending Guards were compelled each time to assist him to his feet, and finally to hold him up by main strength until the rattle of the lever shot his body through the open trap. Being almost in a total state of collapse, the body instead of plunging straight through the opening, pitched forward, striking the side of the door, thus breaking the force of the fall. For this reason the neck was not broken, and death was produced by the slow and harrowing process of strangulation.

Reader, if you have never seen a sight of this kind you cannot understand or comprehend the horror of the situation. Time after time the limbs were drawn up with a convulsive motion, and then straightened out with a jerk. The whole body quivered and shook like one might with the ague; while the most hideous and sickening sounds came from the throat. This continued for eighteen minutes; but to one looking on it seemed an age. After eighteen minutes the sounds ceased; the body became perfectly still; the limbs began to stiffen; the heart-beats to weaken. In just twenty-six minutes after the drop fell the last pulsation was felt, and the doctor solemnly said: “Warden, I pronounce the man dead.”

The outraged law had been avenged, and a soul unprepared had been ushered into Eternity.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,USA

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1866: Dr. John Hughes, Cleveland bigamist

Add comment February 9th, 2018 Headsman

From America’s State Trials, vol. II, whose “Narrative” excerpted here continues in the form of trial transcripts explicating the particulars of this sad and banal stalker-murder situation. (As a juridical matter, Hughes’s fate hinged on finely measuring his degree of premeditation and intent — and drunkenness — at the moment that he shot his 17-year-old other wife; however, once the decision was in, even Hughes called “the verdict of the jury, just; the sentence of the law, inevitable … I know that I deserve death.”)

THE TRIAL OF DR. JOHN W. HUGHES FOR THE MURDER OF TAMZEN PARSONS, CLEVELAND, OHIO, 1865

THE NARRATIVE.

Dr. Hughes To His Friends
(one of several poems Hughes wrote as he awaited hanging -ed.)

Of trifles the world is composed,
Like minutes that grow into years;
So friendship, in pity reposed,
Allays our most troublesome fears.

Away from all comforts at home,
From all the desires of my heart,
Not building on pleasures to come,
With feelings of hope I must part.

A moment of phrenzy, unthought,
A second of madness defined —
What change in the creature is wrought.
The soul in such horror entwined!

To review the dear scenes of the past,
Is but a renewal of strife
To a mind so constant o’ercast
In weighing the issues of life.

Grateful thanks is all I can give
For mercies which others deny.
Oh! that I were destined to live
To recompense you bye and bye.

Your efforts are sadly in vain;
The plea was a day or two late.
Remonstrance its malice to rain
Had hopelessly finished my fate.

Yet your prayers shall be to my death
Like the hidden treasure of leaven,
My spirit to raise by their breath
To waft it to Jesus in heaven.

I pray, and I never forget
To ask of my best friend above,
For blessings on those in whose debt
I am bound by their pitying love.

On the ninth of August, 1865, John W. Hughes, physician and surgeon, of Cleveland, Ohio, committed a murder in the small neighboring village of Bedford, which, from the nature of the case, the character of the parties to the tragedy, and the antecedents of the deed, forced him upon the attention of the people of Cleveland and of the whole of the State of Ohio. The public was shocked on the following morning by the publication in the newspapers that Miss Tamzen Parsons, a young lady of seventeen years of age, had been shot down in the streets of Bedford by this man, who had been her lover, and who, under cover of a forged decree of divorce from his wife, had married her in Pittsburgh, in December, 1864, and suffered in the Pennsylvania penitentiary, the penalty attaching to the crime of bigamy.

Dr. Hughes was born in the Isle of Man, educated at a Scotch University, and emigrated with his wife to the United States in 1862. After practicing his profession of a physician for a few months in Chicago and Cleveland, he enlisted in an Ohio regiment as a private, but was very soon promoted to the position of Assistant Surgeon of the 48th United States Infantry. After serving for about a year he resigned on account of the illness of a son in November, 1864. He now began the practice of medicine in Cleveland, but making the acquaintance of Tamzen Parsons, he induced her to go with him to Pittsburgh, after showing her a paper which he persuaded her was a decree of divorce from his wife. For this he was convicted and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in a Pennsylvania penitentiary, but was pardoned after serving five months. Returning to Cleveland, he resumed the practice of medicine and after having sent his wife and child back to the Isle of Man on a visit, he endeavored to win again the affections of Tamzen, who refused to have anything more to do with him. One night in July after drinking deeply, he went to the house of her father in the village of Bedford at night and, by his noise, aroused the old gentlemen, who tried to eject him. Hughes refused to leave the house, and objected with sufficient force to give ground for a charge of assault and battery, which was brought on the following day, Tamzen herself appearing and making the affidavit against him, an act which enraged him. Personal differences, however, were at length adjusted and legal proceedings stayed, the Doctor solemnly promising that he would thenceforth have nothing to do with the Parsons family.

But, alas! a drunken revel with a companion, Oscar Russell, on the night of the eighth of August, ended in their driving to Bedford and drinking at all the road houses on the way. Hughes, Russell and their driver, Carr, issued from a hotel in Bedford, and drove to the house of Mr. Parsons. Dr. Hughes entered the house and learned that Tamzen and her mother had gone blackberrying. They drove on, but soon met the women, and the Doctor sought a private conference with Tamzen. A neighbor, however, came along in a wagon and took her home, while the men drove to the grocery, where they held a drunken revel for two hours. Hughes learning that all the Parsons family had gone to Bedford for safety and to arrest him, started to the village and, seeing Tamzen coming out of the house, he ran after her, calling on her to stop. She flew up the walk, saying, “No, I will not stop,” and rushed through the gate, endeavoring to reach the front door. But before that asylum was reached, the pursuer laid hands on her, and shouting, “You won’t stop, will you?” fired his revolver. The ball glanced off her head, she screamed, but the piteous cry was instantly hushed by a second and fatal discharge of the deadly weapon.

The noise attracted a number of persons, who pursued Hughes, who jumped into the carriage with Russell and Carr, and, menacing the crowd with his revolver, succeeded in getting a good start of his pursuers. But he was captured in a few hours and landed in jail.

Indicted by the Grand Jury for murder, after a trial lasting eighteen days, he was convicted, though his counsel tried very hard to prove that he was insane at the time he committed the act. On February 9th, 1866, he was hanged in the yard of the Cleveland jail.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,Sex,USA

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1880: Three juvenile offenders in Canton, Ohio

1 comment June 25th, 2017 Meaghan

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

At 11:35 a.m. on this day in 1880, three teen boys were publicly hanged in Canton, Ohio. George E. Mann was sixteen, Gustave Adolph Ohr was somewhere between fifteen and seventeen, and John Sammet(t) had just turned eighteen the day before. Between them, they had committed two murders.

Left to right: Mann, Ohr, and Sammett.

George Mann and Gustave Ohr came from similar backgrounds: both lost a parent in early childhood — George’s mother and Gustave’s father — and both didn’t adjust well. By the summer of 1879, both boys had run away from home. They were riding the rails when they met each other and began traveling with an older tramp, John Watmough.

The trio had reached Alliance, Ohio when, on June 27, 1879, Gustave and George decided to rob Watmough as he slept. They beat him on the head with a railroad coupling pin, mortally wounding him, and the boys took his watch, money and clothes and ran away. Watmough was able to crawl to a nearby house and mumble a few words before dying. His killers were arrested within minutes.

George, although he insisted it was Gustave who’d struck the fatal blows, was convicted of first-degree murder on December 6. Gustave was convicted on December 13. On December 31, both were sentenced to death. George went to his grave saying he was innocent, but his partner-in-crime refused to cinch his clemency argument by taking full responsibility.

According to the Stark County Democrat, while awaiting their deaths, George and Gustave were both able to obtain “many luxuries” by selling copies of the gallows ballads they supposedly wrote themselves. (Mann’s | Ohr’s)

John Sammett, like George Mann, lost his mother at a very early age and lived with his father and stepmother at the time of his crime. Like the Bavaria-born Gustave Ohr, he was of German parentage, although John was born in Ohio. He developed a reputation as a petty thief and was arrested several times, but his relatives always bailed him out of trouble.

In August of 1879, John and a sixteen-year-old friend, Christopher Spahler, broke into a saloon. They were arrested, and Spahler agreed to turn state’s evidence and testify against his erstwhile friend. The burglary trial was scheduled for November 26; the day before, John tracked down Spahler and tried to get him to change his mind. Spahler would not relent, and John shot him in the chest.

People heard the shot and came running; Spahler died a short time later without speaking, but both John and the murder weapon were still at the crime scene. He was arrested immediately, and on March 2, 1880 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

Meanwhile, in a different hanging circus … (widely reprinted wire story via the Milwaukee Journal of Commerce of (despite the dateline) June 23, 1880.

This Akron Law Review article notes,

The public hanging of Mann and Ohr, along with John Sammett, was the occasion for a community-wide extravaganza. People came to the small town of Canton in eastern Ohio by excursion train from as far away as Chicago and Pittsburgh to witness the event. A circus was part of the extravaganza [literally, Coup‘s circus was in town at the same time -ed.] and the night before the hangings included much music, cannon firing, speech making and similar merriment. The next morning, Mann and the other two teenaged boys were hanged in the city square of Canton before an estimated crowd of 10,000 people!

After the triple hanging, sheriffs deputies placed the three bodies in the jail corridor and permitted the entire crowd to file through and view the bodies. The public viewing lasted almost four hours, with the doors being closed at 3:30 p.m.

This was the first time the state of Ohio had executed minors.

These three young killers were featured in Daniel Right Miller’s 1903 book The Criminal Classes: Causes and Cures, which remarks (speaking of Ohr specifically) “that parental neglect, impure literature, and vicious companions were all responsible for this ruined life and forced death.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Ohio,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft,USA

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2014: Dennis McGuire, Ohio botch

Add comment January 16th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 2014, Ohio very clumsily executed Dennis McGuire for raping and stabbing to death an eight-months pregnant woman in 1989.

For no reason better than chance, McGuire‘s was the execution scheduled to arrive when Ohio bowed to the growing scarcity of lethal injection drugs by innovating a new kill-cocktail comprising midazolam, a sedative, and hydromorphone, a painkiller.

McGuire’s attorneys fought this procedure on the plausible (quite plausible, as we will see) grounds that using an execution as a vehicle for nonconsensual human medical experimentation was liable to end badly.

It did. A Dayton Daily News staff reporter who attended the execution gave the disturbint account

Prison officials say the drugs — a combination never before used in an execution — were delivered at 10:28 a.m.

His daughter cried uncontrollably.

McGuire waved with his wrist, his body strapped down to the table. Then he suddenly yelled out “I love you. I love you,” before his head lay back, his eyes rolled back in his head and he appeared to fall asleep at 10:29 a.m.

Minutes went by without McGuire moving, his family cried as the priest patted them on the back and attempted to console them.

“Oh my god,” his daughter [Amber McGuire] said.

“Don’t watch,” [wife] Missie McGuire said.

At 10:35 a.m. I first noticed McGuire convulse, then gasp. He snorted for air — a sound like a violent snore, a guttural inhale — and then sat still. Then gasped again. Sometimes his mouth just opened soundlessly. At 10:39 a.m. he snorted so loud his daughter covered her ears.

His family cried. “How could this go on for so long?” one of them asked. There was some discussion with the priest that accompanied them saying they thought it would only take five minutes.

(Here’s another (more heavily editorializing) eyewitness account of the event, by McGuire’s priest.)

Predictably, more lawsuits followed, cases that are still working their way through the courts. Just two weeks ago as of this writing, a federal suit filed on behalf of Ohio’s other death row inmates brought a member of Dennis McGuire’s execution team to the stand. Behind an anonymizing cardboard screen, “Team Member No. 10” characterized the McGuire execution as unlike any of the others he had worked, and said that he “was wondering what was going on” as the prisoner heaved and choked his way to death.

As a result, McGuire’s execution remains as of this writing the most recent execution conducted in one of the largest Republican-dominated states in the U.S. — even though Ohio was setting up in the 2000s as the Texas of the North.

The blockage is sure to be a temporary one. Ohio has announced plans to resume executions in 2017 with its new drug cocktail, plus a backup set of other drugs to reverse the first drugs if things go wrong.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Ohio,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,USA

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1928: Floyd Hewitt, “Boy Clubber”

Add comment January 6th, 2017 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1928, seventeen-year-old Floyd Hewitt was executed in Ohio’s electric chair for the horrific murder of a farmer’s wife and five-year-old son.

Floyd grew up in rural area outside Conneaut, Ohio. Although at 6’4″ he had the body of a grown man, he was mentally disabled, callously described by his defense attorneys as “a moron with a ten-year-old’s intellect.” One newspaper portrayed him thus:

He is not considered of normal intellect, his drooping mouth, dull eyes and appearances contributing to the opinion. He was not bright in his classes at school.

On the evening of February 14, 1927, he visited a local farm belonging to the Brown family. He was a frequent visitor there; he loved listening to jazz music on the radio and the Browns were the only family in the area who had a set at home. Celia Brown’s husband, Fred, was away in town and she was home alone with their son Freddie.

This news column and this article describe what happened in detail. Floyd got “stirred up inside” by the music. Feeling “an overpowering love,” he made sexual overtures towards Celia, who slapped him. He hit back, and she grabbed the fireplace poker to defend herself, but he tore it from her hands. In the ensuing fight Floyd hurled Celia down the stairs and struck her repeatedly with the poker until she was dead. Then, afraid the little boy would tell on him, Floyd chased Freddie into the basement and beat him to death with a baseball bat, too.

Then he went back upstairs, washed his hands, walked the short distance home and sat down to read the newspaper.

Fred Brown got home a little after midnight, found his wife’s body on the porch. There was blood everywhere. Fred summoned neighbors and the police. After searching the rest of the house, the neighbors found little Freddie’s body in the basement.

Floyd rapidly came under suspicion; he literally left a trail of footprints right to his front door. The next morning he was arrested, wearing the same bloodstained sweater he’d worn the night before. One of the buttons had been torn off and was left at the crime scene.

Within hours, Hewitt had made a full confession. He even went so far as to take the police on a tour of the Brown house to point out what had occurred and where. The next day, however, he retracted his statements and would maintain his innocence until his death.

The press bluntly christened him “the boy clubber.”

On the first day of his trial, as he was taken into the courtroom, Floyd remarked, “This is certainly a beautiful day, isn’t it?” One reporter described him as “like a big overgrown boy, who did not realize the seriousness of the crimes with which he is charged.”

He was indeed an overgrown boy, only sixteen years old at the time of his crime, but the prosecution demanded the death penalty.

Death penalty expert Victor Streib in this review of Ohio juvenile executions summed matters up thus:

Although indicted for two first degree murders (mother and son), he was tried only for the first degree murder of the five-year-old boy.

During the three week trial, the state relied heavily upon Hewitt’s signed confession while the defense stressed Hewitt’s mental disabilities. On April 26, the jury returned a verdict of guilty without a recommendation of mercy.

Hewitt appealed, and his execution was postponed for a time, but the appeals process wore down in less than a year and the board of clemency refused to recommend a commutation to the governor …

Hewitt’s chronological age at execution was seventeen, but his mental age remained forever fixed at ten.

Floyd Hewitt might have been the youngest person ever executed by the state of Ohio, and he was the first from Ashtabula County. A “bedraggled figure … with his long black hair hanging low over his face,” and clutching a photo of his family, he died in the electric chair at the Ohio State Penitentiary Annex at 7:43 p.m.

On this day..

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

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1924: A day in the death penalty around the U.S.

Add comment December 12th, 2016 Headsman

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Dec. 13, 1924:

Shreveport, La., Dec. 12 — Alfred Sharpe, about 25 years old, a negro, was hanged here today at 12:16 p.m. for the murder of Tom Askew, a white man, veteran of the World war and manager of a plantation near Keithville, which occurred last September 9.

Sharpe, in a statement just before going to the gallows blamed liquor for his trouble. He admitted since his captured two days after the killing that he was guilty.

The negro, who was unable to read or write, and did noot know his exact age, said as he mounted the scaffld: “I know I violated the law and that the law must be fulfilled.”

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Dec. 11, 1924:

COUMBUS, O., Dec. 11. — Alexander Kuszik, 20, of Akron, must die in the electric chair at the state penitentiary shortly after 1 a.m. tomorrow for the murder of his thirteen-year-old cousin, Elizabeth Nagy, who spurned his proffered love.

Gov. A.V. Donahey late today denied a last minute appeal by Kuszi’s counsel that the death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. This plea, supplemented by the testimony of three alienists [psychologists — ed.] to the effect that Kuszik was not mentally responsible for his acts at the time of the crime’s commission, failed to convince the governor, however, that he should exercise his powers to extend clemency

Even Kuszik’s counsel, C.G. Roetzel, former prosecutor of Summit county, admitted the crime for which Kuszik was convicted was one of the most brutal on record, and made no claim the prisoner was insane. Roetzel based his plea for clemency on the theory, supported by alienists, that Kuszik was mentally irresponsible although he did know the difference between right and wrong.

Theory of Alienists.

The alienists advancing this theory were Dr. J.C. Hassall, superintendent of Fair aks sanitorium, Cuyahoga Falls; Dr. Arthur G. Hyde, superintendent of the Massillon State hospital, and Dr. D.H. Morgan of Akron.

Drs. Hassall and Hyde had made their observations of Kuszik within twenty-four hours after the crime had been committed. Dr. Morgan made his observations about a month later.

These specialists made their examinations at the request of Prosecutor Arthur W. Doyle, but their testimny was not used at the time of the trial, Dr. Doyle explained, because he reached his own conclusion that Kuszik was responsible for his acts.

Countering the views of this group of alienists was the testimony of three others who, after making an examination of Kuszik at the governor’s request, reported that the youth not only was not insane but that he was mentally responsible.

Mentality Subnormal.

These alienists were Dr. Charles F. Clark, superintendent of the Lima State hospital; Dr. H.H. Pritchard, superintendent of the Columbus State hospital, and Dr. Guy Williams, superintendent of the Cleveland State hospital. They all said Kuszik had no mental disorders. All the alienists had agreed that Kuszik’s mentality was sub-normal — that it represented the mentality of a child of about 11.

Prosecutor Doyle told the governor that, in his opinion, so long as the state recognizes capital punishment Kuszik’s case was one in which it should be used.

Kuszik exhibited no concern when told his appeal had been denied and that he was to die.

In complete control of his faculties, he walked even jauntily to the death cell to spend his few remaining hours.

“The youth has shown more spirit today than at any time since confined,” Warden P.E. Thomas said.

Two consecutive stories from the Portland (Ore.) Oregonian, Dec. 13, 1924:

WALLA WALLA, Wash., Dec. 12. — Thomas Walton, convicted of the murder of S.P. Burt, a fellow convict, in the state penitentiary here October 7, 1923, was hanged at the penitentiary this morning. The trap was sprung at 5:06 A.M. and the prison physicians pronounced him dead 10 minutes later.

Walking to his death with the same fearlessness that he has displayed since the beginning of his prison career, Walton refused to make any final statement and even declined to talk with Rev. A.R. Liverett, prison chaplain, or Father Buckley, Catholic priest, in his cell prior to the execution.

His body will be sent to relatives in Montague, Cal.

Although Walton paid the penalty for killing Burt, he has of official record killed two other men. The first was in 1915 in California, for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment in San Quentin prison. The other was that of George McDonald, cellmate of Burt, whom he stabbed following his attack on Burt.

Walton and Burt were life termers in San Quentin and made their escape together in a prison automobile in January, 1923.

FOLSOM, Cal., Dec. 12 — Robert Matthews, negro, convicted of the murder of Coleman Stone, a grocer near Los Angeles, was hanged at the state prison here this morning. [Joe] Sinuel will be hanged next Friday.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Hanged,Louisiana,Murder,Ohio,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Washington

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1893: Frank Van Loon, via a mother-in-law’s vengeance

Add comment August 4th, 2016 H.M. Fogle

From the out-of-print The palace of death, or, the Ohio Penitentiary Annex: A human-interest story of incarceration and execution of Ohio’s murderers, with a detailed review of the incidents connected with each case by H.M. Fogle (1908):


A Youthful Bank Robber’s Fate

“Truth is stranger than fiction.” In how many ways is this aphorism verified! Nowhere is it more strangely true than in the dark and mysterious records of crime. That a perilous sea, only occasionally visited by the ships of commerce and civilization, should witness the development of bands of pirates whose bold and cruel deeds have terrified the voyagers, and furnished themes with which the romancer could charm the morbid tastes of the lovers of the gruesome, is a thing to be expected. That a wild and sparsely settled region, abounding in fastnesses and hiding places, yet crossed by trains bearing rich treasures, should be the field in which a drove of dehumanized desperadoes carried on their nefarious trade, is in no way surprising. Storm-tossed, wreck-strewn seas and hurricane-swept prairies, nurture, or at least harbor, such characters as their appropriate children. There is nothing strange in the fact that wild regions should be the home of wilder men. The romancer can make his story as wild and improbable as he chooses; there is no one who will rise to contradict him.

It is strange, however, that such men should spring up amid peaceful surroundings. It is stranger still that a penchant for crime, carried out into deeds of more reckless daring than those of the wild and unrestrained West, should be nurtured in the quiet rural districts of Northwestern Ohio. Yet, strange to say, in this almost Arcadian corner of a great civilized state, a corner whose agrarian peacefulness was never broken by harsher sounds than the melody of church bells, or the cheerful call of the locomotive, there have been conceived and carried into execution crimes that would stand out boldly even on the pages of the wildest fiction. This corner of the state was the home of the now famous “Jack Page” band of arsonists, who terrorized the country a quarter of a century ago. Here, also, lived the man who furnished the occasion of this sketch, Frank Van Loon. Of his dare-devil deed let the reader judge.

The Supremacy of Nerve

On the seventh day of August, 1891, the village of Columbus Grove, Putnam County, Ohio, was startled out of its quiet, humdrum routine by a daring daylight robbery and murder. A young man, unknown to the few chance stragglers about the streets of the quiet village, entered a hardware store. By sheer force he compelled the person in charge to give him two loaded .38-caliber revolvers. With the dash of a true desperado, he rushed across the street to the bank. He entered the bank, broke the glass in front of the cashier’s desk, reached through and secured $1,365. The bank officials, terrified by the suddenness of the attack, dropped through a trap-door into the cellar. One of them, by venturing to look out of his hiding place, was shot by the nervy robber. The ball took effect in the shoulder, producing a painful, though not fatal wound. While the desperado was holding the bank employees at bay, an old man by the name of William Vandemark entered the bank to transact some business. Vandemark was ignorant of the fact that a desperate robbery was at that moment being committed. The robber, hearing some one enter, turned quickly and fired at the innocent intruder. The shot was fatal and Vandemark was instantly killed. As the desperate man rushed out of the bank, he shot at a man who was peacefully driving along the street. The daring young man made his escape across the fields without being recognized.

A Mother-in-Law’s Vengeance

Who this daring robber and murderer was might have remained an undiscovered fact, had it not been that a certain young farmer by the name of Frank Van Loon had, by his innate meanness, incurred the implacable hatred of his wife’s mother. Ever suspicious of her son-in-law, the woman entered his room on the morning of the day following his crime, noted that his boots were muddy, and found in his pockets the guns and the stolen money. This woman, having heard in the intervening time of the crime committed in Columbus Grove, reported her findings to the officers. The officers, knowing of the unhappy condition of things in the Van Loon home, for a time paid no heed to the advices which they received, thinking it was only a mother-in-law’s spite [at] work. But when the information had been several times repeated they concluded to investigate, and found things as the mother-in-law had reported. Van Loon was arrested. He was given a speedy trial, convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to be hanged.

In the Palace of Death

Frank Van Loon, serial number 23,313, on the twelfth day of May, 1892, entered the Annex of the Ohio Penitentiary. It was his final leave-taking of God’s beautiful world of sunshine and fragrance. Never again was he to see the earth and sky meet. When he left that Place of Doom it would be as a lifeless body.

Through the law’s delay Van Loon was permitted to drag on a miserable existence between hope and despair for fifteen months. In these months of waiting he employed a part of the time in writing a history of his life. In this composition the natural selfishness and brutality of his nature were plainly manifest. It was evident from the underlying tone of his autobiography that he did not recognize that his fellow-man had any rights which he was bound to respect, especially if those rights stood in the way of his wishes being attained. His towering egotism was undoubtedly the soil which nurtured and brought to maturity the disposition which made possible his cruel crime. [editor’s note: my researches have failed to locate this interesting artifact for the modern reader’s edification.]

This egotism was constantly being made evident by his actions during his stay in the Annex. Much of the time during his waking hours was passed in quarreling with his keeper. These contentions one day led to a desperate struggle between Van Loon and Guard Bowman for the possession of an ice pick. When Van Loon had been let out of the cage for some purpose, he endeavored to get possession of an ice pick, as the only available weapon with which to kill the Guard. Both men being well developed and powerful, a desperate struggle ensued, in which the superior skill and greater endurance attained by careful training gave the victory to Guard Bowman.

The Deepening Shadows

Frank Van Loon’s long stay in the Annex was drawing to a close. The brief day of his earthly career was rapidly nearing the end. The shadows were growing deeper. Soon his sun would set in utter darkness. Van Loon had lived but twenty-three years of mortal life. They had, however, been years fruitful of enormous results in crime and meanness.

August 4, 1895, was his last day on earth. It was a dark and stormy night which preceded that day, but not more dark or more stormy than had been the young life that was that night to be taken as a forfeit to the State. Frank Van Loon’s life had been a rebellion against the laws of God and man. While the officers of human law were preparing to take satisfaction for the outrage that had been committed against it, the artillery of heaven was flashing defiance and thundering menaces and pouring down torrents of rain, as if to make it known to the universe that the sin-scorched soul which the laws of man had decreed should no longer dwell among the habitations of earth, should not rise into that world where “no wicked thing cometh,” but must turn away from heaven and wander forever in the “outer darkness.”

When the midnight hour had come, the march from the Guard Room began. Noiselessly the guards moved over the sawdust covered corridors to the Annex. The Warden, Hon. C.C. James, read the warrant to the condemned man. The same nerve that characterized the attack on the bank was manifest in this last and closing ordeal of his life. Unassisted and unfalteringly he mounted the steps to the gallows and and took his place on the trap.

While standing on the trap Van Loon sang in a strong, clear voice, “Nearer My God to Thee.”

There was no tremor in his voice, nor quaking in his limbs. Apparently without fear he gave voice to the familiar hymn. Strangely the music floated out on the midnight air, while the terrific electrical storm, raging without, seemed playing the accompaniment. The deep diapason of Nature’s orchestra, blending with the stentorian voice of the singer, echoed and reverberated through the adjoining corridors of the prison until many of the prisoners were startled from their slumbers. On hearing the hymn and its wild accompaniment, and remembering that it was the night of Van Loon’s execution, they listened with bated breath, scarcely knowing whether to attribute the unwonted disturbance to earth, heaven or hell; wondering whether the voice was that of man, angel or demon.

At the close of this strange oratorio, the trap was sprung; the body shot downward. The execution was a success. Frank Van Loon was no more.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Ohio,Other Voices,Theft,USA

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