Posts filed under 'Vermont'

1905: Mary Rogers, chloroformer

Add comment December 8th, 2017 Headsman

From the Wilkes-Barre (Penn.) Times, Dec. 8, 1905.

Mary Rogers Died on the Scaffold

Paid the Last Penalty of the Law After a Legal Fight of Two Years — Was Guilty of a Cruel and Diabolical Murder — Lured a Loving Husband to Destruction for the Sake of His Insurance and for the Love of Another.

WINDSOR, Vt., Dec. 8. — Mary Mabel Rogers* was hanged by the neck until she was dead in the Windsor prison this afternoon for the murder of her husband, Marcus Rogers, in 1902. The woman was pronounced dead at 1:28 o’clock, just fourteen minutes after the trap was sprung.

Without a trace of fear or a show of any emotion, Mrs. Rogers went to her death quietly and calmly, as she had told Mrs. Durkee she would last night. She made no statement or confession, when given an opportunity before the signal of death. She merely nodded her head, indicating that she was quite ready.

She Spent a Sleeples[s] Night.

Racked by her own contending emotions, Mary Rogers arose from her sleepless cot this morning to live [through the few wretched hours of her life and meet her death before the day is near done on the gallows in Windsor prison. Pallid from fear, which clutches at her heart at last, she left her cot and half reeled to the cell door, where she watched the first gray tints of morn creep through the barred window at the end of the corridor, and as the shadows fell more lightly on the whitened walls and the corridor began**] to fill with light the woman knew the final day had come. A half sob, a catch of breath that might have escaped from her and she turned and placed her hands in those of Matron Durkee, who had come to the cell early to be with her when roused from a troubled sleep.

South Consolation in Prayer.

No tears filled her eyes. She had wept early in the night, but the truth of her hopeless end had come to her at last and burnt itself deep into her soul, leaving her but a poor miserable thing for the execution of the law. Long into the night she had prayed with Father Delaney, who had gone to her when she called. Then physical exhaustion, from the silent struggle in her being came and she fell into an uncertain sleep robbing her mercifully of the horrible thoughts of the violent end by the noose.

Her First Emotion.

The sun had fallen below the gray [†] and cheerless hills to the west last night and the departing shadows within the prison walls had fled to inky darkness when Mary Rogers, standing at the grated cell door watching the fading light die out for the last time in her life, turned to Mrs. Loukes, the guard, and began to sob.

It was the first emotion she had shown since she bade her mother farewell last Saturday. Father Delaney was sent for, as Supt. Lovell feared there might be a sudden collapse. The priest came and went to the woman’s cell. Mary Rogers brushed the tears from her eyes and spoke a quiet greeting to Father Delaney. The good priest spoke kind words of comfort to her and she made a reply, but her words could not be heard as the woman had retired to a far corner of the cell. The priest and the woman sank to their knees and prayed. The usual night sounds in the prison corridors were hushed for the convicts knew it was Mary Rogers’ last night on earth.

Feared Physical Pain.

Mrs. Rogers grew calmer and Father Delaney left the cell and went to the guard room, where he was within call. The woman spoke to Mrs. Durkee, the prison matron of the coming day and told her that she was ready to meet her death.

“I know it must be and I am prepared to die,” she said, and added plaintively: “You don’t think they will hurt me?”

“No, Mary, they will not hurt and it will not be long,” replied Mrs. Durkee. “I will go with you as far as the guard room door.”

The Procession to the Scaffold.

Shortly before 1 o’clock the guards went to Mrs. Rogers’ cell and dressed her for the execution. The woman wore the customary black dress and shirtwaist that was made for her first execution. She wore no corset or collar.

With the six deputy sheriffs leading the death procession, she left her cell with Matron Durkee, who accompanied her down the three flights of stairs to the guard room. As Mrs. Rogers left the guard roo to walk down the short flight of steps leading to the enclosed court, she saw for the first time the instrument of her death. It was a walk of forty feet to the gallows’ steps. When the woman reached the gallows’ floor, a deputy tied her hands, the black cap and sack were drawn about her and the drop fell.

The Final Scenes.

The march from the death cell began at six minutes past one o’clock. Mrs. Rogers had just concluded a short religious service with Father Delaney and when the tall forms of three deputy sheriffs appeared at the cell door, she turned to Mrs. Durkee and said simply: “I am ready to go, Mrs. Durkee, and I thank you for what you have done.”

Showed No Fear.

Mrs. Durkee had dressed the woman in a combination black skirt and waist, which had been made for the execution last June. In the face of death, the vanity of the woman asserted itself and she called for a gold chain and locket, which she carefully put about her neck which was bare, the matron having previously removed the collar. She wore no corsets. The cell door creaked and Mrs. Rogers stepped out in the corridor and took her place between the deputy sheriffs. Mrs. Durkee walked by her side. Down the three long flights of steps the woman walked without a sign of fear or collapse.

She reached the guard room and stepped across the ro[o]m and down into the enclosed court. Inside in one corner was the instrument of death, while ranged around the court were the prison officials and the State’s witnesses. Mrs. Rogers looked at the scaffold as she walked to the steps, but turned away and looked dully at the spectators. A deputy sheriff preceded her up the steps of the gallows and another walked by her side in case she should g[i]ve way. The courage of the woman was magnificent. She reached the scaffold floor without a falter, though the face showed the prison pallor usual in prisoners of long confinement.

Sat While Being Pinioned.

Deputy Sheriff Kiniry motioned Mrs. Rogers to a seat on the scaffold and the woman sat down and gazed about as if she was a spectator to an event in which she had no part. Deputy Sheriffs Thomas and McDermott quickly pinioned the woman’s arms behind her and then stepped aside. Deputy Sheriff Kiniry leaned down and asked Mrs. Rogers if she wished to make a statement.

“No,” she said almost inaudibly, and accompanied her answer with a shake of the head.

Stood Up Calmly.

Deputy Sheriff Spofford ordered Mrs. Rogers to stand up and she walked over and stood on the trap. Then a large black sack was drawn over her body and tied at the neck, while Deputy Sheriff Spofford, after the black cap had been adjusted, slipped the noose around her neck. The deputy sheriffs stood back and Spofford gave the signal to Deputy Sheriff McCauley. There was an intense silence in the execution chamber.

Neck Was Broken.

All of the spectators nearly fainted from the sight. No sound came from the black bag other than a half smothered gasp. Dr. Dean Richmond, the prison physician, stepped forward and placing his hand on the woman’s wrist felt for the pulse. The woman’s neck had not been broken by the fall for the pulse beat was still perceptable [sic]. The spectators stodd [sic] still and waited. It seemed an age to them, the fourteen minutes that the black thing hung there on the end of the rope. The doctor pronounced the woman dead at exactly 1:28 o’clock. The witnesses filed slowly back to the guard room and Mary Rogers had paid the penalty of her crime to the State with her life.

Body Taken to Hoosic Falls.

The body was cut down and prepared for bural [sic] by two undertakers from Hoosick Falls, N.Y., where her body will be buried in the family plot. The casket reached the prison an hour before the execution. She told the prison matron that she wanted to be buried in the clothes in which she had been hanged.

History of Mrs. Rogers’ Crime.

Every ingenious device known in law, was used to save Mary Rogers from the gibbet, and it was not until the case was disposed of by the Supreme court of the United States late last month that all hopes was given up [sic] of saving the woman’s life. Had there been one mitigating circumstance; had there been one spark of womanliness in Mary Rogers, had she shown slight possibilities of regeneration, Gov. C.J. Bell, of Vermont, might have interfered. The murder was as brutal as that of Mrs. Martha Place, who hacked her step-daughter to pieces because of jealousy, in Brooklyn. Gov. Roosevelt declined to interfere and save her from electrocution in March, 1899.

Mrs. Rogers killed her husband, Marcus Rogers, in order that she might possess herself of $600, his life insurance, and marry another man. The murder was committed in Bennington, on Aug. 12, 1902, by the administration of chloroform. The circumstances leading up to the murder breathe of foul deceit, cunning and a viciousness inconceivable in a woman.

Mary Rogers was deeply loved by her husband. Tiring of her life with this quiet, unpretentious man, she left him. In her unfortunate life that followed in Bennington she met a youth, barely 17 years old, by the name of Leon Perham, a half breed Indian, who became enamored of her. Perham wanted to marry her. Mrs. Rogers had no mind for that, but kept Perham dangling by her side.

Mrs. Rogers fell in love with a well known citizen of Bennington, who, however, was not aware of her passion for him. As a woman of the street she knew she could not win him, and in her simple way bethought that once in possession of her husband’s $600 life insurance money she would become an object of devotion and attention. With the thought came the plan to do away with Rogers, whom she had left. Rogers, in spite of her life of shame, had oftentimes sent word to his wife to come to him and he would forgive and forget the past. His strong love for her and his willingness to forgive were his undoing. She entered into a conspiracy with Perham, who was her willing tool, being led to believe that she would marry him.

Rogers was a powerful man and his end had to be accomplished by cunning and deceit. She wrote that she was ready to come back; wanted to come back and would he forgive her. Leon Perham turned State’s evidence and on the stand he gave testimony, a recital such as has rarely been heard in the courts of law.

According to Perham, Mrs. Rogers had written to her husband, from whom she was estranged, asking him to meet her at 9:30 at night.

After the meeting and pretended reconciliation Leon led the way into Morgan’s grove, and by a winding path to the river. A great stone wall separated the grove from the river bank. The distance from the wall to the bank was less than half a dozen feet.

“May and I walked along with Rogers until we came to a break in the wall,” said Leon. “She went through and we followed. It was cold and I had on a big overcoat. I spread this out on the ground and all three of us sat down. We were only a few feet from the edge of the river.

“May said she had a new trick with a rope.

“He laughed. May laughed, too, and dew out a piece of clothes-line. Then she said she’d bet she could tie me so that I couldn’t get loose.

“‘I’ll bet you can’t,’ I said.

“She tied my hands loosely and I broke away. She tried it again and I broke away again.

“‘Try it on him,’ I said.

“‘I’ll bet you can’t tie me,’ said Rogers.

“He was as strong as an ox. May tied him and tried to tie him tight, but he just gave a heave and broke away. She tried it a second time, and he broke loose without any trouble. She was getting worried. She tried it a third time, and when he broke loose again I saw that she couldn’t tie him.

“‘Let me do it,’ I told her.

“I took the rope — a piece of clothes line. I said to Rogers:

“‘Kneel down and put your hands behind you.’

“He thought it was fun and knelt down. I tied his hands behind him and he struggled, but could not get loose. His back was towards May.

“I gave her a signal and she drew the vial of chloroform and the handkerchief from her bosom. She poured a few drops on her handkerchief — not very much — and put her arms around his neck. Suddenly she drew his head back in her lap. The move threw him on his hands, which were behind him, so he was doubly helpless. Then she put the handkerchief to his nose. He sputtered. Suddenly she emptied the vial on the handkerchief, completely saturating it. He began to struggle.

“‘May, what does this mean!’ he asked, heaving his body. ‘What does it mean!’

“‘Jump on his legs,’ she said.

“I jumped on his legs to hold him. May had him gripped around the neck and pressed the handkerchief against his nose. His struggles were terrible. He threw me off as if I had been a kitten. He got one hand free and used it to help himself.

“But May clung to him and never once did the handkerchief get away from his nose. She had the grip of a tiger. He struggled and flung himself and her on the ground, and every time I came near him a heave of his legs or his free arm would throw me off.

“While he struggled, his breath was deeper. Suddenly he became more quiet, and in a moment he was limp. May clung to him, even after he was quiet, pressing the chloroform-soaked handkerchief down over his face. When all was over she got up.”

The body was rolled into the river. A note was left, purporting to have been written by Rogers, that he had drowned himself. Mrs. Rogers’ unseemly haste in her efforts to collect the life insurance and other damning circumstances led to her arrest and indictment. Perham confessed and was sent to Windsor prison for life. Mrs. Rogers was found guilty on Dec. 22, 1903, and she was sentenced to be hanged on the first Friday in last February. She was thrice reprieved by Governor Bell, the second reprieve expiring last June, when counsel for the woman made an appeal to the United States Federal court to have certain legal questions reviewed by the Supreme court at Washington. The third reprieve expired to-day.

Mary Rogers was 22 years old and little more than 19 when she killed her husband.

* She’s not even the most famous Mary Rogers of homicide: that distinction goes to a murder victim of that name from earlier in the 19th century … whose never-solved death inspired the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Mystery of Marie Roget”.

** In the original version of this article, the bracketed text appears via an apparent layout error out of order, at the spot denoted by the [†]

† Errant placement position in the published article of the bracketed text as noted in the footnote above.

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

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1818: Samuel Godfrey, American picaro

Add comment February 13th, 2017 Headsman

“The day was remarkably calm, serene and placid, for the season — as was also, the mind, the countenance, and the conduct of the prisoner” on February the 13th of 1818 when “more than ten thousand persons” witnessed the execution of Samuel Godfrey on Woodstock (Vt.) Green.

That’s per A Sketch of the Life of Samuel E. Godfrey, which is reproduced in full in this post; some version of the publication was sold on Woodstock Green on the day of the hanging, presumably without the final appendix actually reporting the execution’s result.*

Alternating between mariner and hatter, with frequent brushes against authority and a keen feel (up to and including the transaction that cost him his own life) for the injustices visited upon him by the powerful, Samuel Godfrey emerges episodically as an American picaro on the Canadian frontier — which he is made to cross thanks to the hated British practice of seizing and impressing American seamen.

Although the man’s personal history is impossible to audit, the historical events in which he situates his autobiography were quite real: the dramatic naval battle of the HMS Cleopatra and the Ville de Milan is narrated here; there were American-British skirmishes at Odelltown, Quebec during the War of 1812; and certainly his audience would have been familiar with the flood that devastated Woodstock in 1811.

* Despite the extensive prepared “valedictory address” printed in the document in this post, Godfrey’s scaffold statement was actually quite cursory thanks to a planning snafu. According to the Amherst, N.H. Farmers’ Cabinet (Feb. 21, 1818), he said only: “I have no remarks to make, only that I declare before God and man, that I am innocent of the crime for which I am about to suffer. I had an address prepared for the occasion, but it is not here; if it was, I should be glad to have it read.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,USA,Vermont

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1881: Edwin C. Hayden, Vermonster

Add comment February 25th, 2016 Headsman

From the New York Times, Feb. 26, 1881:

WINDSOR, Vt., Feb. 25. — This was the day set for the hanging of Edwin C. Hayden, after a delay of four years, during which time he has been at work in the State prison. His last night was passed, until 11 o’clock, with his counsel, and after that, until 1 o’clock, with Superintendent Rice and Warden Oakes. He was busy writing letters to friends and arranging his statement for publication until 3 o’clock this morning, when he undressed, went to bed, and slept until 7 o’clock. He then arose, dressed, and ate a light breakfast, after which he received a few of his friends. At 10 o’clock Sheriff Anderson received a telegram, saying that there was no prospect of a reprieve, and that Hayden must surely be hanged. Hayden, upn hearing the Sheriff and his assistants erecting the gallows, which was in the west wing of the prison, asked for permission to go out and see how the trap worked, as he wished to understand fully the whole arrangement. He walked up the stairs to the scaffold, and gave directions as to how he wished to be pinioned. He said he wanted everything done securely, so that no accident should happen to cause delay, but that his death might be instantaneous. He then retired to his cell, where he passed the remainder of his time in quiet. At 1:30 o’clock a large iron door was opened, and then the witnesses were admitted.

The Sheriff and his Deputies were admitted to Hayden’s apartments at 1:34 p.m. Five minutes later the door was opened and the procession to the gallows was formed. Hayden was then seated while Sheriff Amsden read the reprieve and death warrant, during which time Hayden looked around, smiling and bowing to all whom he recognized. The Sheriff then said: “Edwin C. Hayden, have you anything to say why the sentence of the law should not be carried out?” Hayden said that he was not surprised at the result of his trial, as every effort had been made to prejudice public opinion; that he had not been fairly treated, and that the friends of his wife had especially worked against him.

He denied that he had either abused his wife or extorted money by threats, or that he had horse-whipped her, saying that she was too much of a lady to submit to that. He said that he had always treated her kindly. It was wrong to leave his case of insanity to one man like Dr. Dwyer, or Brattleboro. If he could have been permitted to have brought his 45 witnesses before a competent jury, the result of the verdict would have been far different.

He wished to thank all who had aided or assisted him. Hayden then shook hands with the chaplain, and said to Superintendent Rice: “Good-bye, my good friend, good-bye.” He then stepped upon the drop, put out his hands to be pinioned and adjusted his feet, giving directions all the time. Looking up, he said good-bye to Mr. Ballard and Mr. Oakes. The noose was then placed around his neck and he arranged it to suit himself; the black cap was placed over his face, and Sheriff Amsden said: “The time has now come when the extreme penalty of the law must be passed upon you, and may God have mercy upon your soul.” The spring was touched, and at 2:07 o’clock Hayden’s body dropped. At the end of 9 minutes the prison physician pronounced the murderer dead. After hanging 20 minutes, the body was taken down and placed in a coffin. A moment afterward the chest, with a groan, expelled the air, causing some consternation among those present.

The crime for which E.C. Hayden paid the penalty of his life to-day was committed in the little village of Derby Line, and was one of the most atrocious which is recorded in the history of Vermont. Miss Gertrude Spaulding was the acknowledged belle of the village in 1871, when Hayden married her. She was then between 16 and 17 years of age, and he was 20. He was a very dissipated young man, and on this account the friends of Miss Spaulding opposed the marriage very bitterly, but without avail. Just before the wedding the bride inherited $50,000, and her friends insisted that this money was all that Hayden sought in making her his wife.

After the marriage, the couple removed to Boston, where Hayden started a corset factory, his wife advancing him the money. In the great fire of 1872 his factory was burned down and he lost $25,000. Immediately after his marriage he resumed his dissipated habits, abusing his wife at times most brutally, but she still clung to him, and after the Boston fire went with him to Canada, where she again supplied him with money to go into business. He opened a tavern at Stanstead Plains, and here, with his dissipated habits, he soon squandered the remainder of his wife’s fortune of $50,000.

In the meantime his abuse of his wife increased, and in 1875 she fled from him, and took up her residence with a sister living at Allston, Mass., just outside of Boston. Hayden made several attempts to secure a reconciliation and induce his wife to live with him again, but as he refused to give up his drinking she refused to trust her happiness to his keeping again. In August, 1876, Mrs. Hayden went to Derby Line to live with her brother-in-law, C.O. Brigham, and her sister, at the hotel where they were then staying. Hayden was then working as a clerk in a hotel at St. Leon Springs, and on Aug. 30 he went to Derby Line to persuade his wife to live with him again. On the way he became intoxicated, and when he reached Derby Line, on Aug. 31, he was in a fit condition to commit the terrible crime for which he has just suffered.

At 10 o’clock in the morning he called at a store and borrowed a revolver, saying that a dog had bitten him and he wanted to shoot it. he showed a scar on his leg which he said was the mark of the bite. Securing the revolver he went directly to the hotel where his wife was staying, and, when Mr. Brigham refused to let him see Mrs. Hayden, he shot him without a word, the ball passing below the nipple of the right side, striking a rib and passing into his lungs.

Mrs. Hayden and Mrs. Brigham were in an adjoining room, and, hearing the report of the pistol, opened the door. Hayden walked deliberately in, and, aiming at his wife’s head, shot her. She turned half around, exclaiming: “Oh, Edwin,” when he shot her again in the back. He tried to shoot again, but the pistol hung fire. Mr. Brigham, although wounded, had rushed in by this time, and with two or three other gentlemen succeeded in overpowering the murderer and securing him. Mrs. Hayden, before her death, said that her husband had often knocked her down, and at one time had extorted $16,000 in bonds from her by threatening to shoot her. Mr. Hayden lived for 10 days in terrible agony, and Mr. Brigham recovered and was a witness against Hayden, who was tried in September, 1877. He was convicted of murder in the first degree, and when the verdict was announced the court asked him what he had to say. He answered quite calmy: “I have several requests to make, your Honor. The first is that I be allowed, in company with proper officers, to visit the grave of my wife. The second, that my sentence be given me at once, and that the execution take place at once; that it be as public as possible, that the enemies who have driven me to this death may have the satisfaction which they ask for, and which I believe, in their own judgment, they feel they are justified in having.”

Exceptions were taken, and his sentence was delayed until November, 1878, when, at a session of the Supreme Court at Montpelier, he was sentenced to be hanged Jan. 7, 1881. The case was brought before the Legislature last Fall, when a Committee recommended that the newly discovered evidence be brought before the Judges, who were to decide upon its merits. He was then reprieved by Gov. Farnham until Feb. 25, in order to give time for a hearing, which was held at Montpelier Feb. 16, before Judges Pierpoint and Fewsey. They did not consider that the evidence was important enough to change the verdict, and decided that “it did not disclose anything which relieved Hayden from responsibility for his acts; the evidence disclosed the desperation that led him to do such acts, but not such infirmity as would relieve him of the responsibility for the act; that he was sane in the act — as sane as ever men are in the moment of committing such unnatural and horrible crimes, and with a malignity far too manifest for reasonable doubt.”

Hayden has seen four murderers go to the gallows since his incarceration — Henry Grovelin, for the murder of Albert White, near Windsor; John P. Phair, for the murder of Anna Frieze, in Rutland; Asa Magoon, for the murder of Rufus Streeter, in Barre; and Edward Tatro, for the murder of Alice Butler, in Highgate.

The case of Hayden has excited much attention, from the high social position of Mrs. Hayden’s family, and from the fact that there seem to be no extenuating circumstances connected with the case. Hayden was born in Cincinnati Aug. 25, 1849, where he remained until about the age of 6 years, when the family moved to Vermont, and Edwin went to live with his grandfather, Russel Perry, at Montpelier, where he remained about six years. He was sent to Williston to school about two years, and after his mother’s death was taken to Montpelier. He afterward attended Barre Academy, under the care of the late Dr. Spaulding, where he partially fitted for college. In the Summer of 1864, when the country was calling for volunteers, Hayden enlisted as Assistant Paymaster, and remained with his guardian, Gen. Pitkins, until the close o the rebellion. He then attended the Academy at South Woodstock for a year, then went to Boston and engaged as errand boy for Jordan, Marsh & Co., where he remained for two years. At this time he engaged as traveling agent for Champney Brothers, and it was while in their employ that he first met his future wife, the youngest daughter of the late Hon. Levi Spaulding.

There have been 15 hangings in Vermont. The first was that of David Redding, in 1778, at Bennington; the second, Cyrus B. Dean, in 1808, at Burlington; the third, Samuel E. Godfrey, in 1818, at Woodstock; the fourth, Virginia, a colored man, in 1820, at St. Albans; the fifth, Archibald Bates, in 1839, at Bennington. This last was the last public hanging in the State. It is said that fully 15,000 people witnessed this hanging. The following-named have been hanged in Windsor, and all upon the same gallows: Sandy Kavanagh and William Barnet, for wife murder, both at the same time, the gallows being double. Jan. 20, 1864; John Ward, March 20, 1868; Hiram Miller, June 25, 1869; Henry Welcome, Jan. 20, 1871; Henry Gravlin, March 14, 1879; John P. Phair, April 10, 1879; Asa Magoon, November, 1879; Edward Tatro, April, 1880, and Hayden, Feb. 25, 1881. There now remain Royal S. Carr, to be hanged the last Friday in April, 1881, and Almon Meeker, in 1883. Miss Meeker has not yet received her sentence, but is awaiting the action of the court. She is at present confined in the House of Correction at Rutland.

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

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1948: Tessie Hutchinson, Lottery winner

Add comment June 27th, 2015 Headsman

June 27 — of 1948, implicitly — was the setting for Shirley Jackson‘s classic short story “The Lottery”.


Before we dive into the grim stuff, here’s a hilariously campy pulp cover (mis)interpretation.

Less an “execution” than a human sacrifice — the village old feller’s folksy “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon,” evokes a primal flash of blood trickling off the maize-god’s altar — the titular event is an annual tradition for a tiny American town. Though unnamed, the town and some of its denizens were patterned on North Bennington, Vermont, where Jackson was living as the wife of a professor at Bennington College.

The setting was entirely contemporary to the story’s publication, right down to the day: it hit print in the June 26, 1948 edition of The New Yorker magazine. And what took Jackson two hours to write has continued to disturb and perplex generations of readers.

In “The Lottery” (available online here (pdf)), friendly townsfolk gather “in the square, between the post office and the bank” to enact a curious civic ritual dating to a time and purpose they no longer even remember.

We see each household’s father draw a slip of paper from a battered old box and although we do not understand the reason we grasp from the dark atmosphere afoot in the crowd that something ominous is unfolding.

After the last slip is drawn,

there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr. Summers. holding his slip of paper in the air, said, “All right, fellows.” For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saving. “Who is it?,” “Who’s got it?,” “Is it the Dunbars?,” “Is it the Watsons?” Then the voices began to say, “It’s Hutchinson. It’s Bill,” “Bill Hutchinson’s got it.”

“Go tell your father,” Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son.

People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly. Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!”

“Be a good sport, Tessie.” Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.”

“Shut up, Tessie,” Bill Hutchinson said.

Tessie has good cause to fear. A second drawing now ensues among the five members of the Hutchinson family — Tessie and Bill, plus their three children.

And as soon as Tessie reveals the slip of paper with the black spot, her friends and even her family (“someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles”) immediately turn on her and stone her to death.

“I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives,” Jackson explained.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Chosen by Lot,Fictional,Gruesome Methods,Innocent Bystanders,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Stoned,Summary Executions,USA,Vermont,Women

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1879: John Phair

Add comment April 10th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1879, a circuitous four-year journey to the gibbet — quite Odyssean by 1870s standards — concluded when John P. Phair was hanged in St. Albans, Vt., still protesting his innocence.

Phair was convicted on circumstantial evidence of the murder of his former companion, Ann Freese: that circumstance was his pawning the late widow’s watch in Boston.

Though police had the exact serial number of the timepiece, Phair staunchly insisted that the man who sold it was not he — damning the Jewish pawnbrokers who identified him as the seller:

Their business is that of pawnbroking — a life of fraud. Their race bears the curse of God, because they crucified his Son eighteen centuries ago … They don’t regard an oath administered in the Christian form.

That salty quote is courtesy of the case file in the excellent historical crime blog Murder by Gaslight, which tracks the strange subsequent progress of John Phair to the gallows in 1877.

On that occasion, two years nearly to the day before his eventual execution, Phair had been due to die — but his supporters had also roused considerable skepticism on the justice of the sentence. For instance, the murderer had apparently covered his tracks by torching the place, and Freese’s remains were discovered badly burnt after the fire was put out. But this fire was detected at 7 a.m., three hours after the departure of the train Phair would have taken to Boston. And Phair produced a quasi-alibi in the form a train passenger who tentatively corroborated Phair’s claim to have merely switched trains in Boston without stopping long enough to fence a watch. So …

Is John P. Phair Guilty?
Boston Evening Journal, April 4, 1877

Wherever the judicial system proposes to situate the threshold for conviction and condemnation, some subset of messy real-life cases will always smudge the brightest of lines. Phair’s contemporaries simply could not satisfy themselves that they really had the right man. But neither were they convinced of Phair’s repeated denials. In the absence of moral certainty, legal process takes the reins. A dramatic eleventh-hour reprieve from the governor saved Phair in 1877. But as Murder by Gaslight notes:

The problem for Phair now was that by Vermont law he could not ask for a new trial if more than two years had passed since the original verdict. The governor granted him another reprieve until the first Friday of April, 1879 while the legislature debated changing the law.

Phair won this battle — the legislature empowered judges to refer such a case to the Supreme Court — but lost the war. In February 1879, Vermont’s high court considered, and then quickly rejected, Phair’s appeal. Past this point, exertions for the condemned man became the longest of shots, but this is not to say that they did not continue. The man’s exhaustive last-ditch efforts, some by his own hand and some mounted by his friends, have a whiff of the familiar present-day spectacle to them. (The Cleveland Plain Dealer sarcastically titled its after-action report “Hanged At Last”)

Phair won a six-day reprieve from a scheduled April 4 execution; on the eve of the hanging, two judges were taking Phair’s last appeal for a fresh trial; and on the morning of the execution the state’s governor was obliged to reject Phair’s supporters’ plea for a delay to allow the legislature to intervene yet again. (Phair didn’t even know this last one was occurring.)

The man himself was reported calm in the last hours, even as he persisted with his denials. Guilty or not, he finally fell through the long-awaited gallows trap murmuring “Lord, remember me!” at 2:11 p.m. on this date in 1879.

On this day..

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1820: Not Stephen Boorn, saved by newsprint

1 comment January 28th, 2014 Headsman

January 28, 1820 was the scheduled hanging-date for Stephen Boorn in Vermont, who was spared by the stroke of luck in one of the Republic’s seminal wrongful conviction cases. For all its vintage, it has a disturbingly current feel.

Stephen Boorn and his brother Jesse were farmers in Manchester living with their possibly feebleminded brother-in-law Russell Colvin when Colvin suddenly vanished in May 1812. Vanishing unexplained for weeks on end was actually an established behavior for this peculiar gentleman, so it was only gradually that suspicion of foul play accumulated. There was some bad blood known to exist between Colvin and his brothers-in-law; they had even been seen in a violent quarrel just before Russell Colvin disappeared (pdf). There were whispers, but never any real evidence.

And so weeks stretched into months, and then to years. Many years. Was it possible two neighbors of the good people of Manchester, Vt., had gotten away with murder plain as day and gone about bringing in their crops just like nothing happened?

The break arrived in 1819 courtesy of the brothers’ aged uncle Amos Boorn. Amos reported that Russell Colvin had appeared to him in a dream and accused his former in-laws of murder. Now a dream couldn’t be read in evidence, but it proved sufficient to re-open a cold case and endow the investigation with official “tunnel vision” so familiar to the staging of a wrongful conviction.

The other classic trappings of that scene followed anon: shoddy evidence, a jailhouse snitch, and even a false confession.

Once under the pall of suspicion, random events around the Boorns began to seem sinister. The dream-Russell’s accusation led to a cellar-hole being excavated, which turned up some random junk (a penknife, a button); was it Colvin’s random junk? A barn on the Boorn farm burned down; had it been torched to conceal evidence? A boy found bones at a stump on the property; were they human remains? (They turned out to be animal remains.)

Stephen Boorn had moved to Denmark, New York, but Jesse Boorn was taken into custody for interrogation. There he was parked in a jail cell with a forger named Silas Merrill.

Lo and behold, Jesse Boorn immediately spewed to his bunkmate the awful secret of the murder. Yup, after keeping it quiet for seven years he detailed it all to Silas Merrill one “night, when he and Jesse had waked from their sleep, and without any previous persuasion or advice on the subject” and also just happened to tie in all that random sinister stuff from the investigation like the barn and the bonestump. Naturally, Merrill was released for relaying to his jailers this valuable and in no way impeachable information.

Now cornered, Jesse confessed to the murder. The causes of false confessions are complex, but the advent of DNA exonerations has underscored the alarming frequency of this phenomenon. A strictly rationalist explanation might postulate that Jesse thought he could avoid hanging by taking responsibility for a crime he was now certain to be convicted of, and framing it in the least culpable possible light; the murkier fathoms of human psychology might suggest a desire to please his captors or a conscience conforming itself to the conviction of his neighbors. Whatever the case, the confession got Stephen extradited from New York, and under interrogation Stephen too confessed. Stop confessing to things, people! (In fact, best say nothing at all.)

Despite retracting the confession, the brothers were convicted with ease in a trial held at the town’s church, the better to accommodate huge crowds that would have overflowed the courtroom. They were both slated to hang on January 28.*

While Jesse Boorn won a commutation his brother appeared doomed.

As an almost literal last gasp, Stephen took out newspaper advertisements searching for Russell Colvin. And they worked. At least, this is the version of the story as it is commonly recounted, dating I believe to this 1932 volume on wrongful convictions. The primary sources referenced there actually appear to me to indicate that the Boorn-saver, a New Jersey gentleman named Taber Chadwick, responded with a letter to the editor to a simple news report of the case, which report naively credited the dream-driven conviction as “divine providence”.


From the New York Evening Post, Nov. 26, 1819.

Luckily, Mr. Chadwick realized that he knew a Russell Colvin from Manchester whose mental state was thoroughly addled.


New York Evening Post, Dec. 10, 1819.

A fortnight after this letter hit the press, Colvin was back in Manchester … and this time, it was not in a dream.

Colvin confirmed that his brothers-in-law hadn’t hurt him at all and both Boorns — who, we remind you, had each previously confessed to killing a man who was now here in the flesh and blood to exonerate them — both these Boorns walked free.

Update: Embarrassingly not noticed by my own self in researching this post, a comment from the outstanding 19th century crime blog Murder By Gaslight flags the hypothesis that the entire exoneration was staged using an imposter to weasel the Boorns out of prison.

* According to this biography of the African-American divine Thomas Lemuel Haynes, Haynes was the Boorns’ confessor while they awaited execution, and one of the only people to believe the brothers’ protestations of innocence. Haynes was eventually moved to spend his own money on the famous advertisement hoping that “any person who can give information of the said Colvin may save the life of an innocent man.” If there’s one Vermonter who comes out of this astonishing story smelling like a rose, it’s Reverend Haynes.

On this day..

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1883: Emeline Meaker, child abuser, first woman hanged in Vermont

2 comments March 30th, 2013 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1883, Emeline Lucy Meaker was hanged for the murder of her nine-year-old sister-in-law and ward, Alice. She was the first woman executed in Vermont and almost the last; the only other one was in 1905, when Mary Mabel Rogers was hanged after killing her husband for his insurance.

Alice’s father died in 1873 and her impoverished mother sent her and her brother Henry to live in an overcrowded poorhouse. There, the little girl was reportedly sexually abused. Others noted that she was “a timid, shrinking child—of just that disposition that seems to invite, and is unable to resist—persecution.”

In 1879, Alice and Henry got a chance for a better life when their much older half-brother* Horace (described by crime historian Harold Schechter as a “perpetually down-at-heels farmer”) agreed to take them in for a lump sum of $400. However, Horace’s wife, Emeline, was unhappy at this extra burden. She referred to Alice as “little bitch” and “that thing.”

Schechter writes of the killer in his book Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of:

Married to Horace when she was eighteen, forty-five-year-old Emeline was (according to newspapers at the time) a “coarse, brutal, domineering woman,” a “perfect virago,” a “sullen, morose, repulsive-looking creature.” To be sure, these characterizations were deeply colored by the horror provoked by her crime. Still, there is little doubt that … Emeline’s grim, hardscrabble life had left her deeply embittered and seething with suppressed rage — “malignant passions” (in the words of one contemporary) that would vent themselves against her helpless [sister-in-law].

Young Alice’s life, however difficult it may have been before, became hell after she went to live with her half-brother and his family.

She was forced to do more and heavier chores than she was capable of, and for the slightest reason, Emeline would beat her horribly with a broom, a stick or whatever else was at hand.

Soon Alice’s sister-in-law dropped the pretense of punishment and simply hit Alice whenever she felt like it. Emeline was quite literally deaf to the little girl’s screams, as she had a severe hearing impairment. So did Horace.

Some of the neighbors later said they could hear the child’s cries from half a mile away, and Emeline had no compunctions about abusing Alice in front of visitors. Everyone in in their small community of Duxbury was aware of what was going on, but no one bothered to do anything about it until it was too late.

Less than a year after Alice’s arrival, Emeline decided to do away with her. The crime is reported in detail in Volume 16 of the Duxbury Historical Society’s newsletter.

Emeline convinced her twenty-year-old “weak minded” and “not over bright” son, Lewis Almon Meaker, to help. He later said his mother had persuaded him that Alice would be “better off dead” and that “she wasn’t a very good girl; no one liked her.”

Emeline’s first suggestion was to take Alice out into the mountain wilderness and leave her there to die, but Almon thought this was too risky. Instead, on the night of April 23, 1880, Almon and Emeline woke up Alice, shoved a sack over her head and carried her to the carriage Almon had hired in advance. They drove to a remote hill and forced Alice to drink strychnine from her own favorite mug, which her mother had given her.

Twenty minutes later, the child’s death agonies ceased and Almon buried her in a thicket outside the town of Stowe.

Emeline and Almon, people who had been concerned about the riskiness of a previous murder plot, didn’t bother to get their stories straight about the unannounced disappearance of their charge, so when the neighbors asked where Alice had gone their contradictory explanations for her disappearance raised suspicions.

On April 26, a police officer subjected both mother and son to questioning. Almon didn’t last long before he broke down and confessed. He led the deputy sheriff to the burial site and they disinterred Alice’s remains, still visibly bruised from her last thrashing. Because the deputy’s buggy was small, Almon had to hold Alice’s corpse upright to keep it from falling out during the three-hour journey back to Roxbury.

That must have been some ride.

Emeline and Almon were both charged with murder. Each defendant tried to put as much blame as possible on the other, but both were ultimately convicted and sentenced to death. Almon’s sentence was commuted to life in prison, but Emeline’s was upheld in spite of years of appeals and a try at feigning madness.

Her violent tantrums, attempts at arson, and attacks on the prison staff didn’t convince anyone she was crazy — they merely alienated her family and others who might have otherwise supported her. Once she realized she wasn’t fooling anybody, she calmed down and passed her remaining days quietly knitting in her cell.

She was hanged at 1:30 p.m., 35 months after the murder.

On the day of her execution she asked to see the gallows. The sheriff explained to her how it worked and she declared, “Why, it’s not half as bad as I thought.” For the occasion — she had a crowd of 125 witnesses to impress — she wore a black cambric with white ruffles.

The not-half-bad gallows snapped Emeline Meaker’s neck, but it still took her twelve minutes to die. Emeline wanted her body returned to her husband, but Horace refused to accept it and it was buried in the prison cemetery.

Ten years after his mother’s execution, Almon died in prison of tuberculosis.

* Some reports say Alice was Horace’s niece rather than his half-sister.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,USA,Vermont,Women

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1892: Sylvester Henry Bell

1 comment January 1st, 2009 Headsman

The state of Vermont has long since dispensed with the death penalty; it hasn’t had a death penalty law on the books since 1964, and its last execution was a decade before that. (Source)

But back when the traps were dropping on Green Mountain State scaffolds, no consideration of sentiment (or holiday pay) barred hanging a man on New Year’s Day, as occurred in 1892.

You could call Sylvester Bell a ladykiller.

According to family genealogists familiar with the case, the Canadian-born farmer used two of his wife’s relatives as character witnesses in his naturalization proceedings … and eight months later, shot said wife, the mother of his five children. Not only did Sylvester win acquittal for this non-fatal attack, Marcia Farnsworth Bell actually had to fight to get a divorce on the grounds of “intolerable severity”.

Marcia and her unmarried children moved to Randolph, Vt., where the kids opened a major department store.

Nothing daunted, a then-54-year-old Sylvester remarried the decades-younger Emma Lock (or Locke) in 1887.


‘Til death do us part: Sylvester and Emma’s marriage certificate.

We may imagine an ensuing union not altogether free of discord,* as we rejoin the public record of their lives with the Jan. 2, 1890 Burlington Clipper.

It appears that Mrs. Bell had left her husband and applied for a divorce. Thursday she, in company with Deputy Sheriff Hall, went to the house to remove her things. Bell met them very pleasantly and permitted her to pick up her goods. As she was about ready to leave she went up stairs and he followed her. Soon afterward a pistol shot was heard and Officer Hall rushed up, and Bell met him at the door of the room into which Mrs. Bell had gone and handed him the pistol, saying, “Take this. I have done the deed.” The ball entered the head of the unfortunate woman, just back of the ear, and she lived about thirty minutes, unconscious.

Bell was put under arrest and for a time the excitement, and sympathy was so strong for the murdered woman that it looked as if Bell would be lynched, but the law will now be allowed to take its course.

The article understatedly observed, “Bell’s reputation with his wives is bad.”

The course of the law will not hold much suspense for readers of this blog.

The novelty of the eventual New Year’s execution attracted the New York Times which (botching the hanged man’s name and the date of his crime) reported the scene from the scaffold, where “Stephen” Bell bought himself an extra 34 minutes in this vale of tears with the verbosity of his last statement.

WINDSOR, Vt., Jan. 1. — Stephen H. Bell was hanged here this afternoon for the murder of his wife, in the town of Fairfax, Dec. 26, 1880. At 1:40 the door of the west wing of the prison was closed and at 1:44 the prisoner was taken from his cell, where he was holding an earnest conversation with Chaplain Wassall.

The prisoner was somewhat pale from long confinement. He boldly ascended the steps and, although assisted, appeared to be nerved up for the occasion. Chaplain Wassall offered a fervent prayer, during which Bell bowed and covered his face with his hand. Sheriff Lovell, as soon as the Chaplain had finished, stepped forward and said: “Stephen H. Bell, have you anything to say why the penalty of the law should not be executed on you?”

Bell, rather pale and tremulous, stood erect, and after addressing the Sheriff and officers in charge, asking for all the time he wanted in which to speak, began a talk which lasted thirty-four minutes. It was a rambling statement, in which he declared his innocence. When he had finished, Bell stepped back to his chair.

Sheriff Lovell took him by the arm, and the condemned man stood up bravely. When Deputies How and Randall had pinioned his wrists, arms, and legs Bell stepped on the drop and said: “Gentlemen, I am a dying man; good-bye.” Instantly the Sheriff touched the spring and the drop fell. In fourteen minutes he was pronounced dead. The body was buried in Windsor Cemetery.

Interestingly, Bell was the only person executed in his state during a 22-year period from 1883 to 1905. That span is bookended in Vermont’s death penalty annals by the first woman hanged in Vermont and the last woman hanged in Vermont.

Bell’s descendants continue to seek information on Sylvester; anyone who may know more can get in contact via this author.

* Another report of the murder describes Emma fleeing to live with her parents on account of Sylvester’s repeatedly menacing her with a butcher knife and a gun, until the “overseer of the poor, after a time succeeded in getting them together again, he giving up his pistol and agreeing to behave himself.” Clearly, it was a different time for domestic violence victims.

On this day..

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

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