On this day in 1928, a lawman was electrocuted in Nashville, Tennessee for the drunken double murder he’d committed nearly a year earlier. He walked resolutely to the death chair and even helped the guards adjust the straps before they pulled the switch.
Deputy Sheriff Ben “Two Gun” Fowler possessed three main qualifications for Prohibition-era law enforcement:
He was enormous in size.
He had a menacing demeanor.
He was a World War I veteran. (Although, it’s true, most of his service time had been spent in the hospital battling the Spanish Flu.)
His main duty seems to have been busting up whiskey distilleries; he claimed he had destroyed 200 of them during his three years of service in Scott County, Tennessee.
Not being a wasteful man, he consumed much of the confiscated booze himself. He was thus fortified with moonshine on the night of his crime: March 5, 1927.
The town of Robbins lacked a theater, so its residents regularly screened films in the school auditorium. A large crowd came to see a comedy that fateful March night, Fowler among them. He was armed with his usual two pistols, and also wearing a bullet-proof vest.
Supposedly, he planned to serve a civil warrant on someone whom he thought would also be attending the movie.
But shortly after the film began, Fowler became annoyed by some noisy children and ordered them to keep quiet or he would arrest them. This prompted laughter from others in the crowd, including Dr. Wylie W. Foust. Fowler ordered him to shut up and threatened to arrest him, and Foust replied calmly, “You won’t do that.”
Foust was right: Fowler didn’t do that. Instead he struck him in the face with one of his pistols then shot him two or three times in the head. The doctor fell dead on the spot. If this sounds familiar, it’s because armed moviegoers are still to this day known to demand polite moviegoers.
Dr. Foust’s adult son was sitting behind him, and he was also armed. He pulled out his own pistol and shot at his father’s killer, but the bullets were ineffective against Fowler’s bullet-proof vest.
Fowler returned fire. At least two bystanders were shot in the melee. One of them, 53-year-old John Wesley West, also a deputy sheriff, was fatally wounded and died at the hospital.
For some time after the shootings, the drunken deputy stalked the auditorium, brandishing his pistols. He kept all the filmgoers in a state of terror, and ordered the Widow Foust to stop crying. Finally more level-headed armed men arrived and Fowler was put under arrest.
Justice moved swiftly: the murders happened Saturday night, Fowler was indicted on Monday, his trial started on Thursday, and the jury got the case the following Monday. Fowler’s defense was intoxication: he claimed he was too sauced to know what he was doing, which reduced his crimes to second-degree murder, a non-capital offense.
Although most witnesses agreed “Two Gun” was under the influence at the time of his senseless outburst, they couldn’t agree just how drunk he was, and no one could testify as to how much alcohol he’d actually consumed prior to the shootings. The jury took only two minutes to convict.
It should be noted that this wasn’t Fowler’s only brush with the wrong side of the law, either: he and another deputy had previously been charged with killing two moonshiners, but both men were acquitted in that case.
Fowler, a Kentucky native, was the only Scott County residence to die in the electric chair in Nashville. He was 35 years old when he attained that distinction.
On this date in 1922, James Mahoney hanged in Washington’s Walla Walla penitentiary for one of Seattle’s most notorious crimes.
Two years prior, a 36-year-old Mahoney had been released from that same prison after serving time for assault and robbery, then moved into a Seattle boarding house with his mother and sister.
He soon struck up a romantic involvement with the house’s owner, Kate Mooers. She was 68 years young, but James Mahoney was broad-minded enough to admire her wealth.
On April 16, 1921, the night the two lovebirds were supposed to hop a train for their honeymoon in Minnesota, James Mahoney hired a company to move a steamer trunk to Lake Union, and load it into a rowboat. Kate Mooers was never seen again, but Mahoney resurfaced in Seattle ten days later claiming that she’d decided to extend her honeymoon with a long jaunt to Havana, Cuba. In the meantime, well, hubby would be looking after her affairs.
Alerted by the suspicious events by Mooers’s nieces, police kept Mahoney under surveillance for three weeks as he gobbled up his wife’s assets. He was finally arrested before he could skip town, but only on charges of forging documents during his embezzlement binge. For harder charges to stick, Kate Mooers had to be located.
Captain [Charles] Tennant had a theory and ordered divers to begin searching the bottom of the northeast end of Lake Union near the University Bridge for a steamer trunk. Finally, having survived 11 week of criticism, the police found the trunk containing Kate Mahoney’s body. It bobbed to the surface on August 8, 1921, almost exactly where Captain Tennant said it would be. The autopsy revealed that Kate had been poisoned with 30 grains of morphine, stuffed in the trunk, then had her skull smashed with a heavy blunt instrument. Two days later, Jim Mahoney was charged with premeditated murder.
Resigned to his fate as his appeals dwindled away, Mahoney was reported to be in excellent spirits in his last days. He also made a written confession on the eve of his execution, forestalling his sister’s desperate attempt to claim the murder as her own in order to stay the hangman’s hand. (The sister still caught a jail term for forging Kate’s signatures.)
Now you must be brave and forget me. My whole life has been a torture to those who love me, and even as a little boy I used to dream of dying this way, and my dream has at last come true.
… If my soul can do you any good in the next world I will always be watching over you. Good-bye and God bless you all.
JOHANNESBURG, Oct. 28. The Rand Daily Mail, in an article dealing with the economic situation of the Union, gives striking figures illustrating the steady advance of the gold industry on the march towards prosperity.
Profits for the July-September quarter show an increase of £1,136,000 over the previous quarter. This has been accomplihed not only by lowering wages, but by all-round improvement in efficiency per unit, mining costs having fallen from 25s. 8d. in 1921 to 20s. 5d. in September, 1922 …
[T]he Rand Daily Mail says that these facts “represent unmistakable omens of coming prosperity which should steel the downhearted farmer to greater effort and encourage the suffering industrialist throughout the Union, and transform the pessimism of the merchant into healthy confident and hope.” (London Times, Oct. 30, 1922)
THREE RAND EXECUTIONS.
(From our correspondent.)
JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 17. The bitterest feeling prevails among the workers over the refusal to reprieve the three men, Long, Hull, and Lewis, who were condemned to death for murder in connexion with the Rand revolt, and were executed at Pretoria to-day.
Appeals for mercy poured in till almost the last moment, and an open-air mass meeting was held, in which prominent Communists took part. At this meeting angry and threatening speeches were made; the names of General Smuts and Sir Lionel Phillips were boohed, and the crowd attempted to break into the Town Hall, severely injured a detective, and was finally dispersed by armed police. The public generally approves the Government’s firmness. The condemned men sang the Red Flag on the scaffold. (London Times, Nov. 18, 1922)
“Come dungeons dark or gallows grim the sun will be our parting hymn.”
FUNERAL OF RAND MURDERERS.
COMMUNIST APPEAL TO CHILDREN.
(From our correspondent.)
JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 19. Remarkable scenes recalling the funeral of the victims of the great strike of 1913 were witnessed at the burial of the remains of Long, Lewis, and Hull, who were executed on Friday. The coffins, in separate hearses, were followed by thousands of workers, with banners and regalia, representing every trade union. “The Red Flag” was sung at the graveside and addresses were delivered, in which members of Parliament, of the Provincial Council, and Town Councils participated.
The latest development of Communist propaganda in Johannesburg is the distribution broadcast among children and students as they are leaving their schools and colleges of a pamphlet denouncing as “legalized murder and a blot on history” the execution of the men convicted of murder at special treason courts. (London Times, Nov. 20, 1922)
But when his body was laid out on a stretcher for disposal and the official witnesses were filing out of the death chamber, Rodrigues began showing signs of life.
It was “a defect in the garrote or due to careless adjustment of the metal band which fits about the victim’s neck to cause strangulation,” an Associated Press wire report ran.*
In present-day Iran, one of the most aggressive death penalty states going, a drug dealer managed to survive a hanging just weeks ago as I write this in 2013. That man got shipped to the hospital and placed on life support, with the justice minister eventually announcing that he wouldn’t be noosed again.
With nary a pause to await further instruction, the execution-chamber guards forcibly subdued Rodrigues, who had reanimated sufficiently to “put up a furious struggle.” They forced their thrashing victim back onto the garrote, double-checked the metal band this time,** and tightened it until it asphyxiated Rodrigues a second time … then left the now-actually-lifeless body on the machine a full 22 minutes to make good and certain of their work.
* Here quoted from the Oct. 30, 1927 Los Angeles Times. Also see the New York Times from the same date for a truncated paraphrase of the same report.
Most of what’s out there about Sataro Fukiage is in Japanese (like this book). Born in 1889, his hardscrabble upbringing saw him enter the workforce at age nine. He was not a model apprentice, alternating escape attempts with evictions for bad conduct; stealing from his master to procure a prostitute landed him in Kyoto prison at the tender age of 12, and it was in his periodic incarcerations that, Oliver Twist-like, he learned the finer points of pickpocketing from yakuza. He would need those finer points to do the breadwinning for his penniless mother in between his stints behind bars.
His somewhat sympathetic childhood also included a voracious and deviant sexual appetite which was to blossom in time into a carnivorous pattern of abuse.
Fukiage committed his first murder in 1906, when he took an 11-year-old acquaintance to a remote location, then raped and strangled her, only avoiding the death sentence because he himself was still underage at that time.
Released in 1922, he immediately brought himself to widespread public notoriety for a 1922-23 rape spree with at least 27 victims — most of them, again, underage girls. He mixed at least six murders into the one-man crime wave.
On this date in 1924, Patrick Mahon was hanged for the so-called “Crumbles Murder”. Despite a nickname worthy of the family pet, this one was decidedly adult fare.
Patrick Mahon was a 30-something minor crook and major tomcat who had recently conquered his co-worker at the bankrupt soda fountain company Consol Automatic Aerators.
Emily Kaye was “a woman of the world” by Mahon’s nudge-nudge wink-wink report, but she had a mind to be more than a bit on the side for Mahon.
“Her idea,” Mahon later explained in the box as he stood trial for Kaye’s murder, “was that if we were alone together and she could act as my wife, doing the cooking and everything, she would convince me that I could be entirely happy with her.” Such a design the 37-year-old Miss Kaye had no real hope of achieving, but our lothario was more than happy to go along with “this experiment — this love experiment, we called it.”
Their laboratory would be a rented bungalow on the Sussex coast near Eastbourne at a charming strip of beach known as the Crumbles.
Mahon figured it would be convenient for everyone. “After we had finished our experiment and Miss Kaye had returned, my wife and I could use the bungalow.” Clearly these were people involved in two altogether different canoodles. But those canoodles stood Kaye two months pregnant by the time they joined up at the bungalow on April 12, and she was putting her opposite number in a tight spot by telling people that they were engaged. The “love experiment” quickly turned into a Frankenstein’s monster.
On Wednesday, April 16, Mahon left the bungalow alone and took a train back to London, where he kept an assignation with yet another woman, Ethel Duncan. At Mahon’s invitation, Duncan spent that weekend — Easter weekend — at that same Crumbles bungalow. Later, when her little fling was the subject of a humiliating public reckoning, Duncan tearfully said she’d seen no sign of foul play there.
But behind a door that Mahon had screwed shut against his latest girlfriend’s accidental intrusion was a large brown trunk, stuffed with Emily Kaye’s contorted remains.
Mahon’s eventual story — once circumstances required him to produce a story — was that the two had quarreled over their mismatched visions of the future until an enraged Kaye attacked her lover and the two toppled over a chair. Miss Kaye struck her head on a coal bucket in the fall, said Mahon: that’s what killed her.
It was a dubious tale. The lead investigator Bernard Spilsbury, knighted for his pioneering forensic work on the English homicide beat since Dr. Crippen and the Brides in the Bath, noted that a fall upon the bucket heavy enough to cause a mortal injury ought also to have crumpled the bucket. Plus, Mahon had suspiciously purchased a knife and saw just hours prior to the fatal rendezvous.
But Plan A was never to talk to an investigator at all. Mahon was a warm-blooded man when the opportunity presented itself, obviously, but he also had the steel nerve to do the revoltingly meticulous butcher’s work that almost gave him a shot to get away with it.
Once Ethel Duncan returned to London, Mahon unscrewed his secret room and set about thoroughly destroying his victim’s corpse. The head that had shared his pillow Mahon incinerated in the sitting-room grate (apocrypha has it that Mahon said Emily Kaye’s dead eyes flew open during the immolation). Day by day he stewed flesh in pots to soften it for his purposes, so he could systematically cut it down for disposal in the fire or in small bags he could casually dump. Remember that knife and saw he bought just before moving into the bungalow?
As so often with mistresses, the downfall was the wife. Mavourneen had called Patrick Mahon husband since 1910, so she knew what being stepped out on looked like. In late April, she surreptitiously checked the traveling salesman’s jacket pockets and found a railway baggage claim ticket; prevailing on a friend to peep on the left luggage revealed human blood — and when it was reported, authorities set a watch on the bag. Once Mahon turned up to claim it, well, he had a good four months left to reflect on the advisability of disposing of his kit just as thoroughly as he had disposed of Emily Kaye. Maybe he meant to: when police turned up to search the fetid bungalow, they had four parcels of not-yet-disposed human remains for Spilsbury to reassemble as best he could.
But as he came into his own, his business on the high seas was smuggling, often Chinese immigrant workers trying to sneak into the U.S. from Cuba. It’s rumored that Alderman killed some of these people, too.
Either way, Prohibition made for a much more profitable racket hauling liquor from Caribbean manufacturers to the Everglades, where it could take a train ride and be distributed all the way up the Atlantic coast.
Alderman’s case might look pretty open and shut, but Floridians proved to be extremely resistant to hosting a federal execution. (The feds at this point generally administered executions in their own name, but at the execution sites of whatever state the malcreant happened to live with. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, for example, simply died in New York state’s iconic electric chair.
The final judicial decision on this strange question so far from the long-ago deliberations at Liberty Hall came down like this: Florida’s facilities could be barred to the federal government, and that they should carry out the execution on nearby federal property. The U.S. Coast Guard was forced to build a temporary gallows for Alderman inside its seaplane hangar and base no. 6. (Here’s Alderman’s detah warrant, if you’re into that sort of thing.) A short drop from the platform led to an agonizing 12-minute strangulation.
On this day in 1920, Lee Monroe Betterton (addressed by his middle name) was electrocuted in Oklahoma for the murder of his wife, whose unusual name has been given variously as “Elzeana,” “Aldazia” and “Elzadah.” (This account will use the latter spelling, which was the one used in Betterton’s Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals syllabus.)
Little is known about Monroe Betterton’s background, other than that he was born in Missouri and was the seventh of twelve children, ten of whom survived to adulthood.
He was a heavy drinker and his violent nature was self-evident: Elzadah was, sadly, not the first wife Betterton killed. Nor was she even the second wife Betterton killed.
Betterton killed his first wife, Laura Elizabeth, in Barry County, Missouri in 1904. They had four young children together, two sons and two daughters. During an argument he beat her unconscious and she was taken to the hospital, where she soon died. For some reason, her husband was not prosecuted.
By 1908, Betterton had remarried and was living with Rosie, Wife #2, in Neosho, Missouri. They were walking to nearby Monett to visit some of his relatives when they started quarreling. Both of them had been drinking. About two miles outside of town, Betterton suddenly pulled out a knife and stabbed Rosie in the heart. She died instantly and he laid her body beside the railroad tracks.
This time he was arrested and charged with the crime. Betterton maintained that “I was guilty of that woman’s death, but it was an accident.” He got 99 years in prison, but served only ten before he was paroled in 1918.
He was 48 by then, and he returned to Monett and began courting Elzadah Lockwood, a widow close to his own age who was unfamiliar with the old adage that while once is a coincidence, twice is a trend. They got married, but their relationship turned rocky almost immediately and they argued constantly.
The couple separated after only a few months and filed for divorce. However, they reconciled after Betterton’s son Clifford married Elzadah’s daughter Mamie. In the first week of July 1919, a mere week after their divorce was final, Monroe and Elzadah remarried and settled in Vinita, Oklahoma.
Their previous problems resurfaced, however, and within days they were fighting like cats.
On July 9, 1919, Elzadah was preparing to leave her son-in-law Arthur Thomas’s house after yet another argument when Betterton shot her three times in the back. One of the bullets blew away the whole right side of her heart, and she was dead before authorities arrived at the scene.
When questioned, Betterton implicated everyone: the son Clifford; the son-in-law Arthur; even Elzadah herself as a phenomenally effective suicide. Mamie had been present at the scene, though. She and Elzadah’s eight-year-old son Raymond saw the whole thing, and both testified against their stepfather at his trial.
The case was pretty open-and-shut: As the Vinita Daily Journalnoted, “The prisoner seems to be the least [a]ffected of the family and pays close attention to the testimony for or against him … There was practically no defense.”
Hobart (Okla.) Daily Republican, June 21, 1920.
Less than an hour before his execution, Betterton gave an interview in his cell and continued to assert his innocence: “I am not guilty of the crime with which I am charged. I am ready to die. I am ready to meet my God. I do not fear death, but I do not want to die for a crime which I did not commit.”
Approximately 100 people witnessed his execution. He had no final statement.
On this date in 1923, Daniel Cooper was hanged in Wellington, New Zealand for murder.
Cooper and his second wife — his first died under suspicious circumstances; many people suspected Cooper of poisoning her — had a racket as a “health specialist” in the Wellington suburb of Newlands. Their “rest care home” attracted police surveillance as a front for baby-farming/infanticide.
Baby-farming involved taking a payment from a new mother to give up her child with the wink-wink understanding that the child would be placed for “adoption.” Occasionally, this adoption might even happen; in general, however, the mother’s fee would not be enough to maintain the child for any length of time, and the newborn would either be murdered outright or kept in such meager care as to succumb to neglect.
Representative instance from Daniel Cooper’s case: a pregnant woman named Mary McLeod paid £50 for Cooper to arrange her child’s adoption by an unnamed couple from Palmerston North. McLeod delivered the child on October 12, 1922, at the Coopers’ farm, where both mother and daughter were cared for for a few days. On October 20, Cooper told McLeod that the Palmerston North family had collected the infant. Nobody ever saw it again. Cooper also had two children with a lover named Beatrice Beadle, and these were also “adopted” to parts unknown.
Daniel was finally arrested on December 30, 1922 for performing an abortion (completely illegal in New Zealand at the time), and the ensuing investigation turned up evidence of 10 additional abortions and, eventually, three children’s bodies on the couple’s property. Prosecutors would eventually argue that Mary McLeod’s child was one of these.
While Daniel Cooper was easily convicted of murder, his wife Martha Cooper was adroitly defended by former Liberal M.P. T.M. Wilford — who characterized the wife as “a soulless household drudge without a mind of her own,” and won her acquittal on that basis.
At 8 a.m. on June 16 (shortly after releasing a confession which likewise exonerated Martha), Daniel Cooper was walked with his eyes tight shut to the gallows at Terrace Gaol,* hooded, and hanged.
Original newspaper coverage of this case can be perused freely at New Zealand’s Papers Past database of pre-1945 clippings.
On this date in 1920, a white mob perhaps 10,000 strong swarmed into the Duluth, Minn. jail and extracted three young African-American circus workers accused of gang-raping a white woman. Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie stood an immediate drumhead trial, then were lynched in the heart of Duluth as they vainly protested their innocence.
The self-congratulatory posed photograph of mob members with the bodies was made into a horrifying postcard, a frequent practice in lynch law America.
“What this looks like is the kind of photo you would see at a hunting lodge, where the guys had been out shooting bear, and they came back and they said, ‘We got three.’ You can see people on tip-toe. They’ve crowded into this shot. These are not people who are ashamed to be seen here. This is, ‘I want to be in this picture.’”
Nineteen-year-old Irene Tusker and her boyfriend James Sullivan had attended the one-day circus the evening before. What transpired that night remains unknown to this day: Irene eventually took the streetcar home without incident. Hours later, James Sullivan’s father claimed that the couple had been held at gunpoint by black carnies as Irene was gang-raped.
By the evening of the 15th, a vengeful mob had surrounded the police station/local lockup. Officers were ordered not to use deadly force against the townsfolk, so the battle to push into the premises was waged with brickbats against firehoses, and eventually with ineffectual pleas to let the law take its course.*
The incident drew nationwide reaction — usually condemnation (with a couple of exceptions). Occurring as it did in one of the continental states’ northernmost towns, it also underscored lynching as a nationwide problem rather than “merely” a southern one.
“Duluth has disgraced herself and has, by reason of her geographical position, disgraced the north,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized (June 17, 1920) — just one of innumerable newspaper editorials in the days following the Duluth outrage. “A city that has no more backbone than to submit to the rule of riot cannot be held blameless. But it will be surprising if Duluth and the state of Minnesota do not take steps to punish the murderers. The method of procedure was so deliberate and so brazenly open that identification and conviction of the ringleaders should be an easy matter.”
One black man, Max Mason, caught a long prison sentence for the supposed rape. He was paroled after five years on condition that he leave Minnesota for good.
“I was just short of nineteen the night that the bodies of McGhie, Jackson, and Clayton swung from a light pole in Duluth. I read the stories in the newspapers and put them down feeling sick, scared, and angry all at the same time. This was Minnesota, not Mississippi, but every Negro in the John Robinson Show had been suspect in the eyes of the police and guilty in the eyes of the mob … I found myself thinking of black people as a very vulnerable us — and white people as an unpredictable, violent them.”
The great-grandson of one of the lynch mob’s members wrote this book about the hangings’ legacy
The lynching was practically written out of the official state history most white children consumed at school in the middle part of the 20th century,** though the nine-year-old Lithuanian Jewish boy Abram Zimmerman who lived nearby the execution site later told his son all about it. Young Robert Allen Zimmerman tapped his father’s lynching stories under his subsequent nom de troubadour of Bob Dylan, and the Duluth atrocity is alluded to in Dylan’s “Desolation Row”.†
Latter-day Duluth has, to its credit, tried to manage something a little bit more overt.
In 2003, a monument commemorating Duluth’s moment of infamy was dedicated opposite the place where the young men were strung up and photographed. Minnesota Public Radio produced a series on the lynching during the construction of this monument which is still available online.