“Minister-Sheriff Hangs Iowa Murderer, Resigning Des Moines Pastorate to Do So” read the New York Times headline for the execution this date of Eugene Weeks.
Our interest here is not drawn by Weeks, who hanged for the forgettable murder of a grocer, but by his executioner, a truly American character running a truly American grift.
Winfred E. Robb parlayed decorated service as a World War I chaplain into a postwar book paying sentimental martial tribute to “young men … [and] their glorious death” the better to inspire “a greater patriotism and the dedication of himself to the common good of his fellows.”
Robb had returned from the European theater to his prewar gig as pastor of Des Moines independent evangelical congregation, the First Federated Church. (It still exists, nearing its centennial in the guise of a megachurch preaching “triumphalist, Americanized Christianity”.)
Our pastor proved amenable to exchanging this ministry of God for that of a more temporal power, and was elected Sheriff of Polk County in 1920 on an anti-corruption platform. The New York Times reported that his “campaign pledges of ‘cleaning up’ Des Moines have been followed by vigorous efforts against bootleggers and disorderly places.”
Among these edifying duties was another that some of his congregation found less tasteful: while Iowa had centralized its hangings at the penitentiary in Fort Madison, each execution remained the responsibility of the local sheriff in the county which sent the man to death row. That meant Pastor Robb.
Evidently some members of Robb’s congregation objected to this office, but where theology (potentially) clashed with politics, our man was prepared to render unto Caesar.
After all, in America, who knows how high a hangman might rise?
A co-conspirator of Weeks was executed on the same scaffold a few weeks later, and by the same Sheriff Robb. Robb’s self-satisfied justification for conducting these hangings could come straight from Rick Perry campaign literature.
Brainless people who have no ability to think … will condemn and rave and shout as usual. Unthinking religious fanatics will plead and pray and forget that God is a God of justice and mercy, and that judgment is as much a duty of love as mercy is the delight of love.
America is cursed today with a lot of spineless reformers. They think of a minister as a sissy, sexless, spineless creature with lily white hands who spends his time attending ladies’ societies and pink teas.
Tough love, baby. This was an apostle of muscular Christianity.
So Weeks resigned his ministerial commission, and on this date he skipped the ladies’ societies and put Eugene Weeks to death for murder.
By the end of the year, our hammer of the Lord had found himself on the anvil side of the law, and maybe rethinking those duties of love. Prohibition was Sheriff Robb’s milieu and the cause of his fall, as told by this Associated Press wire story printed in the New Year’s Eve Miami Herald:
IOWA PARSON-SHERIFF HELD FOR BOOTLEGGING
Jailer, Whose Sons He Arrested, Accuses Preacher Who Presided at Hanging.
DES MOINES, Ia., Dec. 30. — Sheriff Robb, Polk county’s preacher-sheriff, who gained nation-wide prominence last fall through officiating at the hanging of two murderers at Fort Madison penitentiary, was arrested here today charged with unlawfully disposing of liquors as the sensational backfire action on the part of his jailer, William McMurray, whose own sons had been arrested by the sheriff for alleged complicity in the theft of $30,000 worth of bonded whiskey from the county jail Wednesday night. The sheriff’s bond was fixed at $1,000 which he furnished and the hearing set for January 3.
John Robb, brother of the sheriff, and himself a minister, who has been acting as a deputy for his brother, also was arrested charged with larceny, on information sworn out by Jailer McMurray and released on $500 bond. Neither charge was made in connection with the theft of the 47 cases from the jail Wednesday night.
Later additional charges were filed against Sheriff Robb by McMurray which alleged the sheriff had illegally sold cider presses and other paraphernalia used in making liquors, which had been seized in raids.
Charges that Sheriff Robb personally sold 35 quarts and 75 pints of whiskey to L.S. Hill, president of the American Lithographing company, a month ago, and has given away and sold seized liquors to other persons, furnished the basis for the charges which McMurray filed. Mr. Hill denied he bought liquor from the sheriff.
Greater patriotism hath no man than this, than to peddle seized drug contraband to local oligarchs under guise of law enforcement. At least you could never accuse the guy of keeping those hands lily-white.
Part of the Themed Set: Americana.