1896: Fred Behme, evangelical Methodist

1 comment December 4th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1896, McLeansboro, Ill. hosted its only hanging.

German emigre Fred Behme was settled into married life when he converted from Catholicism to Methodism.

Unfortunately — so Behme saw it — his wife Mary didn’t hew to the old cuius region, eius religio principle where the man of the house was concerned, and stuck with the bishop of Rome for the salvation of her immortal soul.

And there’s just something about the zeal of a convert.

Fred Behme’s domestic missionary work grew more violent (pdf), and eventually his battered spouse moved out; when Fred coaxed her back, and found out that she’d baptized their infant son into idolatrous Catholicism while living apart from him, he chose Easter Sunday to commit what one newspaper called “one of the most hideous and blood-thirsty crimes that ever stained the good name and honor of McLeansboro”: Fred got the other kids out of the house, he attacked Mary with an axe,

drug her by the hair into the yard, and beat in the side of her head. He covered the body with corn fodder. He then took the little boy [whom Mary had baptized] to the barn and hanged him by the neck until he died. (Source)

Though the hanging was invitation-only, it was visible from McLeansboro’s public square and large crowds gathered to witness the hirsute Protestant check out with a short speech in German.

Wikipedia alleges (without a clear source indication) that one G. Phil Hanna was among this multitude, and that seeing Behme strangle to death on an inexpertly deployed rope launched a lifelong interest in the hangman’s craft that would culminate when Hanna pinch-hit on the execution team that carried out America’s last public hanging 40 years later. Others of less august accomplishment no less vividly recalled their (and their town’s) one-time walk through the valley of death.


The family that prays together … (The perp is the bearded man; the victims are the woman seated next to him, and the child in her lap.)

Also on this date

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

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