1924: Richard A. Birkes, stickup man

1 comment September 5th, 2011 Headsman

Our serialized Americana would hardly be complete without that classic rogue, the bank robber.

On this date in 1924, “chewing the frayed stump of a cigar,” holdup man Richard Birkes sauntered to the electric chair at the McAlester, Oklahoma state prison and rode the lightning for gunning down a teller in the course of a heist.

“So long boys,” which he tried to accompany with a wave of the hand already strapped to the death-chair, were Birkes’ last words.

Although other points give his last words as “I’m not guilty and I am not afraid to die; turn it on, boys.”

Birkes was unquestionably part of the three-man team that had knocked over the Ketchum Bank the summer prior, laying poor Frank Pitts, Sr. in his grave. The robber’s potential “innocence” turned on the question of which miscreant actually put him there.

This “non-triggerman” stuff is not necessarily legally or morally compelling in the best of circumstances, but right or wrong it was dispositive in this case: his accomplices both drew life terms.

This generic Prohibition-era bandit was so perfectly a creature of his time that his dear mum Eliza trekked over from Siloam Springs, Ark. to make a tearful eleventh-hour clemency plea, maternally (and mistakenly) certain that “the governor will surely spare my boy’s life.”

That executive’s thoughts ran to different plans.

Alarmed at the rash of bank jobs by brazen outlaws like Birkes who could strike and then escape over county lines in their period Studebakers, twirling their villainous mustaches, said unmerciful Gov. Martin E. Trapp the next year created a statewide law enforcement agency, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Invesigation.

This bureau’s effective intervention in the Sooner gangland scene (bank robberies fell … ) heralded a long and fruitful life that still continues to this day. They’re the people you’re gonna call when some local police pathologist gets caught systematically cooking forensic results to order for the state’s prosecutors.

Part of the Themed Set: Americana.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,History,Murder,Oklahoma,Pelf,Theft,USA

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2007: Frank Duane Welch, a cold case CSI caught

Add comment August 21st, 2008 Headsman

One year ago today, justice was served better late than never, courtesy of the crime lab.

The 1987 rape and murder of Jo Talley Cooper, a pregnant 28-year-old Norman woman killed while her infant son lay unharmed in the next room, had stood unsolved for a decade.

Coincidentally — unluckily for Frank Duane Welch — forensic DNA testing was just coming online during that decade. A match in another case led the database to its culprit, in the Cooper murder and a similar crime around the same time.

Apart from the manner of his capture — and the incidental minor distinction of being the last person killed in Oklahoma’s busy death chamber before the 2007-2008 execution moratorium due to court challenges to lethal injection — Welch is an almost wholly unremarkable character, central casting for the modern American death row, a paragon of the banality undergirding appalling, life-shattering crimes.

The penpal site of the Canadian Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty still preserves Welch’s c. 1999 appeal for correspondence:

My name is Frank Duane Welch, I am a 38 yr. old white male who is confined on Death Row within the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. I enjoy watching numerous sporting events, such as football, baseball, tennis and rodeo. Here on Death Row we have only two options of exercise, basketball or handball. I try and take advantage of both in order to stay in shape. Besides sports, I enjoy a good book, novels mostly. My tastes in music are first country and then some light rock, no heavy metal. My educational background consists of a bachelors degree in Animal Science. Now as for what I am looking for in a pen pal. I am looking for a friend, age not important. One who is willing to be straight forward with me, no games. For I will be straightforward with them. I need someone who is willing to help me both emotionally and financially. Someone who, when I am having a bad day, is willing to listen and give support. I am a proud man, but it is hard being alone in this place, no one to share your thoughts and feelings with. For this is the reason I have written this letter. If you are willing to accept me as I am and not hold my faults against me, I would love to hear from you.

According to the macabre* blog Dead Man Eating, Welch checked out with a belly full of pizza and a two-liter Coke, tritely last-wording:

There is nothing that can change the horrible thing I done. There is nothing that can change that. I take full responsibility for what I done. I am truly, truly sorry for all the hurt and pain I have caused you. I take full responsibility for what I’ve done. There’s no excuse for it. There never was. It was just me.

I love y’all. God bless y’all. I’m ready.

Maybe that’s as much closure as one can have in this world. That infant child who survived the horror had grown into a 20-year-old man who had never known his mother. Travis Cooper’s testimony at the clemency board hearing helped seal Welch’s fate.

It would be different if my mother would have died of natural causes. It would be different if it was God’s will, but the truth is that an evil man named Frank Welch took her life … And the unspeakable things he did to her, my mother, is what fills me with anger, the pain, and the loneliness that I feel to this day.

“None of this will ever bring my mom back,” Cooper told reporters after the execution. “I miss my mom.”

* Pot. Kettle. Black.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Lethal Injection,Murder,Notable Sleuthing,Oklahoma,Rape,USA

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