1715: Jeremiah Meacham, “mightily distressed”

Add comment April 12th, 2018 Headsman

Jeremiah Meacham was hanged in Rhode Island on this date in 1715 for a double murder committed during a disturbing psychotic break.

In the execution sermon below by Newport Rev. Nathaniel Clap, he attributes what we would today take as clear mental health problems to the man’s disinterest in attending church — for, “while, he was generally esteemed exemplarily exact in his Dealings, and punctual to his Promises, about his Worldy affairs … he seldom or never seemed altogether free from some terrible reflections upon his Conscience, for his Apostasy from God. And it hath been thought that his Convictions about some Concerns of his Soul, mixed with some vexations about his Affairs in the World, brought him into a grievous hurry, which by degrees boil’d up into a sort of a raging fury: And keeping out of the way of suitable directions for his Soul, his troubles of mind grew so intolerable, that he told some, that he was weary of his life.”

Things grew so uncomfortable with him, that he loved not Home; he thought that all his Neighbours looked strangely upon him; he pretended that he feared some body designed mischief against him, and that he should be slain. Every day seemed unto him as if it would be the last day of his life: And he asked of others, if they knew of no contrivance against him.

The Day before he committed his Murders, he appeared mightily distressed, walking about in a very great agony, a great part of that day, chusing to be at the Neighborbours. But on the said day of his Murders (22 d., 1 m.) he got and sat upon his House, with a Penknife in his hand, for several hours, if discoursing sometimes with those that came near him, seeming afraid some or other would hurt him; Others feared more that he would hurt himself; none seemed much to fear that he intended any hurt to any body else. And he declar’d, that he would hurt neither Man, Woman nor Child, if they would let him alone.

After he came down from his House top into his Chamber, he kept there most part of the Afternoon of that day, until after Sun set; and then his Wife, and her Sister, upon his invitation, going up to him, urging of him to go down with them, or striving with him to keep him from hurting of himself; it seems that then he struck his Wife in her throat with his Pen-knife: and then struck her and her Sister down with an Ax (that he had carried up, and he had also Charged his Gun; but made no use of that, in his Murders) how many blows he gave them is not known: But the dreadful marks of several remained on their miserably mangled Bodies.

When he had murdered them, he stood watchfully upon his Guard, with his Ax in hand, threatning all that offered to come up Stairs; knock’d one man down with his bloody Ax. Others endeavouring to apprehend him, by breaking up the Chamber Floor under him, & the Roof over him; he laboured to defend himself, as if against the worst Enemies. And when they carried some Fire, flaming to light their way before them, he snatch’d away the Fire, and laid it among some combustible matter, and got ready more, and quickly kindled a great Fire in the midst of the Chamber, as if he chose rather to Burn himself alive, and the dead Bodies with him than to be taken …

At some time or other, in these hurries it seems, he had cut his own throat; but fearing that death would not come soon enough that way, and finding that he could not bear burning to death; it was thought, he was willing to try, if he could dash himself to pieces, by throwing himself out at the Window; by which he also hurt his head, if no other part of his Body; but his Wounds were near healed, before he came to Dye.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Rhode Island,USA

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1897: Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling, Pearl Bryan’s murderers

Add comment March 20th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1897, a remarkable scene unfolded at the double hanging of Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling in Newport, Ky.

Jackson was described as standing erect and playing the part of an actor. Walling trembled with his eyes downcast. At that point, Jackson was again asked if he had anything to say. An eyewitness said, “Jackson hesitated fully two moments before he replied. Before he spoke, Walling turned expectantly evidently believing Jackson would speak the words that would save his life, even while he stood on the brink of death. Walling had half turned around and he stood in that position with an appealing expression on his face, while Jackson without looking at him, upturned his eyes and replied, ‘I have only this to say, that I am not guilty of the crime for which I am now compelled to pay the penalty of my life.”

Walling was then asked if he had any comments. He said, “Nothing, only that you are taking the life of an innocent man and I will call upon God to witness the truth of what I say.”

At 11:40am the trapdoors opened and Jackson and Walling were hanged.(Source)

Jackson and Walling had been convicted the previous year in separate trials — each defendant accusing the other — for the murder of Pearl Bryan, a naive Greencastle, Ind. farmgirl who had gone in search of an illegal abortion and turned up headless.

The notoriously grisly case — the decapitated body was only laboriously identified by tracing a manufacturers’ mark on her shoes back to her hometown — precipitated a nationwide media frenzy, ordinarily an ephemeral phenomenon.

But this story had more legs than your average whodunit. Years later, tourists were still seeking out Pearl Bryan sites to gawk, and paying local hucksters to eyeball murderabilia.

(As was the style at the time, the Pearl Bryan slaying also contributed a murder ballad recorded by the Library of Congress. Close-enough lyrics here.)

[audio:Ballad_of_Pearl_Bryan.mp3]

But for the last public hanging in Campbell County, the crime beat couldn’t even scratch the surface of the weirdness.

Poor Pearl Bryan’s head, you see, was never found, and the culprits adamantly refused to divulge its whereabouts, prompting rumors of satanic ritual.

This occult connection (and the unsettled nature of a case with a head still at large) attracted paranormal associations.

Bobby Mackey’s Music World, a Wilder, Ky., honky-tonk, that opened more than 80 years after Pearl Bryan’s murder, is reputed to be haunted by her spirit and those of the men hanged for her death. (The actual connection of this building/site to Pearl Bryan or her killers is speculative at best, but to judge by the stories they tell about it, Bobby Mackey’s seems to be a spectral Grand Central Station. Don’t take it from me: a “ghost counselor” and the “President of the United States Psychotronic Association” both vouch for its spooky bona fides!)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Kentucky,Murder,Popular Culture,Public Executions,The Supernatural,USA

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