1963: Nora Parham, the only woman hanged in Belize

Belize, B. Honduras, June 5. — Nora Parham, aged 36, the East Indian mother of eight sons, was hanged today for the murder of the man with whom she had been living.

So ran a minute, page-10 wire story in the London Times* from the British Central American possession soon to become self-governing as the country of Belize.

The unfortunate subject of the story was the first, and remains to date the only, woman put to death in Belize.

But she’s very much more than a bit of trivia.

A domestic violence victim hanged for murdering her batterer — who just happened to be a cop — Parham remains a lively source of controversy down to the present day.

Nora’s position as the victim in an abusive marriage, combined with serious doubt about whether she truly killed her husband at all, have given her enduring appeal. There’s a going campaign to issue her a posthumous pardon. In fact, there was a going campaign before she died to issue her a humous pardon, opposed by a governing party paper on the grounds that “sympathy” ought not “change court rulings.”

And it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Nora Parham and the years of beatings she’s reported to have endured in her relationship with Ketchell Trapp. One doubts even the harshest magistrate would condemn a person in her situation to hang today.

“By refusing to treat the pair as wife and husband, not just cop slayer and cop,” argues this volume on gender politics in colonized Belize, “the government deepened its own highly political silence about domestic and community gender oppression and violence and added a threatening element to its re-call to ‘domestic womanhood.'”

That cop/husband was doused with gasoline and set afire, but admitted as he expired from these ghastly injuries that he had been beating Parham before the fatal fire.

Even so, it sounds like a calculated way to kill a person.

But many believe, as Parham testified at her trial** that it wasn’t homicide at all … that Trapp was incidentally splattered with gasoline during his donnybrook with his wife, then carelessly set himself ablaze lighting a cigarette while off in the outhouse. (While naked, no less. What a way to go.)

“While he came back in the bedroom, I had a gasoline iron [in] my hand with a pan of gasoline.

“He came in the bedroom with a stick in his hand and hit me on my head. When he was going to hit me another hit, I threw the gasoline on him and he grabbed away the pan from me, and I went through the backdoor and he stone me with the said pan.

“After he stoned [me], I ran around the house and he never see where I got to. I went in the house through the front door, then I took the gasoline iron from where I left it and put it in the box.

“While I was inside I heard a noise and I run to see what it was. When I went I saw Ketchell Trapp come out of the latrine under fire. I then run up to help him but I see I could not, then I continued running towards the Hospital back street, running towards the station.

-Nora Parham, at trial

That trial excerpt is drawn from a strongly pro-Nora account with more details about the case here.

Belize still hands down death sentences, but has not carried one out on anybody, man or woman, since 1985.

* June 6, 1963

** All-male jury, which was true of all juries in Belize until 1970.

On this day..

7 thoughts on “1963: Nora Parham, the only woman hanged in Belize

  1. I heard about her last year and this year I reflected back on it and have come to realization that the only thing she was guilty of was showering him with gasoline. I can say with confidence that the Judge, Juries and Government were all looking at one thing only and that is she was a cop killer. They should have sentenced her to life in prison if they wanted to get justice but not killed a mother of 8 kids and 1 unborn. According to the law the death penalty still exist up to today’s date and many have committed serious crimes but still the Justice system have not convicted anyone to the death penalty. Don’t think that I want it to happen I am just comparing what back then she was found guilty of which was murder with today’s murder rate.

  2. Sad to know a pregnant woman could be hanged for killing a man who abused her. My heart is with all her siblings ,children and grant children.

  3. Nora parham was my grandmothers sister i wish that i would have met her and that this death penalty never happend!my grandmother once told me that she was pregnant when she was hung.the decition that the judge took caused two lives!

    • Hi Alberto,
      I am glad you wrote on here. I heard that version of the story too but not sure what to believe. We are having a Nora Family Reunion next week (all her sons and their families) and hopefully we will know some more truth about my grandmother.

      My email is abigailparham@yahoo.com. I would live to meet grabdma’s side of the family if you all are willing.

  4. Abigail Parham Garbutt, I first heard of your grandmother when I visited the Museum of Belize. The story broke my heart. Very very sad.

  5. i dont think that its right having death penalty in the country some say a life for a life but how would god feel

  6. Nora Parham was my grandmother and it’s sad to know that I may never know the real truth about what happened on that day. My dad rarely speaks of it, but us grand-daughters always talk about her. It’s most upsetting to know that we never got to know her and we only know a short part of her life because the rest is how others describe it to be. I’ve heard many versions of what happened, but which one to believe?…. I have yet to figure that out. Nevertheless, she will live on in our thoughts and even our appearances. Thank you for the article.

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