Domestic Strife and Law Officials
[p.51]By 1887 Mormon versus non-Mormon hostilities were passing. The territory, moving toward statehood, was no longer politically isolated. It was a time of tremendous economic growth and expansion as well as great mobility.
Twenty-two executions took place during the forty years from 1887 to 1926. Many of these involved foreign immigrants, and during this period Utah’s first black was executed. Most of these executions resulted from crimes involving burglary or the murder of a spouse. Also for the first time, men were executed for killing law officers.
On 3 July 1880 nineteen-year-old Frederick Hopt killed young John F. Turner near Park City, Utah. Turner was the son of Sheriff John W. Turner of Utah County, who was also Provo City marshal. Hopt had previously been arrested in Provo by Sheriff Turner, who subsequently gave him money and helped him find a job.
On 28 June John Turner left for Park City with two spans [p.52]of horses to find work. On 1 July he joined up with Fred Hopt and Jack McCormick, who was traveling under the alias Jack Emerson. When last seen on 3 July Turner was driving one team of horses and Hopt the other. Turner’s body was found on 11 July. Someone had killed him with an ax, rolled the body in a tent, covered it with large rocks, and tried to burn it. Hopt was pursued and arrested in Cheyenne, Wyoming, by Sheriff Turner.
At the time of his arrest, Hopt was asked why he killed the sheriff’s son. He replied, “Turner was Sheriff and Johnny used to come to feed me at the jail and one morning he abused me, and I done it to get even with him” (Salt Lake Tribune, 12 Aug. 1887). Later Hopt blamed the killing on McCormick.
On the way back from Hopt’s capture in Cheyenne, the train stopped in Rawlins, Wyoming, where a mob had gathered to lynch him—provided the sheriff turn away. He refused to do so. The same thing happened again as the train passed through two other towns. Each time, the victim’s father asked those waiting to let the law take its course.
McCormick was sentenced to life in prison. He served five years and was pardoned by Governor Eli H. Murray—the last official act by the governor before leaving office.
Hopt was tried four times over seven years before he was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was executed on 11 August 1887 after giving his few possessions to fellow inmates and telling them goodbye. After leaving a request with the prison physician that his body not be used for medical purposes but buried outside the prison walls, he faced the firing squad without a blindfold. His last statement was: “Gentlemen, I have come to meet my fate. Had justice been done at my first trial, I would not be here today for this purpose. I have no ill-will toward any man living, and am prepared and ready to meet my God” (Salt Lake Tribune, 12 Aug. 1887).
At Hopt’s request Sheriff Turner was not allowed to view [p.53] the execution. He saw the body afterwards and expressed satisfaction that justice had been done.
* * *
After twenty years of marriage, nine children, and numerous quarrels and fights, Enoch Davis killed his wife and buried her body in a potato hill near their home in Ashley, Utah. Davis claimed his wife had been unfaithful and he knew she was going to leave him. In a confession, he later stated, “I made up my mind that I would rather kill her and take the consequences than to have her leave me, and I did” (Salt Lake Tribune, 15 Sept. 1894).
At first Davis told his children their mother had run off. Later he told one of the older sons that she had committed suicide, “She died like a lady and I buried her like a gentleman.” The son was suspicious and informed authorities who tracked Davis down and brought him to trial.
At his trial, his own children testified against him. Davis was actually sentenced to die three times before his execution on 14 September 1894. The Salt Lake Tribune reported his execution the next day: “Enoch Davis is dead. He died like a dog; in fact, the most despicable, mangy canine whelp that ever met an ignominious fate could not have whined itself out of existence in a more deplorable, decency-sickening state than was Enoch Davis’s last hour.”
He was taken by wagon from the prison at Sugarhouse to Dry Canyon near Lehi. Present at the execution was his brother, James Davis, and two of his sons, Berlden, seventeen, and Archie, fourteen. After talking briefly with his sons, he called out asking if there weren’t “some prostitutes on the ranch.” The Tribune reported on 15 September that “The deep blush of shame fell upon the whole party. What little sympathy, if any, there had been for the old man, was then and there lost, and many turned away in disgust.”
Six guns were used in the firing squad. All were loaded. Four hit the small target drawn on a prescription blank by the doctor. After the execution his body was returned to the [p.55] prison, where it was buried in the prison graveyard.
Charles Thiede was also executed for murdering his wife, On 1 May 1894, Mary Frank Thiede was found dead. Her throat had been cut at their residence located one hundred fifty yards from the saloon they owned on the outskirts of Murray, Utah. When the doctor arrived, her body was placed on the billiard table in the saloon while a search was made for the murder weapon. Her husband claimed he had been sleeping in the saloon, that men from the nearby army barracks had killed her or perhaps she had committed suicide.
Thiede, a German immigrant, one of eighteen children including four pairs of twins, had lived in Utah for about eight years. He owned and operated several saloons and roadhouses known as “tough places” throughout the area. He and his wife had a nine-year-old daughter named Annie. Prior to his execution he made out a will leaving all of his property to her. She was later adopted by a Mrs. Koenen, Thiede’s spiritual advisor in the Church of Christ Scientist while he was awaiting execution.
The hanging took place at the county jail in Salt Lake City. Many thought it would be at the prison, but the sheriff considered it too difficult to transport the heavy gallows apparatus that far. Thiede’s was the first execution since Utah achieved statehood, and the state tried a new method of hanging. The hanged man was jerked upwards by a counterweight rather than allowed to drop.
As Thiede approached the platform, his final words were: “Gentlemen—I am convicted of murdering my wife. For the last time before dying, I wish to profess my innocence” (Salt Lake Herald, 8 Aug. 1896). At the signal, the weight was dropped and Thiede’s body was lifted into the air where he dangled and was declared dead after fourteen minutes—his death resulted from strangulation as his neck had not been broken.
[p.57]Thiede was buried in the Sandy City cemetery. Four deputy sheriffs served as pall bearers and, to fulfill Thiede’s last request, he was promised that his wife’s body would eventually be relocated next to his.
* * *
Patrick Coughlin and Fred George began their crime spree in Park City stealing berries. Things escalated when they stole a horse to facilitate their escape after the sheriff began to pursue them. They stopped for the night at Palmer’s cabin near Echo Canyon, where they were surrounded by lawmen during the night. At daybreak the lawmen opened fire on the cabin.
During the shooting, two officers were killed. N. E. Dawes of Evanston was killed when Coughlin and George returned fire, and Thomas Stagg of Echo was killed in the crossfire of the other officers. Coughlin and George escaped down Ogden Canyon to City Creek in Salt Lake City and then on to Tooele. They were captured near Grantsville. Returned to Randolph for trial, both were found guilty—Coughlin sentenced to be executed and George to life imprisonment.
Little is known of Coughlin. He was apparently a resident of Park City. His mother travelled from there to Randolph to spend a few hours with her son the night before his execution. She took his body back to Park City to be buried. The Salt Lake Tribune, 16 December 1896, described a supposed incident from his childhood: “‘Patsy, my boy,’” the city marshal of Park City often said, ‘You want to put on the brakes, or you’ll find yourself in a tight box someday.’ ‘Not on your life,’ the irresponsible Patsy would warble, after which he would swagger down the street in quest of some new form of deviltry.”
The Ogden Standard-Examiner, 18 December 1896, also made assertions about his past: “From his earliest childhood Coughlin exhibited traits of cruelty and hatred. Dumb animals were the victims of heartless pranks and neighbors’ children suffered from his viciousness and abuse. When [p.60]asked how he wanted to be executed, he responded, ‘I’ll take lead.’ When asked what he wanted to eat before his execution, he responded, ‘…I’d like to have a little Dawes or Stagg on toast,’ referring to the two men killed.”
He was executed by firing squad. Five rifles, one with a blank load, and another the one Coughlin used to kill Dawes, were fired. The Herald reported on 18 December 1896:
No birds sang in the branches of the leafless trees; no hum of insects droned a farewell; no soft breezes fanned the condemned man’s cheek or whispered him a word of hope from the waving shrubbery as might have been in summer time. On the contrary the landscape never looked more drear and the crunching now sounded harsh under the foot. The cold, raw and gusty wind seemed to shriek in glee as the soul of the dead mounted on the echoes of the rifle shots and winged its way to the eternal judge.
Fred George was pardoned because of his youth.
* * *
On Monday night, 17 December 1901, James R. Hay, secretary of the Pacific Lumber Company, was reported missing from his residence at 2211 Walnut Avenue in Salt Lake. It was reported that he had just received $5,800 in gold from Peter Mortensen, a local contractor, and that Hay had left Mortensen’s home about 9:50 to turn the money over to George E. Romney, the company manager.
Hay’s body was discovered several days later in a vacant lot near Mortensen’s home. He had been shot in the head and the money was missing. Mortensen was arrested, tried for murder, and sentenced to death by firing squad. James Sharp, the father-in-law of the victim, testified in court to [p.61]having received a revelation that Mortensen was the killer and that he had seen a trail of blood leading to his son’s grave. Such unusual testimony concerned Joseph F. Smith, then president of the Mormon church:
Recently a man charged with the murder of another man was examined before a committing magistrate in Salt Lake City. The father-in-law of the murdered man, during the examination on the part of the State, related a conversation had between himself and the accused soon after the commission of the crime. During the conversation, according to newspaper report, the father-in-law of the murdered man laid the crime at the door of the accused. In the cross-examination the attorney for the defendant pressed the witness as to how he knew that the accused was guilty of the crime. The reply, as given in the press, was, because God had revealed it to him. It does not appear from the further proceedings in the case that the testimony was excepted to or withdrawn, or that the magistrate informed the witness that such evidence was incompetent and could not be received…. [N]o member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should, for one moment, regard such testimony as admissible in a court of law, and to make the case perfectly clear it may be further stated that such evidence would not be permissible even in a Church court, where rules of evidence, though not so technical, are founded largely upon the same principles that govern the rules of evidence in a court of law. Any attempt, therefore, to make it appear that such evidence is in keeping with the tenets of the “Mormon” faith is wholly unjustified (in Juvenile Instructor 37 [15 Feb. 1902]: 114).
On the day of his execution, Mortensen was visited by his father, two brothers, his sister-in-law, a young nephew, and his attorneys. He expressed to them a desire to be buried [p.62]in the Ogden cemetery next to his mother and brother. (Ogden cemetery records do not show this ever occurred. Instead prison records identify Mortensen as being buried at the prison cemetery at Sugarhouse.)
Mortensen next met with reporters and praised his guards, the warden, and other officers involved in his case. At the conclusion of this meeting, the prison physician quietly asked if Mortensen wanted an opiate. He refused this as well as a cigar offered by one of the newspaper men: “I don’t smoke.” As he passed the cells of three other men awaiting execution, he said, “Good-bye boys…I hope you have better luck than I have.”
Mortensen made a farewell statement to reporters: “To this world I want to say, and I swear by the heavens above, by the earth beneath, and by all that I hold near and dear on earth, that I am not guilty of that cowardly murder of my dearest friend. I ask, therefore, no man’s pardon for aught that I have done in life. I am confident that my life is an example to most people.” His last words, spoken just seconds before the command to fire, were: “I have nothing to say except that I am innocent.”
The Tribune reported 21 November 1905 that “99 out of 100 people in Salt Lake” believe he died with a lie on his lips:
Even when he could no longer doubt the feeling entertained toward him by the community, when his wife had deserted him, his brothers-in-law forsaken him, he kept up the sham. He never tired of parading his religion and holding himself up as a pattern of morality. The court, the jury, the witnesses, the Supreme Court, the Board of Pardons, the Governor might be wrong, but he, Peter Mortensen, was always right.
Mortensen’s self-righteous attitude made him unpopular, even among other prisoners. While he was on death [p.65]row, an escape was engineered by several prisoners; they opened the cell of every man except Mortensen’s.
As Mortensen entered the yard on the day of his execution, his eyes were covered with a handkerchief. He was placed in the chair and his ankles were tied to the lower rung. The Tribune described in detail the location of this execution, also the location of other executions conducted at the Sugarhouse prison:
On the east side of the prison yard is a low brick building about 100 feet long north and south which is used as the prison blacksmith shop. Between this building and the east wall of the prison yard is a driveway about 50 feet wide. Well toward the south end of the building on the side facing the driveway and the east prison wall is a pair of double doors. The door[s] stood open yesterday and in their place hung a curtain made of common blue denim cloth. At about the height of a man’s shoulder five round holes had been cut in this curtain at regular intervals across its width, and a foot or so higher other holes of irregular shape appeared. Behind this curtain were stationed the men who took Peter Mortensen’s life at behest of the law, their identity known only to the Sheriff and a very few of his trusted deputies.
Tickets had been distributed for spectators, and a large crowd gathered. After the signal to fire, Mortensen’s body slumped forward and it was over. There was no smoke from the rifles as smokeless powder was used. After the execution souvenirs—chunks of the posts and fragments of the bullets—were made available to the officers. The same guns were used on Mortensen as had been used on Fred Hopt.
* * *
While lying in bed with his wife in Salt Lake City at 48 West Third South, Frank Rose had been talking about her [p.66]“sporting around” and how it should be stopped. According to the Salt Lake Tribune (28 Dec. 1903), Rose said, “”Well, there’s only one way to stop it, and that is for me to kill you.” “All right!” she said, I’m perfectly willing you should. I’m perfectly satisfied to die and quit this life. It’s the only way I can stop it.” Rose then took out his pistol, placed it behind her right ear, and pulled the trigger.
She remained conscious for more than an hour. Rose later said they talked together: “She asked me to put a wet towel around her head and rub the place where the bullet had entered. I did as she asked. Then she asked me to kiss her and I did so.” The Deseret News (26 December 1905) goes on to report that she put her arm around her husband’s neck and begged him to bring the baby to her. Blood was flowing freely from the wound and the sands of life were running rapidly. The hardened man placed the little one in his mother’s arms. She kissed the baby while the latter patted her head affectionately. She asked Rose to leave the baby in her arms and the man lay down beside his wife and calmly watched her die.
Rose then left, went on a drinking binge, and two days later told the police he had killed his wife. He directed them to the apartment where they found two-year-old baby Elmer next to the body of his dead mother. The child had been there the entire time. As they entered, the baby said, “Mamma won’t wake up; I can’t make her” (Deseret News, 21 April 1904).
Rose made a full confession and awaited execution. He never expressed any regrets. When interviewed prior to his execution, he stated: “I have no regrets whatever. I feel sorry for my little baby but not for the woman. If I had it to do over again, I would do it.” He believed in a form of predestination. Killing his wife and his eventual execution were [p.68]both a part of fate. Speaking to the warden, Rose stated: “I believe all of this was predestined and I could not help doing what I did. A power stronger than mine controlled me” (Deseret News, 21 April 1904). Rose also confessed to at least ten other murders.
For his last meal he ordered cherries, a cup of coffee, and some cake. In his last letter to his mother he wrote: “Dear Mother—I drop you these few lines to bid you my last farewell, and I want you to look upon my fate as for the best. I can blame no one now living for my condition. The one at fault has gone before, and I believe is at peace and rest” (Deseret News, 21 April 1904).
He died by firing squad 22 April 1904 before one hundred ten spectators and was buried in the prison cemetery. Rose’s son, Elmer, went to live with his grandmother.
* * *
About 5:50 p.m. on 9 May 1911, J. J. Morris and John Murray (alias Mike Connors) robbed the Uncle Sam loan office at 50 East First South in Salt Lake City. After pocketing diamonds and jewelry, Morris and Murray made their escape. An alarm sounded as the two ran down Commercial Street to Orpheum Avenue, where they then turned east to State Street. They were pursued by a growing crowd of townspeople.
Reaching Second South they turned west toward Main Street. Just before reaching Main, Murray was stopped and struck on the head by a former policeman. Morris continued, reaching Commercial Street and running across Second South. In front of Held’s Pawn Shop at the southeast corner of Second South and Main Street, a young man named Joseph Walter Axtell grabbed him by the shoulder and tried to hold him. Morris pushed his revolver into Axtell’s stomach and pulled the trigger, killing him. Morris was then subdued by a deputy sheriff and other officers. It was all they could do to keep the angry crowd from killing Morris.
[p.69]Morris never gave his real name in order to protect his parents. After a quick trial he was sentenced to be executed. His partner, John Murray, received a life sentence. During the trial and in a prepared statement just before his execution, Morris accused Salt Lake City police of stealing diamonds and other jewels from him at the time of his arrest. These, he said, had been sewed in the lining of his vest. The charges were investigated but never substantiated.
At his sentencing, Morris chose to be hanged. It was reported that he did this to cause the state the greatest inconvenience (only four other men had been hanged previous to this). His own statement, however, gave another reason: “I do not want to meet Axtell on the way. He died by the bullets so I don’t want to die that way. That’s why I chose hanging instead of shooting” (Deseret News, 27 April 1912).
On the last Sunday before his execution, as a form of repentance, Morris sent the following note, printed in the Tribune, 30 January 1912, to the father of his victim:
Mr. Axtell—Dear Sir:
I do not doubt but that you will be surprised upon receipt of this letter. But trust you will not feel offended, as I feel no vengeance against you or your family on account of this unfortunate affair. I cannot restore your son to you, but will do the best I can. If you feel that it will be of any benefit to you to see me executed and you cannot gain admission to the prison at the time of execution, and you will inform me on or before Monday morning I am allowed by law to use five invitations, and will cheerfully reserve one for your admission. Trusting this will cause you no unnecessary worry, I beg to remain respectfully, J. J. Morris
Mr. Axtell was working out of town at the time, but his [p.70] wife indicated she had encouraged him not to attend and he had decided not to be there.
Morris spent the night before his execution telling jokes. One of them concerned two men about to be executed by hanging from a bridge over a turbulent stream. Morris said: “The first man slipped from the noose when he was swung off the bridge and fell into the water. He swam to the shore and escaped. When they started to swing the other fellow, he said: ‘Now be sure and tie the knot tight, for I can’t swim’” (Salt Lake Tribune, 50 April 1912).
On his way to the gallows he passed Jules Szirmay also awaiting execution. He called out, “Goodbye, I’ll get the road ready for you down below” (Salt Lake Tribune, 50 April 1912). Three deputies each pulled tangled ropes—only one of which actually sprung the trap. Nine minutes after the drop Morris was pronounced dead.
For the first time in Utah, only one newspaper reporter was present at the execution. Previously representatives of the press had been appointed as special sheriff’s deputies in order to comply with the law for witnesses at executions. In an attempt to stop what they considered the media’s “lurid accounts” of executions, the Board of Corrections proposed a new plan: local newspapers would meet and agree on one reporter to represent all the newspapers and to “syndicate” a report, which would be submitted to a member of the board prior to release (Deseret News, 50 April 1912; Salt Lake Herald-Republican, 50 April 1912).
Morris had willed his body to the prison physician, Dr. H. Z. Lund, for scientific study. Lund’s grandson later recounted in the Utah Historical Quarterly (35 : 31-36) what became of the body. His grandfather had reduced the corpse to a skeleton by boiling it in sulfur water and lime. The bones were stored in a wooden box and kept in the barn until after Lund’s death in 1912. Five or six years later, Lund’s grandson assisted by his grandmother, Lund’s wife, buried the bones after wrapping them in old copies of the [p.72] Mormon church’s official magazine, the Improvement Era. They were buried in a barnyard on the block northwest of Temple Square.
* * *
On 12 October 1910 a fourteen-year-old boy, Thomas Karrick, was shot to death when he returned from school for lunch and surprised a burglar in his home at 150 South Thirteenth East in Salt Lake City. Despite an elaborate alibi, Jules C. E. Szirmay, a Murray distillery worker, was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. The case against him was based on circumstantial evidence, and had Szirmay stuck to his original story when he appeared before the Board of Pardons, he may never have been executed. He claimed to have been in the Karrick house with a man named Joe. When the Karrick boy returned home unexpectedly, Szirmay heard him upstairs, climbed through a basement window, and ran from the house leaving Joe behind. He knew nothing that transpired after that.
Szirmay was born in Austria. He ran away from home, landed first in New York City in 1906, and from there went to Chicago, Omaha, San Francisco, Sacramento, and finally by freight car to Salt Lake City. He found employment near Murray at a distillery. He spent most of his time reading “scientific books,” which he purchased from the proceeds of his petty thefts.
Prior to his execution and after being turned down by the Board of Pardons, he released a signed confession, which was printed in the Salt Lake Telegram (22 May 1912):
I first entered the basement and, after going through the trunks there, I went upstairs on the second floor…. I was in the house about two hours, both up and downstairs.
Coming from one of the upstairs rooms I saw the boy coming, and I rushed back into the room and seized two revolvers and rushed at him. I com-[p.74] menced firing from above.
He threw up his hands and said, “Please don’t shoot me,” but I fired and the first shot missed his head.
He turned slightly and I fired two shots quickly the second time, when he fell in a corner in a sitting posture with his head fallen forward on his arms….
I am very sorry for what I did and can give no reason why I did it, other than in my excitement at being discovered I lost my head and did not realize what I was doing. I repeat that I am very sorry, but realize it is too late to undo the wrong I did…. Jules C. E. Szirmay
Szirmay was executed by firing squad on 22 May 1912 in the same chair in which Frank Rose and Peter Mortensen were executed. He was buried at the prison.
* * *
Harry Thorne and Thomas Riley were the first pair to be executed since Antelope and Longhair in 1854. Thorne was also one of the youngest men executed in Utah, and Riley was the first to be executed who had not actually committed murder. On 24 March 1910, Thorne, Riley, and another man identified as “Red” entered the grocery store of George W. Fassell at 627 East Fourth South and told him to raise his hands. As he was complying, Thorne shot him. The three men emptied the cash register and left. Thorne and Riley were later captured, but Red was never caught.
Little is known of Thorne—not even his real name. Just before his execution he told prison warden Arthur Pratt his true name and mother’s address so she could be notified, but Pratt never recorded it. He gave his body to a physician after his mother had been telegraphed in Cleveland, Ohio, and had responded that “she was in no position to dispose of the body” (Salt Lake Herald-Republican, 27 Sept. 1912).
Thorne had exhibited great interest in the two execu- [p.77] utions preceding his own. Of Morris and Szirmay, he asked, “Well, did he die like a man?” He requested that no newspaper reporters or others except the minimum necessary be present at his execution. Only thirteen men were there when the firing squad ended his life.
Riley’s execution followed Thorne’s by about four weeks. It was the fourth during a six-week period. Even so, the Salt Lake Telegram (24 Oct. 1912) voiced concern with the lengthy amount of time between crime and execution:
Two years and seven months ago Thomas Riley committed the crime for which he was shot today. No wonder the public forgot what he was being shot for and cared less…. It is taken for granted that a man is shot or hanged not so the state may have its vengeance on the slayer, but that others with murder in their hearts may be so impressed with fear and dread of consequences that they will not kill…. And the legal machinery of the state is so clogged with delaying tactics that a man of any considerable age might kill and rest assured that by employing shrewd lawyers he could linger until natural death overtook him before the executioner had a chance to carry out his grim purpose.
Riley pleaded with Governor William Spry to commute his sentence because Thorne had actually fired the shots that killed Fassell, but his request was refused.
Only nine people witnessed Riley’s execution. After being strapped in the chair, he raised his head and prayed while those present bowed their heads. His last hours had been given to prayer for forgiveness as he knelt on the floor next to his cot. “I am ready, gentlemen,” were his last words.
* * *
At about 12:50 a.m. on 5 February 1911, Albert V. Jenkins and George Bentley, partners in a Sunnyside gambling [p.79]house, left their place of business to go to Bentley’s house about a hundred yards away. Jenkins was carrying $418 in gold and silver coin. As they approached the house they were accosted by three men who began firing at them. Bentley started to run but fell down, remaining there as though he had been shot. The men continued firing at Jenkins until he was dead. Later it was discovered that his throat had also been cut.
Three men were arrested for the crime—Frank Romeo, Robert Zaffy, and John Corier. Romeo and Zaffy were tried together. Corier was given a separate trial. Each attempted to implicate the other and exonerate himself. Corier was convicted but given a life sentence. Romeo and Zaffy were both sentenced to death by firing squad. Zaffy’s sentence was commuted to life by the board of pardons the day before his scheduled execution. The board refused to commute Romeo’s sentence, because he was the most culpable and he “did the most of the shooting, actually took the money from Jenkins, carried it some distance and then divided it with his partners in crime” (Deseret News, 20 Feb. 1913).
Romeo, an Italian miner, was executed at 8:00 a.m. in the Sugarhouse prison yard. The day before his execution he confessed to Governor William Spry in a private conversation. He did not expect commutation. He dreamed of his execution on three separate occasions and believed nothing could be done to save him. On the morning of his execution when the sheriff came to get him and asked if he was ready, Romeo called out, “No, I want my breakfast.” His confessor, Father Vincent, requested that Romeo be given nothing to eat after midnight, so he was not fed. Before being taken forcibly from his cell, Romeo deeded his body to the prison physician. On the way across the yard he collapsed and had to be supported and dragged to the chair. Romeo was the fifth man to be executed in Utah within nine months.
* * *
On 10 January 1914 J. G. Morrison’s grocery store at 778 [p.80]South West Temple was robbed by two men. Morrison and his seventeen-year-old son, J. Arling Morrison, were shot and killed, but not before they fired at and apparently wounded one of the robbers. Morrison’s other son, fourteen-year-old Merlin, was the only witness. The next day Joe Hill sought medical help for a gunshot wound. The police were notified and Hill was arrested. He claimed that he had been shot in an argument over a woman he was with the night before. When asked to name the woman, he refused, “lest her reputation be ruined.” He was tried for the Morrison deaths, found guilty, and sentenced to die by firing squad.
Hill was a wandering song writer and member of the International Workers of the World (IWW) or Wobblies. His execution has been one of the most widely publicized in Utah history. Letters of support for Hill came from all around the world. Great pressure was put on Utah’s governor to stay the execution and commute the sentence. Hill’s trial and execution took place during a period of labor conflict and union fever, when the IWW was active in trying to change the economic, political, and social structure of society.
The lyrics of one of Hill’s songs describe the flavor of the times:
Workers of the world, awaken
Break your chains, demand your rights.
All the wealth you make is taken
By exploiting parasites.
Shall you kneel in submission
From your cradle to your graves
Is the height of your ambition
To be good and willing slaves?
Arise, ye prisoners of starvation!
Fight for your own emancipation;
Arise, ye slaves of every nation
In one union grand.
[p.81]Our little ones for bread are crying,
And millions are from hunger dying;
The end the means is justifying,
‘Tis the final stand.
Rumors, charges, and counter charges were rampant throughout Hill’s trial and execution. A number of factors may have influenced Hill’s execution. Many in Salt Lake City were hostile toward the IWW. Hill seemed to have a naive faith that the justice system would find him innocent. Some accused the religious, political, or business establishment of framing Hill. Support for Hill by Virginia Snow Stephen, daughter of Mormon church president Lorenzo Snow, caused bitter controversy. From his cell, Hill wrote his last will in verse on the day before his 19 November 1915 execution:
My Last Will
My will is easy to decide
For there is nothing to divide
My kin don’t need to fuss and moan
“Moss does not cling to a roiling stone.”
My body?-Oh-if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce
And let the merry breezes blow
My dust to where some flowers grow.
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and Final Will.
Good luck to all of you—
In a last letter to Bill Haywood, secretary of the IWW, Hill requested: “Goodbye Bill: I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning—organize! It is a hundred miles from [p.83]here to Wyoming. Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah” (Salt Lake Herald-Republican, 19 Nov. 1915).
Hill himself gave the command to fire. One of the members of the firing squad described the execution:
It seemed like shooting an animal. How my thoughts wandered! It seemed an age waiting for the command to fire. And then, when it came from Hillstrom himself, I almost fell to my knees. We fired. I wanted to close my eyes, but they stared at the white paper heart, scorched and torn by four lead balls. Four blackened circles began to turn crimson, then a spurt and the paper heart was red (New York Tribune, 20 Nov. 1915).
Hill was cremated and his ashes scattered throughout many foreign countries and all of the states except Utah.
* * *
Using the name D. C. Robbins, Howard DeWeese and his wife, Fanny Fisher DeWeese, rented an apartment at 455 1/2 South State in Salt Lake City. On the morning of 22 September 1916, her body was found in the apartment by the landlady. She had been killed with a flatiron twisted in a towel, and her face and head were mutilated. Her body went unidentified until a New York dentist recognized her bridgework. Then the murderer was sought.
Howard DeWeese was born in Ohio. His mother died when he was five years old, shortly after his father had moved the family to Canon City, Colorado. Two years later his father remarried. At the age of sixteen, Howard left home and began to live on his own. He was in and out of trouble, at one point suspected of a Seattle streetcar robbery and murder. DeWeese and his new wife came to Salt Lake in 1916, shortly after their marriage in Nevada. She had just left her first husband.
[p.84]By the time authorities started looking for DeWeese, he had disappeared. He was not apprehended until he walked into a Chicago detective’s office and surrendered. He claimed he was out committing a burglary at the time his wife was killed. They had been to the Orpheum Theater that evening and had noticed two strange men. Upon returning home he had gone out to commit a burglary, leaving his wife at home. In her possession were several thousand dollars worth of diamonds given her by her first husband. When DeWeese returned, he found his wife’s body and, noticing her diamond earrings missing, set out immediately to track down the two strange men he believed to be her killers. According to his story, he found one of them and killed him by “thrusting a revolver into his mouth and discharging it” (Salt Lake Tribune, 24 May 1918).
Figuring prominently in his trial was the pair of earrings Mrs. DeWeese had been wearing at the time of her murder. DeWeese had written: “Those accursed earrings! The man who stole them killed my wife” (Salt Lake Tribune, 24 May 1918). The earrings were later discovered in a safety deposit box DeWeese had rented under the name of J. E. Warren. They were identified by the jeweler who had made them for Mrs. DeWeese’s first husband. However, the diamonds had been removed. The discovery of these earrings prompted the state of Utah to bring charges against DeWeese for murder and robbery. DeWeese claimed he had recovered the earrings from the real murderer.
The trial got off to a strange start when one of the jurors died while eating lunch in a nearby cafe. Another juror was selected and DeWeese was subsequently found guilty. When asked if he had anything to say before sentencing, he asked what kind of guns would be used by the firing squad and seemed satisfied when assured they would be high-powered rifles.
His father, a well-to-do “civil engineer and fruit rancher,” travelled from Canon City, Colorado, to appear before [p.86]the Board of Pardons and appeal for a commutation on his son’s behalf. He was described as “a man of quiet dignity, on whom sixty years of hard life set lightly.” Unable to sway the board, he returned to Colorado before the execution.
Prior to his execution, DeWeese was asked by reporters, “What has been mostly occupying your thoughts?” He responded:
The absurdities and inconsistencies of life and people. I can’t help smile when I think of the illogic with which people determine problems of life, and the unreasonableness of my being placed where I am. I don’t consider the people who put me here intelligent and good enough for me to live in the same world with them…. I don’t reason the same as other people. I’m different. I’ve had a different life. I’m an exception. I believe in good government, in doing right, but force of circumstances led me into the path I have taken. I’ve been nothing but a gutter-snipe and hanger around back alleys all my life. But no man gets more pleasure out of life than I do, and I see the humor in my situation (Salt Lake Tribune, 24 May 1918).
When asked what was the last thing he wanted to say, he replied, “Tell ‘em to go to hell.”
DeWeese was executed on 24 May 1918. He had requested that a white silk handkerchief be placed under the target over his heart. After the execution he wanted the warden to send this to his dead wife’s first husband. The handkerchief was pinned to his undershirt under the target but was never sent. The warden kept it as a relic at the state prison.
* * *
Austrian-born John Borich was arrested for the murder of Velma Adkins, whom he knew as Velma Green. They had [p.87]met in Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City in July 1918. During their friendship she discovered an insurance brochure in his pocket and suggested he take out an insurance policy on her life so he could get the money if she died.
Her body was later found along the Lincoln Highway on the outskirts of Tooele. Borich claimed he was her husband and someone else had killed her. Later he confessed to the killing and said he had been urged to commit it by the woman’s real husband. At last he confessed murdering her for the insurance money. He hoped to win back his own wife who left him “because he was unable to give her the finery that she craved” (Salt Lake Tribune, 18 Dec. 1919).
Borich was born and spent his childhood in the province of Dalmatia, Austria. He blamed his troubles on this fact. His wife, born in the United States but of English parents, taunted and quarrelled with him because he had been unable to get citizenship and was categorized as an “alien enemy.” In the intense patriotism of World War I, she further insulted him by dating soldiers. According to Borich, “She told me she would come back to me if I had more money” (Salt Lake Tribune, 16 Dec. 1919).
After his arrest he claimed the idea of killing Mrs. Adkins had never entered his mind until after he had the insurance policy in his pocket. At her urging, they obtained the $2,000 ($4,000 in case of accidental death) insurance policy posing as man and wife and using the name of Mr. and Mrs. John Green. Mrs. Adkins had left a husband and two children in Twin Falls, Idaho, to come to Salt Lake. On 16 September 1918 while the two of them were walking along the highway, he strangled her, leaving her body in the middle of the road. Borich claimed not to have known the woman’s real name until after her murder.
Prior to his execution, he indicated he had not heard from his mother or sisters in Austria since war broke out: “I would not want my mother to know of this; she will never know what has become of me and will think of me as a [p.89]happy little boy. I wish I could see her once again” (Salt Lake Tribune, 16 Dec. 1919).
In his appearance before the Board of Pardons asking for commutation of his death sentence to life in prison, he argued that he could better pay for his crime and serve society if allowed to live. He presented himself as strong and healthy. His father had lived to the age of ninety-four. If allowed to live he could work and provide for Mrs. Adkins’s children and be of use to society. The board declined.
His final will, written in the back of a diary, requested that most of his possessions be sent to his wife in Colorado and that his watch be given to her son from a previous marriage. He also ordered that what remained go to Mrs. Adkins’s children.
One hundred fifty spectators were at the execution. His final statement was: “I am sorry I did this and I hope I will be forgiven. Good-by Warden; good-by Dave [Sheriff Adamson, Tooele County]; good-by prison; good-by everybody! God bless you all” (Salt Lake Tribune, 20 Dec. 1919).
* * *
Steve Maslich and Nick Oblizalo were the third pair to be executed in Utah. On 4 August 1919 the body of Marco Laus, a Colorado miner, was found in a ravine near the Utah State Prison in Sugarhouse by two trustees in charge of irrigating the prison farm. Laus had been killed the previous day. His throat was cut from ear to ear and there were twenty stab wounds in various parts of his body. Through inquiry among the Austrian community in Salt Lake, it was discovered that Laus had been seen with Maslich and Oblizalo. Maslich was arrested in Butte, Montana, and Oblizalo in Ely, Nevada.
Laus had recently arrived from Colorado. He was carrying $900 in gold coins and had asked among the Austrians living in Salt Lake City about depositing the money in a bank. When he found that he would receive paper currency instead of gold, he decided not to make the deposit. The [p.92]prosecution maintained a third person who was never identified lured Laus to the spot near the prison under the pretext of selling him a piece of property. Once there Maslich and Oblizalo stabbed him with pocketknives and robbed him.
After their arrests, Maslich and Oblizalo each blamed the other. Each was tried separately, and each was sentenced to die. Maslich’s appeals process ran out first and he was sentenced to be executed by firing squad 20 January 1922. Those around him were surprised by his “attitude of stoic indifference” (Deseret News, 20 Jan. 1922). He apparently did not believe he would be executed. Up to the point where the black hood was placed over his head, he was laughing and joking. At one point he said, “Every day is better. You fellows are only fooling” (ibid.). A reporter for the Tribune (21 Jan. 1922) credited Maslich’s cavalier attitude to Old World superstition. A white handkerchief was found next to Laus’s body, and investigators learned that according to Old World tradition, a murderer could assure his or her last-minute reprieve by leaving behind a clean white handkerchief or other token of purity.
Oblizalo was executed five months later on 9 June 1922, also by firing squad.
* * *
On 15 April 1922 Deputy Sheriff Gordon Stuart, Joseph W. Irvine, and others went to the house of Irvine’s brother-in-law, George H. Gardner, in Welby (near Sandy) with a warrant to repossess stock and equipment on the Gardner farm. They were first told by Gardner’s common-law wife that he was not home. Later she changed her story and told the deputy to go up to the house. Irvine remained outside while Stuart and another officer approached the house and were invited in by Gardner. As they went ahead of him toward the parlor, Gardner produced a shotgun and fired twice. Stuart fell and his partner fled.
Gardner then jumped on a horse his wife had saddled [p.93]and took off after Irvine. When Gardner caught up with him, he shot him in the face and returned to the house. He and his wife stayed there until persuaded by a neighbor to surrender. Stuart died at the scene; Irvine passed away a few days later.
As a boy in Cache Valley, Gardner was called “cripple” by playmates because of a deformed leg, the result of scarlet fever. He was also considered “weakminded” and was continually taunted by other children. Not much else is known about Gardner. Prior to this crime there had been some problems, including a liquor raid on his farm house. Gardner was divorced and had a child from his previous marriage.
The day before the incident, Gardner’s fourteen-year-old daughter accused him of sexually molesting her. “Gardner ruined me,” she charged. Gardner’s common-law wife, Martha Gerrons, had returned to the home that morning to confront him about the charge. The sheriff’s deputies apparently interrupted them, and this no doubt helped to trigger the killings.
Both Gardner and his wife Martha were charged with murder. George was found guilty and sentenced to die by firing squad. Martha’s trial ended in a hung jury after twenty-seven hours of deliberation. She was never retried. Gardner’s attorneys argued before the State Board of Pardons that he was “subnormal” and “weakminded” and that his sentence ought to be commuted to life in prison. A petition containing hundreds of signatures supporting commutation was presented to the board. Among the signatures were those of four jurors who convicted Gardner.
All appeals failed. Gardner spent the night before his execution talking with the guards on death watch. They sat next to him on the cot and reported: “At no time…did he show any sign of breaking. He discussed his life, and… reiterated the declaration that his life had been a bed of thorns” (Salt Lake Tribune, 15 Jan. 1922). The next morning [p.95]he ordered milk and oatmeal for his last meal: “As the death march started, prisoners in the cell house called goodbye and made the prison ghastly with their eerie shrieks…but he [Gardner] kept walking as steadily and deliberately as his shriveled leg would permit. There were no heroics. He acted natural” (ibid.).
Gardner was executed by firing squad at 6:30 a.m. on 31 August 1925. His last statement was, “The killing of Gordon Stuart was accidental, but I have no apology to make for the killing of Irvine” (Salt Lake Telegram, 31 Aug. 1923). Each member of the firing squad was paid $40. The total execution cost was $200 (Ogden Standard Examiner, 31 Aug. 1923). Gardner was buried in his hometown, Mendon, Utah.
Among those present at the execution was one who claimed to have been present at every execution since statehood. The Salt Lake Telegram reported on 31 August 1923 that this spectator “declared that Gardner displayed the least emotion of any of the long list who have been compelled to pay the price society demands for murder.”
* * *
On 9 January 1922 firemen discovered the body of Myretta Woods at the Pauline Apartments, Third East and First South. She had been bound and gagged, hit in the face with a blunt object, strangled, and her body set on fire. Her husband, Omer R. Woods, told the firemen that two men had entered the apartment while Mrs. Woods and he were having lunch. They robbed and beat him, then tied him up and locked him in the closet. Suspicion focused on Woods when inconsistencies were found in his story, and he was arrested for the murder of his wife.
Myretta Woods was an invalid, suffering from tuberculosis. She was described as “a frail, delicate woman of quiet and friendly disposition and to have had few acquaintances in the city” (Salt Lake Tribune, 10 Jan. 1922). Her husband was employed by the U.S. Revenue Service as an estate tax inspector. He was a former attorney, had served [p.97]as a probate judge in Idaho City in Boise County, and had been a school teacher. The Woods had a nineteen-year-old daughter, Tee Lee Woods, a student at the University of Utah.
On 17 January 1924 the Salt Lake County Commission (under whose jurisdiction the execution was to be conducted) appropriated $550 to cover the expense of Woods’s execution. Governor Mabey refused to grant a commutation: “Those who have urged commutation of the death sentence are not familiar with the facts of the case as presented to me and to other members of the pardons board. They plead for mercy in the name of humanity, but do not take into consideration the inhumanity of the murder. The pleas are the result of maudlin sympathy. There is nothing to be done but to carry out the death sentence” (Salt Lake Tribune, 18 Jan. 1924).
The morning of his execution, 18 January 1924, Woods ordered a meal of southern fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and coffee. As he approached the firing squad, he was smoking a black cigar. He called out from his chair near the south wall of the prison in Sugarhouse, “The last thing that I do is send a kiss to my mother, sister, to my daughter, and to my daughter again.” His last words proclaimed his innocence: “I believe—and it is my dying statement—that [A. C.] Vadney [of Council, Idaho] was the smaller of the two robbers. I am as innocent today as I was the day my mother gave me birth. I am prepared to meet my maker in peace” (Ogden Standard Examiner, 18 Jan. 1924). Within seconds he was dead. He was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake. His mother in Tennessee was never told of the execution.
* * *
On 27 November 1922 police sergeant Nephi P. Pierce and patrolman G. P. Watson were walking their beat along Fifth South and Main Street in Salt Lake City, looking for two men who had been involved in several robberies in the area. Seeing two men—Henry C. Hett and Arthur Hayes—Ser-[p.98]geant Pierce called for them to stop. Hett pulled a revolver and ordered the officers to raise their hands. Pierce began to back away and was shot by Hett. Hayes fled, but Hett ordered Patrolman Watson into a vacant lot where he pistol-whipped him and then escaped. Pierce, who had been with the police force twelve years, died four months later in March 1923. Hett and Hayes were arrested the next day. At their trial, both were found guilty of first degree murder—Hett was sentenced to death, Hayes was given a life sentence after the jury returned a recommendation for mercy.
The killing of Nephi Pierce ended a twelve-day crime spree by Hett and Hayes in two states, Colorado and Utah. After their arrest both men were taken to the hospital bedside of Pierce, who positively identified the two men as his assailants. The bullet had severed his spine and left him paralyzed from the waist down. He requested that his wife not be immediately told because she was “afflicted with a nervous disorder.” In fact, the Salt Lake Telegram reported on 20 February 1925 that Mrs. Pierce died a short while after her husband’s death, “the tragedy, it is believed, having hastened her death.”
Hett had lost both parents when he was young. He and Hayes had been on their own as youths and had learned survival “on the road.” Since Hayes did not do the actual shooting and fled when the shots were fired, he was sentenced to life in prison. His case was eventually reversed by the state supreme court and a retrial was ordered. After his new trial, he was sentenced to prison for attempted robbery. He was paroled on 16 October 1926 after serving three years, ten months, and four days.
Hett was executed by firing squad 20 February 1925. Prior to his execution he left a final letter for the press: “Ere this reaches your readers my spirit will be wafted before my Maker and my body consigned to the grave. I surrender my life conscious of my sin and the penalty it imposes, also regretful and repentant for the crime. I have naught to give [p.100]towards restitution save my sorrow and my life—would that I had more” (Salt Lake Telegram, 20 Feb. 1925). After commenting on his trial and expressing his appreciation to those who had helped him, he concluded: “In closing, a word to the boys in this prison. I shall not feel that I have died in vain if my passing will show to you that there is only one road that leads to happiness, and that is the straight and narrow path of honesty, virtue and truth. Please do not treat this as only the dying admonition of a fellow convict. Its observance by you will mean to me that my sacrifice may prove your salvation” (ibid.).
Just before leaving his cell for the “death march,” Hett commented to the press, “I might add the last few hours have been the happiest in my life. I say this with no spirit of braggadocio. I say it sincerely” (Salt Lake Telegram, 20 Feb. 1925). As he sat in the chair awaiting the order to fire, he kept repeating over and over, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry” (ibid.).
* * *
On 15 March 1923 June St. Clair of Park City, Utah, was heard screaming by one of her neighbors. The neighbor ran over but could not enter the locked door. He found an ax in a shed, broke the front window, and entered the cabin. He found St. Clair dying of a stab wound to the heart. Pedro Cano was arrested by police after they followed a trail of blood from St. Clair’s cabin to Cano’s home. It was believed he had cut his hand on a broken rear window as he escaped.
Cano, a Mexican national, had been in Park City about two weeks. He was an unemployed miner and claimed that he had exchanged a greeting with the “American lady” as he was cleaning snow off the sidewalk. He was living with a woman at the time named Alemeda, and she became jealous. He denied that he and St. Clair were romantically involved, but he and Alemeda quarrelled about her. Cano felt things had calmed down later that afternoon. He left for a time and returned to find St. Clair and Alemeda arguing. [p.101]The next day he returned home from playing pool to find Alemeda dressed in men’s clothing. She sprang at him with a knife, cutting his hand and face. He locked himself in the kitchen, and, according to the court transcript, she yelled if she “could not fix me she would go over and kill the American woman.” She then left wearing his hat and coat. The next thing he knew, the police were at his door to arrest him.
Since he spoke no English, Cano was given an interpreter for the trial. According to Cano, this interpreter was Alemeda’s friend and tried to convince Cano “not to give Refugia Alemeda away.” He told Cano that “if she was my sweetheart it was not manly on my part to give her away.” Cano said that the interpreter knew she was guilty and offered him $1,000 not to expose her. Cano claimed he told the interpreter he wanted to tell the truth, but the interpreter did not translate what Cano said. Instead he protected Alemeda throughout the investigation and trial.
Cano was found guilty and sentenced to die by firing squad. While on death row, he kept himself busy making beaded purses which the warden sold to help support Cano’s mother. He was executed 15 May 1925, maintaining his innocence to the end. In a prepared statement, Cano stated: “Is it not better to die and start a new life with an opportunity to accomplish something than to be imprisoned for life behind the cold gray bars and accomplish nothing?” (Salt Lake Tribune, 16 May 1925). His last words were, “I am innocent. Seek the woman [Refugia Alemeda], and take care of my mother” (Ogden Standard Examiner, 17 May 1925).
The Salt Lake City cemetery refused burial for Cano. Carlos Ariza, Mexican Consul in Salt Lake City, pointed out that previously executed men (Hett, Woods, and Gardner) were buried in city cemeteries. He threatened court action unless either a permit was issued permitting the burial of Cano or the bodies of the others were disinterred and buried [p.103] outside the city limits: “It is an outrage on decency and if we are not permitted to give Cano decent burial the world shall know of it. If necessary we shah go into court and inquire into the constitutionality of a law that apparently seeks to pursue a man for an alleged offense even after he has, perhaps unjustly, paid the supreme penalty for his alleged crime” (Ogden Standard Examiner, 16 Jan. 1926).
On 19 May 1925 the city commission amended the ordinance, and Cano was allowed burial. Only one commission member opposed the change.
* * *
On 12 October 1925 the body of Salt Lake police officer David H. Crowther was found on the bank of the Jordan River near North Temple. He had been shot once in the back of the head. It was believed he had been shot by transients, since he had spent a great deal of time in that area running them out of town. His car was missing and was later identified near San Bernardino, California, where three men—Ralph Seyboldt (alias Ralph Sanders), Joseph Eli Marenger (alias Fred Dupont), and Noel E. White (alias George F. Williams)—were arrested and extradited. Marenger and White pled guilty to second degree murder and were given twenty-year sentences. Seyboldt was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death by firing squad.
Seyboldt’s conviction was based on the testimony of his companions, who said he had killed Crowther, shooting him in the head in order to steal his vehicle. Seyboldt later confessed. The three of them had arrived in Salt Lake City from Rawlins, Wyoming. A few days later Crowther picked them up and took them for a ride. While riding, Seyboldt killed the officer, hid his body in the brush, and the three of them headed for California. It took the jury fifteen minutes to find Seyboldt guilty—a record. There was no recommendation for mercy.
During the next two years, Seyboldt was given several stays and seven hearings before the Board of Pardons. At the time [p.105]of his execution, the press made an issue of the length of time that had elapsed between his crime and execution. The Salt Lake Tribune marked it as “two years, three months and three days after the commission of the crime, October 12, 1925.”
Just prior to Seyboldt’s execution, his father and several others from his hometown of Defiance, Ohio, appealed to the governor and to President Coolidge for clemency. His estranged wife, Rilla Seyboldt, avoided reporters. Seyboldt died by firing squad at 8:01 a.m., 15 January 1926.
Marenger was paroled on 1 July 1930 to his mother and sister in California. White, who was sixteen at the time of the killing, was paroled on 19 May 1934.
* * *
On 11 January 1924 at about 5:00 p.m. Edward McGowan entered the home of Bob Blevins in Helper, Utah. He was on friendly terms with the family and had visited there often. Blevins’s wife Susie was home. She claimed McGowan had been drinking and began to force himself on her. Her adopted daughter Eva returned home and was also forced into the back bedroom. Bob Blevins then returned home and was forced at gunpoint into the bedroom, where he was shot in the abdomen while arguing with McGowan.
At this point a second adopted daughter, thirteen-year-old Mary, returned home. McGowan forced the three women to submit to sexual acts with him throughout the night until 5:00 the next morning when he left. Medical aid was immediately sought for Blevins, but he died around noon, 12 January. McGowan was captured near Soldier Summit that afternoon.
McGowan was the first black man executed in Utah. The victim and his family were all black as well. McGowan claimed Mrs. Blevins had made “improper advances” toward him. He refused her advances and she threatened him with a pistol. The two of them scuffled with the pistol, and it went off just as Blevins entered the room. He tried to en-[p.107]courage Mrs. Blevins to get help but she refused, preferring to treat him herself until morning.
McGowan was found guilty and sentenced to die by firing squad. In a final statement, he wrote:
Ere this will have been handed to and read by you, my soul will have been wafted before its Maker. My last wish and desire on this earth will be realized when I am able to have published my closing words in the form of advice to the youth of the nation. To you I say obey your parents, seek the advice of your eiders, and live an honest and clean life with thoughts of bright and cleaner things, at all times seek the finer things in life, and by all means obey the teachings of God and be able through these teachings to receive ultimate celestial glory (Salt Lake Telegram, 5 Feb. 1926).
As McGowan was led to the place of execution, he wore a pair of old rubber shoes. His last request was granted—that he not die with his “boots on.” As he raised his hand to wave farewell, the rifles fired; sixty-two seconds later McGowan was dead. He was buried in the prison cemetery. He had requested that “he receive a decent burial and that his body not be sent to some institution to be cut up” (Salt Lake Telegram, 5 Feb. 1926). The inmates had raised money to help with burial costs should it be needed.