The Unforgiven
by L. Kay Gillespie

Chapter 5
Hardened Criminals

[p.109]Ten years elapsed from the time of Edward McGowan’s execution in 1926 to Delbert Green’s. Calvin Coolidge had been succeeded by Franklin D. Roosevelt as president of the United States; George H. Dern had been replaced by Henry H. Blood as governor of Utah; while Heber J. Grant remained president of the LDS church. Utah’s population had grown from 449,000 to 550,000,

In 1926 Utah reported the second highest divorce rate in the country and the third highest automobile death rate. The governor of Texas that year granted clemency to 1,315 people, including 821 pardons. Ten years later Utah’s governor was considering a new site for the old Sugarhouse prison, and in Ogden a man had just been arrested for killing his uncle, mother-in-law, and wife. He pleaded guilty, avoiding the death penalty. Delbert Green, however, despite his protests of insanity, would be executed on 10 July 1936.

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Returning home from the Ogden junk yard where he worked, Delbert Green found that his wife had taken their [p.110]baby daughter and left him. Green believed his wife had been unfaithful and that her mother and stepfather (actually Green’s uncle) had interfered in their marriage.

"She was unfaithful to me." Delbert Green executed on 10 July 1936.Green’s mother-in-law and stepfather/uncle lived with Green’s grandmother in Layton. Green went there after work and found his wife. After talking with her he left for Ogden. Later that night he returned to Layton. Claiming that he feared his uncle was going to shoot him, Green shot the uncle. The mother-in-law, his wife, and the baby were sleeping together in a bed in the same room. Hearing the shots, they sat up and Green shot them, one of them falling over and covering the baby with her body. According to Green, he then walked outside and tried to shoot himself, but the gun jammed. He next found his uncle’s shotgun, and planned to kill himself but could find no shells. Finally he returned home and went to bed. He was found the next morning with the covers pulled over his head.

[photo p.112]

Green claimed his family had a history of insanity. His father was an inmate of an asylum when he died; an aunt had been sent to an asylum; his grandfather had committed suicide. It was also testified that Green had the mentality of a nine- or ten-year-old. Previously Green had served time in the Utah state prison for attempted murder.

Prior to Green’s execution, 282 inmates at the prison signed a petition:

We respectfully ask, in view of the circumstances of his case which you know so well, that you commute his sentence to life imprisonment. To us, Delbert Green is a friend. We submit that we are unqualified to pass upon his mental condition as others have and base our conclusions wholly upon association and contact with him over a period of years. Men of science have passed upon that and found him to have the mind of a ten year old child. Unqualified judges though we are, we too think [p.111]Delbert Green to be mentally deficient. We respectfully submit that you would not permit a ten year old child to die before a rifle blast fired by the State of Utah and so we humbly ask that you do not permit the same fate to befall a man whose mental condition places him in the same category of a child.1

Green’s mother appealed to the governor:

Mr. Blood, I am the mother of 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls. Delbert’s two sisters are married and have children. I have 5 by another marriage, the oldest a boy of 18 years. I have been a widow for seven years. I also have Delbert[‘s] baby, she is 5 years old now. I have been sick for 2 years and haven’t been able to work, so if you can please lift some of this load from my back by giving life imprisonment instead of death. Please do this much for us.2

In another letter to Governor Blood, Green appealed for his own life:

All I ask is that you give me a fair and impartial decision. Again, I ask you to read closely the record of my unhappy marriage. I loved my wife with a great love, and I still love and cherish her memory. But she was unfaithful to me. This caused another great worry to me. I tried to stop it in the only way I could think of, but it turned out to be another tragedy which I could not help. I thought I could frighten the fellow that she was out with, by displaying a gun, but he became hysterical and grabbed the weapon, and during our scuffle for its possession it discharged and a bullet struck him. Yet this did not destroy my love for my wife. She asked me to plead guilty to the charge to protect her from letting her [p.114]friends know about her unfaithfulness to me. I loved her and pleaded guilty to the charge. You would have done the same, if one of your loved ones had asked you to do it. And especially the one you loved more than anything else in this world.

Delbert Green's mother-in-law, Mrs. James Green, and his wife, Gladys Green—both victims of his crime. Courtesy Lorraine Green, daughter of Delbert Green.

He concluded his letter:

My little daughter was down here to visit me yesterday, and these are the words that came from her little lips. “Daddy, I want to take you home with me.” You will never be able to understand the heartache that sentence caused me. Surely you do not want to take a little girl’s daddy from her, and place a greater burden upon the shoulders of a dear old mother, who’s staggering already under a heavy load. All I ask is that you give this letter your serious consideration. Free from politics and prejudice and what ever your decision is, I will take like a man (Salt Lake Tribune, 10 July 1936).  [photo p.113]

Green was executed at the old prison at Sugarhouse on 10 July 1956. His execution was witnessed by over seventy-five people, while “throngs” waited outside along Twenty-First South in Salt Lake City to hear the five .30-.30’s. Mayor Harman W. Peery of Ogden attended the execution. He had been at the Ute Stampede in Nephi and told the Salt Lake Tribune, 11 July 1936, “I just decided to drop in here on my way home.”

Green’s mother gave him a card the night before the execution. On the front it read, “He is just away,” and inside contained a verse by James Whitcomb Riley. The next morning Green was escorted from the prison chapel where he had spent the night with the Catholic prison chaplain, a member of the Granite School District, and four of his relatives. As he entered the open air, a black hood was placed over his [p.115]face, and he was guided to the chair in which he would die. His only words were, “My God! Have mercy on me.” The chair was along the wall at the south side of the prison. Thirty feet away the five rifles fired, and a small black and silver crucifix fell from Green’s hands.

Lorraine Green was seven years old at the time of her father’s execution. She recalled her “father was a very loving and devoted person. He gave my mother everything in the world to make her happy, but she was unfaithful. And her mother was always interfering. My Dad was very easy going and patient. My Dad finally had it. He got the gun. I was only four months old” (Ogden Standard Examiner, 17 Jan. 1977). Forty-one years later, at the time of Gary Gilmore’s execution, Green, still living in Ogden, reminisced: “I remember my father from the time I was three. He was all I had. [My grandmother] raised me. She took me every Sunday to see my dad until the time they executed him” (ibid.).

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John W. Deering executed on 31 October 1938.

On 9 May 1938 at approximately 9:00 p.m., fifty-two-year-old Oliver Meredith, Jr., a real estate and leather goods businessman, was found shot and bleeding in his parked automobile in front of the Madsen Apartments (169 South Fifth East). He died a few minutes later after being carried into the apartment where he lived with his wife. About three months later, John W. Deering was arrested in Detroit, Michigan, on suspicion of robbery. He told Detroit police he was wanted in Salt Lake City for murder and “I want to go back there and die” (Salt Lake Tribune, 31 Oct. 1938).  [photo p.117]

Deering had been committed to a reformatory at the age of thirteen as a neglected child. He was released at age eighteen and began a life of crime that took him through San Quentin, the Merchant Marines, and Folsom prison. He spent no more than three years outside of prison or reformatory walls from the age of thirteen. He was found guilty of first degree murder in Salt Lake City and at the time of sentencing amazed the judge who later wrote:

[p.117]He was duly arraigned before me on a charge of first degree murder. In the first instance he refused counsel, although the Court offered to provide him with counsel, and he assumed the most extraordinary attitude to which my attention has been called in a criminal case. He stated to the Court that he stood upon his constitutional right to enter a plea of guilty, and immediately to face the firing squad.3

Deering agreed to allow the prison physician to monitor his heartbeat on an electrocardiogram during the execution. At the time of his execution, Deering’s heartbeat went from seventy-two beats per minute to one hundred eighty when he was strapped in the chair. His heart stopped beating 15.6 seconds after the bullets entered his body. As a last wish he had willed his eyes to an optics specialist in California and his body to the University of Utah, stating that at last he would get some “high class education.”4

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"Poisoned olives cost him his happy family." Donald Condit executed on 30 July 1942.On 20 March 1941 Donald Lawton Condit drove through a red light, was chased by law enforcement officers, ran into a tree at University Street and Seventh South, and was arrested. He was driving a car belonging to a grocery salesman, Harold Arthur Thorne, whose wife expressed surprise that the car was in Salt Lake City. Her husband had been on the road and last heard from in Las Vegas. After several hours of questioning, Condit admitted that he had been hitchhiking and that Thorne had picked him up. Thorne’s body was found covered with brush along the side of the highway about ten miles west of Cedar City. He had been hit on the head with a rock.  [photo p. 119]

At the age of seven, Condit’s family had been poisoned by eating spoiled olives while living in southern California. His mother died immediately of ptomaine poisoning his only brother, age seventeen, died three days later—leaving Donald, his father, and his five year-old sister. He and his [p.119]sister went to live with a wealthy grand-uncle and grandaunt and began attending a series of exclusive boarding schools. His sister went on to become a teacher at Columbia University, but Donald went from military schools to private schools to reform schools to prisons. One analyst suggested that Condit “has not been much with his father since [the age of seven and], getting into trouble, he seemed to have learned quite young, would bring his father to him.”5

After his release from San Quentin in 1940, Condit met and married his wife Betty but shortly thereafter lost his job because his employer did not like his parole officer checking on him during work hours. With no job or prospects, Condit became despondent: “Bucking the same barrier several times everyday for over two weeks became terribly discouraging, and it began to most hurtfully show on my lovely bride, Betty. I guess I then began despondently thinking Betty would be better off if I wasn’t in her life.”6

After considering suicide, he decided to leave California and find employment elsewhere. He phoned his wife saying he would not be home that night and took a bus to San Bernardino, where he stole a car and drove to Las Vegas. From there he hitched a ride with Thorne. At this point, Condit claims he showed his gun to Thorne with the intent of selling it to him. Thorne misunderstood his intentions, grabbed for the gun, and was accidentally shot in the struggle. However, the prosecution maintained Condit intended to rob Thorne from the beginning.

Condit died by firing squad on 30 July 1942. One half hour before his death, he was given morphine as a sedative. When asked if he had any final statement he said, “No I guess not, I can’t see any use of all this though” (Deseret News, 30 July 1942).

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 "Death is simply the cashing in of a stack of chips and I intend to face the cashier as a good loser." Robert Walter Avery executed on 5 February 1943.

On 11 February 1941, around closing time at 6:30 p.m., a robbery was taking place at the Safeway Store on 24th and Grant in Ogden. Robert Walter Avery had left his wife sitting [p.120]outside in the car. He entered the store and informed the clerks, “This is a stick-up.” The manager, R. K. Yeates, was on the phone with his wife and had just enough time to tell her to call the police before being ordered to hang up. Mrs. Yeates called the police and told them there was “trouble” at the store. Not knowing what to expect, Officer Hoyt L. Gates hurried over and entered through the door. According to witnesses, Avery began to shoot, hitting Gates, who was barely able to return fire before crawling back outside. He died a few minutes later. The Averys escaped with $150.  [photo p. 121]

Avery was the first man to be sentenced to death from Weber County (Delbert Green, although from Weber County, committed his crime in Davis County). He started stealing at the age of sixteen and eventually spent time in Leavenworth and in the Nevada state prison. He came to Salt Lake City from San Francisco with his wife, Roverda Avery, and together were later suspected in other robberies, including one at the Ambassador Hotel where they were staying.

On 10 February 1941, Avery stood outside the Safeway store in Ogden, observing closing hours and other details he would need to know in preparation for the robbery. The next day his wife parked on Washington Avenue between 23rd and 24th streets to await his return. After the ill-fated robbery, she too was arrested but later released.

The day before his execution, Avery’s autobiography was released. In it he wrote:

Death to me is simply the cashing in of a stack of chips all of us receive at birth and while I have lost heavily in the game of life, I intend to face the cashier as a good loser. I have played my cards as I found them. … But when I reached the place where all my marked cards were recognized … the game was practically over for me. This time I’ve been called and I’m going to shove in the rest of my chips with a smile” (Ogden Standard Examiner, 4 Feb. 1943).

[p.122]His last meal was a cheese sandwich and a can of grapefruit juice. As he was seated in the chair before the firing squad, two messages could be seen—apparently written by inmates with access to the storage area where the execution equipment was kept. Just behind the chair was written, “The Last Mile,” and at the side was “Crime Never Pays.”7

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"Being of a mean and jealous disposition." Austin Cox, Jr., executed on 19 June 1944.On the night of 25 July 1945, at about 11:50, Judge Lewis V. Trueman and his wife were in their Ogden home at 1543 Twenty-seventh street when a shotgun blast was fired through their kitchen window. Trueman turned on the light in the hallway and together with his wife went to the window of their bedroom to see what was going on. As they did, another shot was fired, striking the judge in the head and neck and killing him.

Austin Cox, who fired the shots, next went to the police station and entered with shotgun in hand. Chambering another round, he announced, “I will kill every son of a bitch in here.” After firing a wild shot, he was subdued and arrested.

Cox had apparently heard his ex-wife was staying at 2240 Lincoln Avenue and had gone there looking for her. They had recently divorced after being married only seven weeks. Once there he killed four and wounded two people before moving on to Trueman’s home and then to the police station. Trueman had presided over the Coxes’ divorce proceedings. Wanda Mae Carter described her ex-husband as “being of a mean and jealous disposition.” She had at one time filed a battery complaint against him, claiming he beat her and threatened to cut out her tongue. He in turn accused her of giving him a venereal disease and of sleeping with other men. Those who had worked with Cox described him as “a person who continuously had fancied grievances” and who felt himself picked on (Ogden Standard Examiner, 24 July 1943).

[p.124]Cox had not appeared at divorce court because he felt he was being persecuted and his “enemies” would prevail against him. He had told others that he would get the judge, the sheriff, two of the deputies, and his wife—that he would “catch the whole bunch together and get them all.” At his trial his wife testified she told him he should not kill. He responded “that he had worked for seven years around the State Mental Hospital of Arizona and that he could ‘beat a murder rap’ because he had been around those ‘nuts’ there enough to feign insanity.”8 Cox’s insanity defense was not successful. He was found guilty of first degree murder without recommendation for leniency and was sentenced to die. After a last meal of strawberries and cream, he was executed by firing squad at 6:00 a.m. on 19 June 1944. The Salt Lake Tribune (9 July 1944) reported that his execution cost $653.

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"I too should be given a life sentence." James Joseph Roedl executed on 13 July 1945.James Joseph Roedl and LeRoy Edward Ritchie were hitchhiking to Idaho on 12 October 1942. Around Denver, Colorado, they were picked up by Abigail Agnes Williams, a California school teacher and follower of Aimee Semple McPhearson, founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Williams wanted someone to share gas costs. In the vicinity of Ft. Duchesne, along Highway 40, Roedl struck her on the head with a hammer as she lay asleep in the back seat of her car. They dumped her body by the side of the road along with her dog and luggage and left with the car. Both Roedl and Ritchie were arrested in Washington.

Roedl and Ritchie were first tried and convicted in the U.S. District Court, since the killing occurred on an Indian Reservation. However, the conviction was later dismissed because “non-Indian offenses occurring on an Indian Reservation do not come under federal law.” Retried in Vernal, Utah, both were found guilty—Roedl sentenced to death and Ritchie, because of the jury’s recommendation for leniency, to life in prison.

[p.126]In a letter to the Board of Pardons dated 14 June 1945, Roedl protested:

As you men know in the eyes of the law my partner in this crime is as equally guilty as I am. He is to serve a life sentence. In justice, I too should be given a life sentence. If we are both guilty in the eyes of the law then we both should be given the same sentence. I have suffered from epilepsy and have been in an insane asylum. My co-partner is a perfect physical young man and is in full possession of his mental faculties. Yet he is to serve a life sentence for being guilty of the murder while for the same crime, my part calls for execution.9

Roedl was executed 13 July 1945 at the Utah State Prison in Sugarhouse, the last man to be executed there. He enjoyed a final meal with his father, who had come from Oklahoma. They had T-bone steaks, potatoes, asparagus tips, coffee, and pie. Ritchie eventually died of tuberculosis in an Ogden sanitarium—still under the jurisdiction of the Utah State Prison.

***

"The five marksmen missed the target twice." Eliseo Mares executed on 10 September 1951.AWOL from the army, Eliseo Mares was traveling toward Wyoming in a stolen car. The car developed engine trouble near Sinclair, Wyoming. Mares joined up with another traveler, Jack Derwood Stallings of San Jose, California, who was also having car trouble. Using Mares’s money, they continued their trip in Stallings’s car. Stallings arranged to have his girlfriend wire some money to Ogden, Utah, where they would pick it up. On the way toward Weber Canyon, they continued to have car trouble and, as they worked on it, they also began drinking heavily.

Mares’s story was that they were attacked by “cowboys” when they stopped at a tavern in Echo Canyon just before the Utah border. When he came to, Stallings was driving the [p.127]car “with a wild look in his eyes” and his left eye was partly out of the socket:

[Coming down Weber Canyon after leaving Echo Junction] I started hollering for help as the car careened down the canyon road. I then kicked Jack’s foot off the accelerator in an effort to slow down the speed of the car. … When it came to a turn, I grabbed the steering wheel and turned it off the road where it came to a stop against a bank about a mile and a quarter west of the town of Echo. Jack had a wild look on his face. I jumped into the back seat. Jack then slid out from under the wheel and started toward me with a tire iron in his hand and muttering that he would kill me.10

Mares said he subdued Stallings, turned the car around, and headed toward Salt Lake City for help. When he got near Hoytsville, he noticed Stallings had quit breathing so he dumped the body out near a canal and continued down Parley’s Canyon. The prosecution charged that Mares intended to steal the car and consciously killed Stallings. He disposed of Stallings’s possessions to escape being caught.

Mares was born in Crowley, Colorado. His father served as night marshal and deputy sheriff. At the time of his crime, he was eighteen years old. He had gone AWOL to be with his wife and new baby. His father advised him to return to his post. He was on his way back when he stole the car.

Mares claimed self-defense to the end. However, the jury did not believe his story, and he met death by firing squad on 10 September 1951. His was the first execution conducted in the new prison at Point of the Mountain. The prison itself was not completed, but the execution was arranged in the maximum security area. A reporter later described the execution, using the name “Lee” (probably a shortened form of Eliseo):

[p.129]He died silently—and horribly. The five [marksmen]—all volunteers—missed the target twice from their slit in a canvas curtain hiding their identity. It struck me then, and it does now, that it was incredible that rifles on a rest about 15 feet away from a condemned man could strike him in the stomach and hip. But it happened. Although no one will know absolutely whether the shots blotted out consciousness earlier, it was several minutes before Lee was pronounced dead (Salt Lake Tribune, 18 July 1976).

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"No one will miss me." Ray Dempsey Gardner executed on 29 July 1951.On 20 July 1949 Shirley Gretzinger kissed her mother goodbye and left for a babysitting job. She had not planned on going out that evening, but a friend was sick and had referred the caller to Shirley. Shirley’s mother was concerned because she did not know who Shirley would be sitting for.

Instead of picking her up, the caller had arranged to meet Shirley at the corner of 34th and Washington in Ogden. She was last seen walking with a “short, dark-haired handsome man.” Her body was found the next morning in Riverdale, but another month passed before Ray Dempsey Gardner, an itinerant cherry picker, was arrested and charged with the murder.  [photo p.130]

Gardner had spent time in several institutions, including the Indiana Boy’s School, Montana State Prison, and the Wyoming State Prison. His father had died in a shoot-out with police, and his mother later went to jail. He was born and raised in an orphanage in Columbus, Ohio, and had been in trouble most of his life, accumulating over 500 offenses, including two homicides.

His execution took place on the grounds of the prison at Point of the Mountain. An old wooden chair was set on a raised, straw-covered platform. His last words were, “I’m ready to go. No one will miss me. My life has been worthless.”11 Apparently he was right. When the warden of the [p.131]prison wrote his grandmother, his nearest living relative, she responded: “In referring to your letter … in regard to Ray Gardner’s body being shipped to Ohio. I am not able to have him sent here … his mother is dead. We knew nothing about him for eight years until we read of him committing the crime. … I have no further responsibility of care. Use the body as the law directs for medical science.”12

* * *

 "Willma, confess your crime or I will die." Don Jesse Neal executed on 1 July 1955.On 25 May 1951 Don Jesse Neal and his “girl friend,” Wilma L. (Buster) Tulley, drove a 1951 DeSoto into downtown Salt Lake City, parked it near Third South and Main Street, and went shopping. In the meantime police had identified the car as stolen. When Neal and Tulley returned, Neal was placed under arrest and his hands cuffed behind his back.

Officer Owen T. Farley climbed into the front seat of the DeSoto, with Neal beside him and Tulley on the right. According to witnesses, the car went a few feet and then swerved into the rear of a parked car. Tulley ran out the right door, and Farley fell out the same door, calling he was shot and needed help. Neal escaped out the driver’s side. Farley died a few hours later of a gunshot wound to the stomach. Neal was caught and charged with first degree murder. Tulley was later caught in Nevada and provided state’s evidence against Neal. [photo p.132]

Neal was known by several aliases and had spent only eighteen years and seven months of his life outside of institutions. He had served time in Folsom and San Quentin. Married twice, both times to women who lived in Salt Lake City, he had come to Utah to see his son: “You may ask—why did I come here? I came here to see my son—whom I’ve never seen—even to date—and who knows nothing of me or that I am his father—which is as it should and will always be!”13

Neal maintained his innocence throughout his trial. While confined on death row, he wrote to the warden: “I [p.133]didn’t do it Warden—honest to God I didn’t! I don’t know what to say or what to look forward to and how to appeal for help—but please Warden believe me.”14 There were many who believed him. Shortly before his execution, an article in Argosy magazine opined: “Don Neal is partially the product of a system of penology founded on an erroneous fallacy. He is partially the product of his own environment, of his own thinking, and he may well have been a victim of one of the greatest injustices ever perpetrated by law.”15

Neal’s case dragged out in the courts. Stays were issued, new evidence and witnesses found, and appeals mounted from concerned citizens. In the meantime, Neal was signing contracts for a movie to be made of his life. He was a prolific correspondent. One woman even gave up her job in California and came to Utah to meet Neal and get him freed.

Neal contended that Tulley had killed the officer. Neal’s hands were cuffed behind his back and he was sitting next to the policeman. The autopsy showed Farley had been shot in the stomach, the bullet entering just above the navel, traveling in a straight line, just grazing his backbone. Neal was searched before entering the car, and two officers searched the car prior to Neal and Tulley’s return. According to Neal, the only person with access to a gun was Tulley, whose purse had not been searched. He claimed Tulley took the gun out of her purse and was seen by the officer, who lunged to grab the weapon. It went off into his abdomen.

Four weeks before his scheduled execution, Neal asked his aunt to put the following ad in the newspapers: “Willma Tulley, for God’s Sake write Governor, confess your crime or I will die July 1. Hurry don’t let me die.”16 Whatever the truth, Neal was executed at the Utah state prison on 1 July 1955.

* * *

"Coming from broken homes, we grew up in neglect." Verne Alfred Braasch executed with Melvin Sullivan on 11 May 1956.On 22 October 1949 during an early morning robbery of a Standard service station in Beaver, Utah, Verne Alfred Braasch and Melvin Leroy Sullivan shot and killed the atten-[p.134]dant, Howard W. (Duke) Manzione, one hour before the end of his shift. He was shot four times and died after being transported to the Cedar City Hospital.17 Braasch and Sullivan were captured the next day in Las Vegas.  [photo p.135]

Tried and sentenced four times to die, they survived each execution date until 1956. They held the record at the time for being the longest on Utah’s death row—six years. The process and the expense became so frustrating to Governor J. Bracken Lee that he submitted a bill to the U.S. Department of Justice for $19,685.12-$615.06 per month.

With all appeals exhausted, Braasch and Sullivan released a statement to the press shortly before their execution:

Melvin LeRoy Sullivan executed with Verne Braasch on 11 May 1956In as much as we have only a few hours more to live … we wish to make a public statement. First, we do not protest against being punished. We are found guilty of a serious crime. In the second place, we wish to say, in partial excuse for ourselves, that we did not have a fair chance in life. Coming from broken homes, we grew up in neglect. In youth we were denied parental care, affection and guidance. Religious training would have pointed us in the right direction, but we were not taken to Sunday School or to church services. While in prison during the long years of waiting we have tried to build up in our souls what was lacking. We now try to accept our severe punishment with true religious resignation (Deseret News and Telegram, 11 May 1956).

Braasch and Sullivan ate their last meal of roast pheasant, green salad, and strawberries and cream. The warden in his memo authorizing the last meal also ordered “one pint each of dry wine and sweet wine to be shared between the inmates.”18  [photo p.136]

 Scene of the Braasch and Sullivan double-execution by firing squad. Note one black chair and one white chair. Courtesy Utah State Historical Society.[photo p.137]  Theirs was a double execution, the second in Utah’s history; the first was that of Antelope and Longhair in 1854. [p.139]The two chairs were placed on a sled-type apparatus. Sandbags were placed behind the chairs and wood shavings covered the floor. Two chairs were used—one black, which had been used for other executions, and one white, newly painted. Sullivan sat in the black one; Braasch in the white. The execution was conducted by the sheriff of Iron County, where the trial had been held. (The trial had been changed from Beaver County, because it was feared an impartial trial could not be conducted in the county where the crime occurred.) The sheriff placed his hat over his heart thus signalling the two separate firing squads to do their work. Both men were pronounced dead within one minute of the shots.

Two hearses leaving the prison after the Braasch and Sullivan execution. Courtesy Utah State Historical Society.Manzione’s father, along with “several hundred” other witnesses, was present at the execution. Afterwards he said: “Now perhaps we can have peace. We want everyone to know that we have never had any thought of revenge or malice toward anyone. We’re just glad that at last it’s over” (Deseret News and Telegram, 11 May 1956). The Catholic chaplain wrote to Braasch’s mother, “Verne helped stabilize Melvin at the time of the execution.” She wrote back requesting his help in finding a marker for her son’s grave.  [photo p.138]

* * *

On 12 August 1956 Barton Kay Kirkham entered the Nibley Park Grocery Store, 501 East 2700 South in Salt Lake City, to buy a pack of cigarettes: “I entered the store only with the intention of holding up the storekeeper, but I knew he had more money than he had given me and I was mad because he had lied” (Deseret News and Telegram, 13 Aug. 1956). He forced the storekeeper, David Avon Frame, into the back apartment of the store, where Mrs. Ruth Webster was polishing a pair of shoes for her daughter: “I forced them into the bathroom, laid them down on the floor and … when they moved on the floor, I shot them” (ibid.). Frame and Webster were tending the store for the owners, Ervin Holmes and his wife, who were vacationing in Boise, Idaho. Later, at about midnight, Kirkham forced a car with [p.140]three teenage boys in it to the side of the road. He asked them why they were following him. When they denied they were, he told them to get out but allowed them to drive on when another car approached. The boys left and reported the incident to a policeman.

"I did kill those people to hurt my parents." Barton Kay Kirkham executed on 7 July 1958.A half an hour later Kirkham kidnapped a sister and brother, seventeen-year-old Shawna Lou Christean and twenty-one-year old Arthur Christean, and forced them to drive him up Provo Canyon. The brother was released from the car, and Kirkham and the girl continued to drive until 4:30 a.m. when the Utah Highway Patrol received a call from Kirkham at a pay phone: “I’m up Provo Canyon and I have a girl in the car and I want you to pick me up before I cause more trouble. Turn your red lights on for identification. I won’t cause you any trouble when you come” (Deseret News and Telegram, 13 Aug. 1956).

[photo p.141] Kirkham had joined the Air Force as a jet mechanic at the age of seventeen. In England he was disciplined for “shacking up” and returned to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. While AWOL from there, he committed armed robbery and was sentenced to the Colorado Reformatory at Buena Vista for nine months. He was released to his parents’ custody on 31 May 1956—two and a half months before the Nibley Market murders.

Kirkham was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to die. “I chose hanging,” he later maintained, “instead of the firing squad because of the publicity…the novelty … to put the state to more inconvenience.” He was the sixth and last person hanged in Utah.

Before his death Kirkham wrote:

There was so much hate in me then and it keeps building up and there was no release for it, and I did not care what happened. The Doctors said I felt justified when I killed those people and they are right. I did. It was revenge I was after. The love that [p.142]I was denied because my parents spent so much time doing church work and they still do, and forcing me to stay home and lead the life they wanted me to live. I got my revenge and I am not sorry now and never will be. … I’ve had enough of it, I want to die. I’m fed up with it all. I did kill those people to hurt my parents and their good standing in the church. Who failed me it was not only my parents but myself and a lot of others. My life is a real mess now, and I will be glad when it is all over with.19

* * *

On 19 June 1957 while working at the Rattlesnake uranium mine near La Sal, Utah, James W. Rodgers shot and killed Charles Merrifield, a fellow employee. There had been an on-going dispute between the two, and Rodgers claimed he had been threatened on several occasions. On this particular day Rodgers had been told Merrifield was going to “beat him up.” After further agitation, Rodgers “challenged Merrifield with a gun.” When Merrifield came after him with a large wrench, Rodgers shot him.

"Guilty by reason of syphilis." James W. Rodgers executed on 30 March 1960.[photo p.143]  Rodgers was the oldest of eleven children. He left home at the age of twelve. His father only knew hard work and did not allow his children time for play. Rodgers had been in several prisons and had spent a total of twenty-three years behind bars prior to his final conviction. Both legs were scarred from machine gun bullets dating back to his “work” with bootleggers in Missouri at the age of sixteen.

To this murder in Utah, he pleaded “guilty by reason of insanity,” claiming he had syphilis. After receiving the death penalty, he stated he was not concerned about his execution because he believed he would die of syphilis before he could be executed. Prison tests and tests by other experts did not confirm that he had syphilis.

While on death row he was a model inmate. Prior to his execution he wrote to prison officials, “Friends of the Institution”: “I will try to convey to you, One and All, Both Inmates [p.144]and personal [sic], my deepest gratitude for the many favors and the kindness which you extended to me, in the last 2 years. I also wish you one and all the very best of everything.”20

After his execution his mother wrote to the chaplain:

I gave him a nice burial even tho I am a widow with $90.00 per month to pay for it. I could not see him buried in Potter’s field. … I know his soul is in heaven with God and I will meet him someday and hope to meet all of you up there.
will say so long to all
I am one more mother
who has had her son
executed there.
God Bless All.21

Notes:

1. Original letter in Utah State Prison files (hereafter USPF).

2. Original letter in USPF.

3. Original letter to the Board of Pardons, 11 Oct. 1938, in USPF.

4. Quoted in Life Magazine, 14 Oct. 1938, 20.

5. Copy of affidavit in USPF.

6. Letter to Governor Maw and the Board of Pardons, 12 June 1942, in USPF.

7. An interesting footnote is that the sentencing judge was Lewis V. Trueman, one of the victims of the next man to be executed in Utah—Austin Cox also from Weber County.

8. Transcript of evidence hearing, 1-3 Sept. 1943, #4191, Second Judicial District.

9. Original letter to the Board of Pardons, 14 June 1945, in USPF.

10. Mares’s handwritten statement, in USPF.

11. Lee Green, “Women Seem to Trust Me,” 73.

[p.145]12. Original letter in USPF.

13. Neal, “I Am Innocent,” 1 June 1955, in USPF.

14. Note to Warden Marcell Graham, 28 March 1953, in USPF.

15. Erle Stanley Gardner, “The Strange Case of Don Jesse Neal,” Argosy, Aug. 1955.

16. Ad submitted by Neal’s “Aunt Grace” at his request, Oregonian, June 1955.

17. Howard (Duke) Manzione was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Beaver. He had been married two months at the time of his death. The summer after his death, his bride gave birth to a baby boy. She later remarried. The service station in which Manzione died has been demolished and a new Board of Education building occupies the comer. Manzione’s son is now a merchant in southern Utah.

18. Warden’s memo, in USPF.

19. Letter to a woman in Idaho, copy in my possession, courtesy of George S. Tanner.

20. Original letter, 19 March 1960, in USPF.

21. Original letter, in USPF.