The Last Public Execution In The United States

last public execution
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The story was written in the publication Mother Jones on August 14, 2014

In this Friday, Aug. 14, 1936 file picture, a large crowd watches as attendants adjust a black hood over Rainey Bethea’s head just before his public hanging in Owensboro, Ky. Bethea, a 22-year-old black man convicted of raping a 70-year-old white woman, was the last person killed in a public execution in the United States.  AP

An estimated 15,000–20,000 people showed up for what would be the last public execution in the United States.

Around 5:20 a.m., August 14, 1936, Rainey Bethea was led to the gallows in Owensboro, Kentucky for robbing, raping and murdering Lischia Edwards, a 70 year old woman. Bethea was black, Edwards was white. He confessed to committing the crimes, but was only charged with the rape. Unlike a murder conviction, which would have carried a maximum sentence of death by electrocution at the state penitentiary, a rape conviction allowed for the convicted to be publicly hanged in the county where the crime occurred.

The hanging drew national media attention–largely because the Sheriff of Daviess county was a woman. As Sheriff, Florence Shoemaker Thompson would be responsible for actually hanging Bethea (though she wound up not pushing the lever to the gallows’ trapdoor). The media circus surrounding the hanging prompted the Kentucky General Assembly to amend the law in 1938, no longer required convicted rapists to be hanged in the county seat where the crime occurred.


Let me ask you . . .Doesn’t it say something about us as the human race that 20,000 people would turn out to morbidly watch a man being hung?

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  1. Humans from the very beginning with Adam and Eve and their two sons Cain and Abel loved killing particularly when Cain killed Abel, thus eliminating 25% of the Worlds population. From the very beginning of human life on Earth, it involved war, slavery, bullying and just outright killing because ‘I don’t like you’. It won’t end until the human nature of killing or needing to be a dominant participant ends.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I don’t know if I would want to watch. I probably wouldn’t be able to forget it and get it off my mind. Reading about it would be enough for me.


        2. Hi,
          To me it involves the personal point of view.
          Please explain to me the difference of reading about it to viewing it. Emotion is involved where viewing is actual. People do view events around or near them as personal.
          Authors may recreate an event as they thought it should be seen while other will recreate the eventn to their story.
          To me reading is meant to give the literal view of what the actual view is showing.
          Many authors are able to describe the event in words what actual events happened.
          That is a value I am learning.

          Lets keep parsing in writing. I like your style and hope in less than one week or more than 100 years the New York Times reports the best sellers!

          Liked by 1 person

        3. In a way I guess you’re right because we watch things like executions in movies and TV shows, and yes, read it as well. It just seems morbid to actually. watch someone be put to death especially knowing how often they get it wrong

          I do love to write. You can’t get good unless you write every day.


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