Rainey Bethea: The photographic story of America’s last public execution, 1936

Renee Bethia (born 1909) was the last person to be publicly killed in the United States. An African-American man, about 26 years old, confessed to the rape and murder of a 70-year-old white woman named Licia Edwards, and was publicly hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky after pleading guilty to her rape Went.

Mistakes in the executions and the surrounding media circus contributed to the end of public executions in the United States.

During the early morning hours of 7 June 1936, Bethia entered Licia Edwards' home on East Fifth Street by climbing onto the roof of an outbuilding next door.

After removing the curtain from the window he entered the room waking her up. Bethia then strangled Edwards and violently raped him.

When she fainted, he searched the valuables and stole several of her rings. In the process, he removed his own black celluloid gel ring, and subsequently failed to retrieve it.

He left the bedroom and hid the stolen jewelry in a barn not far from the house. The crime was discovered late that morning, when the Smith family, who lived downstairs, noticed that they had not heard Edwards stir in his room.

Police officers found dirty footprints everywhere, including in Bethia's celluloid prison ring. As of Sunday afternoon, several residents of Owensboro said they had previously seen Bethia wearing the ring, with police already suspecting Renee Bethia.

Since Bethia had a criminal record, police could use the new fingerprint recognition technique to establish that Bethia had recently touched objects inside the bedroom. The police searched for Bethia for the next four days, until she was eventually found and arrested.

Davis Circuit Court Judge Forrest A. Robbie orders the sheriff to take Bethea to the Jefferson County Jail in Louisville.

While relocated, Bethia makes her first confession, admitting that she had raped and strangled Edwards to death. Bethea also lamented the fact that she had made a mistake by leaving her ring at the crime scene, adding that she removed the ring to try on Edwards' rings.

On June 12, 1936, Bethea confessed for the second time that she told the guards where she had hidden the stolen jewelry. Owensboro police searched a barn in Owensboro and found the jewelry where Bethea said she had left it.

Under Kentucky law, the grand jury could not convene until June 22, and the prosecutor charged Bethia with outright rape. Under current state statutes, an electric shock was applied to the state penitentiary in edifice for murder and robbery, for murder and robbery.

However, rape can be publicly executed in the county seat where the crime took place. Bethia was never charged with the remaining offenses of theft, robbery, burglary, giving a false name to the police, or murder. After an hour and forty minutes, the grand jury returned the indictment, accusing Bethia of rape.

On June 25, 1936, officers returned Bethia to Owensboro for trial, which took place the same day. Bethea claimed that Clyde would grant Maddox an alibi, but Maddox claimed he did not know Bethia.

The defense summoned four witnesses: Maddox, Ladd Moorman, Willie Johnson (an alleged aide who gave Bethia's statements), and Alan McDaniel. The first three were served; However, the sheriff's office could not find the man named Alan McDaniel.

The night before the trial, Bethia announced to her attorneys that she wanted to plead guilty, and wanted to do so at the start of the trial the next day.

Requesting the death penalty for Bethia, the prosecutor still presented the state's case to the jury despite the guilty plea.

Commonwealth Attorney Herman Birkhead said in his opening statement, "This is one of the most dastardly, brutal, cowardly crimes ever committed in Davis County. would hope."

The prosecution closed its case after examining 21 witnesses. The defense neither produced any witnesses nor questioned them.

Following a closing statement by the prosecutor, the judge directed the jury that since Bethia pleaded guilty, she "... should reduce her sentence to not less than ten years, nor more than twenty years, or imprisonment on death at atonement." I will have to decide."

After only four and a half minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with the death sentence. Bethea is then quickly removed from the courthouse and returned to the Jefferson County Jail. In total, Bethia's trial lasted three hours.

While the crime was notorious locally, it came to nationwide attention because the Davis County sheriff was a woman. Florence Shoemaker Thompson became sheriff on April 13, 1936, after her husband, Sheriff Everett Thompson, unexpectedly died of pneumonia on April 10.

Through the widow's succession, Florence became sheriff, and as sheriff of the county, she was tasked with executing Bethia.

A former Louisville police officer, Arthur L. Hash offered his services to the executioners free of charge. Thompson accepted the offer. He said that he should not make his name public.

Hash arrived at the scene intoxicated, wearing a white suit and white Panama hat. At this point, none other than he and Thompson knew he would pull the trigger.

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