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Charlie Birger
1881 - April 19, 1928

The last man to be executed
by public hanging in Illinois

An American mobster in Southern Illinois
during Prohibition era of the 1920's

After World War 1, the United States adopted National Prohabitoin, which outlawed the sale and consumption of alocohol in the country.
Meanwhile,The Ku Klux Klan supported prohibition and was deputized by the local Federal authories to enforce prohibition, with former federal law enforcement officer, S. Gleen Young of Herrin, as the leader.

Charlie Birger
One of the region's leading organized crime figures saw this as a great oppurtunity for bootlegging alocohol.
Birger's Gang and the rival Shelton's gang fought for control, which errupted into my fudes between the gangs and against the Klu Klux Klan.

Charlie killed two men within three days. The first killing took place at the Halfway House and with the second killing he took a bullet in his lung and was taken to the Herrin Hospital. In both killings, Birger was cleared of all charges under the plea of self defense.

January 24, 1925

A Herrin police officer walked into a cigar store, saw Young with his bodyguards, drew his pistol and shot and killed Young and his body guards. The Klan held a funeral that was attended by more than 15,000 people.

April 1926

Charlie Birger and the Shelton Brothers attacked the remaining Klan leaders in Herrin. The Klan was left to bury its own dead and the coroner ruled that the deaths were homicides "by parties unknown."

October 1926

The Birger and Shelton Gangs were at war. Both gangs built trucks converted into armored vehicles. Birger got word that Shelton's truck was at Joe Adam's garage for repairs and demanded Adam's turn it over to him, he refused to do so.
Two months later two men appeared at Adams's house with a letter they stated was from Carl Shelton. While Adam's was reading the letter, they drew their guns and shot him dead, then burned the garage down.

Around the same time stories developed that State Trooper Lory Price and Charlie Birger were involved in stealing cars. Charlie was said to hide them and Lory Price would then act as though he had found the cars and split the reward with Birger. Needless to say, the trooper and his wife went missing. Story has it that Birger shot the trooper three times and put him into the back of a car still alive and begging for mercy. They dragged the trooper into a field near DuBois, Illinois and finished him off.
Birger's men kidnapped the trooper's wife, shot her, and threw her body down an abandoned mine shaft and covered her body with debris. When the story broke five months later, coal miners searched the mine shaft for the trooper's wife. They worked for two and a half days until they found the body. Although the Trooper was regarded as a gangster, the killing of his wife the manner of disposal of her body, was not tolerated. People in the community no longer admired Charlie and his gracious personality.

December 1926
Charlie Birger and some members of his gang shot and murdered West City's mayor, Joe Adams.

June 1927

Charlie Birger was arrested in Franklin County for the December 1926 murder of Joe Adams. This occured after two of his men, Elmo and Harry Thomason, who assisted with the killings, turned over evidence to save there own necks. He had been arrested many times before, but he didn't control Franklin County like he did Williamson County. This time Birger was found guilty of murder and was sentenced to hang to death publically at the Franklin County Jail in Benton, Illinois.

One of the two who had helped with the killings confessed as the trigger man, and was only given a prison sentence. However Birger was sentenced to hang for the crime.

April 19, 1928

At Charlie Birger's request he wore a black hood instead of a white one to his hanging. He didn't want to be confused for a Klu Klux Klan member. He was then hanged for the murder of Joe Adams.
This was the last legal hanging in
the State of Illinois.

Old Franklin County Jail

The jails original scaffolding is still intact and on display at the Old Franklin County Jail in Benton, Illinois. On Feb. 1, 1999 the old jail was placed on the register of Historic Places and new jail was built in 1991.


Nanette Riley © Illinois Genealogy Trails History Group