|Joseph P. Hamilton-1871|
Hamilton was a farm hand for a
man by the name of Elisha W. Hallock who lived a few miles east of
Princeton, in Mercer County. Mr. Hallock was murdered at about
2 p.m. on July 14, 1871, at his farm home, leaving a 28 year old
widow and several children.
On the same day of the killing,
Hamilton and Mrs. hallock were arrested as the murderers. The case
stirred quite a sensation in Mercer County and Mrs. Hallock's
case was transferred to Putnam County while Hamilton was sent to
Mrs. Hallock was tried and acquitted of any
responsibility in connection with the murder of her husband.
Hamilton, however, was convicted of the murder of his former
employer in the Harrison County court. Hamilton, it seems, had
been living with Hallock about 18 months, and during that time an
intimate relationship developed between him and Mrs.
A few days before the murder, Mr. Hallock had found
on the sewing machine a letter signed "W.H.N." threatening his life
and demanding $1,000.00 to be sent through the Princeton post office
to a mysterious address. On the morning of the murder,
Hamilton went to the house of a man by the name of Flaherty, who
lived about two miles away, and asked Mrs. Flaherty if she had a
revolver. He explained that Mr. Hallock's life had been
threatened and he wanted the revolver to defend himself.
bought the revolver, according to testimony in the trial, and
returned to the Hallock home. At about noon, he and his
employer's wife went upstairs and remained for quite sometime.
Mrs. Hallock came downstairs later and explained that young
Hamilton, who was 18 years old, was ill. He eventually came
downstairs and ate lunch with the family. At about 2 p.m.,
however, some men at work in a nearby field heard three pistol shots
in rapid succession, then two caps snap and then another shot.
A little boy testified that he saw the young man shoot twice at
Hallock and then he saw the victim fall.
Neighbors hearing of
the murder and the eyewitness account soon arrested Hamilton for the
murder. After hearing testimony in the case, the jury
deliberated for one hour and returned with a verdict of "Guilty of
murder in the first degree." After the judge sentenced the
young man to death, the boy told the court that he had nothing to
say, but later whispered to the judge:
"Judge, do not blame
me for not weeping. It is utterly impossible. I have not
shed a tear for seven years, but I feel as deeply as any man.
I wish to say that I bear no ill-will toward you, and to bid you
Since young Hamilton was convicted in a Harrison
County court, the palce of execution was established in
Bethany. The youthfulness of Hamilton caused a great tide of
sympathy on his behalf. Petitions were circulated throughout
North Missouri, and hundreds of signatures were collected asking the
governor to commute the punishment to life imprisonment. The
In a statement made prior to his execution,
Hamilton blamed Mrs. Hallock for forcing him to murder her
husband. On the day of the execution, a large crowd came to
Bethany to view the proceedings. Scores of men, women and
children gathered in front of the jail in hopes of getting a glimpse
of the condemed. When the preparations began to remove the
prisoner to the scaffold, a posse of 40 men under Col. W.P. Robinson
was placed in front of the jail to keep back the crowd. The
man was led through a great crowd of persons to the northwest corner
of the sqaure, and then was taken to the foot of the hill north of
the square (apparently behind the present post office.)
historian gives this account of Hamilton's appearance:
prisoner was dressed in black throughout, his clothing being new and
neatly fitting. He was of a slight and graceful form, delicate
features, dark eyes, brown hair and a light mustache. He made
a handsome appearance, and his general demeanor and heroic struggle
to meet death bravely seemed to soften soften the harsh feeling
which many had entertainedtoward him."
Adding a somber
backdrop to the occasion was a light snowfall which began at about
the time of the execution. By the time he noose had been
placed around the young man's neck, Hamilton's clothes were white
from the snow. After 17 minutes suspension on the gallows, he
was pronounced dead by a number of physicians and placed in a neat
velvet-covered coffin and buried.
In a macabre epilogue, it
was said that shortly after the execution the rumor got started that
Hamilton's grave had been robbed. A number of citizens
gathered at the grave to check out the rumor, opened the grave and
found that the head and right arm had been removed.
Harrison County Bicentennial,
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