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 Harrison County.

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. Hallock.

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.

He 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 good-bye."

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 governor refused.

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.)

A historian gives this account of Hamilton's appearance:
"The 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.
Source: Harrison County Bicentennial, 1776-1976


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