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Virginia CHRISTIAN

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (17) - Argument
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 18, 1912
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: August 15, 1895
Victim profile: Ida Virginia Belote, 72 (her employer)
Method of murder: Striking with a broomstick and then suffocating her with a towel
Location: Hampton, Virginia, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution in Virginia on August 16, 1912
 
 

 
 
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Black Female Executions in Historical Context by David V. Baker
 
 

 
 

Virginia’s first woman to die in the elec-tric chair was 17-year-old Virginia Christian of Elizabeth City County. Christian’s case attracted interest across the state and nation because of her age and gender. 

A Chicago newspaper publicized the case and hired an attorney to intercede on her behalf with the governor. She was executed on August 16, 1912, for the murder of 51-year-old Ida Belote.


Christian's murder of her white employer, Ida Virginia Bailed, was described by Governor William Hodges Mann as the most dastardly in the state's history and that Christian's execution was necessary to ensure public safety.

She was executed on August 16, 1912, for striking her female employer with a broomstick and then suffocating her with a towel.


Virginia Christian (15 August 1895 – 16 August 1912) was the first female executed in the 20th century in the state of Virginia, and a juvenile offender executed in the United States. She was also the only female juvenile executed by electric chair and, to date, the last female executed in the electric chair by the Commonwealth of Virginia. She was the last female executed by the Commonwealth until Thursday, September 23, 2010 when Teresa Lewis became the first female in nearly a century to be executed in the US state of Virginia.

Christian, a black maid, was convicted for the murder of her employer Mrs. Ida Virginia Belote, a white woman, aged 72 years, in her home at Hampton on 18 March 1912. It is said she confessed shortly after she was arrested.

Belote frequently mistreated Christian, and in mid- March 1912, an argument ensued between the two in which Belote accused Christian of stealing a locket and a skirt. Belote hit Christian with a cuspidor, commonly called a 'spittoon'. The altercation escalated when Christian and Belote ran for two broom handles Belote used to prop up her bedroom windows. Christian grabbed one of the broom handles and struck Belote on the forehead. In an attempt to stifle Belote’s screams, Christian stuffed a towel down Belote’s throat, and the woman died by suffocation.

When Christian left the house, she stole Belote’s purse with some money and a ring. One newspaper reported that police found Belote’s body “laying face down in a pool of blood, and her head was horribly mutilated and a towel was stuffed into her mouth and throat”. (Streib & Sametz, 1989, p. 25; see also Moten, 1997)

Police soon arrested Christian, and during questioning she admitted to hitting Belote but was shocked that Belote was dead. Christian claimed she had no intent to kill Belote. With a lynch mob looming in the background, an Elizabeth City County Court tried and convicted Christian for murder and the trial judge sentenced her to death in the state’s electric chair. One day after her 17th birthday in August 1912, a short five months after the crime, Virginia authorities executed Christian at the state penitentiary in Richmond.

Governor William Hodges Mann declined to commute the death sentence, despite a plea from Virginia's mother, Charlotte Christian, who wrote to him:

My dear mr governor

Please for give me for Bowing low to write you a few lines: I am the mother of Virginiany Christian. I have been pairalized for mor then three years and I could not and Look after Gennie as I wants too. I know she dun an awful weaked thing when she kill Miss Belote and I hear that the people at the penetintry wants to kill her but I is praying night and day on my knees to God that he will soften your heart so that She may spend the rest of her days in prison. they say that the whole thing is in yours Hands and I know Governer if you will onely save my child who is little over sixteen years old God will Bless you for ever … If I was able to come to see you I could splain things to you better but I cant do nothing but pray to God and ask him to help you to simpithise with me and my truble

I am your most umble subgeck,

Charlotte Christian.

Christian was electrocuted in the state prison in Richmond. She was 17 years old. The paper reported that her body was to be turned over to the state medical school, because her parents did not have the money to transport the body from Richmond.


Last Time Virginia Executed a Female was 1912

Virginia Christian was just 17 when she was put to death

By Jean Jadhom - WDBJ7.com

September 23, 2010

The last time a female was executed in Virginia was nearly a century ago when a black teenager was convicted of killing her white female employer, after the woman accused the teen of stealing a skirt.

Virginia Christian was working as a servant in the Hampton area.  The teenager was convicted of strangling Mrs. Ida Belote. At just 17, without ever taking the stand,  Christian was sentenced to die.  "No. She's not getting a fair trial. She's not even allowed to testify,' said Hollins University History Professor Ruth Alden Doan.

While historical accounts show her employer actually struck Christian repeatedly first, that was never brought out in court. "Probably a lot of people in Virginia, a lot of white people would have thought that was not abuse, but was normal behavior," Doan said.

Doan believes Christian's attorneys, who were also African American,  feared bringing their client to the stand could incite widespread violence against blacks.

Christian was tried less than two weeks after the murder. According to a letter from her attorneys to the Governor, 'While excitement caused by the news of the tragedy was yet unabated.'

Her attorneys wrote, "'Great throngs of people, far more than could be accommodated in the courtroom, pressed for entrance to the trial, and the feeling manifested was intense.'

Doan believes there was a fear of what could happen if Christian were found not guilty or if she spoke on the stand about abuse.

"Maybe if she testified, and certainly if she got off, we'd have a lynch mob in town," Doan said, "Even if Christian had not been brought to trial, if there had been no trial, probably she would have been tried by the community in one way or another, maybe hauled out and lynched, maybe just run from out of town."

Virginia Christian was electrocuted on August 16, 1912, just five months after the murder.  That same electric chair is still in use in modern times when death row inmates choose electrocution over lethal injection.


Virginia Christian

17-year-old Virginia Christian murdered her employer, Ida Belote on March 18, 1912.

Ida Belote, 51 was one of Hampton's white aristocracy by way of her father's prominence as the owner of a large grocery. News accounts described her as weighing only 91 pounds, "a frail, delicate widow".

Virginia, called Gennie was Belote's washerwoman. Belote had accused Gennie of stealing a locket and a skirt, and the two got into a violent argument. Gennie had used a broom handle to force Ida’s tongue, a towel and some of her hair down her throat.

The police found Belote laying face down in a pool of blood.

Gennie did litle to cover up her crime, and she confessed soon after she was arrested.

In the lokal press of the time Virginia Christian was described as: A full-blooded negress, with kinky hair done up in threads, with dark lusterless eyes and with splotches on the skin of her face. Her color is dark brown, and her figure is short, dumpy and squashy. She has had some schooling, but her speech does not betray it. Her language is the same as the unlettered members of her race.

A newspapers quoted Virginia’s confession like this:

She (Mrs Belote) come to mammer’s house dat morning an’ say she want me to come an’ do some washin’. When I come home mommer say miss Belote want me an’ I went ‘roun’ to de house. I wen’ in de back way an’ when she see me she asked me about a gold locket she missed. I told her I ain’t seen it an’ don’t know nuthin’ about it. She also say sumthin’ about a skirt but de main thing was the locket. She say “yes you got it an’ if you don’t bring it back, I’m goin’ to have you put in jail.”

I got mad an’ told her if I did have it, she wasn’t goin’ to git it back. Den she picked up de spittoon and hit me wit it an’ it broke. They wuz two sticks in de room, broom handles. She run for one, an’ I for de’ other. I got my stick furst an’ I hit her wit it ‘side de hade and she fell down. She kep’ hollerin’ so I took a towel and stuffed it in her mouth. I helt it there twel she quit hollerin’ and jes’ groaned. I didn’t mean to kill her an’ I didn’t know I had. I was mad when I hit her an’ stuffed the towel in her mouth to keep her from hollerin’. I never meant to kill her. When I lef’ she was groanin’ and layin’ on her back.

Virginia's mother, Charlotte Christian wrote a letter in a vain attemt to save her daughter from the electric chair:

My dear Mr. Governor: Please forgive me for bothering you ... I have been paralyzed for more than three years and I could not look after Gennie as I wants to. I know she done an awful wicked thing when she killed Miss Belote and I hear that people at the penitentiary wants to kill her. But I am praying night and day on my knees to God that he will soften your heart. If you only save my child who is so little, God will bless you forever.

Local papers reported that despite a vigorous defense, the jury returned a guily verdict on April 9, 1912. On August 16, 1912 just five months after the crime, Virginia Christian was strapped in the electric chair at the state penitentiary in Richmond, Virginia.

Virginia's electric chair was build in 1908 and thus quite new when used upon Virginia Christian.

In the years around 1912 the procedure of electrocution was still under developement. The electrodes were attached to Gennie's forearms instead of her head and leg.

A reporter witnessed the execution:

The usual three shocks were administered by the officer in charge of the electric current. Each time the electric switch was touched, the body of the woman responded with fearful convulsions. Death, it is believed, was instantaneous.

The paper reported that Gennie's body was to be turned over to the state medical school, because her parents did not have the money to transport the body from Richmond.

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