Irene Schroeder (February 17, 1909 -
February 23, 1931) was an American criminal who became the first woman
to be electrocuted in Pennsylvania, and the fourth woman to be
executed by electrocution in the whole of the United States. She was
given several nicknames by the press, including 'Trigger Woman', 'Iron
Irene', 'Irene of the six-shooters', 'animal woman', 'the blonde
tiger' and 'the blonde bandit'.
Irene Schroeder (née Crawford) was born in 1909 in
Benwood, West Virginia. At the age of 15, she married Homer Schroeder,
and they had a son Donnie a year later. She soon left Homer, becoming
a waitress in Wheeling, West Virginia. Here, she met Walter Glenn
Dague, who became her lover.
On 27 December 1929, Irene, Walter Glenn Dague and
Irene's older brother Tom Crawford were involved in a grocery store
robbery in Butler, Pennsylvania. While escaping from the scene of the
crime, they were stopped by two police officers, Brady Paul and Ernest
Moore. A shoot-out ensued: Paul was fatally shot and Moore was
Shrader, Crawford and Dague all escaped and went
into hiding, leaving Irene's four-year-old son (who had been in the
car at the time) with a family member. Irene changed the spelling of
her name to Schroeder in order to muddy the trail the police were
Donnie was soon interviewed by the police, and his
testimony was later used to help convict his mother. He stated:
"I saw my mama shoot a cop". Uncle Tom shot
another one in the head. He shot right through the windshield.
Tom Crawford was never arrested; police believe he
was killed in a shoot-out following a robbery in Texas. After a long
manhunt, Dague and Schroeder were both apprehended following a
shoot-out in Arizona. They were tried in Pennsylvania and sentenced to
death by electrocution - Schroeder was the first female to be executed
in this way in Pennsylvania.
Schroeder was electrocuted on February 23, 1931 at
7:05 a.m., wearing "a gray dress of imitation silk with white collars
and cuffs, beige silk stockings and black satin slippers" to her
Her executioner remarked that she seemed
particularly "composed and fearless". Her parting words to her
then-seven-year-old son Donnie were, "I am going to die, my boy, but I
am not afraid. Be a good boy and don't be afraid." Donnie was heard to
remark, "I'll bet my mom would make an awful nice angel."
Schroeder case made history
By Megan J. Miller - TimesOnline.com
February 20, 2011
NEW CASTLE - Around 11:30 a.m. Dec. 27, 1929, Cpl.
Brady Paul, 25, of the Pennsylvania Highway Patrol, answered the
telephone call that would send him to his death.
Sgt. Martin J. Crowley of the Pennsylvania state
police, who was on the other end of the line, would later remember
saying, "We just had a holdup here, and we haven't got so much
information for the time being, but we believe they are headed for New
Castle on the New Castle Road. Will you take care of this right away?"
"He says, ‘All right, Sarge, I'll get out right
away,' " Crowley recalled.
Paul and another highway patrolman, Pvt. Ernest C.
Moore, also about 25, took Paul's motorcycle and headed east on what's
now known as the Old Butler Road, with Moore riding in the sidecar.
Heading toward them on the same highway was a
two-door Chevrolet "coach" carrying two men, a woman and a young boy,
who was standing up in front of his mother in the front passenger
Around 11:15 a.m., Irene Schroeder, her brother,
Tom Crawford, and her paramour, Walter Dague, had robbed the P.H.
Butler Co. grocery store in Butler at gunpoint, while Schroeder's
4-year-old son, Donnie, waited in the car. Schroeder said later that
they'd driven up from Wheeling, W.Va., with no particular plan and
decided to knock off the store on a whim.
Schroeder and Dague - known by his middle name,
Glenn - had bound and gagged the store manager, Wish Angert, and an
elderly customer, then emptied their pockets and cleaned out the cash
It wasn't their first such heist, Schroeder said.
She and Dague had robbed gas stations and stores from Ohio to
Tennessee as they roamed from state to state in the preceding months.
They were armed with handguns they'd purchased in
September in pawn shops on the North Side of Pittsburgh.
Shootout on the Butler Road
Paul and Moore pulled into a farm lane about three
miles east of New Castle and began stopping cars headed west from
Butler. They were armed with their service pistols and a vague
description that they were looking for two men and a woman.
Moore would later testify that they stopped about
six cars without incident.
"The last car we stopped was a Chevrolet coach," he
said. That was shortly before noon.
As Paul approached the driver's side window and
asked the driver, Dague, for his license, Moore walked around to the
rear of the car to look at the license plate.
Seconds later Paul bumped into him, backing away
from Dague and Schroeder, who had both bailed out of the driver's side
door and had their guns drawn.
"Pull your gun, Moore," he remembered Paul saying,
and Moore ran around the passenger's side of the car for cover,
reaching for his sidearm.
That's when the shooting started.
Crawford, sitting in the back seat, shot Moore
across the tip of the nose as he was running past.
Moore made it to the front of the car but was
pinned down, crouching by the radiator, under fire from Crawford and
Witnesses from the Baldwin family, watching from
their nearby home, testified that Schroeder continued walking toward
Paul. He had his hands half-raised, they said, and was backing away.
Then she fired a shot. His body shuddered, swayed,
but didn't fall.
Samuel Baldwin, 17 at the time of the trial, said
Paul continued to back up after the first shot, about 10 feet farther,
and Schroeder fired again. After that shot, Paul went to his knees.
‘Tell them I did the best I could'
After the robbers sped away, George Book, a driver
for Lawrence Bottling Works who also witnessed the incident, helped
Paul into his truck and hauled him to town.
Doctors at Jameson Memorial Hospital could do
little for Paul, they said later. He had been shot three times; once
in the left arm, once in the left leg, and once in the abdomen - the
fatal shot, through his liver and right kidney.
He died at 12:55 p.m., about 15 to 20 minutes after
he arrived at the hospital.
The owner of the Colonial Hotel, Mollie Crowl,
stayed with the young officer in the operating room as he was dying.
She testified that he was in terrible pain but was able to speak to
her as doctors and nurses bustled around them.
"Tell the boys I did my duty, tell them I did the
best I could," Crowl recalled him saying. Then, "Mollie, you will soon
see mother, because I am dying. Kiss mother goodbye for me."
Moore survived not one, but two gunshot wounds to
the head - the one that cut a groove across the tip of his nose, and
one that skimmed off his skull, knocking him unconscious.
Witnesses said Paul appeared to get off only a few
shots at the fleeing robbers' car after he regained his feet and took
cover behind a nearby telephone pole.
Moore would testify that he had no memory of even
firing his gun. It was sometimes difficult to free from its holster,
he said, and by the time he pulled it, he was pinned down by gunfire.
"That is part of your training, pulling your gun,
and so on, is it not?" Schroeder defense attorney Thomas W. Dickey
"I never had any of it," Moore replied.
"You never had any training?"
"Not in pulling a gun," Moore said.
Schroeder and her companions drove into New Castle,
ditching their bullet-riddled Chevrolet for a Chrysler carjacked from
a passing couple.
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
But that would prove to be their undoing.
They drove south on Route 18, Schroeder said, into
Beryl Miller, owner of Miller's Restaurant in
Monaca, testified that they stopped at her Ninth Street business
around 5 p.m. and ordered soup for Donnie and about a dozen sandwiches
"She said she was in a hurry and hurried the child
in his eating," Miller said.
Schroeder and Dague later denied stopping there.
They made their way back to Wheeling that night
around 9 p.m., stashing the stolen Chrysler in a rented garage and
driving off in a Pontiac coupe. They dropped Donnie off at the home of
Schroeder's father, Joseph Crawford, in Benwood, W.Va., and left Tom
Crawford in downtown Wheeling.
Both said it was the last time they ever saw
Then the fugitive couple headed west.
Back in New Castle, investigators were poring
through a veritable treasure trove of evidence left inside the
abandoned Chevrolet. The find included several Wheeling newspapers and
a receipt from a Wheeling department store.
‘My mamma shot one cop'
The tale of Irene Schroeder's capture, trial and
death was one of the most publicized crime stories of its day.
Accounts of how authorities were able to identify
her differ, but the most probable seems to be that a clerk in the
Wheeling store remembered her as a regular customer and was able to
provide a name.
Investigators followed the clerk's information to
Schroeder's family in the Wheeling area. They found Donnie at the home
of Ray and Ruby Schroeder, Irene's sister and brother-in-law, in
"My mamma shot one cop and laid back of the car
groaning," Donnie told them, according to Francis Moran, chief of the
Bellaire police. "Uncle Tom shot another one in the head. He shot
right through the windshield."
Police finally had a name to go with their
description of the chunky blond "gun girl," as media had dubbed her.
For weeks, Schroeder and Dague led police on a
nationwide chase marked by shootouts and narrow escapes. Their trail
finally ended in what newspapers glorified as an Old West-style
standoff in remote mountains of the Arizona desert.
At the end of January 1930, they were extradited
back to Lawrence County to stand trial for the murder of Brady Paul.
Schroeder was tried first, beginning on March 12.
The prosecution paraded in 77 witnesses to build a case against her.
She was found guilty of first-degree murder, punishable by death, on
Dague's case began March 24, and he received the
same verdict on March 31.
While the trial and subsequent appeals dragged on,
all the way to the state Supreme Court, media swarmed around
Schroeder's young son, Donnie. His name and picture were splashed
across practically every newspaper in the country as the boy who'd
effectively signed his own mother's death warrant.
According to newspaper reports, he and his
grandfather often went to prison to visit Schroeder, including on her
22nd birthday, six days before her execution.
Irene and Glenn
Schroeder was born in Benwood, W.Va., on Feb. 17,
1909. Her father, Joseph Crawford, had eight living children and seven
dead, she testified, and she was the youngest. They were very poor,
and she began working at a young age, managing to stay in school
through all but two weeks of the eighth grade.
Her mother died when Schroeder was 8 years old, and
she was sent to live with one married sister, then another, Ruby
When she was 15 she married Ruby's husband's
brother, Homer Schroeder, who was significantly older than she. She
lived with him only a year and a half before leaving and taking their
young son, Donnie, with her.
She went back to living with her sister, then a
brother. She was working as a waitress in a Wheeling-area restaurant
when she met Dague, a salesman, in August 1927.
Schroeder testified that she first saw him as she
was crossing 16th Street in Wheeling, that he almost hit her with his
"I walked on across the street, and he turned at
the corner and stopped and took me to where I was rooming," she said.
A few days later, he came to see her again at the restaurant where she
They began an affair, and Dague left his wife,
Teresa H. Dague, and their two children, a boy, Delmar, and a girl,
Maryls, for good on April 6, 1929.
Dague and Schroeder began moving around frequently,
working odd jobs for money. They sold washing machines in Buffalo, she
said, and he pruned trees in Pittsburgh. He sometimes sold cars.
Somewhere along the way, they began robbing gas stations and stores,
starting on the path that led them to the Butler Road.
On Feb. 23, 1931, Irene Schroeder became the first
woman to die in Pennsylvania's electric chair.
She was given "first contact" at 7:01 a.m., and
pronounced dead at 7:05 a.m., according to the certificate of her
execution. On the form her occupation was listed as "restaurant
Dague, 34, followed close behind. He was pronounced
dead at 7:14 a.m. His certificate reads "auto salesman."
The 4-year-old boy who said his mother killed a
policeman spent the rest of his life working to conceal his past,
according to two of his children.
Don Shrader (aka Don Schroeder) grew up shuffled
among several relatives, living for a time with his father, Homer, who
He served as an Air Force gunner in Korea and was
decorated for his service, said his daughter D.J. Everette. He made a
career out of the military and took advantage of education programs to
study engineering. Eventually he moved to Florida and worked for NASA
on several space missions.
But his daughter Sharon Carter, one of Shrader's
children from his second marriage, said that for years her family kept
unlisted telephone numbers. She remembers one time that someone asked
him about the Schroeder case, and he denied knowing anything about it.
Everette, Shrader's daughter from his first
marriage, said she grew up believing her father was dead; that he had
been killed in combat. That's what her mother and the rest of her
family told her.
Her parents had married secretly in Cheyenne, Wyo.,
where both were living at the time.
"Mother was very close to her family, a large
southern family, and you just didn't do those things," Everette said.
"More importantly, my grandmother was quite the newspaper reader, and
she was well aware of this high-profile situation (the Schroeder
case). She was a very strong southern woman, and she made sure the
whole family sang the same tune."
So, with the specter of Irene Schroeder between
them, the couple separated and moved on.
Everette said she never knew the truth until just a
few years ago when she was working on family genealogy and requested
Don Shrader's military records.
What she received was a three-inch-thick envelope
full of paperwork from a decades-long career. It was definitely not
the paperwork of someone who had been killed in Germany in the 1940s,
as she was told.
So she began doing research on the case and on Don
Shrader's life. She found out that the legal spelling of the surname
on Don's birth certificate and Irene and Homer's marriage license is
"Shrader." Irene apparently adopted "Schroeder" at some point for a
reason that remains unclear.
Through her research, she was able to meet her
father and her two half-sisters shortly before his death in December
She's now working on a book about her father's
experiences and their family history, Everette said. She's even hoping
her research can clear Irene's name, or at least give some context for
the choices her grandmother made.
"What was done was a devastating thing for the
family," Everette said. "His whole life, and then mine, was affected
by Irene. But then you go back to where Irene started, being raised in
that poverty and that environment. ... Not that I'm giving excuses,
but I want people to know the real Irene."
Juror had regrets about
By Megan J. Miller -
February 20, 2011
HOOKSTOWN - Theodore
S. Warnock was a 27-year-old auto mechanic from East Brook who said
exactly what District Attorney John S. Powers hoped to hear from a
prospective juror in the Irene Schroeder murder trial.
"Do you believe in
the death penalty as a just mode of punishment?" Powers asked.
"If the case warrants
it, according to the law," Warnock answered.
"Would it make any
difference to you, Mr. Warnock, if the defendant was a woman?"
"No, sir," Warnock
Warnock was chosen to
serve on the Lawrence County jury that sent Irene Schroeder to die for
Yet one year later,
on the very day of her execution, he sent a telegram to Gov. Gifford
Pinchot asking him to spare her life.
His reason for doing
so - and for waiting until the last moment - are a family mystery,
said Warnock's son, Bill Warnock of Hookstown.
The telegram is
missing, probably gone forever. It's not in the Pennsylvania State
Archives, and it's not in the Gifford Pinchot Papers collection of the
Library of Congress.
But the family knows
it was sent. They have two pieces of proof.
The first is a
scribbled makeshift confidentiality agreement that Warnock apparently
required the telegraph operator to sign.
It reads: "I, Joseph
Graham, herewith promise Theodore Warnock that there will be no press
publicity attending my action in sending my telegram to Gov. Pinchot
on behalf of Irene Schroder (sic)." It was also signed by a witness
and dated Feb. 23, 1931.
The other evidence is
a personal reply to Warnock from P.S. Stahlnecker, secretary to
Pinchot. It's dated Feb. 27, 1931, four days after Schroeder and
Walter Glenn Dague were executed.
"Dear Mr. Warnock,"
Stahlnecker began. "The governor directs me to thank you for your
interest in the terrible and tragic matter of Irene Schroeder. He
appreciates the kind expression which prompted your message, and
regrets that he was not able to act as you suggested."
that in Pennsylvania, the governor had no legal authority to grant a
commutation or pardon without the approval of the Board of Pardons.
In closing, he
chided, "Whether you or other people happen to believe in capital
punishment or not, this is not an issue in this particular case, since
that is the Law of Pennsylvania."
Warnock seldom spoke
about the case, said Bill Warnock, who was only 17 when his father
died. But Bill doesn't believe his father had changed his mind about
"I asked him about it
once, and he said they did so many bad things from New Castle to
Chandler, Ariz., that he felt they got their just due," Warnock said.
Then why try to save
"I really don't
know," Warnock said. "The only thing I can think, from all indications
I have, he loved his mother. ... And I think he was just the kind of
guy who would have thought of her being a mother, and felt sympathy."
SCHROEDER, Irene (USA)
Shoot-out in the OK Corral it wasn’t, but its 1930s counterpart was
similarly filled with flying lead when Irene and her lover Glenn were
cornered by the police in Arizona. It was her love of violence and
also for her renegade partner which, after standing up to the
authorities for so long, found Irene finally sitting in the electric
poor parents in 1909, she married when she was fifteen and had a
child, Donnie, before deserting her husband and finding work as a
waitress. It was then that she met and fell deeply in love with
34-year-old Walter Glenn Dague who left his wife and children to be
two, with Donnie in the back seat, then drove across the country,
robbing shops and banks in isolated communities on the way, but on 29
December 1929 the alarm was raised, and on being pursued by the
police, Irene, with cold deliberation, shot and killed one of the
highway patrolmen in the police car. Driving away, they left Donnie
with relatives, then fled across the state line.
means the authorities discovered the boy’s whereabouts, and when
Donnie was questioned, his innocent replies virtually sealed the fates
of his mother and her lover for, as reported in the local press, he
said, ‘My mamma’s killed a cop like you.’
nationwide hunt was now on, and the murderous pair were eventually
surrounded by a large posse of police in Arizona. A fierce gun battle
ensued, a reporter describing how ‘Cracking down with a six-gun was a
bobbed-hair blonde woman who faced the booming police shotguns, and
hurled lead in the fracas as calmly as her gun-fighting male
companion.’ So furious was the combat that the couple ran out of
ammunition and, fleeing in the car, abandoned it some miles away.
Taking to their heels, they climbed the slopes of Estrella Mountain
where, hemmed in and challenged by the police, they both surrendered
and were taken to Rockview Penitentiary, Pennsylvania, it being
reported that they caressed each other during the journey.
March 1930 Irene Schroeder appeared in court. ‘She wore a blue dress,
her hair was freshly bobbed and her face was plentifully besprinkled
with powder,’ a journalist wrote. That her hopes of receiving a light
sentence were revealed by her reply when asked to smile for the
cameras: ‘How can you smile and look pretty when you are going to
prison for life and are heartbroken?’
were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. In
his excellent autobiography Agent of Death, executioner Robert G.
Elliott described how calmly Irene had behaved, how much she evidently
loved Glenn, even to the extent of being prepared to shoulder full
responsibility for the crimes if his life could be spared. When asked
by the matron whether she could do anything for her, Irene answered,
‘Yes, there is something – please tell them in the kitchen to fry
Glenn’s eggs on both sides. He likes them that way.’ And, later, to
the prison chaplain, she said, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’ll be all
better go back to Glenn, I think he needs you more than I do.’
a.m. on 23 February 1931, wearing a loose, ill-fitting grey dress,
beige stockings and black slippers, her hair having earlier been
clipped away from the back of her head, she was escorted into the
execution chamber. Elliott said that he watched her walk to the
electric chair, a calm smile on her face, adding that she gave the
impression that without Glenn, there was no point in going on living.
As the warders tightened the straps around her and adjusted the head
and leg electrodes, she closed her eyes.
book, Elliott, a humane and sensitive man, revealed what passed
through his mind when the moment of execution approached. He wrote:
sending the lethal current on its journey of death, I glance at the
chair to make sure no one is standing too near to it. Then I throw the
switch. As I do, I often pray, ‘May God have mercy on your soul.’ The
figure in the chair pitches forward, straining
the straps; there is the whining cry of the current and a crackling,
sizzling sound. The body turns a vivid red. Sparks often shoot from
the electrodes. A wisp of white or dull grey smoke may rise from the
top of the head or the leg to which the electrode is attached; this is
produced by the sponge lining, singed hair and, sometimes, burning
fashion Irene Schroeder paid the price demanded by society: two and a
half minutes after the executioner had thrown the switch, the prison
doctor certified her dead.
innocence of children can best be exemplified – sadly – by Irene
Schroeder’s son Donnie, aged five, who, when told by his mother that
he should be brave because she was going to die, was later reported to
have said brightly, ‘I’ll bet mom will make an awful nice angel.’
True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott