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Elmer David BRUNNER





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: The last defendant executed by West Virginia
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 27, 1957
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1918
Victim profile: Ruby Miller, 58
Method of murder: Hitting with the claw-end of a hammer
Location: Huntington, West Virginia, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution on April 3, 1959

Elmer David Brunner (died 3 April 1959) was a convicted American murderer and was the last defendant executed by West Virginia.

On 27 May 1957, Ruby Miller was killed with the claw-end of a hammer in Huntington, West Virginia during a burglary of her home. Brunner was arrested and charged with first degree murder. Brunner was convicted in July 1957 and was sentenced to death by electric chair.

Brunner's case was appealed twice to the Supreme Court of West Virginia and once to the United States Supreme Court, but all of his appeals were rejected. He was executed on 3 April 1959 by electrocution in "Old Sparky", the electric chair in the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia.

West Virginia abolished the death penalty in 1965. No one has been executed by West Virginia since Brunner's death.


Crimes of the 20th Century

By Joseph Platania -

When Mrs. J.E. (Ruby) Miller pulled into her driveway shortly before 11 a.m. on May 27, 1957, she didn't expect to find someone burglarizing her fashionable home in Huntington's southeast hills. Hearing suspicious noises coming from inside a bedroom, she armed herself with a shotgun and proceeded to investigate the source of the sounds, thus setting into motion a chain of events that would lead to her murder.

Front page headlines of May 28, 1957 state that a handyman and ex-convict named Elmer David Bruner had confessed to the May 27 bludgeoning-style murder of 58 year old Ruby Miller, wife of a prominent local contractor, who lived at 2021 Washington Boulevard. The article adds that Bruner, "a Huntington odd jobs man," was a 39 year old convict who had been sentenced to prison three times previously.

Bruner admitted to breaking into the Miller home after cutting a screen in a window. He was ransacking a bedroom when he heard someone enter the house.

Bruner told law enforcement officials that he opened the bedroom door and was confronted by Miller holding a shotgun. In his statement he said that "he wrestled the gun from her and ‘picked up something and began hitting her with it.'"

An article states that Miller was "brutally beaten with the claw end of a hammer." It adds that her body, "the skull crushed by more than a dozen blows and blood splattered on the bed and wall, was found in a guest bedroom of her home. A blood-stained hammer lay nearby."

Bruner's confession came after more than four hours of questioning by police detectives. The ex-convict had been sought in connection with an armed robbery and two burglaries.

An article reports that at the time Bruner was apprehended following a telephone tip, police were unaware of the Miller murder. It adds that when he was arrested, he had the keys to a car stolen from the Miller home.

Bruner was indicted for the murder of Ruby Miller and brought to trial the week of June 28, 1957. Bruner was one of six children of blind parents and had reached only the fifth grade in school.

After a trial before packed courtroom crowds, "an all-male jury" found Bruner, who consistently maintained his innocence despite confessing to the crime, guilty of murder in the first degree without a recommendation for mercy, making the death penalty mandatory, states an article. He was sentenced to the electric chair at the West Virginia Penitentiary on August 2, 1957. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld his conviction. During the next several years, Bruner exhausted a series of appeals including an appeal for clemency from the governor. The final date for his execution was set for March 27, 1959. An article reports that "This was Good Friday so Gov. Underwood moved it to April 3, 1959."

Bruner has the distinction of being the last person to be executed in West Virginia before the state abolished the death penalty in 1965.



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