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John McCAFFARY

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

   
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - The last defendant executed in the State of Wisconsin
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 23, 1850
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: ???
Victim profile: His wife, Bridgett McCaffary
Method of murder: Drowning
Location: Kenosha County, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Executed by hanging on August 21, 1851
 
 
 
 
 
 

John McCaffary (died August 21, 1851) was the last defendant executed in the State of Wisconsin. He was executed by hanging for the murder of his wife.

On 23 July 1850, Bridgett McCaffary was drowned in a backyard cistern in Kenosha, a newly incorporated town in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. John McCaffary, an immigrant farmer from Ireland, was arrested and charged with the first degree murder of his wife. His trial began on May 6, 1851, and on May 23, 1851 the jury convicted him of willful murder. The judge sentenced him to death by hanging.

McCaffary was hung from a tree on August 21, 1851 before a crowd of 2000 to 3000 people in front of then Kenosha courthouse and jail. The hanging was initially unsuccessful, and McCaffary remained alive and struggled on the end of the rope for approximately 20 minutes as he was slowly strangled. McCaffary was buried in the Green Ridge Cemetery in Kenosha. He was the first person executed by Wisconsin after it became a state of the United States in 1848.

The spectacle of McCaffary's slow death in front of thousands led reformers in Wisconsin to press for abolition of the death penalty. On July 12, 1853, Wisconsin Governor Leonard J. Farwell signed a law that abolished the death penalty in Wisconsin and replaced it with a penalty of life imprisonment. The law is still in effect and no one has been executed by Wisconsin since McCaffary's death.

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