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William WILLIAMS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Fit of rage
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: April 13, 1905
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1877
Victim profile: Johnny Keller, 16 (his homosexual lover) and his mother
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA
Status: Executed by hanging on February 13, 1906. The last person executed by Minnesota
 
 
 
 
 
 

William Williams (1877 St. Ives, Cornwall 13 February 1906 Saint Paul, Minnesota) was the last person executed by Minnesota. The circumstances of his execution helped lead to the abolition of capital punishment in Minnesota.

Williams was a Cornish immigrant working as a miner in Saint Paul, Minnesota. While hospitalized for diphtheria in 1904, Williams befriended John Keller, a local teenager who was recovering from the same disease. Williams and Keller developed a close homosexual relationship. Over the next two years they boarded together in St. Paul and took two trips to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada together. Keller's father did not approve of the relationship, and told his son that he was no longer permitted to travel with Williams. Johnny Keller returned to live at his parents' house.

In 1905, Williams had sent Keller a number of letters expressing love for him and requesting that Keller join him in Winnipeg; however, the letters went unanswered at Mr. and Mrs. Keller's insistence. Williams returned to Saint Paul in April 1905 and in a fit of rage shot and killed Johnny Keller and his mother at their house. Johnny Keller was killed instantly when he was shot in the back of the head in his bed and his mother died from her injuries a week later. Johnny Keller's father was not at home at the time of the attack.

Williams was arrested and tried for premeditated murder, pleading not guilty by reason of "emotional insanity". His defence was rejected and on 19 May 1905, Williams was convicted of the murder of Johnny Keller. Williams was sentenced to death by hanging. On 8 December 1905, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. One judge dissented in the judgment, arguing that Williams's crime bore the signs of a crime of passion and therefore may have not been premeditated.

On 13 February 1906, Williams's execution was carried out in the basement of the Ramsey County Jail in Saint Paul. However, the rope that was used to hang Williams was too long, and when Williams hit the floor after dropping through the trap door on the gallows, three police officers were required to hold Williams up by the rope for over 14 minutes until he finally died of strangulation.

Williams's "botched" execution was used by opponents of the death penalty in Minnesota to argue that capital punishment should be abolished in the state. Minnesota abolished the death penalty in 1911 and since then it has never been reinstated.

 
 

Botched hanging led state to halt executions

StarTribune.com

A small item in the Wednesday Feb. 7, 1906 edition of the Minneapolis Tribune reads, "Sheriff Miesen has arranged to test the rope and gallows upon which William Williams is to be executed next Tuesday at midnight."

Ramsey County Sheriff Anton Miesen's test seems to have been successful, but it didn't keep the execution of Williams at 12:31 a.m. on Feb. 13, 1906, from being a hideously botched affair that resulted in him being the last person executed in Minnesota.

Williams was a 28-year-old British itinerant miner and steamfitter. In 1904 he befriended young Johnny Keller when they were both hospitalized with diphtheria. Keller subsequently roomed with Williams in several places around St. Paul, and in the summer of 1904 they traveled together to Winnipeg, Manitoba. In 1905 Keller was back home in St. Paul, and was receiving a mix of love letters and threatening letters from Williams, who insisted the then 16-year-old come back to Winnipeg with him.

On April 13, Williams was found in the Keller home in St. Paul, smoking gun in hand, having shot Keller's mother and then Johnny in the back of the head and neck as the teen lay in bed. Keller's mother died a week later.

Despite Williams' defense of "emotional insanity," he was convicted on two counts of premeditated murder, which was upheld on appeal.

Sheriff Miesen was confident of his rope's strength, and the proper functioning of the trapdoor of his gallows, but his math was faulty in calculating both the height of Williams and the gallows platform.

As the condemned man dropped, his feet hit the floor.

A lurid description in the next day's issue of the St. Paul Daily News said that William's "neck stretched four and one-half inches and the rope nearly eight inches."

So deputies quickly grabbed the rope and pulled it upward, then took turns holding Williams' feet off the ground for almost 15 minutes while the life was choked out of him.

The death certificate stated that the cause of death was strangulation.

The debacle, and the newspaper coverage of it, gave ammunition to those in the state Legislature who opposed the death penalty.

House member George MacKenzie, R-Gaylord, had tried to abolish capital punishment in Minnesota in 1905 and again in 1909. He succeeded in 1911 when Republican Gov. Adolph Eberhart signed the legislation into law.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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