December 8, 1905
Mary Mabel Rogers becomes the last woman legally executed in the state of Virginia
(Side note: there is an independent movie in the making about Mary’s life, her husband’s murder, and her execution. Check out the Facebook page here)
Mary married her husband Marcus when she was 17 in 1900. Within a year, she gave birth to their daughter, though the infant died of a skull fracture after Mary “dropped” the baby. Suspicion circulated that she intentionally killed her child, first after a sudden illness Marcus suffered after drinking tea Mary prepared and especially following the death of her husband the following year in 1902.
Mary left her husband, despite his attempts to reconcile, and began a relationship with a laborer (Morris Knapp), moving in with him and two brothers (Leon and Levi Perham). She asked the brothers for assistance in murdering her husband to leave her free to marry Knapp. Levi agreed at first when she offered him $500 (nearly $13,000 in 2016), though he was drunk at the time and refused the offer once sober. He didn’t inform police, thinking the conversation was benign and believing Mary wasn’t serious. She then enlisted the help of Leon.
On August 12, 1902, Mary accompanied Leon and returned to Marcus’ house, pretending to be happy to see her husband again and inviting him to a picnic with Leon whose presence was apparently not suspicious. The trio set up their picnic near a river and Mary tried to show her husband a supposed rope trick she learned from a friend. She tied Marcus’ hands repeatedly, challenging him to escape, which he did each time, and pretended to be disappointed with each escape. She then asked Leon to try the “trick,” which Marcus could not free himself from. Once he was restrained, Mary forced Marcus to breathe from a vial of chloroform for approximately 20 minutes until he stopped struggling, took an insurance playbook from his pockets, then rolled his body into the nearby river. Leon stuck a forged suicide note along with Marcus’ hat to a tree, and the murderers left the scene.
The note, including all spelling and grammatical errors, read:
“Blame no one as I have at last put an end to my miseberl life as my wife nows I have every threatened it, every nows I have not enything or no body to live for no one can blame me and so blame no one as my last request.
P. s. May hope you will be happy.”
During an investigation into Marcus’ death, Leon was questioned and immediately confessed. He was offered a life sentence rather than the death penalty in exchange for his testimony against Mary and due to his age, which is not specified but he is referred to as a “half witted boy”.
Though her execution was not reported with any substantial detail, witness reports collected after the fact hint that her execution was botched including the hope either being too long or stretched too far causing her feet to hit the ground and prison officials needing to pull up on the rope. However it was completed, Mary took 14 minutes to die and a deputy witnessing the even later stated “I had to turn away my head. May I never be commanded to take part in another such undertaking.”