Executions · Ohio

Man hanged for the murder and dismemberment of his wife (includes graphic details from his confession)

June 12, 1857
Toledo, Ohio
Return Jonathan Meigs Ward is hanged for the murder of his wife

Ward had been abusing his wife Olive for some time before the murder. Olive sent her children from a previous marriage to other homes, and attempted to flee on a train. In an effort to detain her, Ward took her trunk, hoping she would be less inclined to leave if she had only the clothes on her back. Though she successfully left town, Olive was coerced back to her home, believing she would be able to retrieve her possessions and leave again. Ward found out his wife did not intend to stay, and on February 5, 1857, during an argument about Olive’s intention to leave, Ward struck her with an iron.

From Ward’s confession, published in Murder in Sylvania, Ohio, As Told in 1857 by Gaye E. Gindy:

Accordingly, as she stooped down to put on her shoes, I seized a smoothing iron, and while her back was towards me, I stepped up to her unperceived; but before I struck the fatal blow, I paused a moment to consider. I felt very strangely–I hesitated to strike–but, just then, a movement of her body made it necessary for me to decide at once; my resolution was remembered, and, drawing up my arm, I struck her a blow on the right side of her head, near the top, which broke her skull and felled her to the floor. The blood flowed considerably from the wound, and from her mouth and nose. She struggled a little, and did not speak after I struck her, and died in about 15 minutes.

Ward then decided to hide the murder of his wife by burning her body. As his confession continued in grisly detail:

I went to the bed and dragged out the body to a position near the stove, and began to tear off her clothes. Having completely disrobed her, I cut open the abdomen, and, taking out the bowels, crowded them into the stove, where I had made an extra fire for the occasion. As they got hot they appeared to fill with wind, and explode, making so much noise in their confined situation that I feared the neighbors would hear, and I should be exposed. By pricking holes in the portions which seemed to be most inflated, I succeeded in obviating this difficulty, and in the course of a couple of hours the bowels were wholly consumed.

I next proceeded, in the same way, with the heart, lungs, liver, etc., and by night had made considerable progress in my disgusting work. The blood I had bailed out with my hands and put in a kettle, soaking up what I could not otherwise dispose of, by means of her skirts and undergarments, and then burning it in the stove.

Having disposed of the lighter parts of the body, I next undertook to unjoint the legs at the hips. I took the legs and divided them at the knees, and put them in a large wash boiler attached to the stove. I then unjointed the arms in the same way, and after cutting them in two at the elbows, packed them in the boiler. Then I cut out the collar bone, the breast bone, the portions of the ribs, and packed them in the boiler, burning up only such small portions as the fire would readily consume. In getting out the ribs and breaking the body I was obliged to use blows, which were probably the noises heard by the neighbors, and spoken of at the trial. Finally, I took the head off and put it in the boiler. I then covered the boiler over with a cloth and shoved it under the bed.

Olive’s vanishing caused a tremor of gossip around town and Ward was suspected of having a part in her disappearance. His home was searched, but not well, as the boiler with human remains went unnoticed. When another attempt was made to contact Olive without success, Ward’s home was searched again. Human bones and a pile of ash were discovered and Ward was arrested. He confessed to his wife’s murder as well as those of two men, one in 1851 and the other in 1852, though he was not tried for these deaths. Within 5 months of Olive’s murder, Ward was hanged.

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