Executions · Newspaper clippings · Pennsylvania

“Man of Mystery” executed for murder

July 10, 1917
Pennsylvania
A man cloaked in mystery and calling himself John Nelson is executed for murder

The man gave several false names after his apprehension, beginning with Peter Jackson and ending with John Nelson. On October 30, 1915, he fatally stabbed a man named J. M. Stickler. According to The Scranton Republican (Nov. 3, 1915), “Nelson” was enraged after being turned away repeatedly while looking for lodging. Already on edge, he exploded into profanity when a couple of boys bumped into him while they played. When a group of men in front of a barbershop told him to watch his language, he lunged at them, swinging a pocket knife. One swing struck a man named Mr. Farnam above the heart; he survived the attack. Mr. Stickler was less fortunate, receiving at least one stab to his side and another to his heart. Stickler lingered near death for a few days before succumbing to his wounds on November 1. Nelson was quickly apprehended, tried, and convicted of murder.

While awaiting execution, the mystery of his true identity (which Nelson steadfastly refused to admit) drew a healthy amount of attention, in part due to his well-educated and stoic nature which further added to his mystique. The Scranton Times created postcards asking if anyone knew of Nelson’s true name, mailing some 5,000 postcards nationwide in the hopes someone could identify him. Though responses poured in, none led to any meaningful information. Nelson was executed in the electric chair, still unidentified, on July 10, 1917.

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