Executions · Kentucky

The last public execution in the United States

August 14, 1936
Owensboro, Kentucky
Rainey Bethea becomes the last person publicly executed in the United States

Bethea was convicted of the rape and murder of 70-year-old Lischia Edwards, who was choked during the violent sexual assault. He left behind damning evidence including a distinctive ring as well as fingerprints, linking him solidly to the crime.

Many factors convened to draw in a large crowd and make an indelible spectacle: approximately 20,000 people were in attendance, which reporters called a “Roman holiday;” the sheriff overlooking the hanging was a woman; the condemned was a black man and the victim a white woman; and the man selected to pull gallows’ trap door arrived drunk and remained aloof to his cue, only responding when someone yelled “Do it!”

The media circus and the unprofessional manner of the executioner contributed to the end of public executions nation-wide.

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