Executions · Female Killers · Louisiana

Toni Jo Henry: first woman executed in Louisiana

November 28, 1942
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Toni Jo Henry is executed in the electric chair

Henry was 26 when she was executed for murder, carried out to get her husband released from his 50-year jail term. In 1940, Henry devised a plan with Harold Burks to rob a bank to fund a defense team for Claude “Cowboy” Henry. Burks and Henry first stole 16 guns from a hardware store then posed as a couple in distress to steal a Good Samaritan’s car to use during the bank robbery. The victim was Joseph Calloway, who offered the pair a ride.

Henry and Burks quickly turned on Calloway, forcing him into the car’s rumble seat which they shut on his hand, seriously wounding it. Eventually they pulled to the side of the road and forced Calloway to strip nude, a task made difficult with his injured hand. Henry then used a pair of pliers to pull Calloway by his penis across a field and she forced him to climb through a barbed wire fence. Henry then shot Calloway in the forehead. His body was later found in the snow, covered in “long, ragged scratches” over both sides of his body as well as his limbs.

The murder disturbed Burks who voiced his desire to wait to rob the bank. Henry testified Burks had “turned yellow like a little rat,” struck him with a gun, and left him unconscious in the stolen car. Henry then visited the brothel she had previously worked in, hoping they would hide her “for old time’s sake,” though the owner convinced her to turn herself in instead. Henry and Burks were found guilty of Calloway’s murder, and each sentenced to death. As she was sentenced to death, Henry reportedly screamed at the judge “I ain’t afraid of what’s comin’!”

Henry became the first and, to date, only woman executed in the state of Louisiana. (Antoinette Frank is currently on Louisiana’s death row for a 1995 robbery-murder.) Henry reportedly smiled as she went to her death, though her eyes welled with tears as the mask was placed over her head. Burks was executed in March 1943.

Sources:

  • Baker, David. Women and Capital Punishment in the United States: An Analytical History. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2016
  • “‘Toni Jo’ Henry Dies In Electric Chair For Slaying.” Crowley Daily Signal [Crowley, Louisiana]. November 28, 1942
  • “End of the Trail for Louisiana’s Tiger Girl.” The San Francisco Examiner [San Francisco, California]. July 19, 1942
  • “She Did It For ‘Cowboy’.” Daily News [New York, New York]. March 3, 1940

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