Executions · Minnesota

Man executed by hanging, the noose held by jail officials when the rope proved to be too long

February 13, 1906
St. Paul, Minnesota
Convicted killer William Williams is hanged during an execution so botched the state never hangs another inmate again

Williams was convicted of killing 16-year-old Johnny Keller and his mother, Mrs. F. S. Keller. Williams and Johnny had befriended each other two years before the murders while both were hospitalized for diphtheria. Eventually, Johnny’s parents grew more concerned with the attentions Williams displayed towards their son and forbade the two from contacting each other. During this time, Williams sent Johnny letters affirming his love for the teen, which went unanswered. Williams became enraged by the silence and intermingled threats with his declarations of affection. “I want you to believe that I love you now as much as I ever did,” and “Keep your promise to me this time, old boy, as it is your last chance. You understand what I mean, and should have sense enough to keep your promise” were quotes among the letters from Williams to Johnny.

In April of 1905, Williams visited the Keller house in a final attempt to convince Johnny to move with him to Winnipeg. When Mrs. Keller refused to let the man take her son, Williams shot her. He also shot Johnny twice at close range as the teen was in bed: once in the back of the head and once in the neck.

Williams attempted an emotional insanity plea which was rejected. He was found guilty of intentionally killing Johnny and sentenced to death.

Williams met his end with a calm confidence, his last words proclaiming his innocence: “Gentlemen, you are witnessing an illegal hanging. I am accused of killing Johnny Keller. He is the best friend I ever had.” The rope used to end Williams’ life was improperly measured, too long to correctly hang him. Williams’ feet hit the ground and three deputies were required to pull the rope on the scaffold to keep his feet from touching ground again. It took 14 minutes for Williams to strangle to death. The botched execution led to the abolishment of capital punishment in Minnesota in 1911.

Because of Williams’ volatile reaction to being kept from Johnny, as well as the letters sent from Williams to the teen, it is generally accepted the pair were involved in a sexual relationship (Johnny was above Minnesota’s age of consent for the time).

Sources:
“Age of Consent Laws.” Children & Youth in History. Accessed: February 13, 2019. http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/230?section=primarysources&source=24
Welter, Ben. “Feb. 13, 1906: Minnesota’s last execution.” Star Tribune. May 1, 2014. Accessed: February 13, 2019. http://m.startribune.com/feb-13-1906-minnesota-s-last-execution/257404541/
Bessler, John. “The Botched Hanging of William Williams.” The Rake. February 20, 2004. Accessed: February 13, 2019. http://rakemag.com/2004/02/botched-hanging-william-williams/
“Goes To Gallows In Dead Of Night.” The Minneapolis Journal. February 13, 1906

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