Kentucky · Newspaper clippings

Man executed for killing his pregnant wife, likely to continue his relationships with two other women

February 27, 1890
Paris, Kentucky
Thomas O’Brien is hanged for killing his pregnant wife

O’Brien had married Betty Shea in secret, using assumed names in the process. After some time, Betty insisted O’Brien make the marriage public. O’Brien gave various reasons for not wanting to, though he left out the probable real reasons: he was engaged to another woman and was living with a third.

Shortly before Betty’s murder, O’Brien contacted physicians to obtain medication to induce the abortion of “the evidence of their union.” When this plan fell through, O’Brien resorted to murdering his wife.

Betty was found in her room of her employer’s home, where she worked as a domestic servant. She had a scarf wrapped around her head so tightly the fabric’s weave was imprinted onto her skin. Beneath the cloth, Betty’s head was “crushed and pounded almost to a jelly.”

A letter was found in Betty’s pocket, signed by “T” and written in O’Brien’s handwriting. O’Brien was arrested within an hour though he proclaimed his innocence, which he maintained through his trial and his execution. On the gallows, O’Brien showed no sense of nervousness and made no final statement, only mouthing a silent prayer before he fell through the trapdoor and was killed instantly.

Source:
“O’Brien; Feels the Fatal Halter Draw.” The Cincinnati Enquirer. February 28, 1890
“To-day’s Noose.” The Topeka State Journal. February 27, 1890
“For Murdering Betty Shea.” The Times [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]. June 24, 1889
“Monday’s Misdeeds.” The Saint Paul Globe. April 2, 1889

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