Executions · Georgia · Newspaper clippings

Two men executed for beating and shootings deaths of elderly couple

February 9, 1940
Reidsville, Georgia
James Fisher (alias James Johnson) and Joe Mathis are executed for the murders of an elderly couple during a robbery

On September 12, 1939, John E. and Emma Trainer (ages 73 and 72 respectively) were killed in the dining room of their home. The apparent motive was robbery; the couple owned and operated a combination service station and grocery store which was attached to their home. The Trainers had been clubbed or pistol whipped before they were shot. The police suspected the crime was committed by one perpetrator.

Within three weeks, Johnson and Mathis were arrested on suspicion of a string of burglaries in the area. Mathis confessed to being present during the Trainers’ murders but placed blame for their deaths on Johnson. When Johnson was confronted with Mathis’ confession, he immediately reversed the accusation, claiming that he had been in the Trainers’ home but Mathis was the killer. Both were tried and both found guilty in January 1940.

The pair were executed in the electric chair on February 9, 1940, less than 5 months after the Trainers’ murders. Neither man made an official final statement, though Mathis did reiterate to prison officials he was not responsible for the murders.

Sources:
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Georgia. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016
“Negroes Executed for Dual Slaying.” The Constitution. February 10, 1940
“Death is Decreed in Robbery Slaying.” The Constitution [Atlanta, Georgia]. January 10, 1940 (image source, via newspapers.com)
“Implicates Self in Trainer Deaths.” The Constitution. December 8, 1939
“Confession Made in Double Slaying by Theft Suspect.” The Constitution. December 7, 1939
“Clues to Murderer of Couple Scarce.” The Palm Beach Post. September 15, 1929
“Murdered Couple Found.” Orlando Morning Sentinel. September 14, 1929

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