February 12, 1885
William McGaughey fatally attacks his wife Mollie
The attack was in part witnessed by Mollie’s teenaged daughter from a previous marriage. The daughter, Mattie, stated she heard a thump come from a closed room and peeked through a knothole in the wall to investigate. When this proved too difficult to get a proper view, Mattie moved to a door’s keyhole. Upon seeing her mother on the floor she asked what had happened, to which her stepfather replied Mollie was feeling sick. Mattie ran to get help though when she returned William was gone.
William had left the home to visit a druggist to seek medical attention. While bleeding from the neck, he explained Mollie had attacked him and left him with no choice but to defend himself. The sight of a bleeding man was enough to gather a crowd and, after hearing his story, the group relocated to his house.
Mollie was found laying on the floor in a pool of blood. Her throat had been cut from her left ear to the “middle of her right jawbone.” Her breasts had also been cut with a razor. And her head had been struck by an axe, exposing her skull. Doctors treated her wounds immediately and, when she was able to sit up within days of the attack, it was believed she would recover. She did not. Mollie died of her injuries 18 days after the assault.
The theory presented at court suggested William knocked Mollie to the floor with the axe blow then hunched over her to cut her throat and chest. Assuming she was dead, William gave himself a superficial cut to his own throat to suggest Mollie had been killed in self-defense. Mollie’s temporary survival and Mattie’s testimony ensured William would not be acquitted, however. He was convicted and sentenced to hang.
On October 16, 1885, William was brought to the gallows in a wagon, seated on his own coffin. He offered no resistance to his impending death, though he did use his final statement to attempt to shift blame on Mollie for her murder. “I want you to all meet me in heaven,” William told the crowd. “Raise your children right. Never marry a base woman; you see what one has brought me to. Be sure the woman loves you before you marry her. God has pardoned my sins. I am ready and willing to die.”
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Georgia. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016
“Sat On His Coffin.” The Lancaster Weekly Intelligencer. October 21, 1885 (image source)
“William McGaughey, a Georgia Negro Meets Death On the Gallows.” The Decatur Herald. October 18, 1885
“Execution in Georgia.” The Boston Daily Globe. October 18, 1885
“Two Throats Cut.” The Constitution [Atlanta, Georgia]. February 18, 1885