March 18, 1938
Lester Brocklehurst (24, pictured) is executed for the murder of a man during a robbery
Brocklehurst (sometimes spelled Brockelhurst) was a former Mormon Sunday school teacher turned “crime tourist,” as the press at the time referred to him. Beginning on March of 1937, Brocklehurst and his 18-year-old girlfriend Bernice Felton (pictured) hitchhiked across multiple state lines during their so-called crime tour, killing at least three men to steal their cars: Albin Theander in Rockford, Illinois; Jack Griffith in Fort Worth, Texas; and Victor A. Gates in Arkansas. It was for Gates’ murder Brocklehurst was executed.
On April 28, Griffith was shot in the chest while trying to write down the license plate of a man robbing a woman, later identified as Brocklehurst. Griffith died of his wounds on May 5. The plates belonged to Theander, who had been kidnapped, robbed, and killed on March 31. In May 1937, Gates picked up Brocklehurst and Felton as they hitchhiked. He was shot in the back of the head as he drove, dumped in a ditch, and left to die “at the mercy of the beasts of the forest,” as Judge Waggoner put it at the conclusion of Brocklehurst’s trial.
Brocklehurst and Felton were arrested on May 13 after being pulled over for driving a car without plates. The officer then noticed blood stains on the car’s seats and a pistol, and brought the couple in for questioning. Brocklehurst freely admitted to killing the three men (he did not realize Griffith had died of his injuries until authorities informed him of the death) as well as “countless hold-ups” across multiple states. Both Brocklehurst and Felton were arrested and extradited to Arkansas to stand trial for Gates’ murder.
Felton claimed she had not participated in the killings and was acquitted of murder, though she was turned over to the state of Illinois where she was convicted of car theft and imprisoned. The jury deliberated on Brocklehurst’s guilt for 22 minutes before finding him guilty and sentencing him to death in the electric chair. He fainted upon hearing the verdict. Brocklehurst spent 12 minutes talking before his execution, thanking prison officials for their treatment of him during his 8 months on death row, and blaming Felton for his decision to rob and murder several victims. “She told me to do it and before I knew what had happened,” Brocklehurst stated, “a thrill ran through me and I had killed him [Gates]. I am guilty and am paying for my crime, but she is as guilty as I am.”
“Trooper McManus Dies.” Poughkeepsie New Yorker. July 28, 1944
“Brockelhurst, Who Killed 3, Electrocuted.” The Asheville Citizen. March 19, 1938
“Confessed Slayer Dies Early Today.” The Piqua Daily Call. March 18, 1938
“High Court Affirms Death For Lester Brocklehurst.” Macon Chronicle-Herald. November 29, 1937
“Delay Granted Brocklehurst in New Trial.” The Dekalb Daily Chronicle. September 28, 1937
“Picture News.” Deadwood Pioneer-Times. June 29, 1937 (image source via newspapers.com)
“Killer’s Companion Freed of Murder.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. June 26, 1937
“Brockelhurst, Ordered to Die, Falls in Faint.” Richmond Times-Dispatch. June 26, 1937
“Brockelhurst Admits Crime in Fort Worth.” Longview Morning Herald. May 14, 1937