November 30, 1956
Eddyville, Kentucky
James Franklin Bowman (44) is executed for the rape and murder of a 72-year-old woman

Roberta Busby was attacked on August 29, 1954 and found by her neighbor about 6 to 10 hours after her death at approximately 2:30 a.m. on August 30. Busby’s throat had been slashed deeply enough to sever her windpipe and she had severe bruising to her body. Busby’s dentures had been knocked out during the assault and were found on the floor near her eyeglasses. Robbery was dismissed as a motive as Busby’s purse containing $37 lay on her bed and a coin bank was undisturbed. As such, rape was ruled to be the sole motivation behind the murder.

The Courier-Journal. August 30, 1954

James Franklin Bowman was arrested about an hour and a half after the discovery of Busby’s body. Bowman had worked as a handyman for Busby for about two weeks before her murder and was seen at Busby’s residence at the approximated time of her murder. Additionally, Bowman had previously served 11 years of a 15-year sentence for raping his 14-year-old stepdaughter. He had been released in May, making him the prime suspect in Busby’s rape and murder case.

The Courier-Journal. August 30, 1954

While in police custody, Bowman admitted to the murder but denied the allegation of rape. He offered several versions about the events leading up to the crime, first claiming to have killed Busby after she accused him of stealing a trinket from her dresser. By his final confession, Bowman claimed he and Busby had argued over the price of the most recent job he had performed for her, during which point he became so enraged he took a pair of scissors from her dresser and stabbed Busby in the throat multiple times. By October of 1954, Bowman was convicted of Busby’s murder and sentenced to death.

Bowman and two other inmates were executed on November 30, 1956. The second inmate, Robert L. Sheckles (21), had been convicted of the carjacking of a 28-year-old in 1954, accompanied by two accomplices. The victim identified her attackers during a police lineup and stated at least two of the men had raped her. Sheckles was given the option to plead guilty to rape and avoid the death sentence but declined. The third inmate, 20-year-old Charles C. DeBerry found his way to the electric chair after killing the nightwatchman of a nightclub during a robbery in 1955. The trio of condemned men left behind no recorded final statements.

Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016
“Three Men Executed At Eddyville.” The Courier-Journal [Louisville, Kentucky]. November 30, 1956
“Louisvillian Gets Stay of Execution.” The Courier-Journal. September 29, 1955
“Two Charged With Rape Plead Guilty.” The Courier-Journal. December 18, 1954
“Convicted of Slaying.” The Owensboro Inquirer. October 22, 1954
“Widow, 72, Slain On South Second.” The Courier-Journal. August 30, 1954

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