January 7, 1886
Western Saratoga, Union County, Illinois
William Stubblefield Wilson (45) fatally shoots his wife Margaret (43) after their neighbors helped supply the family with firewood
William left his pregnant wife and their seven children to travel to Kentucky; he habitually left the family for extended periods of time during his 20-year marriage. Before he left, William provided Margaret with $3 (roughly $83 today) to support herself and the children during his absence. The money was soon exhausted. To provide fuel for heating and cooking, Margaret asked the neighbors for assistance in chopping firewood. The neighbors obliged, and William returned home to find the young men working.
Either because he was embarrassed his wife had accepted the help of neighbors or out of jealousy of seeing young men in his home, William became enraged and shot Margaret, who staggered outside the house before collapsing. According to Daniel Allen Hearn’s research, those who arrived at the scene of the shooting noted Margaret’s near-term fetus could be seen moving within her abdomen but were unable to provide any medical attention to save the unborn child’s life.
William’s defense made no attempt to disprove the evidence against their client and instead relied on an insanity defense. The strategy was unsuccessful and William was sentenced to death.
On November 12, 1886, William was hanged in Jonesboro, Illinois with some 500 people gathering in the jail-yard, assembled in the hopes of glimpsing his execution. “I have a few words to say, friends,” William addressed the witnesses during his final statement, “if I am able, but I am weak and my voice is not strong. I have been a very unfortunate man. I say to any man who serves on a jury or who is a witness in a case of this kind, be sure what you are swearing to. I want to say to every married man and to every unmarried man who expects to be married, be true to your wives; and to the women, be true to your husbands.” Moments later, William was dropped through the scaffold and another 24 minutes later declared dead.
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016
“A Wife Murderer Hanged.” The Hanover Democrat. November 19, 1886
“Wilson, The Wife-Murderer, Hanged.” The Chicago Tribune. November 13, 1886
“A Wife-Murderer Hanged.” St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat. November 13, 1886
“To Be Hanged Today.” The Chicago Tribune. November 12, 1886