March 7, 1866
George Washington Sage (34) beats three children — one fatally — during the course of a burglary
Sage had been employed by William Todd Sr. for two or three days during the winter. He learned his former employer had recently sold his farm for $350 (about $5,800 today) and remembered Todd was in the habit of keeping his money in his bureau. Sage then decided he would sneak into the Todd house to steal the cash.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. on March 7, while William and his wife were preoccupied outside the home, Sage made his move. He was able to move to the bureau undetected and was in the middle of his search when the Todds’ three children walked in on the crime.
Reports are inconsistent with the children’s ages, suggesting the two daughters were either 7 and 9 years old or 2 and 4 years old. Neither daughter was named, and I could not find a census record for the family to establish their correct ages. All reports agree on the son’s name and age, however: William “Willie” Todd, Jr., 2 years old.
The children had recognized Sage and, because of this, were not suspicious or fearful of the man inside their house. Sage, however, was afraid the children would identify him as the thief and picked up an item nearby to beat them to death. Early reports indicated Sage used a Bible and a smoothing iron to use as a weapon, but Sage’s confession explained he used a piece of brick which had been atop a hearth. Sage bludgeoned the children from oldest to youngest, delivering a “very light blow” to Willie. Once he was convinced the children had been killed, Sage grabbed the larger of two pocketbooks in the bureau and fled. Inside the larger pocketbook were several papers; the smaller contained the money made from the sale of the farm.
The elder daughter regained consciousness soon after Sage’s escape, and her cries alerted her mother who was working in the field. She was able to recount the events of her attack and named Sage as her attacker. He was arrested 3 hours later.
Sage “looked upon his conviction as a foregone conclusion” and did not attempt to mount a defense during his trial. He expressed remorse after his conviction and sentencing, and wrote a confession which was provided to his spiritual adviser with the condition the contents not be made public until his death. The letter served as an auto-biography, detailing where and when he was born, the company he had kept, and the crimes he had committed including the murder of Willie Todd. He was executed on the courthouse lawn on May 25, 1866, two and a half months after the murder. An estimated 2,000 spectators assembled to witness the hanging, with his wife and 2-year-old son in attendance. Sage made no final statement but did express his interest in a speedy execution.
According to The Republic [April 4, 2010], Sage was “the last and possibly only person hanged in Jennings County.”
Hearn, Daniel Allen. Legal Executions in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky and Missouri. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2016
Sanders, Brian. “Artifacts reveal rich history.” The Republic [Columbus, Indiana]. April 4, 2010
“Confession of Sage, the Child Murderer.” The Indianapolis Daily Herald. May 28, 1866
“The Death Penalty.” New York Herald. May 26, 1866
“Horrible Affair.” The Evening Post [Chicago, Illinois]. March 15, 1866
George Washington Sage. Find a Grave. Accessed: March 7, 2021. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/102794070/george-washington-sage