March 15, 1946
Anderson Adkins (34, pictured center) is executed for a murder committed during a custody dispute
Anderson and his wife, Elmo Bentley Adkins, had recently divorced, and Anderson had blamed the influence of his in-laws for the dissolution of his marriage. Elmo had been granted custody of the couple’s 11-year-old son and Adkins was allowed visitations once a week. Elmo soon moved out of the state of Kentucky to assume a position at a Dayton, Ohio war plant and left her child in the care of her parents during her absence.
Anderson would often pick up his son on Saturday afternoons for outings and return the boy home to his grandparents the following day. On February 10, Anderson came to his former in-laws’ house to collect his son as usual but was denied permission to take the boy.
The following day, on February 11, Anderson met with his ex-wife’s sister Verna Long at the filling station she operated with her husband. Anderson asked Verna to write to her sister to ask for permission to see his son. “I will write her no letter,” Verna responded, “and if I can do anything to prevent it you won’t be seeing Jimmy or Elmo either again.”
Anderson testified that from this moment onward he could remember nothing until his arrest a few hours later.
Witnesses near the filling station saw Anderson and Verna engaged in an argument, culminating with Anderson drawing a pistol and shooting at his former sister-in-law. An errant bullet struck the car of a bystander, passed through the windshield, and struck the bystander’s young daughter. She was not seriously wounded. Another shot struck Long who fell to the ground. Anderson walked to her, hit her with his pistol, reloaded his gun, and drove away.
Anderson’s next stop was the home of a friend of his ex-wife’s family, whom he believed had played a part in the plot to destroy his marriage. He left after he was told his intended target was not at home, then returned to the filling station where Long’s body still rested on the street. By this time, members of the Johnson family who lived near the filling station were investigating the sounds of gunfire. Anderson had been speeding when he spotted the Johnsons and pressed the brakes suddenly which caused his vehicle to swerve off the road. He then approached Jettie Johnson with his gun drawn.
“Adkins came on up and when he got in about ten feet of Mrs. Johnson,” the Johnsons’ son-in-law testified, “Mrs. Johnson said ‘Anderson, I have never harmed you, what are you coming up here for?’ and Anderson Adkins said, ‘Oh yes, you have, I have come to get you,’ and immediately started firing.”
Another witness to Johnson’s murder testified Anderson said, “Damn you I am going to get even with you” before shooting her to death. Johnson was shot three times: in the breast, near her right eye, and in her back.
A passerby soon happened upon the scene and pulled over when he saw Long’s body on the ground. Anderson approached and declared, “I have to have this car,” before forcing the occupants from the vehicle and driving to the home of the brother of his ex-wife, Burton Bentley. Burton was not at home, though his wife and their baby were. Mrs. Bentley (who was not referenced by her forename in either newspaper reports or the court documents I could find) was shot in the breast. She ran into another room where her baby was in a crib and Anderson fired again, striking her in the arm. Mrs. Bentley slumped to the ground before she was shot a third time in the head. Anderson then kicked Mrs. Bentley three times and left. Mrs. Bentley survived the assault, and was left permanently blind by the third shot.
Anderson’s final destination was the home of his ex-wife’s sister Mella Blackburn. Mella and her husband Clarence were both at home when Anderson entered and told Mella, “I have come after you and your mother both, what have you to say?” As Anderson held his gun to Mella’s back, Clarence attempted to disarm him but was shot in the chest. Anderson aimed at Mella and Clarence attempted to talk him out of shooting her by pleading, “Anderson don’t do that, you have shot me through.” Clarence was shot again in the chest and the men struggled until Clarence grabbed Anderson’s pistol. He ran outside and threw the weapon in a creek before collapsing on the ground. Anderson fled the scene. Clarence died 30 minutes later.
The prosecution argued Anderson’s attack had been planned and was motivated by revenge for the end of his marriage. The defense attempted to blame a head injury Anderson had sustained while working in a shipyard, though this excuse failed to sway the jury when Anderson admitted he had lost no time from work due to the injury.
The jury convicted Anderson of Long’s murder first, sentencing him to life in prison. His conviction for Johnson’s murder earned him the death penalty. I could find no information regarding a conviction or sentence for Clarence’s murder, however. Anderson was executed in the electric chair on March 15, 1946, 13 months after the murders were committed.
Adkins, Anderson. Commonwealth of Kentucky. Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificate of Death. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1222/images/KYVR_7020671-1160?treeid=&personid=&hintid=&queryId=4f7974ac61981d2375499fae06e13bd9&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Onk5&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&_ga=2.23722808.385915309.1615844409-1974064398.1608518424&pId=1341251
“Anderson Adkins Is Scheduled To Die March 15.” The Owensboro Messenger. February 10, 1946
Adkins v. Commonwealth. Court of Appeals of Kentucky. November 9, 1945. 191 S.W.2d 935. Archived: https://casetext.com/case/adkins-v-commonwealth-8
“Anderson Adkins Gets Death Penalty.” The Owensboro Messenger. May 26, 1945
“Jury Decrees Death For Anderson Adkins.” The Lexington Herald. May 25, 1945
“Death Given.” The Cincinnati Enquirer. May 25, 1945
“Anderson Adkins Given Life Term.” The Owensboro Inquirer. March 28, 1945
“State Rests In Trial Of Slayer Of 3 Relatives.” The Daily Messenger [Madisonville, Kentucky]. March 26, 1945
Long, Vernie Bentley. Commonwealth of Kentucky. Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificate of Death. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1222/images/KYVR_7020662-0986?treeid=&personid=&hintid=&queryId=ab7b001c7afd11ac0cd6e9a245787752&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Onk8&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&_ga=2.190420905.385915309.1615844409-1974064398.1608518424&pId=679280
Johnson, Jettie. Commonwealth of Kentucky. Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics. Certificate of Death. Digitized: https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1222/images/KYVR_7020662-0985?treeid=&personid=&hintid=&queryId=9924a8ac692a30a92dc6021ffcdb1a25&usePUB=true&_phsrc=Onk6&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&_ga=2.249207557.385915309.1615844409-1974064398.1608518424&pId=673281
Anderson Adkins. Find a Grave. Accessed: March 15, 2021. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/6672271/anderson-adkins