Charles Cosgrove (Execution of)
Charles Cosgrove was a native of Ireland who moved to Little Rock in the summer of 1858. In early February 1859, G. G. R. Lester of Georgia came to Arkansas “on an errand of mercy and kindness to one of his kindred.” Lester and Cosgrove were staying in the same boardinghouse.
On February 19, 1859, the two men left the house around dusk and were seen walking together toward the Arkansas River. A witness soon “heard cries of murder,” and the next day authorities found pools of blood in a wooded area and signs that something large had been dragged to the river. Lester’s body was later found in the water, “barbarously mangled.”
Cosgrove was arrested and charged with killing Lester after witnesses reported seeing the two men together on the night of Lester’s death and after the Irishman sent his bloody clothing to be laundered. An investigation found a “slung-shot” in his room, and authorities surmised that he had struck Lester with the weapon, then cut his throat and robbed him of less than $100. The Weekly Arkansas Gazette later hyperbolically claimed that the killing for money was “the first murder of the kind ever perpetrated” in the state. One newspaper reported that Cosgrove “came near being lynched.”
Cosgrove’s trial ran from May 10 to May 14, 1859, and the Gazette reported that the circumstantial evidence in the case was “overwhelming—so much so that he sunk beneath the weight before the argument of the counsel had commenced.” The jury was “out but a short time” before returning a guilty verdict. Judge John J. Clendenin sentenced Cosgrove to hang on June 10.
Cosgrove continued to protest his innocence, but on the day of his execution “he appeared penitent and wept from the time he was taken from jail to the place of execution,” the Arkansas True Democrat reported, as “an immense concourse of people from near and far…assembled to witness his execution.” A priest gave him the last rites of the Catholic Church on the gallows, and the condemned man gave the sheriff a note in which he confessed to the killing, writing, “I present myself here on the verge of eternity…to offer my body as a sacrifice in atonement to Almighty God for the sins of my whole life,” and asked the crowd to not “impute it to the Catholic Church,” adding, “I hope that God will have mercy on my soul.”
The trap door of the gallows opened, and “Cosgrove convulsively shrugged his shoulders once or twice, and moved his legs.” He was declared dead after about twenty minutes.
For additional information:
“Cosgrove Convicted of Murder.” Weekly Arkansas Gazette, May 31, 1859, p. 2.
Des Arc Weekly Citizen, June 15, 1859, p. 2.
“Executed.” New Orleans Crescent, June 18, 1859, p. 1.
“The Execution of Cosgrove.” Arkansas True Democrat, June 15, 1859, p. 2.
“Murder at Little Rock.” Athens [Tennessee] Post, March 11, 1859, p. 2.
“Supposed Murder.” Arkansas True Democrat, February 23, 1859, p. 2.
“The Trial of Cosgrove.” Arkansas True Democrat, May 18, 1859, p. 2.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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