Howard Edmunds (Execution of)
Edmunds, age twenty-six, was born in Fairfield County, South Carolina, and moved to Arkansas around 1877, settling in Monticello (Drew County) where he soon married his cousin, widow Minnie Stitt, the daughter of planter James R. Watson. Stitt’s sister (and also Edmunds’s cousin), sixteen-year-old Sallie Watson, was a frequent visitor to their home, and she and Edmunds began an affair that resulted in her becoming pregnant.
In late June 1881, Howard and Minnie Edmunds and several friends went on a fishing trip during which Edmunds “was abstracted and absent minded to a degree that attracted the notice of his companions.” When they returned home from the trip, they found that Sallie Watson was missing. A search party was formed, and Watson’s body was found in the woods on July 2, 1881, “with clothes in disorder and a dreadful gash in her head.” When Edmunds saw the corpse, “his face turned an ashy hue. His knees smote each other. Guilt was indelibly written on every feature.”
Edmunds was arrested and jailed in Monticello. After an ineffectual attempt was made to lynch him, he confessed to Sheriff J. H. Hammack that he had murdered Watson with a short-handled axe “because of our criminal intimacy in April and May. She had become enceintes” and was beginning to show signs of pregnancy; he thus lured her into the woods and killed her before joining the fishing party. Edmunds later recanted the confession, saying he did it to keep from being lynched.
Edmunds won a change of venue for his trial, which took place on September 21, 1881, in Warren. A series of witnesses testified about his suspicious behavior on the day of Watson’s disappearance, and a doctor attested that the defendant had offered him a bribe “for medicine to be used in defeating the laws of nature.” He was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.
Governor Thomas Churchill “most politely positively declined” to provide executive clemency in the case. While he was being transferred from Monticello to Warren for his execution, Edmunds made an escape attempt that was thwarted by an alert guard. He said that “he wanted to be shot, and spared the disgrace of hanging.”
Edmunds was taken to the gallows at around 12:30 p.m. on December 9, 1881, as a crowd of around 3,000 people gathered. After leading the singing of several hymns, he declined making any final remarks, though he softly said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” before the trap door opened at 1:10 p.m. He died instantly.
Noting that he was hanged less than six months after the murder for which he was executed, the Arkansas Democrat wrote that “he was too vile to live—too wicked to die.”
For additional information:
“Edmond’s [sic] Expiation.” Arkansas Gazette, December 10, 1881, p. 1.
“Hangman’s Day.” [New Orleans] Times-Democrat, December 10, 1881, p. 1.
“Inhuman Edmunds.” Arkansas Democrat, December 9, 1881, p. 2.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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