John Harper (Execution of)

John Harper was a Black man hanged at Magnolia (Columbia County) on October 12, 1904, for the murder of his wife.

On the night of February 26 or 27, 1904, John Harper hit his wife on the head with a fireplace poker or other heavy instrument, and after she fell to the ground, “thinking she was not dead…[he] poured coal oil on her and built a fire around her.” After he “burned the body to a crisp,” he dragged her corpse to their garden and buried her.

Harper told neighbors that she had left him, but they were suspicious and contacted local law enforcement officers, who found her corpse in the garden. Harper “confessed his crime after being put in jail.” He “had a fair trial at the August term of court and was promptly convicted by the jury.” A judge sentenced him to hang on October 12, 1904.

On the day of his execution, he was led to the gallows on the north side of the Columbia County jail, where twenty-five witnesses were in attendance, while “a large crowd gathered outside.” The Arkansas Democrat reported on October 13 that Harper “mounted the scaffold with the utmost indifference, and made a three-minutes speech, admitting his guilt, but assigning no reason for the awful deed,” but the same newspaper reported a day later that “he admitted killing his wife and said it was done in the heat of passion and he was sorry for it.”

Harper told the witnesses that he had made his peace with God and “made a very sensible and sympathetic talk.” At 10:30 a.m., a black cap was placed over his head, and “when the trap was sprung the fall failed to break his neck, but Harper died in a few moments from strangulation.” His body was cut down at 11:00 a.m.

For additional information:
“Death Paid the Penalty.” Arkansas Democrat, October 13, 1904, p. 7.

Fort Smith Times, September 12, 1904, p. 5, col. 2.

“How John Harper Met His Fate on Scaffold.” Arkansas Democrat, October 14, 1904, p. 1.

“Negro Hanged for Murder of His Wife.” Arkansas Gazette, October 13, 1904, pp. 1, 2.

“Negro’s Brutal Deed.” Arkansas Gazette, March 9, 1904, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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