John Stansberry (Execution of)

John Stansberry was hanged on July 9, 1890, at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) for the murder of his wife, a crime he denied committing to the end.

John Stansberry and Mollie Eubanks were married in Newton County, Missouri, in October 1885. Stansberry visited the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in early 1889, and he moved with his wife and one-year-old daughter to the Pottawatomie Nation that August. A month later, his wife returned from visiting a neighbor and found the child “with a ghastly wound in its head and it soon expired.” Stansberry told his wife the little girl had fallen off a piece of furniture. The Stansberrys then moved to the Creek Nation.

Mollie Stansberry was murdered on the night of October 13, 1889, near Eufaula, Indian Territory. John Stansberry claimed that he had earlier gone out for a ride on one of his mules and got lost, returning home after dark. When he entered his home, he found it ransacked and his wife bludgeoned by an axe; she died early the next morning. He told authorities that whoever killed her had stolen $300 and that he had heard as many as three horsemen riding away as he approached the house on his mule.

Investigators, however, found no evidence of any animals having been around the house other than Stanberry’s horses and mules. He was arrested at the cemetery after his wife was buried.

Further investigation revealed that Stansberry had told an acquaintance a week before his wife’s death that he intended to “make away with this woman” so that he could then marry a Native American woman “and secure a right in the territory.” He was indicted for murder on November 14, 1889, and a Fort Smith jury convicted him on February 28, 1890, after deliberating less than an hour.

In sentencing him to death, Judge Isaac C. Parker said that “the crime as committed by you is peculiarly atrocious, and exhibits a condition of moral depravity shocking in its reckless wickedness.” He set the execution for July 9, 1890. Members of the victim’s family, according to the Arkansas Gazette, “appeared much pleased with the verdict.”

Stansberry “slept well” the night before his execution and “ate a hearty breakfast.” He “declined to have any religious exercises, saying it would do no good.” He was taken to the gallows at 10:30 a.m., “and in seven minutes from the time he left the jail the drop fell. His neck was broken and he died without a struggle.” Mollie Stansberry’s father and brother attended the execution.

While Stansberry, whose guilt was determined through circumstantial evidence, claimed he was innocent until the end, a Fort Smith newspaper reported after his execution that one of his attorneys said the dead man had told him “all about the murder before he went to trial, acknowledging to him that he did the killing.”

For additional information:
Akins, Jerry. Hangin’ Times in Fort Smith: A History of Executions in Judge Parker’s Court. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2012.

“Crimes and Casualties.” Arkansas Gazette, February 26, 1890, p.1.

“Died Dead Game.” Arkansas Gazette, July 10, 1890, p. 3.

“A Fearful Sentence.” Fayetteville Weekly Democrat, May 9, 1890, p. 4.

“An Inhuman Wretch.” Arkansas Gazette, February 28, 1890, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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