Mark H. Shank (Execution of)

Mark H. Shank was an Akron, Ohio, attorney executed at Tucker State Prison Farm on March 8, 1935, for poisoning four members of the Alvin Colley family in Arkansas.

Mark H. Shank was a partner in Akron’s Cain & Shank law firm. He was defending a man named Clarence Braucher on a forgery charge and hired Alvin Colley, a young machine operator who lived in Medina, Ohio, in 1930, to steal documents in the case from the prosecutor’s office. After bragging around Akron about the crime and Shank’s role in it, Colley and his family fled to Arkansas, living in Hot Springs (Garland County) as the Roy Fetty family.

On August 15, 1933, Shank and the Colleys went for a drive and had a picnic during which Shank put poison in the family’s cups. Colley’s four-year-old son Clyde later said that “he saw Shank put something in the grape juice while they were eating lunch” and refused to drink his. The others did so and immediately fell ill.

Colley started driving back to Hot Springs but ended up crashing the car near Malvern (Hot Spring County). Herbert Akers, a Hot Springs detective who happened to be behind the Colley vehicle, saw Shank jump from the car and race into the woods. He chased him briefly, then returned to the car where he found Colley and his son Clement, age six, dead and his wife Ethel and son Clarence, eight, dying.

Bloodhounds were used to track Shank down, and he confessed at 2:55 a.m. on August 16 that “he had placed the greater part of 40 grains of strychnine in paper cups into which he poured grape juice,” stating that he intended to kill the elder Colleys to protect his law practice and decided to poison the children as well. Shank was arraigned in Benton (Saline County) on August 17, 1933, where he pleaded not guilty “despite his alleged confession to Hot Springs police.”

Shank’s trial began in Benton on November 27, 1933, and he pursued an insanity defense, with his attorney stating that “everything that he has done since he left Akron has been an act of a crazy man,” while the prosecutor held that he killed the Colleys “because Colley knew too much and Shank knew that what Colley knew could ruin Shank.” The twelve-man jury deliberated nine hours before returning with a guilty verdict on December 1. Several members of Shank’s family fainted or cried out when the verdict was read, but he showed the “morose attitude that he had maintained in his trial.”

Condemned to be electrocuted in July 1934, Shank remained at Tucker Prison Farm, where his cellmate was cop-killer Robert Rose. His attorneys won four stays of execution. They filed for an insanity hearing in November 1934, and a newspaper reported “if a jury finds Shank sane, the attorneys said, they will not attempt to obtain further delay.”

Shank ultimately was sentenced to die on March 8, 1935. As fifty witnesses watched, “Shank walked to the chair calmly and indifferently refused to make any final statement.” He was electrocuted at 7:14 a.m., and his body was sent to Ohio for burial.

For additional information:
“Akron Lawyer Pays Penalty for Poisoning.” Circleville Herald, March 8, 1935, p. 1.

“Attorney Kills Four/Lawyer Confesses Poisoning Family at Malvern, Ark.” Hope Star, August 16, 1933, p. 1.

“Mark Shank Burial to Be Made in Ohio.” Akron Beacon Journal, March 9, 1935, p. 11.

“New Sanity Plea for Mark Shank.” Hope Star, November 16, 1934, p. 1.

“Poison Slaying in Jury’s Hands This Afternoon.” Blytheville Courier News, December 1, 1933, p. 1.

“Shank Asks for Leniency after Confessing to Poison Murders of 4.” Akron Beacon Journal, August 16, 1933, p. 1.

“Shank Given Death Penalty in Poison Murder, at Benton.” Hope Star, December 2, 1933, p. 1.

“Shank on Trial in Poison Case.” Salem News, November 27, 1933, p. 1.

“Shank Pleads Not Guilty to Murder.” Hope Star, August 17, 1933, p. 1.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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