Quadruple Execution of 1926

Four Black men from Ouachita County were executed on February 12, 1926, for the 1925 murder of a filling station owner despite disavowing their confessions on the eve of being put to death.

James M. Moore, age sixty-five, operated a gas station and store at McMahon’s Chapel near his home in Frenchport (Ouachita County), south of Camden (Ouachita County). On the evening of July 13, 1925, his daughters Trixie and Grace Moore drove to the station to give him a ride home. As they drove away from the store, they were attacked by bandits.

The initial article in the Arkansas Gazette reported that they had just left “when a masked bandit stepped into the highway…and demanded that those in the party hold up their hands.” The two girls began screaming, and the bandit opened fire, shooting James Moore in the forehead as he sat in the backseat and killing him instantly, as well as wounding Trixie Moore in the right hand. Their screams attracted several men and the thief fled into the woods, the article said.

Sheriff J. B. Newton formed a posse that began combing the woods and, after a three-hour search, arrested John Canady (age thirty) and Cephus Johnson (twenty-five) at Canady’s home, later saying that a “particular patch” on Canady’s shoe led them to the house. A total of eighteen Black men were rounded up and jailed during the investigation.

Johnson confessed to the slaying at 1:00 p.m. on July 16, saying he had visited Moore’s store several times on July 13 and believed that he had at least $400 in cash. He said he, Canady, and a third man cut the telephone line to Camden and planned to kill and rob Moore, but when his daughters showed up they hid. Then, as the car was leaving, “the negroes ran up from behind, leaped on the running board and began shooting.” Confronted with Johnson’s confession, Canady reportedly confessed to the crime at 5:00 p.m.

That evening, mobs began forming at Frenchport and Snow Hill (Ouachita County), intent on seizing the two men from the Ouachita County Jail though they were warned that “any attempt to storm the jail would result in a heavy loss of life.” Sheriff Newton drove Canady and Johnson to Little Rock (Pulaski County) that night and put them in the Arkansas State Penitentiary for their safety. At midnight on July 16, other investigators arrested Clinton Mason (age twenty), who allegedly confessed to being the third man in the attack on Mason. He, too, was taken to the safety of the prison.

With Mason’s arrest, investigators considered the case closed, but Willard E. White, a Baptist preacher from Smackover (Union County), was not convinced and “began an investigation of his own.” He brought Canady’s father, Cudellas Canady, to Little Rock, and they questioned the three suspects at the penitentiary. As the Gazette reported, “after five hours…Canady and Mason said that [Ishman or Ishmael] Jones took part in the killing.” Written confessions were prepared for Canady and Mason, who signed them. White brought the confessions back to Camden, and police arrested Jones on July 22, though “Jones is said to have denied any knowledge of the crime.” Jones, who was among the eighteen men who had been jailed during the investigation and later released, was also taken to the state prison.

All four men were indicted by the Ouachita County Grand Jury on September 14, 1925, after penitentiary warden Clifton E. Evans took confessions from each. Their trial began two days later, and the jury deliberated only forty minutes before finding them all guilty of first-degree murder. Judge L. S. Britt sentenced them to die in the electric chair on November 27, which would make theirs the second quadruple execution in Arkansas in the modern era.

The executions were delayed while their lawyers appealed their convictions, but the sentence was affirmed by the Arkansas Supreme Court, and Governor Thomas Jefferson Terral set February 12, 1926, as their day to die.

The night before their executions, the Arkansas Gazette reported, “the negroes repudiated their confessions and solemnly declared their innocence,” to no avail. Moore’s six children sat in the execution chamber as the four men silently entered. Ishman Jones was the first to die, at 7:04 a.m., followed by Cephus Johnson at 7:18, and Clinton Mason at 7:30. John Canady was the only one of the four to speak before his execution; the newspaper reported that he “prayed in muffled tones, ‘Stand by me, Jesus.’” He died at 7:40 a.m. The four men’s bodies were returned to Camden for burial.

For additional information:
“Another Negro Held for Murder.” Arkansas Gazette, July 18, 1925, p. 16.

“Date for Negroes[’] Execution Fixed.” Arkansas Gazette, September 24, 1925, p. 1.

“Four Negroes Go to Death Bravely.” Arkansas Gazette, February 13, 1926, p. 5.

“Four Negroes on Trial for Killing.” Arkansas Gazette, September 17, 1925, p. 20.

“Fourth Arrest in Ouachita Killing.” Arkansas Gazette, July 23, 1925, p. 10.

“Girls See Bandit Kill Their Father.” Arkansas Gazette, July 14, 1925, p. 1.

“Murder Trial at Camden to Open.” Arkansas Gazette, September 15, 1925, p. 5.

“Negroes Convicted of Killing Owner of Filling Station.” Shreveport Journal, September 17, 1995, p 1, 2.

“Sheriff Outwits Mobs in Ouachita.” Arkansas Gazette, July 17, 1925, pp. 1, 14.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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