Robert Rose (Execution of)

Robert Rose died in the electric chair at Tucker Prison Farm on February 23, 1935, a mere fifty-one days following the murder of an Independence County sheriff’s deputy.

Robert Rose, age twenty-seven, was born in the Arkansas Ozarks and had attended grammar school at Pine Bluff (Jefferson County) but later moved to Louisiana, where he stole a car in 1930 and was sentenced to five to eight years in prison. Despite two escapes from prison, he was paroled in 1934 and was back at his mother’s Pine Bluff home by Christmas. He soon embarked on a series of burglaries and robberies.

On January 2, 1935, Rose and Woodrow Crump went to a gas station in Rosie (Independence County) and ordered ten gallons of gas before racing away without paying. A warrant was issued for their arrest, and Sheriff J. R. Engles and his chief deputy, Everett Wheeler, went to serve it. They encountered Crump on the road and arrested him; then they went to a house where they believed Rose was staying.

Wheeler knocked on the front door and then went around to the back. Accounts differ, but Rose either ran out the door using three women as human shields while firing his pistol at Wheeler or struggled hand-to-hand with Wheeler before shooting him at point-blank range. Either way, the deputy was mortally wounded.

Rose fled into the woods, and hundreds of civilians formed a posse to search for him. Governor Junius Marion Futrell deployed Company L of the Arkansas National Guard under Captain Lucien Abraham to join the search. Rose was captured on January 4 in a barn in the Brock Mountain area west of Batesville (Independence County), and Engles hid him on the floorboard of his car to protect him from vengeful members of the posse, driving him to Tucker Prison Farm for safekeeping; there, his cellmate was murderer Mark H. Shank. When asked why he shot Wheeler, Rose said, “I just didn’t want to get arrested.”

A special grand jury was empaneled on January 17 and indicted him for first-degree murder, and Rose waived his right to have forty-eight hours before being tried. He pleaded guilty and was convicted the next day. Judge S. Marcus Bone sentenced him to die on February 23, 1935, from “currents of electricity of sufficient voltage, and intensity to cause your death, and that said currents of electricity be continuously applied to your body until you are dead, dead, dead.” Rose said later, “I wasn’t surprised at the verdict…I expected to burn.”

Rose’s sister asked Governor Futrell to help her brother, but the governor declined to stay the execution or grant him executive clemency.

At 7:00 a.m. on February 23, Rose was led to the electric chair at Tucker Prison, making no formal last words. The current was turned on, and he was declared dead four minutes later. With just fifty-one days between when he shot Wheeler to his execution, the Arkansas Gazette said it was the fastest time between crime and punishment since Lonnie Dixon went to the electric chair in 1927.

For additional information:
“500 Men Hunting Officer’s Slayer.” Arkansas Gazette, January 4, 1935, pp. 1, 7.

Butler, Virgil. “The Murder of Deputy Sheriff Wheeler and the Trial of His Killer, Robert Rose.” Independence County Chronicle 1 (October 1959): 29–36.

“Death Sentence for Robert Rose.” Arkansas Gazette, January 19, 1935, p. 2.

“Governor Declines to Interfere in Slayer’s Execution.” Arkansas Gazette, February 20, 1935, p. 6.

“Officer’s Killer Nervous on Eve of Execution.” Arkansas Gazette, February 23, 1935, pp. 1, 14.

“Officer’s Slayer to Be Tried Today.” Arkansas Gazette, January 18, 1935, p. 14.

“Robt. Rose, Killer of Everett Wheeler Gets Death Sentence.” Baxter Bulletin, January 25, 1935, p. 1.

“Rose Sentenced to Die February 23.” Arkansas Gazette, January 20, 1935, p. 2.

“Special Court Term Called to Investigate Killing.” Arkansas Gazette, January 5, 1935, p. 14.

“Speed Record in Execution of Rose.” Arkansas Gazette, February 24, 1935, p. 5.

Wirges, Joe B. “Officer’s Slayer at Tucker Farm.” Arkansas Gazette, January 5, 1935, pp. 1, 14.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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