William Newman (Execution of)

William Newman was hanged at Clinton (Van Buren County) on November 8, 1895, for murdering his wife, though he died denying the crime.

William Newman, described as “a prominent white farmer,” lived in Van Buren County with his wife Mary and their seven children. The Newmans had been married for twenty-four years, “and their entire married life was one discord.”

On August 17, 1895, the couple got into an argument; as it escalated, he threw a saucer at her, which broke on her back. They continued fighting the next morning until she left to seek some lost calves “and he started to visit a widow…of whom he was particularly fond.” He returned home shortly afterward, and when his children said their mother was still out, he went in search of her, though he did not mention his task when he encountered neighbors. According to a newspaper account, “she was finally found in a large hole of water in Pee Dee Creek near the house.”

Local lawmen were called to the scene, and her body was removed from the water after a coroner’s jury was selected. After an inquest on August 18 and 19, the jury’s verdict was that “she came to her death by strangulation at the hands of an unknown party,” though ten members wanted to charge Newman with the crime.

At her funeral, Newman reportedly said “before God, I never murdered my wife.” He was arrested, and a grand jury indicted him on first -degree murder charges in late September 1895. In a trial that began on September 20, prosecutors presented circumstantial evidence, including the fact that Newman’s shoes “fitted the tracks found at the place” and allegations that he intended to get rid of his wife so he could marry another woman. Jurors deliberated just one hour before returning with a guilty verdict on September 25.

On being convicted, Newman addressed the courtroom, saying, “I never saw my wife after I left home on Sunday morning until I saw her in the creek,” adding that she had previously threatened to drown herself. “Would you believe a dying man?” he asked. “It would do me no good to lie about it now.”

The judge sentenced him to hang on November 8, 1895. Newman did not seek a new trial or commutation of his death sentence from Governor James P. Clarke. He was taken to the gallows on November 8 and hanged.

William Newman’s was the first legal hanging in Van Buren County history, though Robert and Charles Plunkett and Henry Bruce had been lynched there the year before.

For additional information:
“Arrested at the Grave.” Monticellonian, August 30, 1895, p. 1.

“Murder in the First Degree.” Arkansas Gazette, October 3, 1895, p. 4.

“Murdered His Wife.” Arkansas Gazette, August 27, 1895, p. 2.

“To Be Hanged for Wife Murder.” Southern Standard, October 11, 1895, p. 1.

“Wife Murderer Hanged.” Arkansas Gazette, November 9, 1895, p. 4.

Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System


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