52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks: Cause Of Death


Well, here is the true story about Crazy Bill. He earned a place among the famous and infamous of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. He was the last of his kind. Yep, his last photo that was taken in 1912 hangs in a historical society’s board room to remind bers of his last days on Earth. How did Bill meet his Maker?

William F. Reed, according to the 1910 Federal Census, lived with his wife Sarah in Quincy Township. He was a laborer in a foundry. He and Sarah had been married for one year, and Sarah’s eight year daughter lived with them as well. Well, some of that information was not true: Bill and Sarah were not married.

In the spring of the next year, Sarah took a job at the Pennsylvania State Forestry School in the nearby township of Mont Alto. She worked in the kitchen and  lived at the school. She and Bill had split up. Bill was not happy about that. One morning in May, he took the trolley to Mont Alto. He wanted to see Sarah, and he wanted the pictures and letters he has sent her back. He intended to confront her that very day and get back his property. When he arrived, he found her in the kitchen. He told her what he wanted. She replied that the articles were in her room, and she would get them. When she returned and handed him what he came for, he told her that some letters and pictures were missing from the stack. She informed him that she had burned the missing pieces. Bill became enraged. He took out a gun and shoot her three times. He left the school and reboarded the trolley home. He told the conductor and passengers that he had just hurt his girl…she was hurt bad…

Over a hundred years later, I would meet William F. Reed. I was working on my husband’s family tree as I added his 2nd great uncle. Ancestry had a copy of his Pennsylvania Death Certificate. As I read it over, my eyes opened wide. The primary cause of death was hanging and fracture of vertebrae. The secondary cause was listed as legal execution. I started a newspaper search to find out exactly who William F. Reed was…he was the last man executed by hanging for murder in Franklin County. Sheriff Walker maintained that Bill went to the gallows in a calm manner. Before his final walk, he asked that everyone forgive him…he had already forgiven those who hurt him. So, Crazy Bill passed into Eternity with forgiveness in his heart.

Note: In the above picture, Bill’s hands are bound with handcuffs as he awaits trial.

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