It was not an education I had anticipated. It fell into my lap unexpectedly. When discovered, it called out to me to stare at it straight in the face and determine what I could learn from it. It was an education in the anatomy of a murder.
What sparked the education was a death certificate found…cause of death as fracture of the first vertebrae as induced by execution. I sought more information on this case. Newspaper clippings, obituaries, YouTube videos were reviewed. How had this all exploded? Why did he have an implosion inside his brain and emotions?
A year before the murder, Bill and Sadie lived in the mountains near Mont Alto, Franklin County, Pennsylvania. It was 1910. Bill worked for various farmers in the area. Sadie kept house. They lived without benefit of marriage as she was married to a Mr. Mathna who had deserted her and moved west. Bill insisted that Sadie seek a divorce…no, she would not. Finally, the two separated. Sadie moved back to the Forest Academy in Mont Alto where she previously worked in the kitchen. Bill moved back to nearby Waynesboro where he was a laborer at various jobs. As time passed, the two exchanged love letters and pictures. He went every Saturday and Sunday to visit her. Then, the last straw…he discovered she was seeing other men.
Days before that Tuesday morning when he took the train to Mont Alto, Bill purchased a new suit, shirt, tie, and hat. He also slipped something into his jacket pocket. He was going to have his showdown with Sadie. He would ask her for the pictures and letters back. One picture precious to him was his military photo taken at the time of the Spanish American War. He was going to break it off with the unfaithful woman.
As he arrived at the dining hall kitchen where Sadie worked, he noticed that only she was present. She sat grinding coffee. He told her the reason for his visit…he wanted his letters and pictures back. She related that she would go to her room to get them. When she returned to hand them over, Bill noticed that some were missing including his military picture. Again she went to her room to retrieve them. When she entered the room, she threw one of the letters and a picture in the fire of the stove…she picked up the coffee grinder to throw at him. He pulled a gun from his jacket pocket, and she declared that he was too scared to shoot her. Firing and hitting her three times, he proved her to be wrong. She staggered across the kitchen, walked into the dining room, and fell. Bill left…”I have fixed her good” he was heard to say.
Later that day, Bill appeared at the magistrate’s office. While smoking a cigar, he calmly stated that he was the one who shot Sadie. It as not an accident he declared. He meant to hurt her.
At his trial in the spring of 1912, his defense was insanity. He snapped when she made him angry. Throwing his picture into the fire had made him snap. Witnesses came forward who testified that he had threatened to kill her when she was known to have cheated. Jailers testified that he was calm and repentant while incarcerated. Then the case went to the jury…guilty…the sentence would be death by hanging.
William F. Reed was the last man hung in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, on 30 April 1912. Until his death, he asserted that he had no intention to kill nor had he made any such threats to do so. So what about the testimonies of his accusers? Or was Bill delusional?