Home Opinion Hangings — legal and illegal

Hangings — legal and illegal


By any standard Jesse Ransbottom was not an honorable man. The Fairfield (now Fairborn) resident had spent time in jail. He stated that he would slay those who provided food for his family while he was incarcerated because he didn’t want charity.

His wife came home late from a prayer meeting to find him in a rage. She ran away, carrying the baby, as fast as she could to get away from him. In spite of her efforts, when she reached the fence, she could not get across. He caught up to her and slashed her throat with a knife. Later, he stated that he had tried to commit suicide by slitting his own throat but “it hurt too much.”

This was June 30, 1849 so Jessie had some time in jail to consider his deed before the trial began on Oct. 18, 1849. The prisoner pled guilty by reason of insanity. After the testimony of 25 witnesses, the judge sent the case to the jury which deliberated only 30 minutes before finding him guilty of murder in the first degree. He was sentenced to be hanged on Jan. 28, 1850. Of course, appeals were made to the governor but there was no reprieve.

Jessie’s jail cell was located where he could watch the gallows being constructed. It was hoped that he might have some remorse and of course, he still hoped for freedom.

Since this was the first official hanging in the county, it was anticipated that there might be a number of people desiring to observe, so an 18-foot high fence was erected around the gallows. At 3 p.m., the prisoner, the sheriff, and a minister walked into the enclosure. Jesse showed no emotion and when asked if he had anything to say replied “Oh Lord! Have mercy on me! Oh my poor mother! My poor wife! My poor children.” He asked the sheriff to bury him “up yonder” (Champaign County) but a grave had been dug in Xenia in preparation. Someone wrote an epitaph, “In this grave old Ransbottom lies, nobody laughs and nobody cries. Where he’s gone and how he fares, nobody knows and nobody cares.”

Those who had come to view the event were unhappy that they were not able to watch. A lady who lived across the street agreed to watch from her second-story window and wave a white cloth when the trap door was sprung. Thus ended the only legal hanging in this county.

However, there was another hanging but not presided over by any legal authority. This happened in Jamestown in 1886.

Martha Thomas, a widow, lived on Waynesville Pike with her grandchildren. When her husband was living, he would hire a hand to help with the farm work and other chores. One hand boarded with the family until the husband’s demise then went elsewhere for employment.

About midnight, on a Saturday night, the former employee was quite drunk and was determined to get inside the house of his former employer. He managed entrance by digging under the house until he reached the brick hearth. He removed the bricks from the hearth and when he got inside immediately attacked the 65-year-old widow. She fought back as best she could, but he knocked her down, breaking her arm in the scuffle. Then he stomped on her, breaking two of three ribs. A coal oil lamp had been burning which allowed the family to identify the intruder. He picked up the lamp and struck the lady in the face.

When the attack began, the children ran to a neighboring house to report the incident. The neighbors came quickly, but the intruder ran away. The police officers caught him shortly after daylight, hiding at the former Jamestown fair grounds and was taken to the Jamestown jail.

Residents of the community were outraged at the crime, talking among themselves about justice being meted out quickly.

The newspaper provided the following report, “About midnight the jail was quietly attacked by the mob, an entrance made through the window and the cell in which ‘the criminal’ had been locked pried open with a crow bar. He had shown considerable bravado about the time he was arrested, but in the face of the mob he showed himself ‘the most pitiful of cowards, breaking down and yelling like a spaniel. But it was no use.’ ”

The mob took him to what remained of the fairgrounds (an 1884 cyclone had destroyed most of the grounds). However, there was a sturdy oak tree which had been a victim of the storm. The top of the tree leaned over to touch the ground, making a high arch. This seemed a perfect place so the rope was tied around his neck and he was hung from the makeshift gallows. When dawn broke, the lifeless body was discovered. A photographer took a picture and then the coroner was called to certify the death. The lady recovered from her ordeal and though the names of the victim and the perpetrator were recorded, the names of those who participated in the hanging were never recorded.

In time, it was determined that hanging was not the best method of corporal punishment. After the electric chair was invented in 1890, it was determined that this was more humane.

Henry Canfield was a very skilled Xenia electrician and was commissioned in 1896 to build an electric chair for the State of Ohio in the Ohio Penitentiary.

Charles Justice was a well-known criminal in Greene County and serving a term at the State Penitentiary when he assisted in repairing the chair. His suggestion to add arm and leg bands to the chair was welcomed. He was released from prison, but not for long. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the same chair he had helped to repair in 1911.

I may be a little early, but Happy Halloween.

Remembering Carl V. Benner

The only one of 8 children to attend college, Carl Benner attended Rio Grande, received masters degrees from Purdue and Northern Iowa, and then an education degree from Bowling Green. He went on to earn a Ph.D from The Ohio State University. He was a distinguished professor of mathematics at Wright State University the majority of his career. Regarded as one of the best mathematics teachers in Ohio, he was responsible for all mathematical education and computer science programs for grades K-12 for the State of Ohio.

— Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.