I saw this article online about this John Headrick and was wondering if anyone knew who this man belonged to as far as parents and such. If anyone knows let me know. Thanks
The Hanging of John Headrick
The hanging of John Headrick occurred on June 15, 1899, next to the old Courthouse in Jackson, Missouri. The old Courthouse was replaced by the existing one in 1909.
Convicts receiving the death penalty in 1899 were executed by hanging in the county where the crime occurred. Missouri ended this practice in 1937. John Headrick was thus one of the last criminals hanged in Cape Girardeau County.
Headrick went to trial before a jury beginning on November 15, 1899 in Jackson, Missouri. The prosecutors were Thomas D. Hines, W. H. Miller and John A. Snider. The lawyers for the defendant were Ed. Hayes and L. Caruthers. The judge was Henry C. Riley, Judge of the Circuit Court of Cape Girardeau County.
An article running in The Jackson Herald on the day of the execution proclaimed John Headrickâ€™s crime "one of the most brutal murders in the history of Missouri." Headrick, age 19 at the time of the crime and 20 at the time of his execution, had killed James M. Lail, age 44, by shooting him to death in front of Lailâ€™s wife and teen-age daughter at Lailâ€™s farm three miles south of Jackson. He also shot Lailâ€™s wife in the back when she threw herself over the body of her husband, then pistol-whipped and knifed her. Headrick had formerly worked as a hired hand on Lailâ€™s farm.
One of the last criminals hanged in Cape Girardeau, if not the last, was John Headrick, who had been convicted of the murder of James M. Lail. The wheels of justice turned much faster one hundred years ago. Headrick committed his crime in July, he was tried in November, the Missouri Supreme Court issued its written opinion affirming his conviction in May, and he was executed in June. Thus, the time from commission of the murder to execution was just under one year.
Headrick went to trial before a jury beginning on Tuesday, November 15, 1898 in Jackson in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri. The prosecutors were Thomas D. Hines, W. H. Miller and John A. Snider. The lawyers for the Defendant were Ed. Hayes and L. Caruthers. The judge was Henry C. Riley, Judge of the Circuit Court of Cape Girardeau County.
Headrick, age 19 at the time of the crime and 20 at the time of the hanging, had killed James M. Lail, age 44, by shooting him in or near the right eye with a pistol loaded with powder and leaden bullets. Headrick had formerly worked for James M. Lail on Lail's farm about three miles south of Jackson. He worked for him about three months, but had recently been replaced by another farmhand after Headrick was arrested for stealing a buggy.
The two eye-witnesses to the murder, Lailâ€™s wife and daughter, both testified at the trial.
Vernie Lail, the widow of the victim, testified that her husband was in his barn on Friday, July 1, 1898 at about 6:00 a.m. His wife and daughter, Jessie, were outside milking the cows near the barn. Mrs. Lail saw Headrick, her husband's ex-farmhand, come onto their property and go into the barn. Within half a minute, she heard the first pistol shot. Her husband came running from the barn with Headrick chasing him and shooting. Her husband fell down and said, "John, please don't shoot me any more." He was not shot in the eye at that point. Headrick shot him several more times after he fell. He reloaded, then shot James M. Lail after he was already dead. He also shot Mrs. Lail after she threw herself over her husband's body. He shot her through the back, then beat her on the head with the gun. Jessie, the Lail's daughter, screamed, "John Headrick, what do you mean! You have wrecked my life forever! You have killed Papa, now you are killing Mother!" Headrick shoved the girl back and told her to hush or he would kill her, too. He started toward the house, holding the girl at gunpoint. Mrs. Lail, still alive, feared that he was going to kill her daughter as well, and she wanted people to know who had done it, so she got up and ran down the lane for help. Headrick saw her. Her daughter called out, "Mama, run, he is coming!" Headrick caught up with Mrs. Lail and stabbed her repeatedly, including cutting her throat and nearly cutting off an ear. Still not dead, Mrs. Lail watched as he went back and started marching her daughter "around the smoke house" at gunpoint. She got up again and ran for help, eventually getting to the home of Marcella Lail, her mother-in-law, about a quarter of a mile away.
Jessie Kirksey, the daughter of the Lails, testified that she was single and living on the farm with her parents at the time of the shooting. Her testimony was the same as her mother's. She described seeing Headrick continuing to shoot her father after he was down on the ground, adding that he also beat her father on the head with the gun. She said that when her mother ran away the second time, Headrick said, "By God, the old woman is gone, you can't kill her, can you?" He told her he had been waiting two or three days for his chance "to do this." When she asked why he had done it, he said, "By God, people can't run me down." He wanted her to swear not to testify against him, but she wouldn't. He added that he would kill her if she made any noise before he got to the end of the lane. After Headrick left, Jessie took a pan of water down where her father lay and tried to wash his face and revive him, but he was already dead. She saw that one of his eyes was shot out. She put her bonnet over his face.
Witnesses who examined the victim's body testified that he had been shot 5 times, three times in the back. Another witness testified that the Defendant had said that the victim had been saying bad things about him and he was going to do something Jessie Lail would remember the rest of her life. Another witness testified that Defendant had said he wanted to "go with" Jessie, but her parents were very much opposed to it.
Sheriff John H. Jenkins, the Sheriff of Cape Girardeau County, testified that on Friday morning, as soon as he heard about the shooting, he got on his horse and he and about 30 to 40 men rode out to Headrick's place about two miles from Jackson. They searched for him for two days and finally found him Sunday morning hiding in Milt Golson's barn.
The defense called witnesses who claimed to have seen a letter, since destroyed, in which Jessie Lail had said that if the Defendant wanted to see her as much as she wanted to see him he should come visit her. In the letter she supposedly referred to him as "darling."
Headrick took the stand in his own defense and claimed that he had been hiding in Mr. Lail's hayloft for two days, visiting his daughter, Jessie, who had been bringing him food. He claimed they were sweethearts. He claimed that he had been friendly with Jessie when he worked for her father and then after he had been discharged he got a letter from her asking him to come visit. He claimed that Jim Lail had told him in the past that if he ever caught him talking to his daughter he would kill him. He claimed that he saw Jim Lail in the barn so he tried to hide in the corn crib, but the door squeaked and Jim Lail came and found him and said, "You damned [explicative], what are you doing here monkeying with Jessie again!" He claimed Jim Lail said he was going to kill him, and would not let him out of the corn crib. He said Lail was a big, strong man, who could "handle three or four like me." He claimed Lail called for his wife to get his gun and started hitting Defendant with a curry comb. Lail kept coming at him, striking at him with the curry comb, so he shot Lail in the eye in self-defense. He said he continued shooting at Lail after Lail ran because he was excited and frightened. He admitting shooting at him after he was down on the ground. During cross-examination, the prosecutor, T. D. Hines and the Defendant had this exchange:
Q: "You want the jury to understand that you are afraid of your life when a man assaults you with a curry comb?"
A: "Yes, sir, when I am in a place where I can't get away."
Q: "Especially if you are armed?"
A: "If I wasn't armed I would have been killed."
Q: "He aimed to curry you? He didn't strike you with the curry comb?"
A: "No, sir, he did not. He struck at me mighty hard."
Prosecutor Thomas D. Hines
Jessie Lail was recalled in rebuttal and denied the claims that she and Defendant were sweethearts, that she had ever written him or that she had invited him to the home or hidden him in the barn or taken him food.
The jury found Defendant guilty of first degree murder. On Saturday, November 19, 1898, Judge Riley sentenced him to "be hanged by the neck, between heaven and earth, until he is dead." The date set for the hanging was January 4, 1899. The death sentence was stayed during an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. The Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed the conviction on May 20, 1899 and ordered the death sentence carried out. A Death Warrant scheduled his hanging for June 15, 1899, adding: "MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON HIS SOUL."
The return on the Death Warrant was filled out by Bernhard Gockel, Sheriff of Cape Girardeau County, who swore: "I hereby certify that I served the within and attached Death Warrant, at the County of Cape Girardeau, State of Missouri, on the 15th day of June A.D. 1899, by reading the same to the within named John Headrick, and on the same day between the hours of six o'clock and seven o'clock, A.M., and at the same County and State, and within the Jail Yard of said County, within an inclosure surrounded by a fence higher than the gallows and sufficiently closed to exclude the view of persons on the outside, I did inflict the death penalty by hanging the said John Headrick by the neck until he was dead. That I requested the presence of the Prosecuting Attorney and Clerk of the Circuit Court of said county and twelve other reputable citizens, selected by me, two of whom, Dr. A. L. Franklin and Dr. W. T. Rolston were physicians and I also permitted the presence of the Counsel of said John Headrick and Rev. Willett and Rev. L. H. Davis ministers of the Gospel, selected by said John Headrick and that Robert M. Tirmenstein and Henry Wagner and others were also invited and attended the said execution."