By Jared Olar
With this column, we conclude our series on the March 14, 1896 Pekin Daily Times account of the legal hanging of Albert Wallace, the last legal, public hanging in Pekin’s history. Wallace was given the death sentence for his murder of his younger sister Belle Wallace Bowlby in Feb. 1895. The Daily Times report of that day’s execution has been reprinted in the November and December 2016 issues of The Monthly, newsletter of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society.
The Daily Times news report tells the story of Wallace’s hanging with a high degree of detail such as would be considered morbid if not gruesome if found in a newspaper article today. Newspaper accounts of catastrophes and unnatural or accidental deaths from that period of time characteristically exhibit the same kind of “gory detail,” perhaps in part to help bring the event to life for the reader – though some editors and journalists are known to have opted for lurid sensationalism to increase newspaper sales. In this case, even with the detail, the writing style is not sensationalistic.
Here follows the Pekin Daily Times account of Wallace’s execution:
Albert Wallace was hung this morning for the murder of his sister, Belle Bowlby.
The trap was sprung at 11:09 o’clock. There was a drop of full five feet and his neck was broken. Not once did the poor man betray any signs of fear.
More cool than his executioners he stood on the treacherous trap and quietly looked into the faces of the crowd.
He went to the gallows with his crime unconfessed and his lips sealed against any disclosures.
The sad spectacle had its spectators. There were about two hundred and fifty within the enclosure. And a black line of human figures on the tops of tall buildings along Court street could be seen. These were the morbidly curious people who seemed to make it an imperative duty to witness the execution, even though they were forced to climb to the top of buildings and stand in the cold, bleak air to do it.
From beginning to end, those who officiated at the grewsome (sic) ceremony, went about their task in a mechanical and business-like manner, when once the death procession moved from the jail into the enclosure.
First, came Sheriff Stout, then Sheriff Nicholson, and third, Rev. O. W. Stewart.
Fourth in the procession was Wallace, walking with a firm, free step, his hands at his side. Deputy Sheriff Clark walked with him.
When he reached the bottom of the steps his first glance was directed toward the blue sky to the west. He disdained the scaffold and looked straight ahead as he walked toward the south.
Reaching the foot of the scaffold he ascended it, with slight support on either side. Stepping onto the trap he stood cool and collected and glancing over the crowd to see who he could recognize.
He was too weak and frail after his sickness to escape from the law, but his wrists must be handcuffed and his limbs bound. This was done quickly.
As one of the straps was tightened he remarked:
“You have thrown me off my feet.”
These were the only words he spoke.
Then the dun colored shroud was slipped over his neck. He watched the sheriff adjust it about his lower limbs and seemed anxious to have it just right.
The sheriff then slipped the noose over his head.
It was quickly followed by the cap and Wallace took one last lingering look at the world, as the cap was pulled down.
The rope was quickly drawn taut about his neck, and the sheriff springing back threw the lever. Down went the body like a rocket. It stopped with a sickening thud.
The silence was deathly and the only visible movement were the contortions of the suspended murder[er].
The cord made several turns on itself and Albert Wallace was soon a corpse that swayed to and fro. Drs. Beatty, of Fairview, McCoy, of Pekin, and Hufty, of Delavan, stepped up to examine the body.
It was first given out that the victim had died of strangulation, as the horrible convulsions agitating the frame were taken for breathing.
Later a more thorough examination was made and it was found that the fall had broken his neck.
He was pronounced dead at 11:20, just eleven minutes after the trap was sprung.
Three minutes later he was cut down and placed in the coffin.
The mob made an attempt to tear down the stockade, but failed. Several arrests were made.
The arrival of the coffin created a stir on the outside. It is a plain wooden affair, furnished by the county. It was taken through the jail residence at 9 o’clock and laid at the west of the scaffold.
The jury of physicians was composed of Drs. S. D. Low, A. McCoy, W. O. Cattron, J. I. Skelly, Pekin; Beatty, Fulton county; N. L. Hufty, Delavan; R. D. Bradley, Peoria; A. I. MacLay, Delavan; Schaefer, Morton; Powell, Mackinaw; J. M. Cody, Tremont.
ADDENDUM: The account of Albert Wallace’s public execution was also reported in the The Tribune of Tazewell County on Thursday, March 19, 1896. The Tribune account, which agrees in almost every particular with the Pekin Daily Times account, was reprinted in the February-March 2017 issues of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly.