George Maledon - Prince of Hangmen
George Maledon earned the moniker of the Prince of Hangmen while
Judge Isaac Parker's
chief executioner during the lawless days when Parker served as judge of
the Federal Court for the Western District of
Born in Germany on June 10, 1830, Maledon
migrated with his parents to Detroit, Michigan when he was still a child.
When he grew up, he headed westward where he worked as a
police officer. When the
Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the
Artillery, serving in its 1st Battalion.
Maledon, a diminutive man standing at just about five and a half
feet, was described as a "whispy" little fellow, with dark eyes and hair,
a fair complexion and a long beard. Quiet in nature, he rarely smiled and
was almost always dressed in black, an "appearance" that would soon seem
appropriate to his new profession.
After the war, Maledon returned to
where he worked as a deputy sheriff before being hired as a turnkey at the
federal jail in May, 1871. The next year, he was appointed as a "special
deputy" in charge of execution of the condemned prisoners.
For the next 22 years, he would execute more than sixty criminals and
was forced to shoot five prisoners during escape attempts, two of
which were killed. In no time, he was given the title of the "Prince
of the Hangmen" by the local newspaper - the Fort Smith Elevator,
who was only too happy to publish each and every morbid detail of
Maledon's handiwork for the "entertainment" of its readers.
For three years, between 1873 and 1876,
these executions upon the gallows were made public, drawing thousands
of people from not only the surrounding areas, but sometimes from
across the nation. During this time, a total of 22 men were hanged in
seven different public displays. As the morbid gawkers gathered around
the twenty foot wide scaffold, where as many a twelve men could be
hanged at one time, the question was not "who was going to be hanged
first," but rather, "would they be executed at the same time?"
On September 3, 1875, the largest group
ever to be executed at once occurred when Maledon hanged six men. The schedule event had been widely
publicized in the media and a week before the execution was to occur,
the city began to fill up with strangers from all over the country.
and Kansas City flocked to
as well as newspapermen who traveled far from eastern and
northern cities to catch the "scoop.” By the time the event was
to take place, more than 5,000 people watched as the six men were
marched from the jail to the gallows.
Of the six
felons, three were white, two were
Native American and one was black. Seated along the back of the gallows, their death warrants were read
to them and each was asked if they had any last words. When the
preliminaries were over, the six were lined up on the scaffold while
George Maledon adjusted the nooses
around their necks. The trap was sprung all six died at once at the
end of the ropes.
The Fort Smith
Independent was the first newspaper to report the event on
September 3, 1875 with the large column heading reading: "Execution
Other newspapers around
the country reported the event a day later. These press reports shocked
people throughout the nation. "Cool Destruction of Six Human Lives by
Legal Process" screamed the headlines.
This event earned
Judge Isaac Parker
the nickname of
"The Hanging Judge”
called his court the "Court of the Damned."
Ironically, though the public flocked to watch
these gruesome displays, Maledon was shunned by the community, as the town folk were afraid to
associate with the "Prince of Hangmen."
Judge Isaac Parker.
This image available for
photographic prints and
However, there was one man who was morbidly
attracted to Maledon's occupation -
One one occasion while
he was asking
Maledon for all the particulars when the executioner proudly displayed
a collection of leg irons, straps, and ropes that were actually utilized
in some of the hangings.
one rope, that had been used in eleven hangings, Maledon commented "It is made of the finest hemp fiber, hand made in
St. Louis and treated to keep it from slipping".
questioned him about the type of knot that Maledon used for the executions, George, seemingly pleased to show off
his expertise, said:
"You see, a big knot is necessary to have a humane hanging. If it
doesn't break the man's neck when he drops, he strangles. That isn't
a pretty sight. He just kicks and twists a lot."
But for the curious onlookers, these public
events would be short-lived. In 1878, a 16 foot tall fence was built
around the gallows and the executions became "private affairs," usually
having less than 50 spectators.
The only execution that Maledon refused to carry out was that of Sheppard Busby, a U.S. Deputy
Marshal, who had been convicted of killing another marshal by the name of
Barney Conneley, when Busby tried to arrest Conneley for adultery. Maledon, who had had many associations with Busby in the past, refused
to carry out his duty in this one instance, and the execution was
performed by Deputy
G. S. White.
After more than two
decades carrying out these gruesome tasks, Maledon retired from the federal court in 1894 and opened a grocery
Fort Smith. But he was yet to face one of his most difficult life situations, when the
next year his eighteen year old daughter, Annie, was murdered by Frank
Carver. Annie met Carver in
while he was in
being tried on whiskey charges. The two soon began a short love affair
which led to her following him to Muskogee,
where the young girl was surprised to find that Carver was already married
to an Indian woman. When the two entered into a heated argument on March
25, 1985, a drunken Carver shot the girl. Seriously wounded, she was taken
where she died three weeks later, on May 17th.
Finding himself before
Judge Isaac Parker,
Carver was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. However, Carver
hired a fancy lawyer, who soon appealed the case to the Supreme Court, and
the sentence was changed to life in prison.
George Maledon was so disgusted by the decision that he left
and took a "show" on the road where he displayed relics from hangings,
including ropes, pieces of the gallows' beam, and photographs of some of
the nation's most notorious
Setting up a tent in various cities, hundreds of people flocked to the
show to hear Maledon speak and view the gruesome displays.
Just before he left
Fort Smith, Maledon was asked if his conscience ever bothered him about the
hangings or if he feared the spirits of the departed. To this he replied,
"No, I have never hanged a man who came back to have the job done over."
By 1905, Maledon's health was seriously failing and he entered an old soldiers
home in Humboldt, Tennessee, where he spent the remainder of his days.
Though some sources say he died
June 5, 1911, just shy of his 81th birthday, according to government
records and other reliable sources, Maledon died on May 6, 1911, and was buried at the Johnson City Cemetery.
Maledon has the dubious honor of having executed more men than any
other executioner in U.S. history.
The final execution in
occurred on July 30, 1896. Eleven and a half months later, the original
gallows was demolished and the debris completely burned. However, a
new gallows was reconstructed at the original site in 1981, as part of the
National Historic Site. The site also includes the barracks, courthouse,
commissary, and jail building, and a visitor's center that focuses both on
military history, as well as the years that it served as the federal
Fort Smith National Historic Site
of America, updated December, 2012.
National Historic Site
Parker - Hanging Judge of Indian Territory
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