Sunday, July 22, 2018

Hanging at Four Pole Creek

The First (and Last) Execution in Cabell County, West Virginia 
by Robert A. Waters 

For several days before the scheduled hanging of Allen Harrison, overloaded trains chugged into Huntington, West Virginia.  Hotel rooms sold out, and restaurants stayed open late to feed the crowds.  On November 17, 1892, Harrison, a 26-year-old ne’er-do-well and convicted killer, would walk up the gallows to meet his fate.

Newspapers of the day described Harrison as handsome, but odd, having “peculiar habits and strong likes and dislikes.”  According to legal reports, he couldn’t get along with his father, so he left home while still a teen.  Wandering about, Harrison wound up homeless before Frank Adams, a prosperous farmer living near Big Cabell Creek, fifteen miles from Huntington, took pity on him and let the wayward stranger live in his home.

Adams’s beautiful daughter, Bettie, was 16-years-old and Harrison quickly fell in love. 

Although Frank Adams and his wife treated Harrison kindly, he did little to reciprocate those good deeds.  He rarely worked, and never contributed much to the arrangement. 

Bettie ignored Harrison’s constant advances, which grew more passionate as time passed.  After a year, Frank Adams asked his nuisance boarder to leave.  Adams explained to Harrison that he made life uncomfortable for his family by constantly pressing Bettie to become his paramour and that Harrison’s jealousy and continued quarreling with Bettie made life in the family untenable. 

Harrison moved out and into a neighbor’s home.  For the next few weeks, he stalked Bettie.  Hiding in bushes outside her home day and night, he spied on her.  When she left her residence, he followed her, sometimes approaching her with passionate protestations of love.  Each time he was rejected, his anger boiled higher.  In addition to his constant stalking, Harrison wrote hundreds of letters to her, professing his continuing adoration.

Finally, his “love” turned to hate.

A day before the murder, he stole a pistol from the neighbor he was staying with, then purchased two two-ounce vials of laudanum, an opioid sold by prescription at the turn of the century.

On April 20, 1892, Harrison went to the Adams home, walked through the front door, and found Bettie Adams removing ashes from the fireplace.  He fired, hitting Bettie in the chest.  She collapsed onto the floor and screamed, “Oh Ma, Allen has shot me.”  Her mother ran into the room and held Bettie in her arms, attempting to shield her daughter from the murderous madman.  Harrison tried to shoot her again, but the pistol misfired.  Finally, he got it working.  Placing the barrel against the unfortunate girl’s back, he fired again.  Bettie’s sister also witnessed the shooting. 

Bettie bled out before help could arrive. 

Harrison ran into some nearby woods and hid the gun.  He then swallowed the laudanum and lay down, using his coat for a pillow.  Searchers quickly located the killer.  Still in a stupor, he was transported to the Cabell County Jail.  While there, he vomited several times, likely because of the drug he had taken. 

Later, when asked by reporters if he would do it again, Harrison replied, “Yes, I would.” 

At trial, Harrison’s lawyer declared he was insane.  However, because of the obvious planning of the murder, his insanity defense fell apart.  Harrison was convicted and sentenced to death. 

On November 17, men, women, and children began gathering in the field near Four Pole Creek.  By nine o’clock, nearly 5,000 people surrounded the “hanging tree.”  Unlike many hangings, the crowd seemed solemn.

At eleven, Harrison issued a statement claiming to have no knowledge of the crime.  He did, however, admit he may have done it.     

At two-fifteen, Harrison walked up the gallows.  Within minutes, he was dead. 

Seven years later, West Virginia abolished public executions.