In March 1913, Floyd Allen and his son Claude were executed for the 14 March 1912 murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney William Foster. The Allens’ case had gone through many twists and turns since the shootout in the Carroll County courthouse the previous March. The trials of Floyd Allen, Claude Allen, Friel Allen, Sidna Allen, Wesley Edwards, and Sidna Edwards took place in Wytheville from April to December 1912. The prosecution’s strategy was to prove the courthouse shooting was a premeditated conspiracy in order to make each defendant equally liable for the murders. On 18 May 1912, Floyd Allen was found guilty of the first degree murder of Commonwealth’s Attorney Foster. The prosecution’s strategy failed in the trial of Claude Allen. He was convicted of the second degree murder of Judge Thornton Massie because the prosecution failed to prove a conspiracy. Claude Allen then was tried twice for the murder of Foster. The first trial resulted in a hung jury. In the second trial, Allen was convicted of first degree murder. Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia Penitentiary on 22 November 1912.
The execution did not happen in November. In order to … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday Special Edition. Next Wednesday, 14 March marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous “Hillsville Massacre,” where five people were killed in a gunfight in the Carroll County courthouse. For the next week, Out of the Box will spotlight records at the Library of Virginia related to the individuals convicted for their role in the shooting.
On 13 March 1912, in the Carroll County Circuit Court, Floyd Allen was tried for attacking two deputies who had arrested two of his nephews for fighting and disturbing a religious meeting. The jury found Allen guilty of assault on 14 March and sentenced him to one year in the penitentiary. Allen stood up and stated, “Gentlemen, I ain’t going” and shots erupted in the courthouse leaving several county officials and a spectator dead. The Allen family claimed that several court officials opened fire on Floyd Allen, while other witnesses contended that Claude Swanson Allen, the defendant’s son, began the shooting. Nevertheless, Floyd Allen, Claude Swanson Allen, and other members of the Allen family were tried for murder in the Wythe County Circuit Court from April-December 1912. Floyd Allen was convicted of first degree murder on 16 May 1912. Claude S. Allen was also found guilty of first degree murder. Father and son were executed on 28 March 1913.
Sidna Allen, Floyd’s brother, was sentenced … read more »
At 7:15 A.M. on 19 March 1909 , Benjamin Gilbert, age 19, was electrocuted for the 23 July 1908 murder of Amanda Morse in Norfolk. Gilbert and Morse dated briefly. After Morse ended the relationship in the spring of 1908, Gilbert made frequent threats of bodily harm to her. On the evening of 23 July 1908, Gilbert approached Morse and several of her male companions on the Campostella Bridge. When Morse refused to speak with him, Gilbert pulled a revolver and fired three shots, hitting Morse twice in the back. She died the next day. Gilbert was convicted of first degree murder in October 1908 and sentenced to death. Virginia Governor Claude Swanson granted Gilbert two respites to allow his attorney to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. The Court refused to grant a writ of error and the death sentence was carried out at the Virginia Penitentiary.
After Gilbert’s execution, the Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch reported on an effort to revive him. Dr. J.P. Jackson of South Norfolk wanted to revive Gilbert with a respirator, an invention that he claimed could restore life if used immediately after death in cases of electrocution and asphyxiation. The 19 March 1909 … read more »
The Library of Virginia is pleased to announce that the records of the Virginia Penitentiary (Accession 41558) are now available to researchers. The collection contains 289 bound volumes and 698 boxes of paper records spanning nearly 200 years (1796-1991; bulk 1906-1970). Included are administrative records such as annual reports, correspondence, office and subject files, minute books, photographs, and blueprints, as well as specific records related to the State Convict Road Force and State Convict Lime Grinding Board. Also included are financial records such as account books, cash books, ledgers, payrolls, and receipt books. The prisoner-related records include: prisoner registers, 1865-1980; photographs and negatives, 1906-1914, 1934-1961 and 1965-1966; medical records; commitment orders; punishment records; escape reports; index cards; and execution files. The records of the Virginia Penitentiary document the institution’s operational history, prisoners, and the evolution of corrections in Virginia.
The Virginia Penitentiary collection came to the Library in multiple accessions over several decades. In many cases, the original order of the material had been disturbed or was unidentifiable. The bulk of this collection has never been accessible. Researchers are strongly urged to read the Virginia Penitentiary finding aid. The guide describes the contents of the collection in detail. It also notes the significant gaps in the collection as well as cross-references to other collections at the Library of Virginia containing Penitentiary material.
I found … read more »
Joseph Robinson, alias “Cocky Joe”, was convicted on 9 April 1951 in the Portsmouth City Hustings Court for the 1943 murder of Marc A. Terrell and sentenced to die in the electric chair at the Virginia State Penitentiary on 11 May 1951. Court appeals delayed Robinson’s execution several times until the court set a new date – 4 May 1954. However, Robinson had no intention of letting the state kill him. At 5:30 a.m, ninety minutes before his scheduled execution, Robinson hung himself with a bed sheet in his cell. He was the first death row inmate to commit suicide in Virginia.
The circumstances surrounding Robinson’s suicide are documented in an investigative report dated 5 May 1954 written by W. F. Smyth, Jr., Penitentiary Superintendent, to R. M. Youell, Director, Division of Corrections, Department of Welfare. The report can be found in the Virginia Penitentiary Execution Files (Accession 38103), which also contain court records, Robinson’s mug shot, criminal record, death certificate, and suicide notes, as well as the razor blade he used to cut his wrist in his first suicide attempt.
Joseph Robinson’s saga began nine years earlier. In the spring of 1943, Robinson and his girlfriend Margaret Fowler Barnes went on a crime spree in Portsmouth, committing several robberies and assaults culminating in the armed robbery of the Capital Theater. On 11 May 1943 … read more »
On 16 August 1912, 17-year-old Virginia Christian was electrocuted at the Virginia Penitentiary for the 18 March 1912 murder of Ida Belote, her white employer. Today, she remains the only woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia since the General Assembly centralized executions at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1908. That historic distinction may be about to change. Barring any intervention by the judicial system or Governor Robert McDonnell, Teresa Lewis will be executed on 23 September 2010 at the Greensville Correctional Center for her role in the murder of her husband, Julian Lewis. Lewis’s pending execution has sparked renewed interest in the Christian case.
The Library of Virginia has a variety of documents concerning Virginia Christian’s execution. Rather than summarizing the case, I will let a representative sample of 51 documents tell the story from all sides: Christian’s family and her attorneys, Belote’s family, the prosecutor, and Governor William Hodges Mann. These documents were drawn from various State Records collections including: Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary; Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers; and Records of Governor William Mann. Each image caption includes the citation of the document. The records of the Virginia State Penitentiary Collection, 1796-1991 (Accession 41558) are now open to researchers.
Readers interested in exploring how the Christian case was covered in the media should consult the Library … read more »
These records are part of the Virginia State Penitentiary Collection, 1796-1991 (Accession 41558). Access to the execution files and four audio cassettes is restricted for 50 years from date of execution. This collection is currently closed for processing. [Update: this collection is now open to researchers. ]
–Roger Christman, LVA Senior State Records Archivist… read more »