THE HANGING OF THORN WALLINGFORD
Part 1 of 2
Source: The Crittenden Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1919-Current, November 5, 1920, Edition 1, Image 8 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.
Written for the Press by R. C. Haynes
It is always pleasanter to look upon the bright side of a picture than upon the dark side. The writer of these historical sketches would rather portray the happy scenes of life than the miserable and the tragic. He would rather cause his readers to smile than to frown; yet if one picks up a history of the world, either ancient or modern, he finds it to be little less than a record of killings and hangings and beheadings. Since, by an edict of the dauntless and accommodating King Ahasuerous[Ahasuerus] at the behest of the good and very patriotic Queen Esther, the wicked Haman was swung up so high by the neck, that mode of execution seems to have been a favorite one until very recent years, when electrocution has generally taken its place among civilized people. Without any apology therefore, we give our readers an imperfect but true record of the noted and perhaps most tragic event of our county.
The first and the only legal hanging in Crittenden county was that of William Thornton Wallingford. The execution took place on Friday, September 17, 1852—just sixty-eight years ago.
Wallingford lived on a farm near Pickern Hill, on the Fords Ferry road, some seven or eight miles from Marion, the place which was afterward owned by John Robinson. He was married and at this time had a wife and one child, a baby scarcely a year old. The house was a log building with two rooms in front and with other rooms back on each side. Wallingford and his family occupied only one end of the building, the rooms on the other end being vacant. Wallingford also had a blacksmith shop near his residence and did work for the public.
“Thorn” Wallingford, though descended from a good and respected family, was generally looked upon by his neighbors with disfavor, though no crime had heretofore been charged against him. Added to his other shortcomings as a citizen and a husband, he was unfortunately addicted to the immoderate use of strong drink, which it seems, more than anything else, led to the brutal crime for which he suffered the extreme penalty of the law. He seems to have been so constituted that when under the influence of liquor he was entirely deprived of reason, judgment and all the better feelings of humanity.
One morning, leaving his wife and child at home, Wallingford went to Weston, remaining all day, during which time he frequented the tavern bar. Such visits to the saloon were of common occurrence from him and the people of that town thought nothing of it. Long after nightfall he left Weston and started for home.
It happened that some movers, consisting of a man and his wife and a number of children, on their way to Missouri, late that evening stopped and asked for shelter during the night. Mrs. Wallingford gave them permission to pass the night in the unoccupied portion of the building. This they accepted gladly.
Wallingford, arriving home about midnight, insanely drunk and possessed with the demons of darkness, found his wife and baby in bed and perhaps asleep, murdered them in a most brutal way. Finding out in some way that the movers occupied the other end of the building, dragged his wife from the bed and trampled her to death on the floor. He then took the baby, threw it in the fire and left the house. The movers, hearing cries, rushed into the room, but too late to save the lives of the wife or child.
Quickly notifying the neighbors, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Wallingford, and by daylight Sheriff M. B. Haynes and one or two deputies were out searching for him. They went to the scene of the tragedy, but Wallingford was nowhere about the place. Following what they took to be his footprints, they came to a woods and later searching for some time they found Wallingford on a pile of rails asleep. They arrested him and told him he was charged with the murder of his wife and child. He appeared unconcerned and told the officials he knew nothing about the crime.
The sheriff took the prisoner to Marion and turned him over to the custody of Jailer John H. Bruff. The jail was a log structure, two stories high. The walls of the building were of three thicknesses. The inner and outer walls were built of large logs lying horizontally, while between these two walls was another wall made of logs equally as large standing upright. There was no chimney or flue and no means of heating the building.
There was no local newspaper in Marion at that time and no telephone lines traversed the county from on end to the other, yet the news of the crime spread, much excitement prevailed and for a time mob violence was feared.
(Continued next week.)
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