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The Man They Had To Hang Twice

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, May 7, 1933



By Howard Burba


     When a gaunt, uncurried old horse shambled along South Brown st. just eighty years ago, dragging behind him a truckster’s wagon equally as dilapidated in appearance, no one gave it more than a passing glance.  That is, no one except a couple of citizens who happened to be standing on a street corner in “Slidertown,” near the present site of the. N.C. R.   They took a second look.

     It may have been because there was nothing else moving around “Slidertown” at that early hour on the morning of August 13, 1853, or it may have been that those two citizens were above the average in the matter of curiosity.  At any rate, they took a second look, and in doing so discovered that the old outfit was driverless.   The horse was picking his own way along the highway still soft with the mud of recent rains.

     It was the second look that started an investigation.  And it led to the discovery of a double-murder, one of the most cold-blooded crimes in the history of Ohio, and one for which Francis Dick paid with his life on a scaffold in the old Montgomery co. jail.  Eighty long years have passed since that execution, and it is doubtful if anyone can now be found who personally witnessed it.  But for long years the mention of the Dick hanging served to recall one strange, unusual feature in connection with it.  It was at the Dick hanging that the rope broke and the executioner had to go through his grim task a second time.

     But let’s get back to “Slidertown” on the morning that mangy old horse came slowly wandering down the Brown st. hill, unheeded by all save the two early risers who stood chatting on a street corner.  Let’s hear the news of their discovery just as Daytonians heard it in their little local newspaper of that day.




     That was the heading over that important piece of news—and that was all there was in the way of a heading.  But the details were there, and the gruesomeness of the recital more than supplies any deficiency to be found in the heading.

     “Great excitement was occasioned this morning,” reads the first published story of the affair, “by the report that the bodies of a woman and a boy terribly mangled had been found in the woods on Stoddard’s farm, near the residence of J. Patterson, just beyond the corporation line.  It was ascertained that the murdered persons were Mrs. Elizabeth Young, an old woman who attends market with corn meal, and her son, James, a boy of some 14 or 15 years of age.  The discovery was made by a couple of citizens of Slidertown who saw the horse and wagon of the old woman coming along the road just after daylight.

     “Surprised at seeing no one in the wagon and thinking there must have been an accident, they stopped the horse and drove back.  Soon after entering the woods the bodies were found, the woman down near a corner of the fence some 50 yards from the road and the boy not more that 20 or 30 feet from the road.  The skulls of both were terribly crushed.  The blows had been given in the faces of the victims which were blackened and disfigured and their foreheads broken in.

     “In company with several citizens we passed over the ground in the vicinity of the place in which the bodies were found.  The place where the assault was made was easily discovered.  The wagon appeared to have been going up a slight elevation, which was in a thick part of the woods, when the blow was struck.  The wagon seemed to have been against an old log and in the road above there are marks of a struggle.  A piece of the unfortunate woman’s comb lay in the wagon tracks; marks of hands struck upon the earth as if in agony are plainly discernible.  From this point the body of the woman was dragged through the bushes some 60 yards, to the place where it was found.

     “The boy seems to have been endeavoring to make his escape and to have been pursued and murdered in an old tree-top which lay upon the ground.  The leaves there were all soaked with blood.  The body had been dragged, apparently, a short distance from the spot, and was found at the foot of a tree not far from the road.  The boy’s cap was found 30 yards beyond the place on the road where the assault was made.

     “In regard to the perpetrator of the awful murder suspicion attaches to a son-in-law of the old lady, named Francis Dick.  He was noticed near the scene of the murder, seated on a log, his head resting on his hands.  Shortly after, he left the place to go back to the home of Mrs. Young and it is said soon increased his pace into a run.  He was followed, arrested and committed to jail.  Blood was found upon his shirt collar and bosom and the sleeves had been washed out in dirty water, rubbed over with sand and rolled up.

     “The murdered woman had a small mill on the branch which is supplied from Wylie’s springs.  Here she grinds the meal which she brings to market.  Her husband was found in the canal a few years ago with marks of violence upon his person.  The son-in-law, Dick, is reported as a shiftless, lazy sort of person and though his wife and children lived with the old woman he had been driven away by her.  His wife says that though her mother had sent him off he had been about the house every night this week until last night.

     “After the return of Mr. Young from Mexico, Dick, it seemed, had assisted him in paying for the mill.  The deed is said to have been made to Mrs. Young.  The desire to obtain possession of the mill property is set forth as a motive for the commission of this double murder.  Of course, there are a great many reports afloat in regard to Dick—but we shall not repeat them.  He will have an early examination and then, perhaps, some facts will be disclosed.

     “The opinion of the physicians, Drs. Wise and Geiger, who examined the bodies, was that the blows were inflicted with some heavy iron instrument.  The coroner’s jury adjourned to the city hall to hear testimony of the witnesses and the jury rendered a verdict to the effect that the murders were committed by some person or persons unknown.”

     That they were sufficiently enterprising in a journalistic sense to “stop the press” was indicated by the addition of a few paragraphs under the heading of “LATER DEVELOPMENTS” appearing just below the main article.  They read:

     “It is now understood that Dick admits he murdered Mrs. Young and her son, James.  His coat was found in Staphin’s livery stable.  It was stained with blood.  Late in the evening a spade belonging to Staphin was discovered in a patch of weeds, the directions to find which were given by Dick himself who confessed that with this implement he had committed the murders.

     “Dick also gave information where he had secreted a pistol which he had with him at the time of the murder, intending to use it if necessary to accomplish his purpose.  The weapon was also found in Staphin’s stable.  It was loaded and the butt was covered with blood.  We have stated these particulars from information which may be relied upon.  There is no question but that Dick has confessed the murder and the facts of his confession will be established.”

     Your newspaper man may not have been given to sensationalism in headlines 80 years ago, but he was not averse to “picking up a dime on the side” when the opportunity presented itself.  At least one of them found such an opportunity in the Dick case.  Excitement was intense, since crimes of this nature were rare in those days, and since there really were fewer interesting topics of conversation than the present generation of Daytonians enjoy.  So, this enterprising newspaper man hit upon the idea of publishing a gaudy pamphlet, giving it the title of “The Life and Crimes of Francis Dick.”  It sold “like ginger cakes on court day.”

     From its pages we learn that Dick was born in Bavaria in 1817, being 37 years old at the time of the murder.  At the age of 14 he came to the United States with his mother, the family settling in Troy in 1834.  Dick worked at the shoe-making trade several years, but gave it up to become a butcher.  Then he and his mother rented and kept a public house in Troy, referred to in the pamphlet as “a one-horse tavern.”

     Tiring of that, Dick secured a position as a hostler in a livery stable.  In 1848 he moved to Hamilton where he engaged in similar work.

     “It was a rule of the stable,” reads a paragraph from the pamphlet, “that no horse should be taken out without first being brought around to the office by the hostler.  The reason was that otherwise the patron of the place might mount and ride away without settling his bill.  Dick was instructed accordingly, and no employe of the place ever more willingly obeyed orders.  One day a customer whose horse had been standing up to the rack came to Dick and called for the animal.  Dick brought it out and the man mounted as if he intended riding away.  Dick stopped him and requested him to ‘come down’ but the request was not complied with, whereupon the contumacious individual found himself seized by the throat and brought to the ground as if in the jaws of a bulldog.  He cried murder lustily and the landlord running to his relief took off the infuriated hostler, not, however, until the victim’s natural faculties for respiration had been materially circumscribed.”

     Dick removed from Hamilton to Dayton, and on the second week in August, 1853, secured a job as hostler at the Staphin livery stable.  On the morning of Saturday, August 13, just at dawn, Mrs. Young and her son, James, started to market in their one-horse huckstering wagon.  Two hours later their bodies were found in the woods.  Dick’s partial confession following his arrest resulted in his conviction as a charge of first-degree murder, and he was remanded to the Montgomery co. jail pending the fixing of a date for his execution.

     At no time while he was in jail did Dick believe the sentence would be carried out.  He laughed and joked with prisoners, and when his attention was called to the fact that his time on earth was rapidly diminishing and that he should make his peace with God, he spurned the suggestion with the statement that he “wasn’t born to be hung.”

     An anecdote told at the time serves to illustrate the indifference of the condemned man toward the fate awaiting him.  Having been brought up a Catholic, Dick had little faith in the teachings of any other religion.  One day a protestant minister visited him in jail and before departing, asked: “Have you any objection to my praying for you?”  Where upon Dick answered in a carefree way: “Oh, I guess not.  Every little bit helps.”

     It was not until his last week in jail, following the judge’s decision that he should be hanged on the second Friday in September, 1854, that Dick weakened and his old spirit of bravado deserted him.  Then he made a complete confession, and one which tended to reveal the lightness with which he held human life.

     Confronted with an accusation that he had murdered a peddler in Troy while residing there, he declared that the blood of the stranger was not on his hands.  He did admit knowing about it, however, asserting that a boy who worked in the shoeshop at Troy with him did not like the peddler and that one day the boy gave him a dose of poisoned liquor, from which he died.

     But he did admit slaying old man Young, husband of the woman and father of the boy he had murdered near “Slidertown.”  He said he was angry because Young had “done him out of” his rightful share in the mill in south Dayton.  He persuaded Young to come to town and together they drank freely.  It was while they were returning home, Dick confessed, that he struck his father-in-law in the head with a club and tossed his body in the canal near the fairgrounds.  There it was found the following day.  “I couldn’t help it,” was his only apology for the deed.

     He also stated in this formal confession that he never intended to kill the Young boy. Hatred created by ill-treatment at the hands of his mother-in-law and his wife, he asserted, led him to slay the aged woman.  “I didn’t want to kill the boy,” he added.   “I only wanted to tell him not to holler, but he fought me and I struck him with the shovel, not intending to kill him.”

     To a brother, who visited him the day before the execution, he said, “I have brought disgrace upon myself and you.  Mother is old and will not live long.  Only two of you will be left.  I am sorry for what has happened.  I wish I hadn’t killed Jimmy, but I couldn’t help it.  I hope you will forgive me.”

     “Today,” read a brief paragraph in the old Dayton newspaper of Sept. 8, 1854, “but at what hour is known only to the invited few, the execution of Francis Dick takes place.  The county officers and six persons besides are all the law allows to be present.  The place of execution is the southwest corner of the area within the jail, which surrounds the cells.  The drop is arranged so that the criminal will step upon it from the platform on the second tier of cells.”

     At the appointed hour Sheriff Henderson caused Dick to be led from his cell.  It was the second legal hanging in the history of Montgomery co., and to a lack of experience is attributed the gruesome scene which attended it.  Sheriff Henderson met Dick at the edge of the trap-door through which the confessed murderer would soon be hurried into eternity.  The noose was adjusted, and the trap was sprung.  But instead of the sudden jerk, and the writhing of a body at the end of the noose, there was a brief flash as the rope snapped and the intended victim struck heavily on the floor of the jail, beneath the scaffold.

     Amazement was registered on the tense faces of those who stood upon the scaffold and on the floor below it.  It had come so quickly it was difficult for them to realize just what was transpiring before their eyes.  From the cross-arm of the scaffold swung only the frayed end of a bright new hemp rope.  The body they expected to see dangling from it, revolving slowly as the strained cord reached the extreme of tension, was not in evidence.

     Instead, there was the noise of the snapping rope, and the thud of a body on the floor beneath the scaffold.  From the point where they expected to see Dick in the final throes of death, they turned their eyes downward to see him limp and twisted into a half-sitting posture, ankles bound tightly together and hands still tightly tied behind his back.  Then there was the stillness of the tomb.  For what seemed an age though at best it could have been but a few seconds, not a man present appeared to breathe.

     It was afterward reported that the force of the drop had been sufficient, however, to render Dick unconscious.  Hurriedly the sheriff and his assistants dismounted and pushed their way through the wooden braces with which the scaffold was supported to the spot where lay the prostrate form of the law’s intended victim.  Gathering up the body, they carried it from beneath the scaffold, up the steps to the position it formerly occupied just beneath the noose.  Dick was placed prone on the floor while a new rope was brought forth.  Then it was necessary to stand the crumpled form on the trap door while a new noose was adjusted and the hanging operation was repeated.  Strong men fainted, others unable to face the scene, turned their backs.  But they withheld no details when they reached the street and soon the whole town knew that the Dick hanging had been “bungled.”

     For long years the actual hinging was of secondary interest when the slaying of Mrs. Elizabeth Young and her son was mentioned.  Dayton recalled it, first of all as, “the time the rope broke.”