Coffey - John Wesley Christopher - Montgomery InGenWeb Project

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Coffey - John Wesley Christopher


Family Fact Sheet
1885- John Coffey first man (of 2) hanged from scaffold at county jail after being convicted of murder.

Source: The New York Times Oct 17, 1885

Indianapolis, Oct 16 -- No such scene as was witnessed on the scaffold at Crawfordsville at noon today, probably ever was witnessed in this vicinity. Last January James McMullen and his wife were murdered in a most diabolical manner. John W. Coffee was arrested for the crime. During his incarceration he made three different confessions, one of which sought to throw the blame for the killing on James M. Dennis, a respected farmer. Dennis was arrested and convicted upon Coffee's testimony, together with a web of circumstantial evidence, skillfully woven around him. The two men were condemned to be hanged on the 3rd day of September. Dennis protested his innocence from the first. Before the day set for the execution Coffee made a third confession in which he implicated James Rankin, Monday Rankin, James M. Dennis and John Curtis. He declared that James Rankin did the killing with a navy revolver firing four shots. It was on the strength of this third confession that the Governor respited Coffee and Dennis until today.The Supreme Court afterward granted Dennis a new trial. James Rankin proved an unquestionable alibi. Dennis will probably be released from custody without an other trial. Coffee was hanged today. The streets were crowded with people from all parts of the county. The Sheriff had issued 200 invitations and about that number of spetators were admitted into the inclosure surround the gallows at 9 o'clock this morning. Coffee was utterly prostrated and refused to be consoled by his spiritual adviser. He had refused to eat any food since last night. His condition at that time was most pitiable. Dennis was removed to an adjoining county as a precaution against a possible mob. At 11 o'clcok Coffee having braced up somewhat in the meanwhile, made some additions to his third confession implicating others int he crime but his statements are not believed. When the time came for the execution he had a spasm and he had to be half carried to the scaffold. When the rope was placed around his neck he talked incoherently repeating his implication of others. When the drop fell the rope broke and the body dropped to the ground. The neck was not broken but blood oozed from the condemned man's ears. He was carried up on the scaffold and while the rope was being readjusted he recovered consciousness and begged to have the cap taken off that he might make another speech. This request was refused. When the drop again fell the rope broke a second time, but the body was caught before it fell to the ground. It was lifted up and held in the arms of Deputy Sheriff's while the rope was fixed for the third time. When the drop fell again the rope held and Coffee strangled to death in 12 minutes. The spectacle was sickening. The Governor said today that after investigating the case he had become satisfied that Coffee alone was guilty of the murder.  - typed by kbz

Source: Crawfordsville Star newspaper, Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana  Oct 29, 1885

The remains of John Coffee were taken from the Oak Hill vault and buried in a lot in that cemetery on last Tuesday morning.  His sister came down from Darlington to view the interment. - typed by kbz

Source: Crawfordsville Star, June 18, 1885 p 1

The work of transcribint the evidence and legal points in the case of the State vs. James M. Dennis is proceeding so slowly that it can hardly be put before the supreme court before that judicial body adjourns for the summer vacation.  Indeed, Dennis' counsel seems to make haste slowly in this matter.  If the papers are not filed before the courts' vacation, Dennis must at least be respited for a time and not be hung on Sept. 3rd.  A great majority of people are anxious that Coffee first suffer the death penalty that he may make his death statement before Dennis suffers death.  Both condemned men are faring well and are in good health and good spirits. Dennis employs most of his time in reading books and newspapers - typed by kbz

Source: Crawfordsville Star newspaper, Crawfordsville, Montgomery County, Indiana  Nov 5, 1885

Poor Coffee, it seems we will never hear the last of him.  Last week men digging in a gravel pit on the Waynetown gravel road resurrected a bad tintype of COffee and some girl.  It is supposed to be a picture thrown in the creek by some enemy of Coffee, who took this means of getting rid of it and that it was washed into the gravel bank.  - typed by kbz

Source: Crawfordsville Star, Nov 19, 1885 p 2

The gloomy scaffold upon which John Coffee explated his awful crime, stands out in shocking boldness in the rear of the jail.  The high board fence has been taken away and the scaffold stands ther e aterrible warning to offenders of the law.  I hope SHeriff Harper will be moved to take it away.  Surely the residents of that portion of the city must shudder to pass it these bright moonlight nights if any of them chance to be out at that dread hour when grave yards yawn and giv eup their dead - typed by kbz with a bit of a shudder :(

Source: Sullivan Times Oct 24 1885
The hanging of John Coffey, at Crawfordsville, this state, Friday of last week for the murder in January last, of Mr. and Mrs. McMullen was a horrible affair. The rope broke twice. The criminal was then boosted up on trestles until the rope could be tied where eit had broken, when the trestles were tenderly taken from under him and he was left to dangle a half hour and then pronounced dead. But, horribl as was the hanging, it did not compare in horror with the peculiarly brutal manner in which Coffey killed Mr. and Mrs. McMullen, and it would appear almost as if justice had a hand in the botch work of his own execution.

Source: Newport Hoosier State July 1, 1885 p 6
Our readers will remember the terrible murder committed in Montgomery County on the 7th of last January, a full account of which was published in the Hoosier at that time. A man by the name of McMullen and his wife were murdered for plunder and then the house set on fire and their bodies burned to a cinder. John W. Coffey was arrested and at the time of the arrest he had on a pair of the murdered woman’s stockings and a pair of her husband’s boots. When confronted with this evidence he saw there was no use to deny his guilt and made a full confession, stating that he committed the bloody work and no one else had a hand in the affair. Things ran along this way for quite awhle when he made another confession, saying James Dennis was an accomplice and did the killing with a club. Dennis was arrested and on the evidence of Coffee and a few circumstances connected with the case was convicted of murder and sented to be hanged on the 3rd of next September. Dennis declared his innocent and the best people of Crawfordsville thought he was telling the truth. They could not believe he was guilty of the charge.  Matters ran along until last week when Coffey made another confession, this time exonerating Dennis and stating James Rankins, Monday Rankins and John Curtis were the parties who helped him murder the McMullen family. In his last confession he states that Mr. McMullen and his wife were both killed by James Rankins, shot them dead with a revolver. This has put a new phase on the case, and Dennis’ attorneys have already commenced proceedings to have him granted a new trial.

Source: Newport Hoosier State Oct 25, 1905
20 years ago the 16th of this month the tragic execution of John Coffey occurred at Crawfordsville. He murdered John McMullen and wife of Elmdale, Montgomery County.  It was the worse butchere dup job of hanging ever witnessed in Indiana. Old Alex. Harper, now deceased was sheriff and executioner. The victim was hung the third time – the rope broke the first two efforst. After Coffey broke the rope the first itme he was able to walk up the steps to the scaffold with the assistance of deputy sheriff Hutton. He was bleeding profusely at the outh and ears, but was able to talk. The poor fellow pleaded piteously that his life be spared. But his pleading effected nothing. It took 10 or 15 minutes to make another noose as the rope had broken near where eit fastened around his neck. He had to be held when placed on the trap the second time, being so weak from loss of blood. When the trap door was sprung the second time his body shot down and again broke the rope. The rope, what was left of it, was tied around his neck and the deputies caught hold of the other end and drew his body up by the neck, strangling him to death. The spectators present were all horrified at the ghasty sight and some of them had to turn their head to keep from witnessesing the sickening sight. The Hoosier State had a representative there who wrote the tragical incident up in vigorous language detailing all the horrifying particulars in a way that forever after made the sheriff a bitter enemy of the Hoosier scribe.

Source: Newport Hoosier State Oct 21, 1885 p 1
On last Friday the writer witnessed his 10th hanging. The victim was John W. Coffee, of Montgomery County. The execution took place in a  high enclosure at the rear end of the jail building. We shall first give an account of the hanging and indients and a brief history of the crime and our theory which lead Coffee to commite the dreadful deed. The court who sentenced Coffee fixed the time for the execution to take place between 10 a.m. and 4 o’clock. By 10 the city of Crawfordsville was full of country people who had been drawn there through a morbid curiosity. At the jail an immense throng had gathered to witness and hear what it could on the outside. Rumors ab out the condition of the prisoner were numerous on the streets. It was reported he was in spasms and would probably not live till the hour of execution.  Physicians were dreached dang – rest is FUZZY and no matter how hard I try it won’t unfuzz ☹

Source: Columbus Republic Tue 13 Jan 1885 p 1
John Coffee was arrested for the murder of James McMCullen and wife near Crawfordsville, Ind and made a written confession of the same.

Source: Waterloo Indiana Press Thu 20 Aug 1885 p 2
A petition has been filed with the Governor, asking a respite of two months for James M. Dennis, who is under sentence to hang at Crawfordsville on Sept 3 for murder. The confession of John W. Coffee enoerating Dennis from complicity in the murder is made the basis of the appeal. Coffee has also been condemned to hang and a respite will be asked for him if a new trial is secured for Dennis in order that he may give his testimoney.  

Source: Edinburg Daily Courier 9 April 1885 Thu p 2
John W. Coffey who has been on trial at Crawfordsville for the murder of James McMullen and wife, who lived near Glendale, on Jan 7, 1885 and then burning the house to hide the crime, getting only 25 cents for his pains was last Thursday convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. The jury was out less than an hour.

Source: Indianapolis News Mon 8 March 1886 p 1
After the charge of murder was dismissed against James Dennis at Crawfordsville, he with his family went to Kentucky to live and now word is sent to relatives here that he is insane and will be taken to an asylum. Dennis is the man who was arrested, tried and convicted of having assisted John Coffee for the murder of the McMullens but who was finally acquitted and turned loose. His incarceration in jail for 8 months  and the terrible mental ordeal through which he was compelled to go on completely upset his equilibrium.

Source: Richmond Item Thu 15 Oct 1885 p 1
Crawfordsille Oct 14 - John W. Coffee, the young man to be hanged here on Friday, has made all preliminary arrangements fo rhis funeral, even to the selection of his pallbearers. After death he wants his body place in a coffin, the lid fastened down and no one allowed to look upon his face. He desires to be laid out either in the jail or court house corrdor until Saturday and then removed to Coal Creek Township and buried by the side of his mother. When the funeral cortege arrives at the cemetery, he directs that the lid shall be removed from the coffin and his friends in that neighborhood allowed to see him before he is laid to rest. The report that James Rankin had again disappeared form his home near Elmdale is false. Mr. Rankin says he will remain at home and convince the people he is not guilty of the McMullen tragedy as charged by Coffee in his third confession. John Curtis, the man implicated as an accomplice with Coffee in the McMullen murder spends his time in the mail alternately praying and cursing. He is said to be the most profane man ever incarcerated in the Crawfordsville jail.

Source: Boonville, Ind Standard Fri 25 April 1890
James Dennis, who died at Waynetown on Wednesday night made a death-bed confession to the effect he was the chief actor in the murder of Mr. and Mrs. HR McMillin (sic - McMullin) for which act John F. Coffee was hanged in 1885. On the night of the murder Dennis, according to his confession went into McMullin's house for the purpose of stealing $200 which McMullin was known to have. Coffee remained on guard outside. McMullin awoke and showed fight when Dennis struck him on the head with a club, killing him instantly. Mrs. McMullin ran out of the house and was caught by Coffee who struck her on the head intending to stun her but instead killed her. The two men then placed the bodies in the house and set fire to it. Both were arrested and Coffee was convicted of murder while Dennis was acquitted. - kbz

Source: The Richmond Item Tue 13 Oct 1885 p 4
The governor has received no applications for a respite of John W. Coffey, the Montgomery County murderer and he will probably be hanged at Crawfordsville tomorrow. There will be no official interference unless the prosecuting attorney says that Coffey's evidence will be necessary in the case of James Dennis.

Source: Ft. Wayne Gazette Sat 17 oct 1885 p 1
Indianapolis Oct 16 - A Daily News special from Crawfordsville says: John W. Coffee was hanged today. The drop falling at 12:32. He was arrested for the murder of an old man named McMullen and his wife in January last, the house being burned afterwards. Since the crime he made three confessions during his imprionment implicating several other parties. Coffee was utterly prostrated since last night. He refused food and this morning the efforsts of his spiritual adviser failed to afford him any consolation. He had to be carried to the scaffold. Before the drop fell he made a short speech. The rope broke twice but was finally adjusted satisfactorily and in 12 minutes life was extinct.

Source: Indianapolis News 29 Oct 1885 p 1
The remains of John W. Coffee were taken from the Oak Hill Cemetery vault on Tuesday and buried in a lot in that cemetery, purchased by the county for that purpose.

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