Missouri Gas Chamber

Missouri State Penitentiary

Gas Chamber Tour

How many of you have ever visited a penitentiary? Do you know much about its history, prisoners and guards behind the walls? Some don’t realize what history, stories and genealogical significance can be found when including such facilities in our research. It’s not all about the spirits and ghost hunting, mind you I still enjoy that also.

While visiting back home last year I wanted to take a tour through the Missouri State Penitentiary. When I was much younger my parents thought the penitentiary would be family outing of sorts. Okay stop laughing, back 40 plus years ago the penitentiary would give paid tours. Yes, there were prisoners in the facility. No, we ended up not being able to take that tour  because of my young age. 

But with the penitentiary closed, no longer housing prisoners it wasn’t a problem this time around. There were many stories shared throughout the tour, don’t worry I’ll share more later. When it came to the gas chamber it was creepy, sad and interesting, strange I know.

The Chamber

When entering through the front of the building, where the prisoners were escorted, a large white cross was inlaid in the walking path. The construction and brick laying were all completed by the inmates. The construction was completed sometime around 1937.

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You would enter through the door and come face to face with what would ultimately be your last cell, the chamber. The chamber door might look familiar to some, especially those enlisted in the US Navy and served on a submarine. The door was from a World War II submarine. To the right you would see your holding cell,  I would imagine this is where you’d receive your last meal, last rights and visit with loved ones.

While taking this guided tour we learned the courts felt as if death by lethal gas was more humane then hangings. The first three executed in the chamber, John Brown on 4th March 1938, William Wright on 4th March 1938 and Raymond Boyer on 5th March 1938,  initially they were to be executed by hanging. Pictured below is the chair that the prisoner would be strapped into during the execution. The large black round circle, hanging above the prisoners’ chair was actually a mirror. The prisoner’s reflection from the mirror allowed those in the windows behind the prisoner to observe the execution.


Executions in this chamber, by gas, were from 1938 through 1965 ending with the execution of Lloyd Leo Anderson 26th February 1989.  In the photograph below you will see the prison photos of all those executed in this chamber. Notice that out of the 40 photographed 34 were convicted of 1st degree murder and 6 were convicted of rape.  Yet one of the noticeable difference in those photographed is 39 are male and 1 female, Bonnie Brown Heady. She along with her partner, Carl Austin Hall, were convicted for the kidnapping and murder of 6-year-old Bobby Greenlease.

Do you have a connection with those photographed above? Have you traced any of your ancestor’s criminal records?

Who are they?

  1. William Wright, age 33, 03/04/1938, Murder 1st & Robbery
  2. John Brown, age 34, 03/04/1938, Murder 1st
  3. Raymond Boyer, age 33, 03/05/1938, Murder 1st
  4. Raymond Batson, age 33, 03/30/1938, Murder 1st
  5. Johnny Jones, age 35, 07/15/1938, Rape
  6. Adam Ricchetti, age 28, 10/07/1938, Murder 1st
  7. Granville Allen, age 26, 10/28/1938, Murder 1st
  8. Byron King, age 20, 11/04/1938, Murder 1st
  9. John F. Williamson, age 63, 02/15/1939, Murder 1st
  10. Robert Kenyon, age 24, 04/28/1939, Murder 1st
  11. Chester Jackson, age 31, 09/20/1940, Murder 1st
  12. Robert West, age 25, 09/20/1940, Murder 1st
  13. Wilburn Johnson, age 40, 01/03/1941, Murder 1st
  14. Ernest Tyler, age 37, 04/24/1942, Murder 1st
  15. Allen Lambus, age 73, 06/16/1944, Murder 1st
  16. James Thomas, age 20, 10/19/1944, Rape
  17. Leo Lyles, age 22, 05/25/1945, Murder 1st
  18. William E. Talbert, age 24, 11/16/1945, Murder 1st
  19. Fred Ellis, age 23, 08/16/1946, Murder 1st
  20. Jesse Sanford, age 37, 08/16/1946, Murder 1st
  21. Van Lee Ramsey, age 37, 01/09/1947, Murder 1st
  22. Marshall Perkins, age 59, 01/24/1947, Rape
  23. Floyd Cochran, age 37, 06/26/1947, Murder 1st
  24. Afton Scott, age 49, 11/04/1949, Murder 1st
  25. George Bell, age 26, 12/02/1949, Murder 1st
  26. Charles Tiedt, age 56, 05/19/1950, Murder 1st
  27. Claude McGee, age 39, 01/05/1951, Murder 1st
  28. Willie Porter, age 29, 10/28/1952, Rape
  29. Ulas Quilling, age 53, 05/29/1953, Murder 1st
  30. Kenneth Boyd, age 23, 07/10/1953, Murder 1st
  31. Bonnie Brown Heady, age 41, 12/18/1953, Kidnapping & Murder
  32. Carl Austin Hall, age 34, 12/18/1953, Kidnapping & Murder
  33. Dock Booker, age 46, 04/01/1955, Murder 1st
  34. Arthur Ross Brown, age 31, 02/24/1956, Kidnapping & Murder
  35. Thomas J. Moore, age 42, 09/01/1957, Murder 1st
  36. Sammy Aire Tucker, age 26, 07/26/1963, Murder 1st
  37. Charles Harvey Odom, age 32, 03/06/1964, Rape
  38. Ronald Wolfe, age 34, 05/08/1964, Rape
  39. Lloyd Leo Anderson, age 20, 02/26/1965, Murder 1st
  40. George C. Mercer, age 35, 01/06/1989, Murder 1st – Lethal Injection



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