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