Contributed by Mary
The Hanging Of
Fred Behme, has the distinction of being the only person ever hung in Hamilton County, IL. On April 5, 1896 (Easter Sunday), he murdered his wife Mary with an ax and hung his youngest son, Thomas, over religious difference. Fred Behme was tried and hung on December 4, 1896.
The following two letters were remembrances of that occasion many years later.
Two old published letters to the editor.
#1. A Song Of Tears
Dear Mr. Daniel:
Your recent account of the execution of Mr. Fred Behme, in McLeansboro, brings to me vivid memories.
I was a pupil in the local school, and Professor Frohock was in charge.
While school was in session Prof. Frohock came to the door, pointed at me and said: ôRuby come to the hall. This he did Hallie Hyatt (Tevis), Dollie Barnett and two other girls, whom I do not remember.
Prof. Frohock was such a severe disciplinarian, and so severe in looks, that, having never been called out, we were terribly frightened.
Upon reaching the hall, he ordered that we, immediately go down town and sing to Mr. Behme. This was about 10:00 a. m., and Mr. Behme was to be hanged at 1:00 p.m. that day. Never daring to differ with Prof. Frohock, we did as told.
The town was filled, and I shall never forget that sea of staring faces as they led us through the roped-off inclosure, against the old jail, prepared for, the execution. This staring crowd frightened us more than ever.
I do not remember who led us, but upon being admitted to the inclosure, Mr. Behme was led out upon the scaffold, and we were ordered to sing.
I do not recall what songs we attempted to sing, but I do remember, that into the singing, we mixed tears and sobs, so that I neither Mr. Behme, nor we, recognized them.
Five of us would start singing (if it could be called that) the first line of the first stanza, and four would fall by the wayside like ten-pins. As number one would go down, three of the remaining four would pick up the so-called strain and sing at least five words before giving up the struggle. After a brief silence, broken only by our sobs, all of us, at once, would recuperate and start again with the same result.
Mr. Behme was asked if he wished to say anything to us. In German (translated to us), he said he wished to meet us in Heaven and thanked us. At this, our stiff-legged fright became knock-kneed fright, and our legs would scarily support our bodies, so completely were we overcome.
Blind with tears, and shaking like aspen leaves, we were led from the inclosure (having done neither Mr Behme, nor ourselves, any good), scarcely knowing where we were going.
We were assigned to this task, without the knowledge of our parents, who, too late, expressed their great disapproval.
I, for one, was unable to attend school for two days.
Ruby Wilson Harmon
#2. Editor Times-Leader
McLeansboro, Illinois (1953)
The article concerning the hanging of Fred Behme brought back memories of 56 years ago.
I was sitting directly behind Mr. and Mrs. M. E. Buck in the Christian Church the night they came for him to go out there. News and transportation was slower in those days.
After he was placed in the old county jail often a number of us school girls accompanied some minister to the jail where he read to him from the Bible and prayed and we sang.
Then when the fateful Friday, December 4th came we went with the minister to this enclosure built around the jail and I well remember my sister, Iva and I were among the number. After we had finished our last song and prayer, Mr. Behme, who had stepped
onto the scaffold for the service, spoke to us. He said he had repented for his awful deed and had made his peace with God and would meet us in Heaven.
My father witnessed the hanging.
It was a black day in the history of McLeansboro and Hamilton County, but not as black as the awful deed he had committed.
We've been away from McLeansboro 41 years past and it is only when names and incidents of long ago are mentioned that they register with us - but it is still home, I read every name - even in the Tax lists for often I see a name I recognize.
We enjoy your paper every Monday morning. May you, your force and paper enjoy a prosperous 1953.
Thanks a lot,
Mrs. Joe F. Reeder
(Inez Cross Reeder)
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