Until You Are Dead, Dead, Dead

Until You Are Dead, Dead, Dead: The Hanging of Albert Edwin Batson

Jim Bradshaw
Danielle Miller
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Until You Are Dead, Dead, Dead
    Book Description:

    In 1902, on a prairie in southwest Louisiana, six members of a farming family are found murdered. Albert Edwin Batson, a white, itinerant farm worker, rapidly descends from likely suspect to likely lynching victim as people in the surrounding countryside lusted for vengeance. In a territory where the locals were coping with the opening of the prairies by the railroad and the disorienting, disruptive advances of the rice and oil industries into what was predominantly cattle country, Batson, an outsider, made an ideal scapegoat.

    Until You Are Dead, Dead, Deadtells the story of the legal trials of Batson for the murder of six members of the Earll family and of the emotional trial of his mother. She believed him innocent and worked tirelessly, but futilely, to save her son's life. More than two dozen photos of Batson, his mother, and the principals involved in his arrest and convictions help bring this struggle to life.

    Though the evidence against him was entirely circumstantial, most of the citizenry of southwest Louisiana considered him guilty. Sensational headlines in national and local newspapers stirred up so much emotion, authorities feared he would be lynched before they could hang him legally. Even-handed, objective, and thorough, the authors sift the evidence and lament the incompetence of Batson's court-appointed attorneys. The state tried the young man and convicted him twice of the murders and sentenced him each time to death. Louisiana's governor refused to accept the state pardon board's recommendation that Batson's final sentence be commuted to life in prison. A stranger in a rapidly changing land, Batson was hanged.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-057-0
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
    Jim Bradshaw and Danielle Miller
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 3-4)

    At about 1:40 P.M. on a steaming hot Friday, August 14, 1903, twenty-two-year-old Albert Edwin Batson stood quietly the trapdoor that just minutes later would send him to death. But Sheriff John Perkins, who was serving for the first time as an executioner, wasn’t ready to pull the lever.

    As he looked at the man who had been his prisoner more than a year, the chief lawman of Calcasieu Parish Louisiana realized he’d put the knot of the hangman’s noose on the wrong side of Batson’s neck. Batson and Perkins had been through a lot together, and the sheriff wanted...

  5. 1 The Horse Trader
    (pp. 5-7)

    On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1902, about four o’clock in the afternoon, a man drove up to the stables of horse trader John Downs on Ryan Street, the main business street in Lake Charles, driving two sorrel mules pulling a rubber-tired buggy and leading two gray mules, a black horse, and a bay horse.¹

    The stranger, who had bartered unsuccessfully with another Lake Charles trader, J. Ed Ryan, over the stock earlier that day, said his name was Ward Earll and he was a rice planter from the little town of Welsh, thirty miles east of Lake Charles. He said...

  6. 2 Scene of the Crime
    (pp. 8-11)

    When the man who brought the stock to John Downs’s livery stable agreed to leave some mules to be identified by Welsh businessman Paul Daniels, he asked how soon Daniels could be there to look at them. He was told that Daniels could probably come to Lake Charles on the train that evening.¹

    But, inexplicably, it wasn’t until four o’clock in the afternoon on February 24, ten days after the stranger had left the mules with Downs, that the horse trader finally telephoned Daniels and told him he was holding some stock left there a man who said he was...

  7. 3 Coroner’s Inquest
    (pp. 12-18)

    Reports conflict about the state of the crime scene when authorities began their investigation. Underwood writes, “Unfortunately, a crowd gathered quickly, and the bodies were moved before the coroner could get to the scene. This, and the limited nature of the sciences of the day, made a modern and thorough forensic investigation impossible.”¹

    However, theLake Charles Weekly Americanreported on March 1, “Citizens kept watch over the house of such evil happenings and when Coroner Watkins reached the scene . . . nothing had been disturbed except the door leading to the room where the bodies were found. It...

  8. 4 Cajun Prairies
    (pp. 19-26)

    Funeral corteges for people who died violent deaths were wholly unusual in Welsh in the early 1900s and the decades before. In fact, the very house where Ward Earll and mother and brothers were found murdered already had a of violence. A Calcasieu Parish police juror (county cial) even speculated that the Earll murders may have been work of a madman who returned to the same house regularly.

    According to aWashington (DC) Timesarticle written day testimony began in Ed Batson’s first trial:

    Mr. Arceneaux, police juror of Calcasieu, today brought out fact that in the very house in...

  9. 5 Welsh
    (pp. 27-29)

    Lemuell Sheldon Earll and his wife, Mary, left Iowa, with their family of small children and moved to southwest Louisiana after 1885. The federal census shows them in Iowa in 1885; land records show that L. S. Earll purchased a right-of-way near Welsh on July 15, 1895, and a larger parcel of land on February 12, 1900.¹ It is possible that the right-of-way was to rented land the Earlls farmed before acquiring their own property.

    On arriving in Welsh, the family found a flourishing little town of three hundred people that held the promise of quick growth and a good...

  10. 6 The Arrest
    (pp. 30-37)

    It was only by chance that Ed Batson went to Welsh in the first place and also that he was arrested in Missouri just one day after the discovery of the Earll murders. Like much else in the story of his capture, trial, and eventual death, coincidence played a large role, both in bringing him to Louisiana and his being so quickly apprehended.

    Over the course of his legal battles, newspapers offered varying accounts of the accused man’s life, but most agreed that his mother, who was divorced from John Batson, and her two sons and a daughter moved when...

  11. 7 Trial by Newspaper
    (pp. 38-42)

    As he was being returned to Louisiana for trial, Ed Batson a reporter on the train, “I am not guilty. I can prove an Even Calcasieu Parish sheriff Perkins admitted that the against him was still wholly circumstantial, observing, boy does not look like a murderer, yet all the circumstances point to him.”¹

    Still, even before the young man was brought to Charles for trial, it was clear that public sentiment was against him. There seemed to be no doubt in the mind that he was the killer. Well before his arraignment, New Orleans Picayune headline referred to him as...

  12. 8 Lynching Fears
    (pp. 43-47)

    Sheriff Perkins agreed with his prisoner that there was a threat that Ed Batson could be lynched by an angry mob, he took precautions as the train approached the rail yards the central Louisiana town of Alexandria. He feared “that people of Welsh and Lake Charles would try to intercept and that “at that point the yard is dark and filled freight trains and box cars on the siding. It is counted an place for a lynching party, and some have occurred there,” according to theNew Orleans Picayune

    Just before reaching the rail yard, the sheriff removed Batson’s handcuffs...

  13. 9 The Dead Tramp
    (pp. 48-53)

    At the very first, when the coroner called together five neighbors of the Earlls to make a preliminary investigation into gruesome murders, he and the neighbors knew that a tramp had been seen in the vicinity of the crime. They also knew that the town of Welsh was growing quickly and that all of people were riding the freights regularly into southwest Louisiana in search of work. That coroner’s inquest concluded nonetheless that Ed Batson alone was responsible for all murders, that no tramp had anything to do with it.

    Calcasieu Parish authorities apparently accepted that and never took more...

  14. 10 Another Crime
    (pp. 54-56)

    If Ed Batson was lighthearted and carefree in the New Orleans jail, the public’s mood in Lake Charles grew even blacker just a week before the grand jury took up his case. To quote the press account of the day, the body of a nine–yearold girl, Iris Kendall, was found with “her tender little throat . . . cut from ear to ear” and her eyes “wide open with the look of unutterable horror. . . . Her disarranged clothing showed too plainly the nature of the attempt, which preceded the murder.”¹

    Although her assault and death had nothing...

  15. 11 Indictment and Plea
    (pp. 57-63)

    It was no surprise to anyone that the grand jury quickly returned an indictment against Ed Batson, based partially on the story of a secret, never identified witness who said he’d driven to Ward Earll’s place on February 13 and was sent away.

    According to the St.Louis Republic, the “very important witness” said “he stopped his horses in front of the house and started to enter, when he was accosted by Ed Batson and told that the Earls were all in Welsh and would not be back until evening. The witness then left the house, and Batson stood where...

  16. 12 A Mother’s View
    (pp. 64-70)

    Ed Batson did have one staunch believer in his innocence. In reading the accounts of the court proceedings and of his eventual death, some of the most moving passages are of the trials, perseverance, and ultimate heartbreak of his mother, Rachel Batson Payne, who was steadfast in her belief that her son simply could not have committed such a brutal crime.

    Despite her sometimes unflattering portrayal in the newspapers, it is apparent from press accounts that there was a deep bond of affection and trust between mother and son. When she arrived in Lake Charles for her son’s trial, she...

  17. 13 Confusion, Confrontation
    (pp. 71-75)

    If John Downs was certain of his identification of Batson in New Orleans, some others in Lake Charles weren’t so sure. Men who thought they knew Batson could not pick him out of a line of prisoners.¹

    According to a report in theJennings Daily Record, “Three prominent residents of Calcasieu Parish—two of whom thought they knew him on sight—failed to pick him out when the prisoners were lined up in the parish jail yard.”²

    One of them, Walter Meyer, “stood by the side of the buggy the evening someone tried to sell the span of Earll mules...

  18. 14 The Case Is On
    (pp. 76-86)

    Even though the case against him was wholly circumstantial, it was evident from the first day in court that the state would accept nothing less than the death penalty for Ed Batson, a proposition the presiding judge had no problem with. But even others in the press recognized that the local newspapers had already tried and convicted the confident young man from Missouri. On April 19, 1902, theHouston Daily Postprinted this opinion:

    The famous Batson case is on, and the suspect with the “smooth, happy, boyish face” is being assayed to see if his life is forfeit. The...

  19. 15 Batson’s Turn
    (pp. 87-94)

    Through the early stages of his trial, Ed Batson appeared be a calm, dispassionate, almost disinterested observer the proceedings, but as the prosecution witnesses paraded the stand, adding layer upon layer to the case, news reporters thought he began to appear more concerned about the things were going—perhaps coming to the realization that as circumstantial as the evidence was, a case could be made against him that a willing jury might accept.

    “The strain of the long trial is beginning to tell on Batson,” theLake Charles Weekly Americanreported.

    He has lost to some extent the air of...

  20. 16 Reaching a Verdict
    (pp. 95-100)

    In the end, Ed Batson’s fate may have been sealed as much by oratory as by evidence. At least that is the view presented in Underwood’s analysis of the trial. “As far as closing arguments,” he writes, “the defense efforts were no match for the powerful and emotional closing argument of prosecutor Mitchell. Fairly or unfairly, properly or not, he criticized Batson for limiting his testimony on the stand to a ‘mere’ denial of the murders, and for giving no explanation for his possession of the mules, the watch, and other property—[saying] ‘No innocent man would have acted in...

  21. 17 A Ray of Hope and an Appeal
    (pp. 101-106)

    Only days after Ed Batson’s conviction, his attorney Paul Sompayrac was on a train headed for the southeastern Louisiana town of Clinton, about thirty miles north of Baton Rouge, where a man named Tom Jackson was said to have confessed that he was the one who killed the Earlls. Batson’s attorneys also immediately appealed the verdict to the Louisiana Supreme Court, primarily on technical points that Underwood argues “even a legal observer at the time might have thought were unlikely to secure a reversal.”¹

    The train ride was a long shot. Authorities in Clinton gave little credence to the confession...

  22. 18 To Court Again
    (pp. 107-120)

    When the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Ed Batson, his attorneys immediately filed a motion to have it held someplace other than Lake Charles. The defense attorneys said they were “very anxious” for a change of the trial site because they thought that “[if they had] a change of venue, the life of Batson could at least be saved.”¹

    So it was that in mid-December 1902, “a number of attorneys and a sprinkling of spectators” were on hand as a trio of deputies led Ed Batson “into the frameshack doing duty as a courthouse” for testimony to...

  23. 19 Resignation
    (pp. 121-124)

    “Great crowds” flocked to the Calcasieu Parish jail on the day after Ed Batson’s conviction. People climbed the stairs that wound around the gallows built inside the jail to file by Batson’s cell and gawk at him.¹

    The steady flow of the curious did not seem to bother the prisoner, who told a newspaper reporter that he’d slept well the night after his conviction but he was worried about his mother. “He was told that she was better,” the reporter for theLake Charles Weekly American wrote.“He heaved a sigh of relief and seemed to be satisfied. He answered...

  24. 20 Enter Dobson
    (pp. 125-133)

    Charles M. Dobson, who identified himself as a former correspondent for the Associated Press, appeared on the scene in time to witness Ed Batson’s second trial, and not quite three months later published a little book titledGuilty? Side Lights on the Batson Case.

    A friend of the defense attorneys, Dobson said he wrote the book solely to present “this celebrated affair to the general public” and that he tried to present the facts and evidence of the case “devoid of bias.” ¹ Nonetheless, he created a scenario in which two men, whom he identifies only as “number one” and...

  25. 21 Indignation and False Hope
    (pp. 134-142)

    On July 29, 1903, theNew Orleans Picayune’s front–page headline announced: “Lake Charles Thrown into a Wild Ferment.” Townspeople learned that day that Louisiana’s pardon board, consisting of three members—attorney general Walter Guion, lieutenant governor Albert Estopinal, and Judge Miller—had issued an opinion that Batson’s sentence should be changed to life imprisonment.¹

    The board’s action was not wholly unexpected.The Lake Charles Daily Americanreported in May that “A. E. Batson will not be hanged during the next eight weeks, and an application has been made for the commutation of his sentence which may result in his...

  26. 22 Last Chance
    (pp. 143-147)

    If Ed Batson faced his impending death with equanimity—perhaps bolstered by an unshakeable belief that his sentence would ultimately be commuted—the final weeks of his life were agonizing for his mother as she fought to the last to save her son from the gallows. In the days before the execution one last glimmer of hope remained, one last straw to clutch, but it too came to naught.

    Rachel Payne was heartbroken when she saw her son on the evening of Thursday, August 13, the day before he was scheduled to die. By then both of them knew that...

  27. 23 No Escape, No Reprieve
    (pp. 148-153)

    According to some tantalizing stories, Ed Batson may have contemplated—even tried—escaping from the Calcasieu Parish jail at some time during the proceedings. A century after the trials, Janet Batson Davidson, a relative of Batson’s, told John Garst, who was researching the Batson ballad (see Appendix D), she had an article from theTrenton (MO) Times, dated October 30, 1902, reporting that Ed Batson had attempted a jail break.¹ We were not able to find the article, and Davidson told us she has not been able to locate her copy. But other sources give credence to the possibility of...

  28. 24 To the Gallows
    (pp. 154-161)

    Finally, on the morning of Friday, August 14, 1903, all was in readiness for the hanging of Ed Batson. “The gallows . . . has [sic] been erected, and all that is necessary to place it in position for use is to fit it together, the frame being a part of the equipment of the jail,” theNew Orleans Picayunereported. “The drop will be just in front of Batson’s cell, and Sheriff Perkins will pull the lever which will release the trap which will drop Batson into eternity.” ¹ On the day before, “the rope had been stretched and...

  29. Afterword: Beyond Reasonable Doubt?
    (pp. 162-170)

    In the United States our system of laws holds that a person accused of wrongdoing is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Many think that principle is part of the U.S. Constitution, but in fact, it predates the Constitution, coming to American jurisprudence from English Common Law.¹ It probably dates from Roman law, embodied in the phraseEi incumbit probation qui dicit, non qui negat, which translates roughly as, the burden of proof rests on the one who asserts, not the one who denies.²

    Not only must a defendant be proven guilty, it must be beyond reasonable doubt; that is, a...

  30. Appendix A: Chronology
    (pp. 171-174)
  31. Appendix B: Cast of Characters
    (pp. 175-186)
  32. Appendix C: Batson Letters
    (pp. 187-190)
  33. Appendix D: The Batson Ballad
    (pp. 191-196)
  34. Notes
    (pp. 197-222)
  35. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-228)
  36. Index
    (pp. 229-235)