From the Richmond Dispatch, November 12, 1897, p. 6. (See also “The Last Five Hangings in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.”) Research of this topic, including discovery of this article, was accomplished by Daniel Allen Hearn, Botsford, Connecticut.

Died on Scaffold

Execution of Edward Hankins at Chatham Yesterday

For the Murder of Dr. John Roy Cabell — The Last Moments of the Condemned — Death Was Instantaneous — His Confession.


Danville, VA., November 11. — (Special.) — Edward Hankins this afternoon expiated the crime of killing of Dr. John Roy Cabell in Northern Pittsylvania County on August 26th last. The execution of the murderer took place in Chatham jail at 2:26 o'clock, in the presence of about eighteen witnesses, though hundreds of eager men stood about the jail enclosure, despite rain and raw atmosphere, anxious to see and hear anything bearing on the enactment of the solemn scene within the prison walls. Not the slightest hitch in the arrangements for the execution occurred, and the fatal plunge of the condemned through the trap door of the scaffold marked the instant passage of Edward Hankins from life to death. His neck was broken, and he died without a struggle.

He Slept Well

Hankins slept well last night, and at 9 o'clock this morning ate moderately of the breakfast supplied from Sheriff W. I. Ovebey's family table. During the morning Miss Jennie Nelson, principal, and several of the young ladies of the Episcopal Female College, of Chatham, sang to the prisoner in his cell, and he was visited also by Rev. C. O. Pruden, rector of the Episcopal church, and by Rev. T. A. Hall, of the Baptist church, the latter spending hours with him, and administering final spiritual consolation at the scaffold. The gallows was erected in an improvised death chamber constructed about a small rear porch of the jail, the whole being about 8 by 14 feet square. In the centre of the floor the death trap, about 2 1-2 feet square, opened into a 10-foot deep pit. Two uprights of heavy timber, one at either side of the trap, supported the crossbeam from which was suspended the noose. Into this small boxlike arrangement were crowded the witnesses, when, at 2:20 o'clock P. M., Sheriff Overbey directed the deputies to bring the prisoner from his cell.

Walked Steadily

Hankins walked steadily from the jail corridor into the scaffold-room, accompanied by the officers and the Rev. T. A. Hall. The condemned man was calm and cool. Not a muscle of his face quivered as the irons were placed about his ankles and the noose around his neck. The black cap was quickly slipped over his head, and then followed a brief prayer. There was a moment of suspense, and then the floor gave way, and Hankins disappeared below it into the dark cellar, the body remaining perfectly motionless. In twelve minutes after the drop the last faint flutter of the heart died away, though Dr. R. W. Martin, Jr., the physician in attendance, declared the man dead the instant the first shock came, it breaking his neck. A half-hour later the body was cut down and turned over to a representative of the State Anatomical Board, and will be expressed to-night to the University College of Medicine, of Richmond.

Hankins made a rambling written statement some days ago, which was delivered to Rev. T. A. Hall, to be made public after the execution. The substance of this statement is that Dr. Cabell first assaulted Hankins, who eventually kicked the Doctor to death. It is not given entire credence by the people of this section.

Hanks was a tenant on one of Dr. Cabell's places, and the Doctor gave him notice to leave. He demanded pay for certain work he claimed to have done for the Doctor, and a quarrel ensued, resulting in the murder. Hanks was a powerful man in the prime of life, and his victim was of delicate physique and advanced in years.


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