75th anniversary of the nation's last public hanging, Sunday - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the nation's last public hanging

By Laura McNutt - bio | email

OWENSBORO, KY (WFIE) - Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of the nation's last public hanging which occurred in Owensboro. On the anniversary, 14 News caught up with two men who have childhood memories of the hanging, saying it was a somber day in history.

Bob Howe and James Thompson were five and 10-years-old when the hanging occurred, but they remember it well.

In 1936, Rainey Bethea climbed into a second-story window of 70-year-old Lischia Edwards's house, raping and strangling her. For committing rape, he was hung on August 14, 1936 in front of a crowd of 20,000 people.

Florence Thompson was sheriff at the time, and oversaw the hanging. Her son James says having a part in the hanging was difficult for his mother. 

He says, "It was something that she wasn't ready for, and something that she didn't feel qualified to do."

James Thompson says national media sensationalized the event after hearing a woman wasn't pulling the rope.

Thompson says, "They played it up from the negative side which was that it turned into a carnival, which was untrue."

Bob Howe says, "My father did attend the hanging, and he told me that the crowd was very quiet and respectful."

Rainey was most likely laid to rest next to Rosehill Elmwood Cemetery, and hanging became illegal in Kentucky, following suit with the rest of the country using the electric chair.

Librarians say the anniversary prompts an interest in local history.

Librarian Jerry Long says, "It's probably the number one, leading topic that's chosen by both college and high school students."

Howe says this anniversary is not a celebration, but a remembrance, not only of hangings themselves but of the tragic crimes that preceded.

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