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John Ables
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Birth: unknown
McDonald County
Missouri, USA
Death: Feb. 15, 1878
Jasper County
Missouri, USA


Carthage on February 15, 1878 had it's first and only legal public execution.
The victim was John Ables, a McDonald County, found guilty of the murder of one Wick Lane down in that county almost 4 years earlier.
Ables, a somewhat elderly whiskered man, had married a younger woman-- his second wife he told officers -- and on April 4, 1874, she eloped with another man.
On April 10 he secured the services of Lane to help him hunt the missing couple, Ables first selling his meager property to get money.

On April 16 the two men, both wearing revolvers, were seen going up a dark hollow in McDonald County and three hours later Ables emerged alone. The next day the body of Lane was found in the hollow. He had been shot in the head, among other places, the bullet wounds indicating that he had been killed while sitting down. Lane's holster was empty. On April 19 Ables, still hunting his wife was arrested as a result of trying to sell Lane's revolver.

First lodged in the jail at Pineville, Ables was later brought to Carthage when he asked on a change of venue. He was tried in Carthage in October 1874. As a motive for the murder it was brought out that Lane had been one of the several lovers of Ables wife before her elopement. Ables denied knowing this and said he didn't believe it. It also was apparent that Lane instead of trying to help Ables find his wife had been deliberately misleading him on blind trails
Ables, a reticent man, simply claimed he was innocent of the charge against him and that was about all his attorneys or anyone else could get out of him.

He was found guilty, sentenced to be hanged and the date of his execution set for June 11, 1875.
Ables, who appeared to officers to be of below normal intelligence, seemed indifferent as to whether he was hanged or not but insisted he never could be, because he was innocent.
His case was appealed to the supreme court and his execution thus deferred. In June 1876 the high court ordered a retrial of the case but for some reason this trial actually was not held until October, 1877.
The circumstantial evidence was exactly the same as before and Ables stubbornly refused to give any explanations of the circumstances. He just merely insisted he was innocent.

During all his years in the jail here Ables was in effect a trusty at the jail.
"During his long confinement in our jail Ables conduct has been such as to win for him the sympathy of nearly all who knew him," said the Banner of January 15, 1878. "For the two years past he has acted as janitor and errand boy for the sheriff's office. He was quiet and docile and never made any attempt to escape although thousands of opportunities presented themselves. At one time he notified the sheriff of a contemplated jail break. He went and came about the county jail at pleasure and went on errands of the city for the officers."
It is said that he also was permitted to go fishing by himself when he wished.

The statement Ables made at that time to his attorney W.C. Robinson, started off "In view of my near approaching death I will tell you all about it if you promise never to tell."
In the statement he admitted killing Lane and said he did so in self-defense, his story explaining all the circumstances. Had it been told on the stand it might have secured his acquittal for it had a ring of truth. Certainly he would have never been sentenced to hang. He said that Lane had demanded that Ables pay him the money he had agreed to when his wife was found. Ables said he refused. The two quarreled. Lane struck Ables in the face and started to draw his revolver. Ables ran and Lane fired at him 3 times, one bullet causing a slight wound in the left arm. Ables dodged about behind a tree and drew his revolver. He shot Lane once and he fell but was not badly hurt. He sat up. Ables accused him of knowing where his wife actually was -- Lane's attack on him had made him think that -- and Lane admitted it. Lane, in a sitting posture, reached out and grabbed his revolver where he had dropped it.
"I popped loose again," said Ables. "I was right close up to him and I shot after he was raising his hand up after he grabbed his pistol. I think I shot him in the head."
Ables showed him the scar on the arm where he said Lane's bullet had penetrated beneath the skin and another place where he said the bullet had stopped and where he cut it out with his pocket knife. When he was arrested he had concealed that his arm had been hurt. Since everyone had assumed that Lane had been shot down without warning and since his revolver was missing so that no one knew he had fired some shots himself, this was not difficult. Ables said other prisoners at Pineville had told him he would be lynched if people were sure he had killed Lane. He had even hear after be reached Carthage that a McDonald county mob might come up and lynch him if they were sure. So he decided he would not tell his story even if he were hung by the law. He just said he was innocent and no more and felt that he actually was innocent since he had killed in self defense.

When Able was telling this story the erection of the gallows for his execution the next day had been completed. It is described as a "black gallows" and stood midway between the jail and the old church house on the southeast corner or 4th and Lincoln used as a court house.
The next day thousands of people poured into Carthage to see the execution. The gallows stood waiting during the interval.
Indifferent up to this time, he now began to show signs of strain and worry. The day before the execution Sheriff Beamer provided a bottle of brandy to bolster his courage.
People now began to find out things about the closed mouthed Able. It had been thought that he was quite illiterate -- could not read or write. It developed that he could read and write very well.
And when a minister, the night before his death, remonstrated with him for drinking on the brink of eternity Ables took the divine aback by quoting the Bible to him: Proverbs 31:6-7: "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish...Let him drink and remember his misery no more."
The hanging was scheduled for afternoon. Ables sat in his cell waiting, a brandy bottle in his hand.
He asked to see Ben Thomas the city marshall. "Thomas came in," said the Banner, "Ables shook hands warmly with him; spoke of friendly acts Thomas had done for him." He also shook hands with Dr. L.I. Matthews and others.
Meanwhile a huge crowd was gathering to see him die. Said the Banner:

"As the hour for the execution drew near the crowds became immense, being estimated at from 7,000 to 8,000 people.
"At 1 o'clock the Light Guard under the command of Captain Tuttle marched from the armory to the courthouse yard and after driving back the dense throng at the point of bayonet formed a hollow square around the scaffold. The duty of the military was indeed a different one but it was performed most excellently and efficiently. No number of civil officers could possibly have kept the crowd at bay as well as did the Light Guard."
Shortly after two o'clock the condemned man with pinioned arms was conducted from the jail to the scaffold -- Sheriff Beamer and Deputy Sheriff Grubb and his aides with Deputy Sheriff Wheelhouse immediately in rear.
Ables was quite calm on the gallows and when Sheriff Beamer read the death warrant and asked him if he had anything to say he replied in a clear voice: "No sir, I have nothing to say."
At Beamer's request the prisoner rose from the chair where he had been sitting during the reading and stepped on the trap and the sheriff, speaking in a low encouraging voice to the prisoner adjusted the noose and hood over his face.

"Are you ready, Uncle John?" Beamer asked when all was completed.
Ables indicated he was.
It was 2:20 1/2.
The sheriff sprung the trap and without looking at what followed, turned instantly away and forced his way back to the jail.
Ables neck was broken by the drop and his body did not move after the fall.
Doctors L.I. Matthews, J.A. Carter, R.F. Brooks and A. Rhoads said death had been instantaneous.
In 10 minutes after the drop the body was taken down and after a medical examination was taken to the potter's field and there buried.

The Banner paid its respects to Ables' errant wife.
Four men had died because of her, it said.
*First was Lane.
*Then, after her flight, some man had committed suicide because of her, it stated, circumstances not given.
*Then Dodson, who had eloped with her, had been killed down in Arkansas by another of her lovers.
*Ables, who died for the slaying of Lane, was the fourth.
The old home town probably moralized over this baleful influence of a bad woman.
But mostly it was so shocked by the spectacle of Ables's death which it's citizens had flocked to witness, that it set up a loud demand that never again should a public execution be here here.
Nor was there.
It was many years before there was another hanging in Carthage and it, and all subsequent ones, were within an enclosure and the public barred.


--Above excerpts taken from the Ward Schrantz article of November 1, 1951.
The Schrantz articles were about various subjects taken from the newspapers of the Carthage Banner, The Patriot and The Press of the 1860's through early 1900's and reprinted in The Carthage Press of the early 1950's as a featured Thursday article.

The Condemned John Ables cold corpse was laid-to-rest in an unknown 'potter's field' - a worthless corner where the poor were cast, somewhere in the Carthage area.
Specifics regarding this cemetery location remains a mystery, matching many of the shrouded details regarding Ables's lost love, which cost him is life.

It gave no specific indication of where the potter's field was located that John Ables was buried in. So the creator of this page will have to list it as 'other' and it will be unknown where is remains are.

Non-Cemetery Burial
Specifically: Buried in a potter's field for poor people.
Created by: NJBrewer
Record added: Jan 08, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 46462241
John Ables
Added by: NJBrewer
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 Added: Jul. 27, 2015

 Added: Nov. 25, 2014
Here lies a brave Man . God have mercy on Him and all involved .
 Added: Sep. 30, 2012
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