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Frank Brenish

Death 24 Jun 1890
Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA
Burial Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA
Plot Lot 13, grave 8, Sect Turley
Memorial ID 100439382 · View Source
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On July 6, 1889 Frank Brenish killed his wife, Mary Brenish. He received the death penalty and on June 24, 1890, Frank Brenish was hung. Cause of death: broken neck. His age in the Shelby County Death Register is listed as 36. The Elmwood Burial Index lists his age as 33.

In The True Witness and Catholic Chronicle dated July 10 1889 it was reported that Frank Brenish had killed his wife by cutting her own throat and that he then cut his own throat. They reported "he has since died." That report was erroneous as Frank was bandaged up, recovered, found guilty and hanged the following year.

The Weekly Herald
Baltimore Maryland
June 27, 1890

4 Murderers Hanged
A Quartette of Criminals Pay the Penalty at Memphis
The Only White Man of the Party Objects to Dying with his Fellow-Colored Malefactors--Frank Brenish and Parker Harris Executed for Killing their Wives.

Memphis Tenn., June 24--Parker Harris, Ed. Carr and Hardy Ballard (colored) and Frank Brenish (white) were hanged this morning, the colored murderers taking the plunge into eternity together at 11.24 and the white man dropping alone at 12.22.

Arrangements had been made to swing the four together, but Brenish objected to being hanged with the negroes and his desire to die alone was gratified.

The executions took place in the rear corridor of the jail and were witnessed by about 150 persons, including relatives and friends of the condemned, deputy sheriffs and members of the press. The death warrants were read by the sheriff at 10: 50 o'clock, and 10 minutes later the procession started on its way to the gallows.

The three blacks walked up the steps with a firm tread and exhibited no signs of fear throughout the trying ordeal. All confessed their crimes and said they had made their peace with God. The drop fell at 11.24, and the necks of three men were broken.

A delay of 40 minutes occurred, and then Brenish, supported by two deputy sheriffs, half walked and half staggered up the steps and on to the drop. When asked if he had anything to say he attempted to speak, but the wound in his throat prevented him speaking above a whisper, and he soon gave it up. He was stupefied with whisky and exhibited no concern. The drop fell at 12:22, and two minutes later life was pronounced extinct, his neck being broken by the fall.

The crime for which Frank Brenish was executed this morning was the killing of his wife, Mary Brenish, on the night of July 5 last.

The couple were married in 1887, lived together until a short time before the tragedy, when Mrs. Brenish left her husband, owing, to his neglect to provide for his family. She obtained employment as a chambermaid at a hotel, visiting her children daily. Brenish waylaid her at frequent intervals, begging her to return to him, and finally threatening to kill her if she did not.

About 9 o'clock on the evening of July 5 Mrs. Brenish left her home for the hotel, accompanied by her sister and a child by a former marriage. Brenish intercepted the party near the corner of Union and Third streets, and upon her refusing to go home with him drew a long, keen-bladed knife and buried it to the hilt in her neck. She never spoke and death was almost instantaneous. The the murderer, backing himself against the wall of a building, drew the sharp blade of the knife across his own throat, inflicting a wound the recovery from which constitutes one of the most remarkable cases in the annals of surgery. The windpipe and esophagus were severed, and as it was thought by the physicians he would die in half an hour nothing was done for him beyond administering opiates. His remarkable consitution, however, pulled him through, and, with the aid of a tracheotomy tube, he thrived and grew heavier than ever.

Facing the Death Penalty: Essays on a Cruel and Unusual Punishment
By Michael Radelet
"After Frank Brenish used a butcher's knife to kill his estranged wife in Memphis, Tennessee, he turned the same weapon upon himself in a suicide attempt. Even though it was thought for some time that he would die, the skill of the hastily summoned surgeons saved him for trial and execution.

Brenish did not seem to mind dying. He slashed his wrists on the morning of Jun 24, 1890, the day of the execution, but once again the physicians did their duty. His main complaint about the proposed execution was that he was scheduled to share a common gallows with three black men who were hanged the same day. It was the segregated and racially bigoted South, so the sheriff granted his wish that he be spared this indignity. He was hanged only after the other three murderers had been pronounced dead.

As frequently happened during this period, Brenish was allowed all he wished to drink so that his nerves might be steadied for the ordeal that lay ahead. Consequently, he mounted the gallows in a drunken stupor, and his last words were: "they oughtn't to hang a man when he ain't in his right mind" (Memphis Appeal, 16 May 1890, 25 June 1890)





  • Created by: Mary & Kent
  • Added: 9 Nov 2012
  • Find A Grave Memorial 100439382
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Frank Brenish (unknown–24 Jun 1890), Find A Grave Memorial no. 100439382, citing Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA ; Maintained by Mary & Kent (contributor 47170788) .