Rev Clarence Virgil Thompson Richeson


Rev Clarence Virgil Thompson Richeson

Amherst, Amherst County, Virginia, USA
Death 21 May 1912 (aged 36)
Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Burial Amherst, Amherst County, Virginia, USA
Plot Section B
Memorial ID 52828953 View Source
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Edwin Grozier
Rev Richeson

Dr. Lloyd Vernon Briggs, Director of the MA Mental Health Society, was asked by Governor Eugene N. Foss on 29 April 1912 to examine Richeson and determine his mental condition.

Affidavits taken in 1912 revealed a strong family history of mental health problems. An uncle on his mother's side was committed, in 1883, and died there in the violent-patient ward a year later. A first cousin was confined to an asylum in Missouri. Seven other first or second cousins were described as deranged or insane. Throughout his life physicians and alienists thought heredity played some role in his mental disorders.

At age three Richeson fell down the front steps, leaving a lifetime "knubble" on the back of his head. This was the first of at least five significant traumas to the head he received during his lifetime also affecting his physical and mental health. When he was six, his brother struck him in the head and he "slept" until the doctor arrived. That left a 2 1/2 inch scar. At age seven, he fell off a horse and his head struck a rock. That left a 3 inch bald spot. He had a headache and ringing in his head for the next five years. Also in childhood he was hit in the head by a child holding a rock and was unconscious for 24 hours.

He left home at age 13, moved to Lynchburg, VA, and worked at a number of jobs. Throughout much of his life he worked at a variety of different jobs.

Early on he wanted to be a clergyman. He began to prepare for college at Amherst Academy, Amherst, VA.

He has been described as a tall, handsome giant touched with mysticism. From 1892 to 1895 he worked for his cousin W. J. Richeson and continued his studies at the academy in Carrollton, MO. He joined the Trotter Baptist Church of Carroll County, MO.
According to some analysts he was inordinately obsessive about his own sexuality. Before he was 18 he was engaged to two girls at the same time. They broke off the engagements when they learned of a third fiancee in Kansas City.

In 1895 he is found in Saint Louis, MO, at the Third Baptist Church. In 1896 he took a brief "vacation" in southern MO where met a girl and again became engaged. This engagement was soon broken off. He grew quite ill one time in 1896 and went to stay with a cousin in Potosi, MO. One night he became quite delirious and was walking around outside. A doctor was sent for and stayed through the night. He gave Richeson some quieting medicine and declared him as crazy as can be. On the advice of the doctor, she took Richeson to Missouri Baptist Sanitarium (now Missouri Baptist Medical Center). He remained there for weeks. He then returned home in VA and stayed for three years.

In 1899 he entered the William Jewell College at Liberty, MO. At some point, while a student, he made an appointment with Dr. Phillip C. Palmer, M.D. Richeson said "I know you will think I am crazy but . . . I want you to castrate me." Dr. Palmer replied "I am sure you must be crazy" and refused. Richeson went on to explain he was to become a minister.

December, 1901 until March, 1902 he saw Dr. G. M. Phillips of Saint Louis. In 1912 Dr. Phillips gave an affidavit which is one of the most detailed insight into Richeson's health along with Dr. Briggs records from 1912. "He complained of pains in his head, back, testes, and limbs; that he was dizzy, his memory was poor and he was unable to concentrate mentally. . . He was a perfect picture and complete picture of 'Neurasthenia sexualis." Richeson had discovered a mild varicocele (Briggs 1921, pp. 384–387)which he obsessed over and "ascribed his wretched physical and mental state to it." He despaired of ever being made well again and rather courted death. Dr. Phillips recommended not removing the varicocele. However, he consented to Richeson's request and surgically removed it in January 1902. Afterwards Richeson showed pronounced improvement and became hopeful and cheerful.

While living in MO, he matriculated at The Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY. He was ordained as a Baptist minister at the Third Baptist church. As a student residing in Liberty, MO he became preacher at the Budd Park Baptist Church in Kansas City from 1901-1904. One Sunday after his sermon three girls approached him weeping, each claiming he had asked her to marry him. The trustees quickly wrote for his resignation ending what may have been his longest preaching tenure. He also preached at a mission church at Kansas City.
He was expelled from college for cheating in 1905 and they could no longer keep him as a student.

Reverend Richeson entered Newton Theological Seminary, Newton, MA in the fall of 1906, finally graduated in 1909 and took a postgraduate class in 1910. In 1907 he was again engaged, possibly to two women at the same time. April to September, 1907 he accepted a call to a church in El Paso, TX. While there he was an "inmate" in the home of Milton Estes. "He was afflicted with a mental disorder which for a considerable period rendered him insane." Dr. Thompson W. Grace was called to the house in July and found him in a cataleptic state. He raved against some men and imagined that someone was seeking to do him injury. Paranoid thinking began to be more a part of his life.

After four months, in August, 1907 he returned to a friend's house in Georgetown, MA. He first met Violet and Rose Edmands in 1907. Violet and Rose were the only two children of Moses Grant Edmands and his wife Lydia "Lilly" Caroline Benton Edmands. He referred to his wife and daughters as his three flowers. Violet and Richeson began seeing each other weekly from December, 1910 until the engagement was announced in March.

He took a pastorate at the Baptist Church in Hyannis, MA on Cape Cod in June, 1908 where he first met Avis Linnell. Avis' mother stated that she loved him as a son. On her 17th birthday, 19 December 1908, he gave her a gold engagement ring. The engagement was announced at a small party.

April, 1910 he resigned his pastorate after two years in Hyannis having awakened considerable adverse feeling in the Church.

Miss Linnell left Hyannisport in September 1910 to study at the New England Conservatory of Music. She took a room at the Boston YWCA The date for her marriage was set for October, 1910. She wore the engagement ring until Christmas, 1910 .

A Hyannis newspaper, the Patriot, published the announcement of Richeson's engagement to Violet Edmands on 13 March 1911. Early in March, Avis' mother received a letter from her that Avis' engagement was broken off.
One day in April 1911 Richeson suffered another very severe trauma to his head. As he was stepping from an elevator the operator mistakenly started it. It was necessary to call a physician and he was in bed for three days. When he got up he dragged one of his legs when he walked. This difficulty worsened until he seemed to have lost the use of both legs and could not bear his own weight. The trouble with his legs then passed. However, on 1 May Richeson appeared at the Edmands house and had one of his attacks. Mrs. Edmands went every day to Richeson's lodging house and stayed until evening from 1 May to 28 June.
Richeson was granted a two month leave from his Church for a "mental breakdown." On 1 July he returned to Hyannis for the two months where he resumed friendship with Avis who was home for the summer. At the end of summer Richeson returned to his Church. Avis returned to her studies in Boston and the room at the Y.W.C.A.

The cyanide was purchased 10 October but Avis' death was not until Saturday 14 October, four days later. The pharmacist told the police of the purchase of cyanide and Richeson was taken into custody on 20 October.

The marriage date for Miss. Edmands was set for Oct 31, 1911 (Reformation Day). Avis Linnell's death was 17 days before the scheduled wedding.

Richeson wrote a letter of resignation to the church, 2 November. The Church voted 30 to 15 not to accept Richeson's resignation.

A Grand Jury brought an indictment 2 November containing five counts.. He was arraigned and pleaded "Not Guilty" on 13 November. Trial was set for 15 January 1912.
At 4 in the morning, 20 December, Richeson partially emasculated himself in his cell with a sharp piece of metal. At the jail hospital, Dr. Lothrop found it necessary to complete the emasculation and closed the wound. A few days later Richeson pulled the stitches from the wound and Dr. Lothrop was called in again.
No jury was ever selected for on 5 January he retracted his plea of "Not Guilty" and plead guilty to murder in the first degree. The guilty plea was made before Judge Sanderson on 9 January and the judge had no sentencing options other than death. The date for electrocution was set for 19 May. Only after sentencing did his lawyers raise the question of insanity.
Governor Foss denied Richeson's petition for clemency, 16 May. In the statement that followed ". . . family is heavily afflicted with insanity, that he himself is neurotic, a somnabulist, and a neurasthenic; that he is subject to extreme emotional disturbances, marked by loss of memory, . . . diagnosed as hysterical insanity . . . (or) hysterical delirium hysterical insanity . . . (or) hysterical delirium . . . these attacks are of brief duration . . .his crime was not committed by him during such and attack."
Reverend Richeson was executed in an electric chair May 21, 1912 at 12:17 A.M. It was the fourteenth such execution since Massachusetts adopted the electric chair. It was the most successful to that time since the current only had to be applied once and the death affidavit was signed 15 minutes later. The prior Sunday, May 19, the crowds outside the prison became so large that the outer gates were closed to prevent the crowd encroaching on the prison premises and a special police patrol was assigned. The next day more than two thousand people stood outside the prison walls for hours in pouring rain. After the execution the crowd lingered through the night and did not fully disperse until the following morning.

Nine years later (1921) L. Vernon Briggs, M.D., Director of the Massachusetts Society for Mental Hygiene reviewed what was known of Clarence Richeson. Dr. Briggs had previously prepared a report for Governor Eugene Foss on Richeson's condition for the Governor's consideration of clemency. Governor Foss also consulted with other alienists. In "The Manner of Man That Kills"[2] he concludes that Clarence Richeson "was, I think the only man ever executed in Massachusetts without a trial. He was a victim of hysteria with delusions, hallucinations, amnesic periods, and delirium. He had exhibited signs and had had attacks of this disease for years, had been recognized as mentally unsound by several physicians who advised specialists in mental diseases to attend him. Still, he was allowed to 'carry on' until his acts resulted in the death of a young girl in this state." Based upon the Spencer, Czolgosz, Richeson cases and others Dr. Briggs proposed several broad ranging reforms for early recognition and management of the mentally ill before situations of this sort could arise.


A contrary view was put forth by Theodore Dreiser. In 1892, he observed a certain type of crime in the United States that proved very common. It seemed to spring form the fact that almost every young person was possessed of an ingrown ambition to be somebody financially and socially. Fortune hunting became a disease, with the frequent result of a peculiarly American kind of crime. Dreiser's An American Tragedy is loosely based on recent murders in America.

Home in 1880: Amherst, Amherst, Virginia
Age: 4
Estimated birth year: abt 1876
Birthplace: Virginia
Relation to Head of Household: Son
Father's Name: T. V.
Father's birthplace: Virginia
Mother's Name: Sallie A.
Mother's birthplace: Virginia
Neighbors: View others on page
Marital Status: Single
Race: White
Gender: Male

Household Members:
Name Age
T. V. Richeson 32-father
Sallie A. Richeson 27-mother
Lily V. Richeson 8-sister
Douglas Lee Richeson 6-brother
Clarence T. Richeson 4- Rev Richeson
Samuel H. Richeson 2-brother
Mary Willie Richeson 2M-sister


excerpt from obit

Lynchburg VA May 23 1912-
The burial of Clarence V T Richeson, who was executed in Boston on Tuesday for the murder of Avis Linnell, took place just before sunset to-day on the old Richeson Farm,eighteen miles from here.
The internment place was beside Richeson's paternal grandparents, and the spot is five miles from his dead mother's resting place. Only members of the family were present at the internment,brothers and near relatives acting as pallbearers and assisting in filling the grave.
The trip was made from Amherst by a wide detour over the roughest route in the county,making a springless farm wagon necessary to convey the coffin from Amherst Court House.

New York Times May 24,1912


Beside His Mother

Remains of Electrocuted Richeson Placed in Family Cemetery

Lynchburg, Va., July 18. -- The last request Rev. Clarence V. T. Richeson, electrocuted in Boston last May for the murder of Miss Avis Linnell, was complied with today when his body was laid beside that of his mother. The father of the former pastor had had the remains buried besides [sic] those of young Richeson's grandparents. A sister of the former pastor, Miss Russell Richeson of Philadelphia, finally obtained consent of her father for the removal of the body. It was disintered today, carried five miles through drizzling rain and replaced in the ground beside that of the mother.

The sister, a brother Edward, the undertaker and his helpers and a minister who conducted a brief service constituted all present. Miss Richeson came here quietly Wednesday and made arrangements with an undertaker for the removal.

Newspaper: Charlotte Daily Observer
Page: 1 (front page)
Column: 7 (extreme right side)
Date: 19 July 1912

additional news item courtesy of D. Goodboe (#46840651)- whose diligent research helped to tie the loose ends together.

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