Reason First: Murderer Rainey Bethea Requested to Have Off His Shoes Before His Execution
What drove this male to commit such heinous crimes?
It took at least fifteen minutes for Rainey Bethea to be strangled to death before a crowd numbering past 15,000. For what reason did Bethea hang from the platform in Owensboro, Kentucky that August 14, 1936 day? Bethea had been charged with rape which brought with it a penalty of hanging. He swung from the scaffold as the last person to be publicly executed in the state of Kentucky.
Bethea stood as no angel. He had been arrested in 1935 for stealing two purses. He did a one-year bid in the penitentiary. He saw the cold steel of justice wrapped around his wrists once again. He would spend three months in prison for failing to pay a fine of $100.
On a late spring day in 1936, Bethea destroyed the barrier between the inside of the house and raped and strangled 70-year-old Lischia Rarick Edwards. His damning piece of evidence that did him in remained a prison ring that he had removed during the process of stealing her belongings.
The case got a bit distorted from here. Instead of being charged with robbery and murder among a whole host of other charges, Bethea would be charged with rape. This is particularly interesting as it meant that according to the books in Kentucky at that time, it was lawful to have sex with a corpse. Bethea claimed to not know whether Edwards was alive or not when he committed his vicious crime.
Sheriff Florence Thompson held onto the task of executing Bethea but a drunkard named Arthur L. Hash did the deed. Press members anticipated seeing Florence become the first woman to execute a man in America. Hash would take that responsibility, even in his inebriated state.
At the time of his execution, Bethea just asked to die without his shoes on his feet.
The signs of weird justice enveloped this whole entire situation. From the fact that he committed murdered and robbed Edwards which would’ve meant that he would have had sparks go through his body in the chair. The rape charge stopped all of that action.
Of all of the ways that the state could’ve punished him, the hanging appeared to be most appropriate. And the existence of misinformation saying that the hanging was with either the last in Kentucky or the United States as a whole.
Ironically, a murderer didn't go to his death for the main crime that he committed. And there he swung as life slowly escaped from his body. In front of such a large crowd, Bethea just swung as his body convulsed under the strain of the rope.
Sheriff Thompson received dozens of letters regarding her place in history which she relinquished to Hash. And just consider the throngs of spectators who enjoyed their breakfast at the site of a black man hanging on that Kentucky summer day. The people witnessed an official hanging based on an actual crime (albeit not the main crime of murder) rather than an unofficial lynching. The journalists related to this story wanted Thompson to stay in the spotlight as much as possible. With her decision to let Hash be the one to pull the lever to seal Bethea’s fate some felt relieved, otherse dashed.
Kentucky, a hotbed for racial tension in the South saw a man of color rightfully be put to this. What this signaled in the minds of all that saw Bethea’s body move in its last death twitches was that there is a proper way of doling out justice.
The entire case represented a male who never thought. Had he used the power of thinking, he would’ve never commited his crimes in the first place. And the media fervor surrounding the case seemed to blot out just how monstrous Bethea was.