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BECKWITH, Edward J. 1922-1952


Posted By: Tammy (email)
Date: 2/24/2019 at 18:37:11

Beckwith Paid Supreme Penalty Monday For Mutilation Murder

Edward J. Beckwith paid with his life Monday morning for the murder of Irma Jean Stahlhut, attractive wife of a Morrison tavern operator, on June 22, 1949.

At exactly 6:25 a.m. at the state penitentiary at Fort Madison, Beckwith was led into the barn-like structure which houses the gallows. As sixty-odd witnesses fell into a death like hush, Beckwith started the last "long mile" of sixteen steps upwards to the platform where the noose hung over a rail. The condemned man, wearing a neat blue suit and striped tie, took only a cursory glance at the spectators and never looked that way again. On the platform with Beckwith were Deputy Warden Bennett, Assistant Deputy Warden Mertens, Sheriff Wagner of Waterloo, and Rev. Lester Peter, Protestant chaplain of the prison. Bennett and Mertens bound Beckwith's arms, legs, hands and knees with leather straps and during these tense moments Rev. Peter recited prayers.

As is customary Beckwith was asked if he had anything to say and in a low voice "Buddy" requested that "they won't blame my family for what I did." Then the hood was placed over his head and the noose adjusted around his neck with the knot behind his left ear. Throughout this procedure Beckwith showed no sign of emotion. A veteran guard, witness of several executions, was heard to remark, "Beckwith was the calmest man in the place." As soon as the noose was adjusted Sheriff Wagner, who was standing directly behind Beckwith, pulled the lever which plummeted the convicted man to his death. He dangled there in view of all the spectators. Beckwith had walked into the execution chamber at 6:25 and at 6:30 the trap was sprung.

The fall from the 12-foot platform was approximately eight feet and a bench was rolled under Beckwith where two doctors applied stethoscopes to his chest. At 6:43 Edward J. Beckwith was pronounced dead; he had paid his debt to society.

Beckwith had become deeply religious during his long stay in the death house and one of the guards who spent the last night with him remarked, "I believe he could have slept last night if he had been alone." Rev. Peter spent the last few hours with Beckwith and affirmed that he awaited his fate calmly. In death Beckwith found a peace which his tortured mind had never attained in life.

Mrs. Nancy Beckwith, in the last visit to her son Saturday, claimed the body, and Monday morning Forrest Ferree and Roy Daniels returned the body to the French Funeral Home at Reinbeck. A simple funeral service for the family was held Tuesday afternoon at three o'clock. Rev. Peter, the prison chaplain, was at Reinbeck to conduct the services. The Fort Madison minister had become the condemned man's confident during the long wait in the death house, and was deeply moved by the execution.

Beckwith was the 40th person to be executed in over 100 years of Iowa statehood, and the first resident of Grundy county to pay the final penalty.

The last execution to take place in Iowa was during July, 1949. For Sheriff Wagner of Waterloo, this is the third time he has sprung the fatal trap. In 1935 he hanged Elmer Brewer and Patrick Griffin in a double execution for the slaying of Deputy Sheriff W. F. Dilworth.

Witnesses and newspapermen started gathering at the gate about 5 a.m. to get their passes for admittance to the prison. Among these were John Meyer, sheriff of Grundy county, who solved the murder, and Jack Clark of the Grundy Register. They were searched before being allowed to enter the main part of the prison. Harvey Stahlhut was one of the official witnesses, and upon being asked to make a statement shortly after the hanging, had this to say, "No comment."

Thus ends the three year attempt by Beckwith to escape the death penalty for the most widely publicized crime in the history of Grundy county. His defense attorneys, in the best traditions of Iowa law, fought hard and long for his life.

In last week's Register it was erroneously stated that the Beckwith trials had cost $60,000. This is in error, as the total cost appears to be in the neighborhood of $20,000. The Register is sorry to have misinformed its readers.

--The Grundy Register (Grundy Center, Iowa), 7 August 1952, pg 1


Grundy Obituaries maintained by Tammy D. Mount.
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