Editor’s note: This is the second half of one of Mike Ragland’s classic columns, the true tale of Will Dutton’s hanging.
Long before Dutton left the jail a crowd had gathered at the gallows. When Will arrived instead of mounting the gallows he stood in the back of the carriage. Dr. Mashburn stood with him and addressed the crowd.
“Mr. Dutton has here a book of his life written by himself, and Sheriff Burroughs has been kind enough to allow him time to sell it. He wants the proceeds to go to his wife and children in Alabama. Those who want a book can buy it from Mr. Dutton.”
Will climbed up on the front of the carriage and called out to the crowd.
“Now come up and buy my book. It’s a history of my life, and I want the money for my wife and daughter in Alabama.”
There was a rush for the wagon. Will was having a hard time handing the books out as the people thronged him. He handed the money to Dr. Mashburn, the sale was brief, about fifteen minutes, and then eased to a halt.
“Come on all of you that want one,” cried out Dutton. “I haven’t sold half enough yet.”
He had one more flurry and his customers soon seemed to have purchased all they wanted.
He turned to the sheriff and said, “I’m ready.”
Will climbed the gallows with a firmer hand, and was steadier than those that supported him. He walked every inch of the gallows, held a searching glance for the crowd and seemed to be pleased with the attendance. He appeared to think he was the hero of the occasion and wanted to play his part out.
Dr. Mashburn asked the crowd to join him in an old familiar hymn, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”
One gentleman called for another book. Then someone else asked Will to write his name on one. This set off another rush. Will was writing as fast as he could, and was telling the crowd to hurry ‘cause he only had a few more minutes to sign them.
Dutton then made a speech telling the crowd how innocent he was, and that he had been convicted on circumstantial evidence. He addressed the young men in the crowd, telling them hanging around with bad company would put you on the gallows just like it did him. He stated he ran away from home at age 10 with bad women and continued down the wrong road until now.
At 12:22 p.m., Dutton stood on the trap and the noose was placed over his head.
Dr. Mashburn asked Will for the last time if he was guilty. He replied that he was not.
He asked the sheriff to let him pray for a minute. The sheriff then approached the trigger and tried to slip it out noiselessly but it creaked. Will turned his head toward the sound. The sheriff gave a quick jerk. The trap opened and Will Dutton went down like a flash. He was left hanging for 16 minutes. He was placed in the coffin and shipped to his home in Farill, Alabama.
The crime Will Dutton was hung for was the murder of Mrs. Mobbs, a grass widow, on Nov. 26, 1890. She was found dead by the roadside and John William Dutton was arrested for her murder. Mrs. Mobbs was hit over the head and stabbed several times in the neck. Will was given a preliminary trial and acquitted.
He went to Alabama, to his father’s house. Later, he was arrested once again near the state line in Cave Spring, and ushered to Cartersville.
The evidence against him was circumstantial. He blamed a Mr. and Mrs. Massey, who lived in the Stilesboro neighborhood, for the murder. They were arrested but had alibis and were released.
Two months after John William Dutton’s execution, the State of Georgia banned public hangings. Will was the last one. The Constitution said he was the handsomest man and the coolest customer to ever stand on Georgia’s gallows.
In talking to descendents I was told evidence was later provided that proved his innocence.