by Erin Doane, curator
During the 19th century, more than 90
people were executed in New York State. Three of those executions took place in
Gardner – Executed March 1, 1867 for the murder of Amasa Mullock
Henry Gardner was a soldier with the 12th
Regiment of the United States infantry stationed at the Pickaway Barracks in
Southport. The 24-year-old from Ohio was one of many soldiers who came through
Elmira during the Civil War. Amasa Mullock was an old man who was well-known
about Elmira. On December 29, 1864, Gardner robbed Mullock of $300-$400 and a
watch then beat the man to death with his musket.
Nearly three months later, on March 19, 1865, a
group of soldiers were rambling in the woods about a mile and a half from
Elmira when they came upon Mullock’s body. His head was terribly mangled and
the rest of his body showed signs of violence.
Gardner was the last person seen with Mullock
before he disappeared in December. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced
to death. Hanging was the prescribed method of capital punishment at the time.
Gallows were erected in the Chemung County jail yard in Elmira for the
execution. Before the sentence was carried out, Gardner spoke to the crowd that
had gathered to watch the hanging. He spoke of his misdeeds and declared that
“liquor is the ruination of any man.”
The hanging was described as “bungled, horrible
and revolting.” Gardner was dropped through the trap three times before finally
dying. If that was not bad enough, his body was then turned over to Dr. P. H.
Flood, a local Elmira physician. Flood embalmed and mummified Gardner’s body
and kept it on display in a glass case in his office for many years. Eventually
the body was moved into the cellar of Flood’s home then out to a barn on the
property. A group of boys found the body in the barn and stole it. They put it
in a vault at the brewery at the foot of East Water Street and set it on fire.
Police found the charred remains and briefly investigated the “murder” before
discovering that the body was that of Henry Gardner.
H. Penwell – Executed July 20, 1877 for the murder of his wife
Peter Penwell was a resident of the Town of Erin.
In December 1871, he married a woman from Toledo, Ohio whom he had known for
just a week or two. He was in his late 50s at the time. About five years into
their marriage, Penwell became jealous of a “magnetic quack” who was paying a
great deal of attention to his wife. As a way to end their troubles as a
couple, Penwell and his wife decided to poison themselves with arsenic. He gave
his wife a large dose that put her on her sickbed without killing her and he
took a smaller dose that was said to have made him crazy. Penwell’s father had
died in a madhouse so mental illness was not unknown in the family.
On March 10, 1876, Penwell borrowed a razor from a
neighbor, claiming that he needed to shave. He went into the room where his
wife lay sick and chopped her to death with an old ax. He then cut his own
throat with the borrowed razor. Penwell’s wound was not serious enough to kill
When he was first arrested, Penwell admitted to
the crime. He said he had committed the murder in a jealous rage. Later he
denied killing his wife. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. It
was reported at the time that all agreed that he had committed the crime but
some questioned the punishment. An Albany newspaper called it a “judicial
The gallows were constructed in the space between
the old and new jail buildings in Elmira and a high board fence was built
around the yard to keep out the immense crowd that gathered for the execution.
Soldiers from the 110th battalion were even called in to keep the
crowd under control.
About 250 people were admitted into the enclosure
to witness the hanging. Penwell was attended by three ministers. His last words
were of thanks to the sheriff and his family for the kind treatment he had
received leading up to the execution. He then turned to the sheriff and said,
“I am ready.” Unlike with Gardner’s hanging ten years earlier, Penwell’s
execution was flawless and he died almost instantly.
Abbott – Executed January 6, 1882 for the murder of George Reed
Joseph Abbot was described as “a tall,
stoop-shouldered man with a beardless face and an evil look in his deep black
eyes.” On September 14, 1879, he robbed a man named Brown of $5.50 and a silk
handkerchief on a highway near Rome, New York. He was arrested and taken to
Utica. On the way, he made a desperate attempt to escape. He jumped off a rock
ledge, swam across a canal, and ran one and a half miles through a swamp before
being recaptured. He was sentenced to the Elmira Reformatory for highway
While incarcerated, Abbott worked in the
Reformatory’s hollowware shop making pots and kettles. George Reed was another
inmate working in the shop. He was serving time for grand larceny. Some sort of
argument took place between Abbott and Reed in the shop on April 10, 1880.
Abbott found a 4-foot long, 1-inch diameter iron rod and hit Reed in the back
of the head with it. He beat Reed several more time then returned to his work
The morning of his execution, Abbott had
beefsteak, potatoes, toast, cake, and coffee for breakfast. He spent some time
speaking with family, friends, and reporters. Abbott’s brother was by his side
but his father was serving a life sentence in Connecticut State Prison for
murder. The sheriff read the death warrant inside the jail because Abbott did
not want to stand out in the cold listing to anything, then they proceeded to
the gallows in the north jail yard. He was attended by three clergymen. Sources
report that there were anywhere from 40 to 150 witnesses at the execution.
The 26-year-old’s final words were, “Good bye,
gentlemen; in my death you witness a terrible injustice.” Abbott was hanged at
11:15am but his neck did not break. He was left to strangle for about five
minutes before losing consciousness. He was declared dead by physicians 14
minutes after the hanging. His body was taken by train to his hometown of
Waterbury, Connecticut to be laid to rest.