Thursday, March 24, 2011
March 30, 2011 will mark the 100th anniversary of the last man hanged in Schuylkill County. This is the story of Joseph Christock.
The last man hanged in Schuylkill County
March 30, 1911
THE LAST MAN HANGED IN SCHUYLKILL COUNTY
The execution of Joseph Christock was the third hanging in two years held in the prison yard of Schuylkill County Prison. On March 16th , 1909 Charles Warzal was executed for the murder of Mary Bolinsky at Shenandoah. Mary Bolinsky expressed love for Warzel and after he spent his last dollar on her she elected to marry his brother. So incensed at her loss of affection he secured a revolver and followed her to her place of work and shot her to death.
On the day of his execution he walked as far as the scaffold, evidently holding his nerve but when allowed to talk to the assembly of witnesses he became so excited he fainted on the scaffold. He had to be tied up with ropes so that the trap could be sprung. Death was due to suffocation and took 21 minutes till Warzel was pronounced dead.
Felix Radzins, the next to last man hanged in Schuylkill County. Radzins brutally murdered his boarding mistress Mrs. Cherwinski, at Shenandoah and after throwing her body into a cellar dragged her three year old son into the cellar and cut the child’s throat. When captured he admitted he had done the horrible murders and plead guilty. He was executed May 28th, 1909 and walked to the scaffold without a tremor, even holding his head erect to enable the Sheriff to place the noose. His neck was broken by the fall and he died in 15 minutes.
According to the newspaper Joe Christock went out of this world satisfied. He died as he wished to die, game and self possessed to the last. Hundreds of eyes were upon him as he swung off into eternity and that he wished it. If he had been hanged in the presence of only a few witnesses Christock would have quailed in some particular. Having an audience he was a cheap actor right to the end.
“No thespian in his dressing room with powder and paints and grease ever made more careful preparations to go to the stage when his call came than Christock did on the morning of his execution. He even asked for sand paper and rubbed the soles of his new shoes with it so as to eliminate, the possibility of slipping while on the gallows.
In this dramatic fashion, the Pottsville Journal reported the death of Joseph Christock., Alias Frank Mitchell, on the gallows in the prison at Pottsville on March 30, 1911, one hundred years ago. This will be the last execution in Schuylkill County.
Christock died in the atmosphere of a carnival before a laughing, joking crowd of 1200 witnesses and who began banging on the prison door for admission at eight a.m. more than two hours before the execution.
More of the bizarre occurred when a dozen women banged on the prison door and begged to be admitted. The Journal stated that they were all of foreign descent. They were refused admittance, although several of them tried a number of times to be admitted.
Joe Christock Sitting in the prison yard against the wall he will be executed against. Christock is sitting in front along with a fellow Prisoner and Prison wardens.
From an original Post Card
Joseph Christock was born in Mahanoy City although some said he was born in Russia ? By the time he was 24 he had quite a criminal record. He had been in prison for at least half of his life. Each time he got out he committed a crime greater than the preceding one until he reached the climax of his career with the murder of Mrs. Richards and the robbery of the Faulds home.
The murder for which Christock was hanged occurred on Wednesday November 17, 1910. Christock was employed by Peter Faulds who lived at Auchey’s Station near Auburn. Peter Fahl was aware of Christock’s reputation, but he was in ill health and needed help around the farm. On the 16th November Peter Faulds was away from the farm working at the sand plant on the Summit Station –Auburn road. Early in the day Christock began drinking cider endlessly. Drunk, he gathered a shotgun and went hunting for awhile. Having no success he returned back to the farm and began mending torn strips of leather for a harness. Christock claimed he heard a hound howling in the stable yard. He was frightened by the hound howling and knew this was a sign if death, he feared it meant his death. Instead it meant death for Mary Ann Richards, 65, who was at home with her daughter, Mrs. Faulds
Christock slowly walked to the lower floor of the Faulds house, saw Mrs. Faulds there and threw the leather horse line he was cleaning and repairing over Mrs Faulds He fastened her arms, and began to carry her up the stairs when Mrs Richards started after him At the top of the stairs he found a shotgun and shot and killed Mrs. Richards. He brutally beat Mrs Faulds on the back of her neck with his fist, pulled a mattress over her and continued beating her nearly to death.
He robed trunks in the house of $30, stole a gold watch, a revolver, a shotgun and some clothing. He then walked to Port Clinton where he bought a train ticket to Reading after laughing and joking with the station hands who he treated to cigars and drinks.
Peter Faulds came home about 6 p.m on November 17th , with a load of farm produce. As he tried to enter his home he found his house door was locked and the house dark. He then broke in his cellar door and climbed the stairs to find his mother in law Mrs. Mary Ann Richards lying in a pool of blood dead on the kitchen floor. He then found his wife beaten into unrecognizable condition also lying on the kitchen floor.
After the State Police were notified they went out searching for Christock they learned from the Reading operator at the station below Auburn that a man fitting his description bought a ticket for Reading. The State Police missed the train. Checking hotels in Reading the police the police noticed the name of Martin Ritter, on the register of a city hotel. Arousing suspicion as it was known that Ritter was a friend of Christock and was currently in the Schuylkill County Prison. They searched the room and found clothing articles corresponding to those missing items. Christock went to the movies and back to
the hotel about midnight. The police waited and arrested him there,
Christock pleaded guilty before Judge Arthur Shay and Charles N. Braum. On November 22, 1910, He was defended by attorneys E.W. Bechtel and A.C. Sherman. This was the first time ion county history a murder case was heard and disposed of without formality of drawing a jury.
Judge Shay in his opinion said: “Joseph Christock, your confession here on the witness stand for bold effrontery, cruelty of heart and mind devoid of all the better attributes of humanity is unparalleled in the annals of crime,”
On November 22nd , 1910 Joseph Christock was sentenced to hang..
Between then and his end Christock was a confused picture of self pity, contradiction and boast.. He bemoaned that he was only a few months old when his mother died, and a few years old when his father died, and he never had a parent’s love, he urged young men to go to Sunday school.
He admitted he lied when he said Mrs. Richards came at him with a butcher knife. And he boasted he shot a Cumbola woman and a Norristown toll gate keeper, and then repudiated this “Confession” because he was afraid his sentenced would be commuted to life and he wanted to and deserved to die
THE DEATH WARRANT.
On March 2nd ,1911, Christock was read his death warrant. The Journal reported, without a tremor or change of countenance Joseph Christock heard his death warrant read to him in his cell. He with stood the ordeal with greater nerve than did the sheriff whose voice quivered and hands shook as he read the document that means death on the scaffold for this young self confessed murderer.
Christock stood to the right side of the sheriff in his cell and his eyes were fixed on the warrant.
After the warrant was read, Christock with a light and steady tread stepped to the corner of his cell and took from the top of a rude and primitive closet a sheet of paper from an envelope which contained a note addressed to the sheriff. It was in his hand writing and was a round and plain style of penmanship, It read as follows.
“ Sheriff, I am indeed very sorry for what I have done to Mr. Fawls and family. I know that I must die and am preparing for the same. I feel very grateful to Doctor Flaig and his good wife for what they have done for me in my present trouble, I hope and pray that the almighty God will pardon me, my sins and also all of the people will for give me for what I have done.”
While in prison Christock tried three times to commit suicide the night of the 17th . First, tried to hang himself with a strip of his shirt. Next he set fire to a mattress. Third, butted his head against a cell wall.
Christock's last photograph on the morning of his execution. Note he is still wearing prison striped trousers.
The day before the execution Christock joked with the under Warden Mike Schoenman, Christock said: “Hey Mike give me a job helping you tomorrow will you Mike” I won’t need any help, “was the reply. When a Reporter visited him in the morning he said he was “cleaning up his cell for he was getting rid of everything he did not need.” He was impatient to get a glimpse of the grim instrument of death which was taken fro the prison cellar in the morning of the 29th and placed in the northeast corner of the prison yard. In order that he might get an advance view of the instrument he complained that the cell was to warm and he would like to have the window opened. This is always done by allowing him to be lifted up to the window on the hands of the under wardens. The warden was called and Joe climbed the wall of his cell and opened the window. When he slid down he remarked the warden that the scaffold was half way up. “No it isn’t” replied the warden, Where upon Christock replied, “Yes it is I saw it when I opened the window.
Sheriff Murphy visited the prison yard in the afternoon to check the scaffold. The ropes that pull away the swinging platform were tested several times. The rope was also tested to insure its strength and the various duties given to the deputies were also practiced.
Peter Faulds the son in law of the murdered Mrs. Ann Richards was admitted to the prison yard and studied the wooden scaffolds frame closely. He left the prison without viewing Christock and will not be present for the execution, but showed a keen interest in the preparations for the execution.
On March 29, 1911, Christock’s last night alive he spent it in writing letters to his friends and in preparing for his morning. He wrote until nearly one o’clock A.M. and then lies down and fell fast asleep. At 5:30 he arose and almost immediately dressed himself in his death clothing. He expressed a wish for an egg sandwich, a cup of coffee and a glass of milk, but did not want the same until after the arrival of his spiritual; advisor. Reverend Vincent Dargius, of New Philadelphia.
He walked the floor of his cell until nine o’clock engaged in prayer. He would mutter short prayers and ask for mercy, and at the same time expressing pity and remorse at his misspent life and his terrible crime. After the arrival of the priest, no visitors were admitted to his cell.
Crowds came in early, actually before 8 o’clock. The crowd was thick along the steps and the yard of the prison.
Turnkey Samuel Wall spent last night with Christock in his cell and before retiring, Joe stated that he wanted to make a will and leave his cell and stars to the county.
He smoked his last cigarette shortly before midnight . He said he was not going to smoke after midnight and upon being told he had 29 minutes he hastily rolled a “whiffer” and started to smoke, stating “this is my last cigarette,” He puffed away for a short time and then threw the paper roll into the corner of his cell and stated, “I am done smoking”
The famous Schuylkill County gallows that executed Joseph Christock and many others.
At 10:18 A.M. March 30, 1911 Joseph Christock took up the death march, There were no formalities in the cell number 14, the prisoner simply being told the time had arrived for the fatal march. First his spiritual advisor Rev. Dargius, the Deputy Sheriffs followed. The party emerged from the side door of the prison and walked briskly down to the scaffold which is located about 130 feet from the door.
As they wended their way down the brick walk way a hush fell upon the assemblage. When they reached the gibbet Sheriff Murphy ascended first followed by the prisoner and the prison physician. The noose was placed around the neck of the condemned man and straps adjusted to his sides biding his arms, his legs were then strapped, down. A broad leather belt was placed about his body; the arms extended downward and locked in place. Two similar belts bound his legs, one at the ankles and the other just below the hips. The prisoner clicking his heels together with a military style when told to do so. Under the direction of the prison physician the noose was adjusted under the left ear.
He was asked by the Sheriff if he had anything to say and he replied:
“I am sorry for what I done, and I hope everyone will forgive me. Goodbye to all.”
The black cap was then adjusted and Sheriff Murphy took the prisoners hand and bid him goodbye, Joe’s last words were “Goodbye, pray for me”, which he whispered to the Sheriff.
The officials left the scaffold and at 10:33 A.M. Christock’s body swayed nervously for a time until with a dull thud the sides of the platform fell and the body of Christock shot down through the opening and for a moment swung around slowly. The State Police immediately told everyone that the execution was over and directed the visitors to leave the prison yard.
The prisoners nerve was admired by everyone in his last moments, but the nerve of the visitors was enough over a hundred said they would never want to see an execution again.
After the body had been hanging for some time a veritable horde of physicians swarmed about the corpse and with stethoscopes and other instruments tested the heart until the final beats ceased and he was pronounced dead at 10:34 A.M. At 10:38 A.M. he was cut down and the body moved to the prison morgue. Where the remains were viewed by the sheriff’s jury and concluded that Christock died of strangulation, the neck not being broken because the rope slipped around the back of his neck. There was then a bit of a scramble for pieces of the rope that still encircled the neck. and turned over to the undertaker for burial.
Schuylkill County Prison, Could this be the pole the lineman climbed to witness the execution?
Outside the prison a lineman climbed to the top of a light pole and called out bulletins of what was going on inside.
According to the officials the execution went off without any incidents and was accomplished in the presence of over 1,000 persons, some estimates placed the number of people in the prison yard at 1,500/
The remains were given to the undertaker in charge and taken to New Philadelphia by A. Tobac of Shenandoah. Christock’s body was taken to New Phila to the home of his stepmother from which the funeral will take place on March 31, 1911.
So ended Schuylkill County’s last hanging.
Shown below is Joseph Christock's hand written story as told to a State Policeman days before his execution. This is a fascinating read. This confession is from the files of the Schuylkill County Historical Society.
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