At approximately 12:30am on May 17, 1891, 36 year old George Painter came running out of the room he rented at 86 South Green Street in Chicago, Illinois and told fellow boarders that his wife had been murdered. He ran out the front door, looking for a police officer.
At the crime scene, police found the blood soaked body of Alice Martin, George’s common law wife. They arrested George immediately.
George was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 24, 1855. His father was a Methodist minister.
George owned several businesses, including a drug store and multiple laundries. He was a machinist by trade. George’s first wife died of consumption. They were married for 11 years.
After his wife’s death, George met Alice in Chicago. They dated and then moved in together, despite the scandal that would have caused.
After living together for a year and a half, George discovered that Alice was cheating on him. The couple reconciled, but George began to abuse alcohol.
Neighbors told reporters that George beat Alice and that she seemed “too good for him.” Others claimed that Alice was a prostitute. George denied that he ever beat Alice.
On the night of Alice’s murder, George claimed to have been at Schiller’s Saloon until it closed at 12am and adamantly denied killing Alice. The police interrogated him, and were about to let him go when Captain Martin Hayes noticed some blood on George’s overcoat.
George was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
There was some debate about what time Alice was killed. Some neighbors said they heard banging and yelling closer to midnight. Others claim the commotion began closer to 12:30am. A neighbor, Mrs. Truesdale, said she saw George exit his room, then re-enter it, during the incident.
George claimed that his neighbors, the police and the governor all conspired against him, despite the fact that the governor stayed his execution twice before it was finally carried out.
There was even some debate on whether or not the woman killed in George’s apartment was Alice. There was some speculation that it might have been a woman named Maggie Godfrey. Ultimately, it was decided, right or wrong, that the women dead on the floor next to George’s bed was Alice. No murder weapon was ever found, so police assumed that she was strangled and her head was beaten against the bedpost until she was dead.
Alice’s left stocking had been pulled down. It was customary for women to carry money there. It was assumed that was what the murderer was looking for.
George’s execution was postponed for the first time by the Illinois Supreme Court who later upheld the conviction after George asked to be hypnotized in order to better remember the details of the night of the murder.
In December 1893, when George’s attorneys claimed to have discovered evidence that pointed to a man named Dick Edwards from Texas, the execution was stayed by the governor of Illinois. The lawyers were given until January 12, 1894 to prove their case.
George’s attorneys claimed that Alice was married to Dick who came to Chicago looking for her. When she refused to give him the money he asked for, he killed her.
George’s execution was postponed again on January 11 so that his lawyers could continue to prove his innocence. This came after several prominent members of the community petitioned the governor.
The governor decided that the claims again Dick were unfounded and that George’s execution was to happen as scheduled.
George was finally hanged on January 26, 1894, but the execution did not go as planned.
George was brought to the gallows just before 8am. He was allowed to make a statement to the crowd that had formed. He professed his innocence and asked the crowd to continue searching for the real killer of his beloved wife.
George’s hands were handcuffed behind his back and his legs were strapped together at the thighs and ankles. A white robe and hood were placed over his clothes and the noose was fastened around George’s neck.
The trapdoor was opened and George’s body began to fall. When the rope fully extended, it snapped, throwing George off the platform and onto the ground in front of the witnesses.
Several doctors rushed to the body to inspect it. It was decided that George’s neck was broken, but they couldn’t confirm that he was dead, so the jailers carried him back up onto the platform and fastened a new noose around his neck.
By this time, blood was starting to soak through George’s hood and run down his white gown. George had landed on his head when he hit the ground and was bleeding from the wound.
George was hanged for the second time at 8:03am and pronounced dead at 8:07am, although he was most likely dead before he was strung up the second time.
After the botched execution, the jailer told a reporter that they had tested the rope the night before with a 200 pound sandbag. They had no indication that the rope might fail with George attached to it.
In 1914, a man named U. W. Baxter came forward with information that he had met Alice’s real killer in Montana. Jack Cade had confessed to U.W. about killing Alice and letting George take the fall. U.W. claimed to be in Chicago chasing after his own wife. He believed that she had eloped with a professor named John Conroy who U.W. called a “Hindoo master of the black arts.” He claimed the couple had come to Chicago to meet up with other members of their “mystic cult.”
A video summary of this week’s post can be found at: