As the debate continues about executions in Illinois, capital punishment
has a long history right here in Joliet.
We hanged condemned men here. And we sent them to the electric chair.
The very 1st execution was in 1866, the year after the Civil War ended.
George Chase was a convicted horse thief serving time in the old prison
when he killed Deputy Warden Joe Clark during an attempted escape.
With Chase sentenced to die, Sheriff John Reid designed a makeshift
gallows, which was inside a hallway of the Will County Jail in Joliet. The
hangman's rope was thrown over a hallway beam, and Chase was seated in a
The condemned man maintained that he was innocent as a white hood was
placed over his head.
"Gentlemen, I am about to be slaughtered," he said to the witnesses.
The sheriff gave a signal, and sandbags in the jail cellar were dropped,
which snapped the rope over the beam, and Chase shot straight up in the
air. The body hung there with his feet 3 1/2 feet off the floor.
"He was launched into eternity," the Joliet Signal newspaper stated.
There were two more men sentenced to die on the gallows in Joliet during
the late 1800s. But both men escaped from jail and were never seen here
4 hanged in Joliet
In 1927-28, the gallows was busy in Joliet. It started in 1926 when seven
convicts escaped from the Collins Street prison and in the process
murdered Assistant Warden Peter Klein.
The 7 escaped convicts were Charlie Duschowski, Walter Stalesky, James
Price, Charles Shader, Robert Torrez, Gregario Rizo and Barnardo Roa.
Within a few days, 6 of the convicts had been captured. But Price remained
The 6 were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang in December 1926.
Will County Sheriff Albert Markgraf ordered the construction of a large
gallows in the yard next to the jail. As the 6 killers watched from cell
windows, they called the gallows "our play pen."
While awaiting execution, the 3 Mexican killers were visited by dozens of
beautiful Hispanic women, who brought them baskets of fruit and food. In 1
basket, the women smuggled in hacksaw blades and 2 pistols.
On March 12, 1927, the three Mexicans sawed through their cell bars and
escaped. But in south Chicago, they had a gunbattle with police. Rizo was
wounded and captured along with Torrez. Roa escaped.
On June 13, 1927, there was a second escape attempt at the county jail.
Duschowski, Shader and Stalesky got out of their cell with a key that had
been crafted from a piece of bone. Rizo, who had recovered from his wound,
went with them, but Torrez refused to leave the cell.
The 4 killers armed themselves with a pistol, rifle and a shotgun. But the
rifle barrel was bent when Shader hit a jailer's dog that was trying to
Using Sheriff Markgraf as a shield, the escapees got into the jail yard
where the sheriff's car was parked. But as the car drove from the yard, it
was stopped by a hail of gunfire from 50 men.
Rizo was killed. The sheriff had two bullet holes in his hat. Duschowski
was pulled from the car and beaten. But Shader managed to escape in the
On the hot morning of July 14, 1927, the three remaining killers were
scheduled to die on the gallows. By dawn that morning, a crowd of more
than 1,000 had gathered outside the jail yard. Among them was the widow of
the jail warden who had been killed.
"They want to live, so did my husband," she said. "But they had no mercy
for him. I wish I could press the lever that springs the trap."
The 5:30 a.m. scheduled hanging was delayed because the crowd got out of
control. Hundreds of morbidly curious men were pushing and shoving for a
position behind the pine stockade that surrounded the gallows. Hundreds
more were in the streets and on rooftops hoping to catch a glimpse. At 6
a.m., the 3 killers came out of the jail with handcuffs and straps around
their arms. All 3 had grown beards. 6 guards with guns surrounded them.
"All right, let's go," Duschowski said, smiling at the crowd.
A newspaper reporter described how the 3 killers marched to the gallows
"with firm steps that didn't falter." He wrote that all 3 smiled from the
top of the gallows as they said good-bye to one another.
At 6:15 a.m., the sheriff signaled the hangman, who pulled a lever. A thud
sounded as three trap doors dropped and 3 necks were snapped.
That was followed by a unison gasp from the crowd. 4 people fainted.
Several others got sick. And several men climbed the gallows steps and
attempted to cut pieces of rope for souvenirs.
The 3 bodies were displayed in a local funeral home. Some 15,000 people
passed through looking at the dead men.
Shader, who had escaped in the second jail break, was captured in 1928
while visiting his mother. Returned to Joliet, he was hanged on the same
gallows on Oct. 10, 1928.
Price, who got away in the original prison escape, was discovered doing
time in a New York prison for robbery. In 1937, he was returned to
Illinois and sentenced to 150 years for the murder. He was paroled 25
years later to a veterans home in Ohio where he died in 1965.
Roa, who got away in the first jail break, was located in Mexico in 1948.
But Mexican officials refused to send him to Illinois.
Shader was the last man to hang in this state, which in 1928 had adopted a
new method of execution: the electric chair.
Records show that 248 killers were hanged on a gallows in Illinois.
Arrival of electric chair
On Dec. 15, 1928, the electric chair at Stateville prison outside Joliet
was used to execute 3 killers from Lake County. They were Claude Clark,
John Brown and Dominick Bressette.
Between 1928 and 1962, 98 killers were executed in this state's 3 electric
chairs at Stateville, the Cook County Jail and the downstate Menard
Of them, 13 were executed in the Joliet prison. They were the three in
1928 followed by John Preston on Oct. 9, 1931; Fred Blink on April 23,
1935; Arthur Thielan, Fred Gerner and John Hauff on May 10, 1935; Gerald
Thompson on Oct. 15, 1935; John Jelliga on Oct. 21, 1938; Elvyn Wood on
April 4, 1939; Leo Jordan on May 13, 1942; and Herman F. Weber on Sept.
Of the electric chair executions, 18 were at Menard and 67 at the Cook
County Jail. The last man to die in an electric chair in Illinois was
James Dukes, a cop killer who was executed on Aug. 24, 1962, in Cook
By the time executions resumed in this state in 1990, the method had been
changed to lethal injection in a death chamber at Stateville. The 1st to
die there was Charles Walker, who was executed on Sept. 12, 1990. He was
followed by 11 more killers including mass murderer John Wayne Gacy on May
The last to die here by lethal injection was Andrew Kokoraleis on March