Jim Ross had no interest in sleeping after his visitors left on the evening of February 7, 1889. He was to be hanged in Brandenburg, Kentucky, the following day.
“I was there,” Ross, a black man, answered to a news reporter’s question about the murder of Benedict Rhodes. “I was holding the light.
“I’ll tell you the whole story about what happened. I was boarding at the home of Walter Parker who lived near the dead man.
“Parker bought this little farm where they lived. It suited Walter and his little woman but he was having trouble coming up with the money for it. One day he said, ‘I know where we can get the money.’
“He told us that Rhodes lived alone and kept money in his home. He wasn’t real big on trusting his money in the bank. Anyway Walter got Andy Valentine to join in on his scheme and he kept after me too. I know it was wrong but I didn’t know there’d be a killing. I finally agreed to go with ‘em.”
Jim Ross then related how they snuck into the Rhodes residence while he was asleep. Ross said they quietly searched for the money until they heard Rhodes stir about and turn over in his sleep. They thought he was waking up so the three men left the house as quietly as they could.
“As we tiptoed across the porch Walter (Parker) stumbled over an ax. He picked it up and whispered. ‘We’re going back in.’”
Ross said Parker lit a lamp when they got back inside and started looking for the money.
“It wasn’t long before Rhodes was stirring again,” Ross said.
“There’s no use fooling with him,” Parker stated after going back in. “We may as well knock him in the head. He hit Rhodes several times with the ax. It was a mess.”
Ross said they continued to search the residence but only found $1.75 and a silver watch.
“That’s the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” Ross said. “I’m going to hang tomorrow and I ain’t gonna die with a lie in my mouth.”
Ross joined the Catholic Church under the guidance of a priest about a month prior to his hanging. During this time, he devoted much of his time to religious matters and seemed totally candid in discussing the April 6, 1888 murder. Ross was totally unconcerned about his approaching hanging.
That wasn’t the case with Meade County residents and citizens of surrounding counties including those from nearby Indiana. Witnesses to the hanging had to have tickets and Sheriff J. D. Harding was deluged with requests from citizens wanting to attend.
Meanwhile as the execution date neared, Jim Ross could hear the workers hammering as they built the scaffold and the twenty-foot high fence that surrounded it. The scaffold was built on a hillside only a short distance from the jail.
Jim Ross was in a surprisingly good mood when guards called on him at 5 a.m. on the day of his hanging.
“How long do I have to wait,” he asked with a smile. “I’m ready to go.”
He ate a hearty breakfast and then smoked a cigar given to him by Sheriff Hardin. The sheriff and Deputy Woolfolk called on Ross soon after 7:14 a.m. Sheriff Hardin read the death warrant and at 7:40 a.m. they walked to the scaffold, entering the relatively small enclosure that was crammed with humanity.
Ross climbed the steps of the scaffold and then looked about and into the faces of those who came to see him hanged.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself,” Sheriff Hardin asked.
“Not a single word,” Ross answered as he reached down and untied his shoes.
A black cap was placed on his head and the noose secured around his neck. At 7:46 the signal was given and the trapdoor on which Jim Ross was standing opened and the prisoner fell through. The snap of the rope broke Jim Ross’es neck. Many of the witnesses gasped over the next 15 or so seconds before becoming quiet.
After six minutes a doctor checked his pulse and his heart rate was thirty-four. After twenty six minutes there was no pulse. Jim Ross had given up the ghost.
His body was cut down and turned over to a Louisville medical student. In the preceding days Ross assented to give his body to the student for study.
Jim Ross had implicated Walter Parker and Andy Valentine in the murder during the trial. A jury found Parker not guilty and he promptly left Kentucky.
Valentine was never arrested. He showed up in Brandenburg on the day of the hanging but had no ticket and didn’t witness Ross’ death.
Parker and Valentine both said they were innocent.
Jim Ross said he wouldn’t die with a lie in his mouth.
Editor’s note: Jadon Gibson is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His stories are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read periodically at bereaonline.com. Don’t miss a single posting!