Saturday, October 2, 2021

A Great Burly, Broad-Shouldered Bully.

Billy Wieners was the night watchman and bouncer for the saloon in the Theatre Comique in St. Louis. He was a large man—“a great burly, broad-shouldered bully,” said the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune. In January 1877, he was under bond for attempting to kill his wife.

He was also quite fond of whiskey. He was drunk on the night of January 29 when he was working as a bouncer at the saloon. He overheard the assistant barkeeper, A.V. Lawrence, make disparaging remarks about Wieners’s wife to the Head Barkeeper. Wieners responded, drawing his revolver and threatening to kill Lawrence.

A.V. Lawrence, alias Lawrence Mack, was known as a quiet, inoffensive young man, a short man of slight build. He was no match for Billy Wieners. A bystander stepped in to separate them, and Wieners agreed to go home. But before Wieners left, the altercation renewed, and Wieners struck Lawrence in the face with his fist. Lawrence picked up a soda bottle to hurl at Wieners, but before he could throw it, Wieners drew two pistols and fired one, hitting Lawrence in the neck. He died almost instantly. 

Wieners was quickly arrested, and the following October, he was tried for first-degree murder. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang on December 14. As the judge pronounced the sentence, Wieners smiled pleasantly and seemed unconcerned, but later, he told reporters he would starve or kill himself before he would meet death on the scaffold. After five months of incarceration, Wieners had already lost 70 pounds.

Wieners received a stay of execution while his lawyer appealed the verdict before the Missouri Supreme Court. They alleged that the judge in Wieners’s trial did not instruct the jury regarding murder in the second degree. At issue was whether Wieners acted with premeditation and malice aforethought in killing Lawrence. Wieners’s attorney argued that he had acted in the heat of passion and should not be charged with first-degree murder. The Supreme Court upheld the verdict. They summed up their lengthy ruling by saying, “We have carefully examined the record to find evidence tending to mitigate the offense of which the defendant was guilty but have failed to discover a circumstance to indicate it was other than deliberate murder.”

The hanging was rescheduled for February 1878. As Billy Weiners awaited his punishment, his sister Annie worked to have his sentence commuted to life in prison. She circulated a petition and met personally with Governor Phelps. While support for commutation was growing, the Governor would not commit himself.

Billy Wieners was hanged at 8:30 AM on February 1, 1878, in the jail yard in St. Louis in front of a small group of spectators, mostly reporters and attorneys. Wieners made a brief speech in which he admitted to killing Lawrence, but not in cold blood. He said he was crazed with liquor, and he warned all men against whiskey and bad associations.

“Brutal Murder at St. Louis,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, January 30, 1877.
“Deliberate Murder,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 30, 1877.
“Execution of Wieners at St. Louis,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, February 2, 1878.
“Jottings By Telegraph,” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, January 14, 1878.
“Missouri,” Rock Island Argus, February 1, 1878.
“Murder,” Illustrated Police News, February 17, 1877.
“Murderer Sentenced,” Arkansas Gazette, October 31, 1877.
“News Of the Day,” Alexandria Gazette, January 30, 1877.
“A Second Stay,” Chicago Daily News, December 15, 1877.
“Sentence of Death,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 31, 1877.
“Telegraphic Notes,” Milan Exchange, February 8, 1877.
“Wieners Must Hang,” State journal, January 18, 1878.


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