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Woman Saved From Gallows: A WV State Penitentiary Story

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(1924) Typical Women’s Cell at
WV State Penitentiary in Moundsville
Source: WV History on View

Readers of Theresa’s Haunted History blog know that from time to time, I enjoy sharing some non-ghosty history from the tri-state’s most famously haunted locations, especially the West Virginia State Penitentiary at Moundsville! I think it really adds to the understanding of a haunted location to know what everyday life was like for those who called the location home. I also think its a great asset to the paranormal investigation process when you have an understanding of who may be there, what their normal routine was, and the ‘current’ events that took place during their lifetime. So, for today’s blog, I wanted to share with you this article from the Herald-Dispatch (Huntington, WV) dated March 12, 1935. 

After shooting and killing quarry worker, William Mitchell, on October 13, 1934, Mrs. Frances Williams was sentenced to be executed. She would have been the first and only woman in West Virginia’s history to face this tragic ending. Luckily, public outcry was taken seriously, and her sentence was commuted to a life sentence. Fun fact: Moundsville State Penitentiary housed female inmates up until about 1947, when they were transferred to the newly opened West Virginia Prison for Women in Pence Springs. (Source-WV Encyclopedia)

Governor Kump Commutes Death Sentence to Life Imprisonment

Charleston, Mar. 11–(Associated Press)—The first woman in West Virginia history to face execution was saved from death on the gallows today by Governor H. G. Kump.

The executive commuted the death sentence of Mrs. Frances Williams, 29, Negro, the mother of a six-year-old boy, to life imprisonment.  Thousands of petitions asking the governor to halt the execution poured into the pardon attorney’s office from all sections of the state.

At Moundsville, Deputy Warden Clarence M. Stone said word of the governor’s action had not been received, and the woman had not been notified.

Convicted of Killing Man

“We usually don’t receive the notice for a day or two as it is sent by mail unless the execution date is close at hand,” he said.

Mrs. Williams was sentenced to die March 15 by Circuit Judge Summers H. Sharp in the Greenbrier county circuit court last December 13 for the murder of William Mitchell, 45, a Negro stone quarry worker.

The state charged Mrs. Williams and Mitchell had been intimate, that they quarreled the day of the shooting last October 13 and Mitchell left her. Upon alighting from a train at Frazier that evening, Mitchell was shot to death by Mrs. Williams.  She claimed Mitchell had threatened her.

Mentally Subnormal

Pardon Attorney Frank R. Hill said Joseph M. Holt, who then was Greenbrier prosecuting attorney, the jury recommended commutation.  Hill said the woman, before her trial, offered to plead guilty and take a life sentence, but later changed her mind and went to trial.

“There was testimony at the trial that the woman suffered a severe head injury when she was young, and that she is mentally subnormal,” Hill said. 

I’m 99% positive that I found Mitchell’s death certificate on the WV State Archives Vital Records page. However, there are some inconsistencies. It states that Mitchell wasn’t 45 years old, but 65 years old! He is listed as working at a rock quarry and being shot in the spine on or around October 13th. However, he didn’t pass away from his injuries until October 24, 1934. 


Want MORE resources and stories from the West Virginia State Penitentiary? Check out my new WV State Penitentiary Page for quick access to all my articles about the history and hauntings of one of West Virginia’s most haunted locations!


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