Palace of Death
by H.M. Fogle, 1908



Chapter 9
John "Brocky" Smith
August 29, 1890


Hanged Aug. 29, 1890. Murdered an Old Woman in Cincinnati for her money.

The Prison's First Double Exection, Continued


Fourteen minutes after Leuth's body was taken down, "Brocky" Smith was also a corpse. It was 12:33 when Smith took his position on the trap; and when asked if he had anything to say before he died, he said: "Nothing more than I have been saying for the past nine months. I admit that I committed this crime, and hope God will forgive me for it. But it was not for the purpose of robbery, though.

Deputy Brady was shoving the strap around "Brocky's" arm pretty tight, when he said: "Say! Don't draw that strap so tight, that's cruel. Deputy Porter thought Smith referred to him, and replied: "Well, John, I will make it just as comfortable as possible; it may be cruel, but it won't last long." "No, I don't mean you, I mean these fellows over here," said Smith. This was the dying conversation of "Brocky" Smith, and was held during the time that the straps and noose were being adjusted. The rope was lengthened a little for him, and he fell eight feet, the neck being broken. He died without the quiver of a muscle, or the slightest convulsion. The drop fell at 12:36; and he was pronounced dead at 12:51.

"Brocky" Smith was a typical hoodlum, a child of the slums, and a graduate of the gutter. He was born in Cincinnati, and from infancy to manhood his only companions were those steeped in ignorance, vice and crime. It is extremely doubtful if he ever heard the word of God outside of prison walls.

He never passed a day of his misspent life in a schoolroom. Until after he arrived at the Annex, he could not write his own name, but during the five months previous to his execution he applied himself to study, and learned more, he declared, than during the whole of his lifetime. He possessed a great aptitude for acquiring knowledge, and took deep interest in his studies. If he had been taken in hand at an earlier stage of his career, Smith, perhaps, would have proved a splended subject for the professional reformer or philanthropist. With proper training and wholesome environment, he very likely would have developed into a useful member of society.

There are in every large city thousands of the same type, who might be gathered in from the haunts of ignorance and vice, and inspired with a desire for moral elevation and knowledge. When social reformers reach this class, then will there be a marked decrease in crime and a corresponding falling off in prison population. But while the pharisaical zealots ignore the heathen at their own door, continuing the time-honored practice of expending a ten dollar note for the sending of a ten cent psalm-book to a Cannibal Islander, there will be no remarkable thinning out in the ranks of the criminal recruits.

Bridget Byron was a peaceful old market woman who lived in a humble cottage in Cincinnati and, by her industry and frugality, had accumulated during her lifetime a snug little sum of money. With a portion of these scanty savings she had purchased Government bonds, and they were either placed to her credit in the savings bank or kept in the house. The bonds were kept in a bureau drawer in the old lady's bed-room. Mrs. Byron's only son and protector lived with her, but was sick in the hospital at the time she met her horrible fate.

"Brocky" Smith, her murderer, lived with a bachelor brother and two sisters in a little frame shanty on Culvert street. The Smiths and Mrs. Byron lived in the same yard. About 12:30 o'clock on the night of December 8, 1890, Mrs. Byron was awakened by a strange noise, which proved to eminate from the maneuverings of an intruder who had broken into the little cottage for the purpose of robbing the lone defenseless woman of the bonds and money for which she had toiled so long and hard to acquire. Old and feeble as she was, Mrs. Byron sprang from the bed with a determination to resist the efforts of the robber. The cowardly villain raised his murderous butcher knife above his head and sent it plunging into the body of the old woman, whom he could have knocked senseless with one blow from his powerful fist. Old Mrs. Byron at this attack lost all thought of her treasure, and began to struggle for her life. The blood-bespattered condition in which the old lady's bed-room was afterwards found, bore awful testimony to the terrible struggle for life, and the fiendish, hellish nature of the murderer. The blood-thirsty assassin plunged the butcher knife into the old lady's body no less than a dozen times. Her head was nearly severed from her body, the thin and feeble arms with which she sought to protect herself were laid wide open from the shoulder to the hand, while murderous gashes extending several inches in length were cut in her body and face.

Mrs. Byron, though seventy years of age, was certainly possessed of remarkable vitality, for, notwithstanding that she had been stabbed with a large bladed butcher knife a dozen times, she rallied shortly after her assassin made his escape.

Her pitiful, weird groans attracted the attention of a German lady living in a shanty adjoining the Byron cottage, and she was the first to reach the murdered woman after the thrilling deed was committed. Mrs. Byron managed, by a superhuman effort, to crawl to the door and unlatch it. The German lady was terrorized when she beheld the trembling, bloody form of Mrs. Byron as she stod in her night clothes clinging to the open door; but she led her to the house of a neighbor. The kitchen door of the neighbor's residence was pushed open, and Mrs. Byron fell to the floor, gasping as she did so: "I am dying; John Smith did it; he tried to rob me." Mrs. Byron was removed to the hospital and died a few minutes after her arrival.

The officers were informed by the dying woman that the John Smith, who had murderously assaulted her, was the one commonly known as "Brocky," who lived on the adjoining street.

"Brocky" Smith, the suspect, was arrested a few hours later while in bed at his home. He protested innocence and said that he had not been out of the house all day or any time during the night.

There was a mass of convincing evidence against the accused, however, and he was speedily convicted and sentenced to death.

He was received at the Annex, April 2, 1890, and was originally sentenced to hand July 11th, but reveived a respite until August 29th.

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