Notes from the White County Historical Society

By Charlene Shields

Notes from the White County Historical Society as they appear in "The Carmi Times."

Copyright ©2001 by "The Carmi Times" Permission to reprint granted to Cindy Birk Conley and the ILGenWeb by Tammy Knox, editor, "The Carmi Times."

Details of a hanging

The White County Democrat, April 26, 1928, (subscription price $2
annually) carried an article about the death of the notorious Charlie
Birger, but it did not give the actual date.

There may be renewed interest in the life of this area's most famous
gangster since the recent publication of another Birger biography.
The heading of the April 1928 article states: Birger Pays Price, Dies On
Scaffold--Waved Good-bye To Vast Crowd--Trap Sprung Six Minutes After
Birger Left His Cell. The article states:

Charlie Birger has paid the price for his part in the murder of Joe
Adams, mayor of West City, who was called to the door of his home and
shot by two of Birger's gangsters on the night of Dec. 12, 1926.
Birger was led from his cell at 9:45. He walked the short distance to
the scaffold unassisted and once upon the wooden structure, he waved
good-bye to the vast crowd that had gathered to see the notorious gang
leader in his last minutes on earth.

Sheriff Pritchard approached him and spoke a few words. Birger assumed
an air of gaiety which the strain in his face belied.

Wednesday night, the night before the hanging, Birger never once closed
his eyes. When dawn came, he was asked if he wanted anything to eat.
"Yes," drawled the gangster, "you can give me a couple of ounces of
carbolic acid."

When the time came to march to the gallows, the gang leader, as if with
a great effort, drew himself into a semblance of composure, waved (sic)
assistance and walked to the scaffold steps alone.

Birger called for G. Phil Hanna, humanitarian hangman of Epworth, who
has officiated at 60 executions. Hanna approached the condemned gangster
and while he patted him on the back with one hand and spoke condoling
(sic) words in his last few minutes on earth, in his other hand he held
the noose which would soon jerk the gangster into eternity.

Hanna adjusted the noose about Birger's neck and the execution robe was
fastened about his small lean body.

The trap was sprung at 9:48 and the notorious gang leader was pronounced
dead at 10:03.

Charlie Birger is known to have killed at least three men. Fifteen
others, including one woman, were killed in the fued (sic) between the
Birger and Shelton brothers gang war, and it is certain from the records
that Birger ordered the assassination of at least two others.

When Mrs. E. Aaron, Birger's first wife, asked the condemned man if he
expected to make a talk from the scaffold, he replied that he was going
to give them all a good cussing before he left. Mrs. Aaron, with her
husband, came from Portland, Ore. to witness the execution and claim the
body and assist in escorting it to St. Louis for burial.

Birger at the last minute signed an agreement for the publishing of his
history which he has written since the death sentence was pronounced
upon him.

The following from Carmi attended the execution: Sheriff Grissom, Deputy
Sheriff Phillips, Assistant State's Attorney Kenneth Pearce, County
Clerk Clyde P. Stone, W. S. Rice, R. O. Clemens, T. W. Hall, Harry and
Hick Hanna, B. L. Patrick, John Brown, Newt Arbaugh, Lawrence Brown,
Chalon Morgan, Othel Brown, Guy Pomeroy, Mrs. Lizzie Barnes and Miss
Martha Lichtenberger.


The Genealogy Library is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 to 2.


Address letters to Genealogy, White County Historical Society, PO Box
121, Carmi, IL 62821.

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