Friday, December 11, 2009

Night of horror

In Utah, where I live, there have been about four dozen legal executions in the 160 years since Utah attained territorial status. Two of the executions, Joe Hill and Gary Mark Gilmore, are world famous. I went online to see if I could find information on any of the non-famous executions, which were, after all, carried out in the name of the people. One of the oddball things I found was a series of 1943 murders by Austin Cox, Jr., in Ogden, Utah, replicated in a lurid crime comic book story from 1951.

Cox was executed for his crimes in 1944. What I found in my internet search were his death certificate and a few lines in a book review, which tell essentially of the same incidents as the comic story.

Along with murder cases, [Judge] Trueman handled the usual divorce cases. One was that of Austin Cox Jr. Cox didn't like the outcome, and on the night of July 24, 1943, went hunting for his wife.

He'd heard she was staying at a house at 2240 Lincoln Ave. (now the site of a home improvement center) and went there. She wasn't there but six other people were and he shot them, killing four and wounding the rest.

Then he drove to 1543 27th St., Trueman's home, and fired a shot at a kitchen window. Trueman and his wife, in a second story bedroom, turned on a light and went to a window to see what was going on, and Cox shot him.

Cox was executed a year later.

The Unforgiven, Utah's Executed Men by L. Kay Gillespie
It's a terrible tragedy when a man kills his estranged wife. It's inexcusable. Unfortunately it happens and the cases usually make the headlines, but as far as I know Cox is the only man in Utah ever put to death for the crime. Killing the judge who granted the divorce might have had something to do with it. (I doubt the way the divorce is depicted as taking place over a telephone call to the judge from Cox's wife.)

Utah was also the answer to a trivia question that went around for years: "What's the only state in the U.S. where a prisoner gets a choice for his execution?" Why, Utah, of course, where the condemned could choose hanging or firing squad. The trivia questions usually leave out the choice of decapitation. It was only offered for a time and never chosen by any condemned man. Nowadays the law has been changed and there are no more choices, only lethal injection.

I assume firing squad seemed better than hanging, because most murderers chose it. At least it was quick, but good god, what a choice. I would say you're in a very bad way when the last decision you're allowed to make is, "Do you want to die dangling from a rope or strapped into a chair with a paper target pinned over your heart?" Uh, can I instead choose 'dying of old age'?"

From Crime-Fighting Detective #14, 1951:


Anonymous said...

that comic book certainly is lurid

Clell Frazier said...

This story is about my moms family. Its unusual to read it in a comic book form. The actual thing that happened was that Austin Cox followed my grandparents home from the fairgrounds to their house on Lincoln. My mom was with them and was 4 years old and can remember the event clearly. I also have done a bunch of research on it and have many copies of the original stories in the newspapers of the time. The truth is that Austin's ex wife was not in the home and my granparents did not know her. He knocked on the door and when my great grandmother answered it he shot her point blank in the face. He then came in the house and shot my grandmother. My mother hid under an old washing machine. The type that sits with a tub off the ground and rollers above it to wring the water out of the clothes.
Austin went out on the porch where several neighbors had come out to find out what all the commotion was about. They said "hey Bert"(my grandfathers name) "whats all the fireworks about?".. Austin said..
'Oh you want some too? and shot several of the neighbors. By then My grandfather had heard all the shooting came into the room and saw all the carnage. He turned to go to get his sidarm(he was a guard at 2nd street army depot) when Austin spotted him and shot him through the porch screen door. The double odd buckshot flew every which way which knocked out the lights to the house. Several slugs hit my grandfather. one hit him in the back of the head and another hit him in the spine. He slid down the wall right next to my mother. Austin came into the house looking to kill my mother too. he walked back and forth yelling. "if I find you, you little bastard Ill kill you too!! By the grace of God he never found my mother. I believe that due to the lights being knocked out and due to him firing a gun indoors he was deaf and unable to figure out where her crying was coming from. He gave up and left. From there he went to Judge Trueman's house and to the Ogden police station. But contrary to this story. Cox's ex wife had never lived in that house and my grandparents were unknown to him. No one ever found out why he followed my grandparents home. Or why he chose to kill them. They were unknown to him.But several people testified that they had seen him following my grandparents around the fairgrounds. This is a very interesting story and I have tried to find all the info I could about it. I think it would make a good movie or book. My mom is the only living witness to what happened on Lincoln that night

Postino said...

Clell, it's been a few years since I wrote this post and after receiving your note I had to go back and re-read it.

The people who did the comic book weren't really interested in any kind of accuracy; they just wanted some gory details to fill out six pages.

Your story is much more compelling, and I'm glad you have made a choice to find the records for posterity.

Thanks for your note.