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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

First Woman Hanged

The only enforcement of the death penalty in Lawrence County, Illinois was that of Elizabeth Reed. She was however not a resident of Lawrence County, but her case was tried there on a change of venue for Crawford County, Illinois. She was tried at the April term, 1845, held by Hon. William Wilson.


Elizabeth Reed had allegedly killed Leonard Reed, her husband, on the 15th day of August 1844, by administering poison in his food. She was indicted by the grand jury of Crawford County at the September term, 1844 but after the jail housing her burned, she was transferred to the Lawrenceville jail.

The grand jury was presided over by D. Hill, foreman, and the indictment was based upon the testimony of James M. Logan, John Wynn, Harrison Price, Eveline Deal, John Harriman, H. G Burr, N. T. Steele & Levi Shoemaker.

The prosecution was conducted by Aaron Shaw and S.S. Hayes with the defense by Messrs. French & Linder. The jury, before whom the case was tried, was composed of Lawrence County residents: Henry Sheridan, Edward Fyffe, Joshua Dudley, J. M. Morris, James V. Robinson, John L. Bass, W R Jackman, Elijah Gaddy, Emsley Wright, William Collins, James W. Corrie and Silas Moore. 

The jury of men found the defendant guilty, and the court sentenced her to hang on the 23rd day of May 1845. The painful duty of becoming her executioner devolved on a most kindhearted man, Samuel Thorn, the Sheriff.

Read the actual court documents, the biographies of those involved in the case, eyewitness accounts of the hanging itself and much more in the book: A Documentary Record of the First Woman Hanged in Illinois.

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