Tales of the Gallows: The First Hanging in Chicago

There were three public hangings in Chicago – far fewer than most people think. The first was in 1840, and was the hanging of a fellow known as John Stone – it was in the middle of what was then the prairie, but is probably close to where Chinatown is today on the near-south side.

Stone was charged with the murder of a young woman. The main evidence against him was that shortly after the woman’s death, he had set fire to his clothes.

When asked why, he had explained that they were too dirty to wear. Just how dirty clothes had to get before a woods-dwelling logger in 1840 would burn them doesn’t bear thinking about.

“Why, then,” asked the prosecuting attorney, “didn’t you burn your shirt?”

“Because there was no blood on it,” said Stone, carelessly. It was a slip of the tongue that sealed his fate.

A full account of his crime, his hanging, and life in Chicago as of 1840 is in “FATAL DROP: True Tales of the Chicago Gallows” by Weird Chicago historian William Griffith – it’s due out Jan 9th. We’ll be posting LOTS of stories from here around then, including some FANTASTIC stuff that’s NEVER been in Chicago crime/ghost book before!

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