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Valentine Wagner - Last Day on Earth

The Columbus Dispatch
Thursday, July 30, 1885
Transcribed by

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NOTE: Valentine Wagner was the first man executed at the Ohio State Penitentiary under the new law requiring all legal executions in the state to be be performed at that location.



Final interview with His Family--Agonizing Scenes of Grief--The prisoner Faints and is Carried to the Death Cell--Sketch of the Murderer and His Crime.

The condition of Wagner, the Morrow county murderer, who is to be hanged at the Penitentiary at three o'clock to-morrow morning, is pitiable in the extreme. He is decidedly in a worse condition to-day than on yesterday, and, if the date of execution was only a few days in the future, it is altogether probable that Wagner would join the ranks of the innumerable dead without the aid of the scaffold and rope. A great deal of his time has been spent in reading the Bible since arriving at the Penitentiary, but he is nearly past this point now. His religious views are similar to those of the Dunkards, and he has not asked for the services of a minister of the Gospel, contenting himself with the consolation secured from the holy writings. Although the time for his execution is but a few hours off, Wagner still has hopes, possibly clinging to the saying that as long as there is life there is hope. He remarked to Warden Peetrey that he yet believed the time of his taking off would be set by God and not mortal man.


It was the intention to have the family take leave of the doomed man yesterday, but his wife, two daughters, three sons and a sister were allowed to hold an interview with him in the reception room this forenoon. The scene at the meeting was


and the incidents that occurred beggar de-scription. The two daughters are young ladies, the youngest being over twenty, and the eldest probably six years her senior. The boys are about ten, twelve, and fourteen years old. Mrs. Shehan is the widow of the murdered man and an own sister of Wagner. As they entered the room, Wagner took each by the hand in an affectionate manner, the last one being the youngest boy. Wagner was seated in a chair, and as he drew the little fellow to his lap he placed one hand on the son's head, exclaiming, "my poor boy; only ten years old," sobbing all the time. He fondled the children, having the three youngest on his lap at one time. The guards and Warden were present at the time, and all were visibly affected. While the children were seated upon the lap of their father, other members of the family were grouped about Wagner.


During the time of the interview, and while Wagner was surrounded by his family, Rev. I. H. DeBruin, ex-Chaplain at the Prison, was admitted to the reception room. Mr. DeBruin addressed Wagner in a few well chosen and sympathetic words, remarking that he did not want the unfortunate man, in this hour of affliction, to feel that he was without a friend. Wagner listened attentively to the words of the minister, and when he had concluded, requested that prayer be offered. Here the man's peculiar religious ideas mad themselves apparent. He asked the minister to pray, but remarked that it was not necessary to kneel, as it was not the manner or form of prayer, but the spirit in which it was offered. In accordance with his desire, Rev. DeBruin, in fervent words, invoked the blessing of God, while the family remained grouped about Wagner, in the same positions as occupied by them when the minister entered. It was about eleven o'clock when the interview ended, and the family took a last farewell of the husband, father and brother. Mrs. Shehan, wife of the murdered man, apparently felt as bad over the approaching death of Wagner, as did the other members of the family.


The cell heretofore occupied by Wagner is located on the ground floor and is known as No. 1, first A. It is immediately under No. 1, second A, which is known as the death cell. The latter is adjoining the door leading to the scaffold, and is the last one to be occupied by those sentenced to death, as they are taken from this direct to the place of execution. In order to reach this cell it is necessary to ascend a flight of stairs, consisting of about ten steps. After Wagner's family had left, he passed from the reception room, through the execution room into the prisoners's apartment, and started for the cell on the ground floor. He was told by Guard Parr that he would have to go up the steps and into the death cell. At this announcement Wagner was completely overcome and fainted away, being unable to ascend a single step. It took three men to carry him to the cell and place him in bed. He has not eaten anything since day before yesterday, and all efforts to get him to take nourishment were unsuccessful. Several times during the last two days he has fainted. He is continually watched by one of the guards, Mr. parr, being assisted by Mr. Peter McCaffrey. Yesterday he was shaved and it was necessary to hold him up while this was being done.

Warden Peetry says he has witnessed many affecting scenes, but this was the most pathetic he ever looked upon.


Valentine Wagner, the first murderer to be executed under the new law, at the time the crime was committed, was fifty-five years of age, and was born in Germany, but with the exception of the earlier years of his boyhood had always resided in Perry township, Morrow county, where by hard labor and good management he had accumulated a property worth upwards of $20,000. He had for many years been addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors, and when under the influence was quarrelsome in the extreme and constantly engaged in broils, from which his money had invariably extricated him.


for which this old and decrepid [sic.] man will to-morrow morning yield up his life as the penalty, and the circumstances connected therewith, were briefly as follows: In the summer of 1880, Mrs. Elizabeth Sigler, a widow, whose years were on the declining side of the forties, and who was a sister of Wagner, married an Irishman named Shehan, about ten years her junior. Rumor had it that this marriage was contracted on the part of Shehan for the purpose of obtaining possession of a fine tract of land belonging to Mrs. Sigler.

In the spring of 1881 the difficulty occurred which terminated in the death of Shehan, who had previously approached Wagner on the subject of influencing his sister, Shehan's wife, to place her signature to a deed conveying her land to himself. This proposition so incensed Wagner that a spirited quarrel ensued and a family feud was commenced which culminated in a cold-blooded murder.

A short time before the commission of the crime Mr[s]. Shehan, finding life unbearable liege lord, instituted proceedings for divorce, but was persuaded by her husband to withdraw the suit and make one more attempt to live in peace and harmony. This reconciliation aroused the already incensed Wagner to such a pitch of anger that he determined to take the matter in his own hands and put and end to it; and on Sunday, the 17th day of December, 1882, he went to a neighboring town, and, returning the next day, drove directly to the house of his brother-in-law, Daniel Shehan. It was late in the evening, and the family had retired; but after repeated kicks and beating upon the doors the lady of the house was aroused, and was greeted by her infuriated brother, who was under the influence of liquor, with the gruff salutation of "Well, know are you and your Irish blood getting [next line missing]

[previous line missing] arose and an altercation at once ensued between the two men, Shehan at length observing, "Well remember, I won't forget you nor your threats." The words had scarcely escaped him when Wagner drew from his pocket a large, self-cocking revolver and fired at his brother-in-law, the ball taking effect in the center of the left breast. The wounded man's wife interceded for his husband, but Wagner, determined on killing him, fired a second shot, which penetrated just above the knee of the retreating victim, who advanced a few steps, fell to the floor and expired in about thirty minutes, after which the murderer coolly walked to his conveyance and drove home.

On the following morning Wagner gave himself up to the authorities and was confined in the county bastile to await trial. At the January term 1883, of the common pleas court, a bill of indictment for murder in the first degree was found against the prisoner, and the trial for his life commenced. At the April term 1883, a motion was filed to quash the indictment, on technical grounds but the motion was overruled. Several days were consumed in the selection of a jury, the trial, etc., and finally a verdict of murder in the first degree, and the murderer was sentenced to be hanged in the jail of Morrow county, Friday, July 11th, 1884. A higher court was appealed to, and the case remanded back to district court, which in view of its approaching dissolution had not sufficient time for trial, and accordingly suspended sentence; this court, however, refused to grant a new trial, and under the new law the prisoner was again sentenced to be hanged at the Ohio Penitentiary on the 31st day of July, 1885, and the Governor having declined to interfere either by reprieve or commutation the sentence will be carried into effect between the hours of 12 and 3 o'clock Friday morning.

After receiving his first death sentence, the doomed man gave himself up entirely to melancholy and entreaties with visitors to save him from the impending doom, his supplications being distressing in the extreme. As the time grew near for carrying out the sentence, the prisoner was broken in health, and prematurely an old man, for eleven successive days refusing to partake of either food or drink, desiring to end his earthly career by starvation, and thus cheat the gallows. When the technicality in the law was discovered, the murderer acquainted with the delay of the execution, his spirits revived, and during the intervening months relished victuals and drank with his wonted appetite, seaming desirous to grow strong in the hopes of a long life in the future.

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