Richard Hawes

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Richard Hawes

Richard R. Hawes (died February 28, 1890) was a Georgia Pacific railroad engineer from Atlanta, Georgia who was hanged in 1890 for the 1888 murder of his wife, Emma and two daughters, May (7) and Irene (6) in Birmingham. His son, Willie, survived him in the care of relatives in Georgia.

Hawes eloped with the former Emma Pettis, daughter of Colonel William Pettis, a businessman from Atlanta. He claimed when interviewed in the jail after his arrest to have caught her in infidelity and filed for divorce in 1886. According to him, the divorce, which took 2 years to complete in Georgia, took effect in October 1888.

Having previously resided at 207 23rd Street North, he moved his family at some point to a cottage on 32nd Street and Avenue F near Lakeview Park. While he was out of town on the railroad, Emma was known to be subject to alcoholism, and the elder daughter May often had to take charge of the household. A mulatto neighbor, Fannie Bryant, helped with cooking and cleaning.

After dispensing with his family in Birmingham, Hawes travelled to Mississippi where he exchanged vows with Mayes Story at her father's home in Columbus. Only hours after the ceremony, and still wearing his church clothes, Hawes was taken into custody by Birmingham police when his train stopped in Birmingham on the way to Augusta, Georgia. Upon learning of the evidence against her new husband, Mayes filed for her own divorce and petitioned the State of Mississippi to reclaim her maiden name.

She testified against Hawes in an inquiry on December 7, 1888. Richard had told her that he was divorced and the father of one son and that his ex-wife lived with relatives in New York. He wrote to Mayes from jail apologizing for lying about May, and saying that she was to be placed in a convent.

On December 8, after the second daughter which Richard had still not spoken of was found chained at the bottom of Lakeview Lake, a thousand or so of the unsettled citizens of Birmingham descended on the jail to dispense swift justice. Sheriff Joseph S. Smith authorized his deputies to fire on the crowd and they did, killing ten.

Prior to his trial, Hawes' attorneys moved for a change in venue, citing the publication of a best-selling book sensationalizing the case. The motion was denied. In the end his trial was swift, lasting less than two weeks and requiring only a few hours of deliberation before a guilty verdict was returned. In May 1889, Hawes was sentenced to hang by the neck. An appeal to the Supreme Court of Alabama was rejected. He spent his time in jail attempting to frame John Wylie and other people for the crimes, but confessed in a letter to Mayes that the stories were false.

Before sentence was carried out, W. B. Simpson, a circus manager from St Louis offered to purchase Hawes for exhibit in his sideshow. No deal was struck, and Hawes, dressed nattily with a geranium in his lapel, was hanged by Sheriff Smith on February 28, 1890 just after noon. He wrote to his brother, Jim, blaming whiskey and Emma's morals for his descent into criminality.

Hawes body was taken to Atlanta in a locked coffin accompanied by his brother, who arranged for his burial in an unmarked grave in their family plot.

See also


  • "Hawes-Story" wedding announcement (December 6, 1888) The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana)
  • West, Goldsmith B. (1888) The Hawes Horror Birmingham
  • "Dick Hawes Hanged for the Murder of his Wife and Little Girls: History of the Blackest Crime That Blackens the Pages of Criminal History With the Sensational Features of the Case. Hawe's Neck Broken." (February 28, 1890) Dallas Times Herald. [1] - accessed April 10, 2006
  • Northrup, Jeff. (1978) "The Hawes Riot: All the News Unfit to Print." Journal of the Birmingham Historical Society. Vol. 5, No. 4
  • Northrup, Jeff (1979) "The Hawes Affair, Part II." Journal of the Birmingham Historical Society. Vol. 6, No. 1
  • Jones, Pam. (Spring 2006) "The Hawes Murders." Alabama Heritage No. 80, pp. 34-40

External links