The 1872 Charles Russell case split the city over the death penalty, pitted minister against minister, and sold a lot of newspapers.  At first glance it seems like an odd choice.

Neither Charles Russell nor his victim, James “short haired Jimmy” Crotty could be considered peace-loving citizens. Russell, a convicted burglar and San Quentin alumnus, had been recently arrested for drawing a deadly weapon. Crotty, a political thug, had been recently jailed for assault.  But fate brought them together on August 2 of that year with fatal results. 

Russell and Crotty were drinking together in Cady’s saloon when Russell started reminiscing about the bad old days. Russell accused Crotty of being a robber, Crotty reminded Russell of his time in prison. Both men started fighting and threatened each other but were quickly separated. Russell left the bar, had dinner and ran into a friend.  The men returned to Cady’s a few hours later. Russell  saw Crotty standing at the bar, facing the bartender .  Russell walked up to the bar, pulled out a gun and shot Crotty in the head, morally wounding him. Russell was arrested the next day and charged with murder. 

At his trial, in January of 1873, Russell claimed that he thought that Crotty was reaching for a gun and shot him in self-defense. But the bartender and others testified that Crotty never saw Russell until he was shot.  The jury took only an hour to find him guilty of first-degree murder. But by the time of his sentence, just a few weeks later the tone of the press coverage had changed.

“He was neatly dressed, but looked haggard and dejected.  He wore a light overcoat, dark pants and coat and his whole appearance was quite tasty,” pronounced the San Francisco Chronicle. As Judge Dwinelle pronounced the death sentence he described Russell as “..a young man in the  prime of life, with a countenance beaming with intelligence who might have been an ornament to society..”  Russell’s gentlemanly appearance and his forlorn situation, alone, friendless, and facing imminent death, brought him much sympathy. His service in the civil war, where he fought in many battles and was promoted to the rank of Sergeant, also helped change public opinion.

Then new allegations arose. Before the murder Russell had been working for and living at the house of James Page, a restaurant owner who had helped Russell after his release from prison. In February Page discovered that Russell had been having an affair with his wife.   Page gave the newspapers an intimate letter, which Charles had written to his wife from his jail cell.

“In the depths of woe and darkness
To my lost idol-my pet. What might have been, I know is not.
What must be, must be borne- But ah! what has been, will not be
Forget? Never! …Henceforth, I am alone, alone!  I have seen my first
and holiest love depart, and the hand of death is creeping on my heart…
Though you should look back upon your love for me as foolish, still I will be with you, and my love will ever be the same for eternity.”

Two weeks later in a fit of jealousy Page shot his wife and killed himself.  Mrs. Page survived and continued to visit Russell in his jail cell.

Despite this news Russell’s support continued to grow.  In June Russell became a born again Christian. Ministers, delighted by the redemption of a notorious sinner, flocked to his side. One minister in particular, Rev Dr Carpenter, became obsessed with the case and believed all Russell’s claims of innocence. Carpenter, along with two women missionaries stayed with Russell almost constantly during the last two weeks of Russell’s life.  On execution day Carpenter went so far as to mount the scaffold, stand on the trap and put his head in the noose.

Russell’s execution, on July 25th was a social event. Hundreds of visitors invited by the sheriff crowded around the gallows. After the hanging Dr Carpenter angrily called it “Murder most foul!” and spoke accusingly to newspaper reporters who he said had lied about Russell.  

Carpenter’s behavior ignited a storm of angry criticism from fellow ministers  and others who had a more Old Testament view of justice and a less forgiving view of murder. 

As a result, Dr Carpenter’s views  on capital punishment became increasingly vague and Charles Russell faded from public memory.



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02/02/2017 10:38pm

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02/05/2017 8:17am

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02/06/2017 5:18am

Hmm, it was pretty interesting to read this article. Keep on sharing such posts here.

Mystery and thriller type of blog. Charles Russell deserves the execute he is in too. The public memory will be easily faded because he didn't do anything worthy for people to remember him. Page is the guy who needs pity because after helping Russell, Mrs. Page have an affair with Russell. James Page shouldn't do it to himself because of love. But when it comes to love people are easily blinded by it.

02/16/2017 3:30am

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03/16/2017 12:54am

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