RIPLEY, W.Va. — A marker now stands in Jackson County at the site of the last public hanging in West Virginia which happened in Ripley on Dec. 16, 1897.
The man who was executed there was John Morgan, the killer of Chloe Greene and two of her kids — all members of a prominent Jackson County family — in the Grass Lick area.
“We don’t know the motivation behind John Morgan, but it was truly a sad occasion in Jackson County and one that really upset the entire community,” said Mike Rubin, director of the Ripley Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Rubin said Morgan, a local handyman, was a friend of the Greene family and had stayed at their home the night before the murders on Nov. 3, 1897.
“When he woke up in the morning, he went out in the farmyard with young Jimmy and he proceeded to hack him with a mattock and kill Jimmy. He went back in the house and killed young Matilda and their mother, Chloe,” Rubin explained. Another family member was attacked, but survived and alerted neighbors.
According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, Morgan was arrested, indicted, tried and convicted within days. He escaped two weeks before the hanging, but was recaptured. All told, Morgan was executed within six weeks of the murders.
More than 5,000 people were on hand in Ripley to see it. “It was described as a carnival atmosphere,” said Rubin.
On Tuesday afternoon, the historical marker for the site where it happened was dedicated near the entrance to the Jackson County Courthouse in Ripley.
“It’s important, not only for Jackson County history, but also for West Virginia history because, as tragic as it was, the murders that lead to a hanging, it represented an end of an era,” Rubin said on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
After Morgan’s hanging, with all the attention and crowds it drew, the Legislature passed a bill prohibiting public executions — making it one of the first states to take such a step.