Dayton’s Last Hanging

Harry Adams seemed to be on the right path for the first time in his life. Born as Francis Daniel Spealman, he had a tumultuous past involving running away from home and a life of crime, including jail time. Finally, using his acquired skill as a shoemaker, he was able to land a job as a cobbler for St. Mary’s School in Dayton. Although he was known to enjoy the drink, the consistent work kept him out of trouble. That is, until he met a woman named Lou Huffman.

Huffman was proprietor and madam to a house on Pearl Street in Dayton’s Red Light District. It did not take long for Harry to fall in love with her and move into her house. He helped Huffman operate her business and was available to her every beck and call.

It was during this time that a soldier named Henry Mulharen (also spelled Mulharon) was making his way to Dayton after receiving a $50 pension (a sum equivalent to nearly $900 today). Mulharen planned to visit the Soldier’s Home to get treatment for an injury he received as a soldier in the Civil War. Mulharen and a friend of his, a man named Woodward, met Adams at the brothel, where he introduced them to Jennie Smith, one of the girls working there.

After seeing the large amount of money that Mulharen carried, Adams suggested that they go out drinking together, intent on procuring that money for himself. Adams was said to have threatened bodily harm to Woodward if he attempted to join the group outing, so Jennie, Adams, and Mulharen went out.

Over the course of the night, as they made their way from bar to bar, Adams approached two men and asked them for help mugging Mulharen. They declined, and later that night he asked two young boys the same favor, to which he was denied again.

At every saloon it was the same story. The three came in, drank a lot, and Mulharen paid the bill. At the last saloon on Brown Street, the group became rowdy, and they were asked to leave. When they decided to part ways for the evening, Jennie started toward home and saw Adams running to catch up to Mulharen, who had started walking into an alley near Oak Street.

Minutes later, Adams ran to catch up to her, and handed her a bloody hammer and instructed her to run home and give it to Huffman to dispose of it. He also warned her to do it quietly, stating, “dead men tell no tales.

Running back to the body, Adams attempted to pick his pockets of the last of his cash, but as someone approached, he changed his demeanor and started screaming that someone had been killed. When police rushed to the scene, Adams offered to run for a doctor. When he returned to the scene of the crime, he was quickly arrested. Jennie told police about the hammer and what he said to her, and the evidence piled up against Adams.

Court appointed attorneys tried to accuse Jennie of the crime during the trial, and when that didn’t work, attempted to enter a plea of insanity for Adams, noting an incident in which he had committed acts of violence against an alley cat. Lou Huffman testified against Jennie Smith, saying she had never received any bloody hammer from her, and told of a checkered past that Jennie was hiding.

Despite the multiple accounts by people who knew Adams and who had witnessed him doing similar acts, Adams was determined to be sane and guilty of murder. He was sentenced to be hanged on June 15, 1877.

While Adams sat on death row, he continued to claim his innocence and blame Jennie for the murder. He said that he provided the hammer, but Jennie was the one who had used it.

Adams did not hesitate as he was walked to the scaffold on the day of his execution. He had been given a substantial amount of alcohol to calm his nerves, and he was composed as he delivered his last words, blaming Jennie for the death of Henry Mulharen. As the black cap was being placed over his heads, Adams uttered one last statement:

My last word as I feel the rope is that Jennie Smith’s the murderess of the soldier Mulharen.

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