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McKinley issues stay for two men later hung anyway

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series marking the 120th anniversary of Niles native William McKinley’s U.S. presidency.

On Aug. 10, 1900, two convicted murderers were scheduled to be hanged in Arizona. On Aug. 8, President William McKinley granted them a stay of execution.

William and Thomas Halderman were brothers who had recently crossed the threshold of adulthood. In the spring of 1899, they were at home when Deputy Sherriff Chester L. Ainsworth and a young man named Ed Moore arrested them for shooting cattle on the range. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Haldermans seemed compliant and requested to return to their cabin briefly. Ainsworth granted their request.

The Haldermans returned with rifles. Witnesses later testified that they fired the first shots, killing Ainsworth and mortally wounding Moore. Moore fired four shots before fleeing to his home. He died hours later.

The fugitives fled on horseback, pursued by a posse of ranchers and lawmen. In a Los Angeles Times article, one reporter wondered why the brothers reacted so violently to being charged with such a minor crime.

The Haldermans were soon captured in New Mexico and extradited to Arizona to stand trial.

In June 1899, the brothers were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. They appealed their case but lost. New evidence surfaced: Key witnesses for the prosecution revealed they had lied on the witness stand because Moore’s family had bribed someone to intimidate them. They now stated that Moore had previously threatened to kill the Haldermans and that it was Moore, not Halderman, who fired first. A separate witness also testified about Moore’s threats. The brothers’ lawyer asked that their sentence be commuted.

Meanwhile, there was a jailbreak at the prison where the Haldermans were being held. In April 1900, a man shot the guard and escaped with two other inmates. Rather than seizing the opportunity to flee, the Haldermans remained at the prison and helped the wounded deputy. After this incident, the county sheriff asked that they be shown mercy.

When the request for commutation was denied, the case was quickly brought to Washington. On Aug. 8, two days before the brothers were scheduled to be hanged, McKinley issued a stay of execution so Arizona Gov. Nathan Murphy could review the case.

Meanwhile, the scaffold meant for the Haldermans was dismantled by four female prisoners, who used the materials to build a ladder, scale the wall of the prison yard and escape. They attempted to reach the railroad but were caught before arriving at their destination.

In September, more new evidence was presented. A. C. Smith, who issued the brothers’ original arrest warrants, swore in an affidavit that it was Moore who provided the information against the brothers and that it was Moore, not the Haldermans, who shot the cattle.

In October, the brothers were granted another stay of execution so their attorney could gather new evidence. This reprieve, like the one granted by McKinley 120 years ago this week, merely delayed the inevitable. On Nov. 16, 1900, at 20 and 23 years of age, the Halderman brothers were hanged.

Thomas, the younger of the two, showed no fear and even fitted the noose around his own neck. William seemed more agitated and concerned for Thomas, whose innocence he maintained to the last.

Audra Dull is a librarian at McKinley Memorial Library and the coordinator for the McKinley Birthplace Home.

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