Wayne County, West Virginia Execution

When researching for this week’s article, I came across a fact that, to be honest, shocked me a bit, in the entire history of Wayne County, West Virginia, there has only been one sanctioned execution in our history. This is not to say there wasn’t an “eye for an eye” justice, or vigilante justice throughout our history, but only once has a court of law in our county carried out a proper execution. When combing through the newspaper archives with the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, I found a few accounts of the event, the most detailed being from our very own Wayne County News in the February 7, 1924 edition.
Laban T. Walker was a young man born in Catlettsburg and was left by his father at birth. Being raised by his mother was so taboo at the time that he caught endless amounts of grief from his classmates according to multiple accounts. His mother, fearing she would raise a coward, decided to gift the boy two weapons in his early teens, a knife and 22 calibur pistol. According to eye-witness Kinsey B. Lewis, his mother told him to “shoot and cut your way out” of any scrapes he got into. With his background and upbringing, it is little wonder that Waker was a violent young man who tended to settle his disagreements with his fists, or worse.
On August 21, 1878, Walker was out with friends for a day, enjoying the sun at Virginia Point. While at the Point, an altercation between Walker and Patrick Nolan. Following his Mother’s advice, Walker decided to shoot his way out of the situation, killing Nolan on the spot. Walker fled across the Ohio River but was quickly caught later that night. Walker lingered in the criminal justice system for over a year, finally being found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.
The date of the hanging was set for November 28, 1879. Between seven and ten thousand people congregated at Wayne to watch the spectacle. Fistfights and arguments erupted throughout the foggy, dreary day as the crowd impatiently awaited their main event. Finally, at 2 p.m. Walker was led from the Wayne jail and ascended the scaffold; his last words were “OH! I don’t wanna go up those!” Referring to the steps of the gallows. The black hood r55was placed over his head, and as an eye witness stated, “so ends the life of a human being in the vigor and health of manhood.”

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About TheOddPast by Matthew A. Perry

Writer, teacher, broadcaster, and podcaster from West Virginia. I write about and discuss the wacky and weird side of history on my website www.theoddpast.com and my podcast "The Odd Past Podcast" available everywhere