JRN: IL-MO: 1866 The Waterloo Advocate

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  • Title JRN: IL-MO: 1866 The Waterloo Advocate 
    Short Title JRN: IL-MO: 1866 The Waterloo Advocate 
    Source ID S250 

    The Waterloo Advocate

    June 1866

    The Death Pena[l]ty
    Gabriel Forsee, The Murderer
    He Makes No Confession
    Scenes at the Gallows

    On Saturday, the 2d day of June, 1866, Gabriel Forsee, who was convicted of the murder of Elizabeth Darwin, a widow living in Randolph county, Ills., at the last term of the Monro county Circuit Court, wither the case had been brought for trial by change of venue from Randolph county, suffered death by hanging by the neck, according to the sentence of the said court.

    From the testimony given during the trial, it would seem that Forsee, on the night of the 19th of July, 1865, went to the house of Mrs. Darwin for the purpose of adultery, but because of her resistance to his infamous proposals, he killed her, probably hoping that by adding murder to his list of crimes, he would thereby destroy all evidence of his villainy, and thus escape the just and righteous retribution of the violated laws of the State, and of decency. It is probable that he would have succeeded, but for the testimony of a little girl, who occupied the same apartment with Mrs. Darwin, and who was aroused from her sleep by the sound of excited voices in the room. In her testimony she stated that, by the aid of the light which she had procured, she was enabled to see the person in the room, and she identified the prisoner at the bar as the same person who had murdered her mother.

    A strange fatality seems to have pursued the Darwin family. John Darwin, the husband of the lady murdered last July by Forsee, having suffered death at the hands of assassins, who it is supposed were instigated by the hopes of the money which is thought he had with him. Circumstances tended strongly throw suspicion upon Forsee for the commission of this crime, but, as no positive evidence could be produced of his guilt, he was not arrested.


    Notwithstanding the hard rain storm, which prevailed from early morning until almost noon, and which soon flooded our streets with mud and water, the people poured into town from every direction to witness the execution, and by noon a large concourse of people had assembled, and our town was full to overflowing with persons who had come to bear witness of the supremacy of law over brute force and fiendish might. The crowd, though very large—estimated by some as fifteen hundred—was orderly and quiet. In this respect it was unlike the assembling of people on similar occasions, where generally the worst and most desperate characters for miles about the county congregate for the purposes of plying their nefarious practices. The precautions adopted by Sheriff Wilson and his deputies, most probably was the cause of the quiet and order which was a notable feature during the day. There was no excitement, no rowdyism, and very little drunkenness.


    Was an admirably planned and well constructed engine of death. It was erected between the Court House and jail, and was so arranged as to give a view of the convict, when standing on the trap, from the knees upward. This was so arranged, that spectators, standing in the square, on the north or south side of the scaffold, might have a view of the prisoner and that any thing he might have to say.

    From early in the day the people, in twos and threes, flocked about it to witness the completion of the arrangements, and to examine the details of an instrument which, to many of them, was a thing they had never seen. After they had examined it to their satisfaction, they quietly departed, knowing the execution would not take place until after the arrival of the mail from St. Louis.


    Was a man about five feet six inches tall, rather heavy frame, though not what would be called a fleshy man, with bristly hair and beard. His countenance wore a rather sinister expression, which was added to by a low, narrow forehead. The cold, glittering grey eyes, and thin, compressed upper lip, showed a cool calculator of desperate chances, with a will and determination to attempt anything, no matter how infamous or dangerous, when once his mind was made up to it. His appearance, all in all, would indicate to even the casual observer, a man without any principle, and one who was capable of any deed, no matter how horrible, if its commission would advance his own selfish ends.

    His record had been one of crime and lawlessness from his youth. A gentleman from Randolph county, with whom we held converse on the day of execution, and who has known Forsee since boyhood, informed us that, as a youth, he had been noted in the neighborhood in which he lived for viciousness and that he was always looked upon as a suspicious and dangerous character, by the law and order loving citizens. He had served one term of imprisonment in the penitentiary of this State, where he had been sent from Randolph county for horse stealing, and had been at liberty only two or three months previous to the commission of this last most horrible crime which he expiated with his life.

    He was married, and was the father of two children. His wife, as also does his mother, resides in Randolph county. So firm were their convictions of his guilt, and such was their detestation of the crime and criminal, that they refused to visit him during his confinement, or to hold any communication with him whatever.

    Under the faithful and untiring ministrations of Father Limacher, of the Catholic Church of this place, since his conviction and sentence, he was induced to seek forgiveness for his sins by supplication and earnest prayer to that Judge who doeth all things well—who noteth the fall of a sparrow. The priest visited him in his cell on the morning of the execution, and he said that he felt that God was merciful to him, and that his sins were forgiven.

    He asserted his innocence of the crime for which he was to suffer death, and refused to make a confession.

    On the morning of the execution, Forsee made a statement, in which he accused certain parties, whom he named and described, of the murder of John Darwin. He gave the location of certain papers and articles which he said would substantiate his statement. Sheriff McBride, of Randolph county, will immediately proceed to the place designated by Forsee, and in the event of his finding the papers referred to, the entire statement will be published. Otherwise , the accusations will be taken only as an attempt on the part of a convicted felon to gain time, and, perhaps, through the means of false accusations, to escape the death he so richly merited.


    By twelve o’clock all the final arrangements had been completed, and the people began to gather around the scaffold in a dense crowd, but were prevented from approaching too close by a chain which passed from the Court House to the jail on either side, the inside of which was patrolled by a special police force. The platform of the scaffold was occupied by the jury and other witnesses required by law. A short delay was now occasioned, by the non-arrival of the mail, which did not get in until one o’clock. It containing no reprieve for the doomed man, he was taken from the prison and conducted to the place of execution at one o’clock and forty-five minutes, attended by his spiritual adviser. He was clad in the habiliments of death—a white shroud—and, although he was pale and haggard, he exhibited no signs of weakness, and declined the use of a chair which was offered him by the sheriff. He had evidently determined to die game, and with much fortitude he made good his resolution. His arms were bound behind him before he was brought from his cell. Immediately after arriving at the scaffold the death warrant was read by Deputy Sheriff Rice, and at its conclusion, Father Limacher petitioned the Throne of Grace, before which the soul of the doomed man was so shortly to appear, asking that mercy, which the Son promised all who should repent, be shown unto this erring one. At the conclusion of the prayer, the convict was moved forward on the trap, his feet were firmly bound, the white cap drawn over his head, and the fatal noose adjusted about his neck. At six minutes till two o’clock the trap was sprung, leaving the body fall seven feet, and the soul of Gabriel Forsee, the murderer, was started on its journey to that land from whence no traveller returns. A slight struggling of the body ensued, which lasted one minute and a quarter, when, with one convulsive shiver and spasmodic upheaving of the breast, it ceased, and the spirit was gone. In seven minutes after the springing of the trap, the physicians in attendance gave it as their opinion that life had departed and he was dead. To ensure death he was, however, left hanging twenty-one minutes longer, when the rope was cut, and the body place in a neat coffin for burial. From the time of his leaving the prison until the body was cut down, just thirty-seven minutes had passed.

    The appearance of the features, on the removal of the white cap, were found to be but slightly changed; with the exception of the death pallor which overspread the face, and the lips, which had slightly parted, no change was visible. The eye lids remained open, and the eyes retained their natural brilliancy and life-like expression.

    The coffin containing the body was placed on chairs between the scaffold and Court House, and the lid removed, when the crowd was permitted to walk past and see all that remained of the murderer, Gabriel Forsee; after which the remains were conveyed to the Catholic graveyard and there interred.

    Linked to Elizabeth Ann BURNS
    John Granville DARWIN 

  • Documents
    The Waterloo Advocate (Monroe County, IL): Execution of Gabriel Forsee - P.1
    The Waterloo Advocate (Monroe County, IL): Execution of Gabriel Forsee - P.1
    The Waterloo Advocate (Monroe County, IL): Execution of Gabriel Forsee - P.2
    The Waterloo Advocate (Monroe County, IL): Execution of Gabriel Forsee - P.2

  •  Notes 
    • copy kindly provided by Michael Atchison