Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hanging of Crawford, Lavinia, and John Burnett

Crawford Burnett and Lavinia Sharp were married in Patrick County, Virginia, on December 29, 1810. They went on the have at least four sons and three daughters, but the only ones whose names are known were John, born about 1811, and Minerva, born about 1820. Sometime after 1820, the family moved to Kentucky, and from there they moved to the Fayetteville, Arkansas, area sometime before 1845.
On August 12, 1845, a man living near Fayetteville named Jonathan Sibley or Selby was killed, and suspicion almost immediately attached to the Burnetts. They were thought to have killed Selby for his money, since he was known to keep large sums of cash on his property. A fifteen-year-old daughter of the Burnetts soon confessed that her parents had, indeed, planned the murder and that her brother, John, had carried it out.
The couple was arrested, but John fled the territory. Crawford and Lavinia were tried in early October of 1845, and on October 11 both were found guilty and sentenced to death for being conspirators before the fact in the murder of Selby. A gallows was built on a hill south of Fayetteville. On November 8, 1845, the condemned man and his wife were marched up the gallows and dropped into eternity in a double hanging that was reportedly attended by almost everybody for miles around. Lavinia was the first woman legally executed in Arkansas and one of the few who has ever been put to death by the state.
Shortly afterwards, John Burnett was captured in Missouri and brought back to Arkansas for trial. He, too, was convicted, and on December 26, he was hanged from the same gallows from which his parents had been executed a month and a half earlier.
The hill where the three were hanged became known as Gallows Hill and was supposedly used for executions until the Civil War. After the war, it was taken over by the government and became part of the National Cemetery.


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