Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Toni Jo Henry - The Woman Who went To The Chair With a Smile

There were a number of women who faced execution without fear, and it has been said that they faced up to the ultimate punishment with more courage than their male counterparts.  Some spat death in the eye.  Irene Schroeder, faced it with a Cagney-like demeanour.  Lynda Block - the last woman electrocuted - went with the contempt she held for authority and the law.  Toni Jo Henry went with a smile on her face.  Her downfall started in the late 1930`s when she was working in a San Antonio brothel.  She was also a chronic drug addict despite her good looks.  She met Claude Henry whilst working as a prostitute and was so smitten with him, she quit the brothel and married him in 1939.  The problem was that he out on bail awaiting a retrial for murder.  His first task was to help her withdraw from drugs, which he achieved by forcing her to cold turkey.  Then he was summoned back to court for the new trial.  He was convicted of killing a Police Special, Arthur Sinclair, and received 50 years.  Toni Jo publicly vowed to set him free.

    Toni Jo - real name Annie Beatrice McQuiston - recruited a man to help her in her plan.  His name was Harold Burks, a serviceman who was AWOL, but wanted to be known simply as "Arkinsaw."  He was confident they could spring Henry and acquired some guns.  They started by stopping a car and taking the driver hostage.  Joe Calloway was forced to drive into the countryside and told to strip naked.  Toni Jo told him to kneel and then shot him in the head.  Burks was horrified at this unwarranted murder and whilst stopped at Camden in Texas, he drove off, leaving her stranded.  She made her way to Shreveport in Louisiana, where she visited a brothel madam she once worked for.  The madam told her to get in touch with relatives living locally but inexplicably, she went to the Police.  She was so calm and matter-of-fact that they disbelieved her.  Until she took them to where the body of Joe Calloway still lay.  Then she handed her gun to cops.  Who was her partner she was asked.  She did not know his true name or decided to stay quiet.  She now refused to say anything about him.  They set to work and soon discovered his real name; Harold Burks.  He was soon arrested without incident.  He kept saying "She is nuts!"

    On trial for murder, Toni Jo blamed Burks for the murder of Joe Calloway but she was convicted and sentenced to death.  Burks later received the same sentence.  Toni Jo altogether had two retrials over technicalities but still she was sentenced to death.  But when her D.O.E. was set for November 28th 1942, she came clean and admitted that she alone was responsible for the murder.  Five days before her execution, Claude Henry escaped from prison, intent on saving her from death.  He was captured 66 miles away from her prison.  Authorities allowed them a final phone call.  There is a photo of a priest leading her to the death chamber.  She has a pleasant look on her face and a scarf around her head, covering where her hair had been shaved off.  The death chamber guards where stunned by her casual and cheery approach to her death.  She was the only woman to be strapped in the Louisiana chair.  Burks was despatched in March of the following year.