Wednesday, August 09, 2006

8/9/06- An Easy Death

Auburn Prison. March 30, 1908. 3:45 am.

Two guards entered the cell block known as "Murderer's Row" and walked to the cell closest to a large metal door containing a room where no prisoner would ever return. Once they arrived, they awoke the prisoner that resided in that cell and handed him a new prison uniform. This uniform was designed with slits in the sleeves and trouser legs to allow the electrode straps to be fastened to the prisoner's wrists and ankles before the prisoner was executed.

Two hours later, the guards came back and announced that it was time for the prisoner to be led to the electric chair. The other cells on Murderer's Row had to close a curtain over each cell to prevent the other inmates from seeing what was going on, but they didn't need to see what was going on, for soon it would be their turn. Then, Chester Gillette stepped out of his cell along with his spiritual adviser, the Reverend Henry MacIllravy of Little Falls and the prison chaplain to begin the final walk to the electric chair.

The witnesses were all gathered in the execution chamber to see Chester pay the ultimate penalty for the murder of his pregnant lover, Grace Brown. Among them was Austin Klock, who by then was Sheriff of Herkimer County. He was there because Chester wanted him to be there to witness his execution. Representing Grace and her family at the execution was Dr. J. Mott Crumb, the South Otselic town doctor and husband of her teacher and best friend. They could hear the two clergymen reciting the 23rd Psalm as the small procession entered the chamber ahead of Chester, who was flanked by the two guards.

As he did at his trial, Chester displayed no emotion as he calmly walked to the chair and sat down. The guards fastened the straps to his wrists and ankles and fastened the metal cap to his head.

At 6:14 am, the warden gave the order to proceed. The execution threw the switch sending 1800 volts of electricity through the wires to the chair. The witnesses then saw Chester lurch suddenly in the chair and his body shuddered continuously for about a minute before the warden gave the order to cut the power. After the power was turned off, Chester slumped back into the chair. The doctors then examined his body to make sure that the execution was successful.

By 6:18 am, it was official. Chester Ellsworth Gillette became the twenty-seventh victim of Auburn's electric chair. He was only 24 years old. He had been in Auburn for fifteen months.

After the execution, Klock made a statement that he was relieved that Chester was finally out of his misery, while Dr. Crumb commented that he had never seen anything as easy as Chester's execution. The prison officials stated that Chester's execution was the most successful execution in the prison's history. MacIllravy gave the press Chester's final statement (which did not contain a confession) and stated that no legal mistake was made in his execution.

After an autopsy was performed in which his brain was removed, Chester's body was returned to his family for burial. The next day, accompanied by his family and MacIllravy, Chester's body was taken to Soule Cemetery, on the outskirts of Auburn and was buried in an unmarked grave. To this day, no one really knows where it is. A couple of days later, Chester's family gathered Chester's final belongings and left New York State only to fade into history.

Grace Brown remained buried in Valley View Cemetery in South Otselic, where she was buried the day after Chester's arrest in Inlet. Unlike Chester, her grave has a headstone which says that she is "at rest."

Or is she?

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