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Rankin Family History Project

James Layton


The most atrocious crime ever committed in (the)county was the murder of Mary Layton by her husband, James Layton, in January, 1841. He was an habitual drinker, and very quarrelsome.

He became enraged at his wife for not preparing his meals to suit him, and beat her to death with a billet of wood, in the presence of their little son, a lad eight or ten years old. Layton made his escape, but was arrested in Wayne County.

He obtained a change of venue to St. Francois County, where he was convicted, and sentenced to hang on the 17th of June, 1843.

At the appointed time several hundred people from Perry and St. Francois Counties assembled to witness the hanging, but, just before the hour of execution arrived, a reprieve was brought to the sheriff by the attorney for the defense, Ed. M. Holden. This greatly incensed the crowd, as the murder had been a most brutal one, and there was no doubt as to the guilt of the accused.

The cry of "hang him anyway!" was set up, and spread through the crowd. A few advised allowing the law to take its course. It was therefore decided to take a vote upon the question.

Accordingly all those in favor of immediate hanging betook themselves to one side of the public square, and those opposed to the other side. The party in favor of hanging carried the day by a large majority, and Layton was taken from the jail and hung to a beam placed across the "stray pen" on the public square in Farmington.

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The Goodspeed Publishing Company compiled a series of histories of various counties in the U.S. in the late 19th century. The information in the History of Southeast Missouri, published in 1888, was provided by the contemporary residents of Perry County and her neighboring counties. The biographies are a valuable source of genealogical information, despite a few minor inaccuracies. We are glad to present the transcribed biographies here for anyone researching Perry County's history.

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