I‘ve found the following information about the highly controversial hanging of Joe Vuckovich in Feb. 1922, Missoula, Montana:

  • Vuckovich, reportedly a notorious ladies’ man about town, was accused of murdering Mrs. Nora Ellan Shea by shooting her in the head.  The prosecution stated she had refused to leave her husband and her baby girls for Vuckovich.  Evidence was scanty, merely that a young woman saw Vuckovich “run around a corner from the murder victim’s home with one hand under his coat, as though he may have been concealing something.”
  • Vuckovich proclaimed his innocence right to the end, with his defense counsel unsuccessfully attempting to prove that the victim’s husband, Jerry Shea, was the murderer. Vuckovich’s attorneys never had him take the stand, for reasons unknown.
  • Despite the efforts of Vuckovich’s defense and a petition to Governor Joseph M. Dixon with 5,000 signatures from Missoulians, Governor Dixon stated he would not intervene in the proceedings.  The Montana Supreme Court denied Vuckovich’s appeal and request for a re-trial.
  • Public sentiment was strongly against the hanging and thousands of Missoulians gathered outside the stockade before the execution, multiplying throughout the day and into the night. Due to threats, Sheriff Cole took extreme caution by keeping the stockade well guarded inside, outside, and on all the cross streets. Added to the controversial sentencing was the fact that the hanging itself did not go smoothly and Vuckovich died a hard death.

Ironically, the young woman whose testimony helped to hang Vuckovich would find her own husband, William Cates, in the same jail cell awaiting death by hanging thirteen years after the Vuckovich hanging.

I gathered most of this from a short bio of Sheriff Cole: http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentCenter/Home/View/8247, “GEORGE A. COLE, 30th Missoula County Sheriff. 

 

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