Mysterious Prison Artifact Resurfaces in Moundsville
Collector Says Cap May Be Part Of W.Va. Electric Chair
MOUNDSVILLE — West Virginia abolished capital punishment in 1965, but during the many years prior, 85 men lost their lives during hangings and nine others their end in the company of “Old Sparky,” the facility’s famed electric chair.
Now, a long lost piece of history from executions past has made its way back to a Moundsville museum.
According to Steve Hummel, owner of the Archive of the Afterlife at the Sanford Center, the museum now hosts an early model execution cap reportedly used at the penitentiary in Moundsville decades ago.
Hummel found the much-sought-after cap during an internet search earlier this month and began displaying it in the museum last week.
He said the artifact will add to the many eclectic haunts and spooky items in his facility.
“The items I collect are all reportedly haunted or at least tied to death. I have some prison artifacts too, so it goes with multiple facets of the museum,” Hummel said. “The main thing I pick up on from the artifact is a lot of anxiety. These individuals would have waited anywhere from 24 to 48 hours in a holding cell feet away from where they would die. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of emotion built up.”
Hummel added although the cap, which was purchased from a local family, will stay in the museum, he hopes to hold special showcases at the penitentiary.
Prior to Old Sparky’s reign, executions by hanging were held in the northern area of the facility. The first execution took place in 1899 when the state assumed the responsibility of capital punishment from the counties. Hangings continued until 1949, with a total of 85 men executed. From 1951 to 1959, nine men were electrocuted in the chair.
Although they were of different races, ages and creeds, the men were all convicted murderers — one of three offenses that could lead to the death penalty in the Mountain State at the time, along with rape and kidnapping.
Harry Burdette, 21, and Fred Painter, 31, of Kanawha County were sentenced to death in February 1951, after stomping a soft drink salesman to death on a Summers Street parking lot in Charleston in 1949 during a street brawl. Thirty-two-year-old Tom Ingram was sentenced for the butcher-knife slaying of 30-year-old Zenobia Irene Bigelow and her 7-year-old daughter, Melba Lois Bigelow.
Oschel Gardner, a 22-year-old Mason County resident, killed Roy Jackson during a robbery in the same year. Robert Hopkins, 27, bludgeoned Thomas Lantz Ervine with a lug wrench before stripping his clothes and throwing him into a cold wintry night, where he died from exposure in 1956. Eugene Linger, 29, shot and killed his robbery victim, William White, in 1957.
Twenty-five-year-old Larry Fudge was executed in 1958 for stabbing 51-year-old Inez Booth to death during a sexual assault.
The chair’s last victim, 41-year-old Edward David Brunner, was electrocuted in 1959 for the 1957 killing of Ruby Miller, whom he hammered to death following a robbery gone wrong.
Inmate Paul Glenn built the chair for the prison and was subsequently transferred to another facility following unsavory responses from fellow prisoners.
According penitentiary general manager Tom Stiles, the cap went missing sometime after the facility’s closure in 1995 and before its reopening for tours in 1998, possibly taken by a former employee or volunteer. He added although the authenticity of the cap cannot be completely confirmed due to the nature of its disappearance, it appears identical to the original cap,
“It definitely is headgear formerly used for an electric chair. It appears identical,” Stiles said. “If people are here and they see the chair and we relay that there’s a helmet at his museum, I’m sure some people might go to see (Hummel’s) exhibits. I think people also might see the cap there and come to our facility.”