William Williams (murderer)

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For other people named William Williams, see William Williams (disambiguation).

William Williams (1877 – 13 February 1906) was the last person executed by Minnesota. The circumstances of his execution helped lead to the abolition of capital punishment in Minnesota.

Williams was a Cornish immigrant working as a miner in Saint Paul, Minnesota. While hospitalized for diphtheria in 1904, Williams befriended John Keller, a local teenager who was recovering from the same disease. Williams and Keller developed a close homosexual relationship. Over the next two years they boarded together in St. Paul and took two trips to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada together. Keller's father did not approve of the relationship, and told his son that he was no longer permitted to travel with Williams. Johnny Keller returned to live at his parents' house.

In 1905, Williams had sent Keller a number of letters expressing love for him and requesting that Keller join him in Winnipeg; however, the letters went unanswered at Mr. and Mrs. Keller's insistence. Williams returned to Saint Paul in April 1905 and in a fit of rage shot and killed Johnny Keller and his mother at their house. Johnny Keller was killed instantly when he was shot in the back of the head in his bed and his mother died from her injuries a week later. Johnny Keller's father was not at home at the time of the attack.

Williams was arrested and tried for premeditated murder, pleading not guilty by reason of "emotional insanity". His defence was rejected and on 19 May 1905, Williams was convicted of the murder of Johnny Keller. Williams was sentenced to death by hanging. On 8 December 1905, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. One judge dissented in the judgment, arguing that Williams's crime bore the signs of a crime of passion and therefore may have not been premeditated.

On 13 February 1906, Williams's execution was carried out in the basement of the Ramsey County Jail in Saint Paul. However, the rope that was used to hang Williams was too long, and when Williams hit the floor after dropping through the trap door on the gallows, three police officers were required to hold Williams up by the rope for over 14 minutes until he finally died of strangulation.

Williams's "botched" execution was used by opponents of the death penalty in Minnesota to argue that capital punishment should be abolished in the state. Minnesota abolished the death penalty in 1911 and since then it has never been reinstated.

See also[edit]


  • John D. Bessler (2003). Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota (St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press) ISBN 0-8166-3810-1
  • "Botched hanging led state to halt executions", Star Tribune, 2008-02-12
  • D. J. Tice (2001). "The Last Hangings: The Gottschalk and Williams Murder Cases, 1905", Minnesota's Twentieth Century: Stories of Extraordinary Everyday People (St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press) ISBN 0-8166-3429-7
  • Walter N. Trenerry (1962). Murder in Minnesota: A Collection of True Cases (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press) ISBN 0-87351-180-8

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