Toni Jo Henry

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Toni Jo Henry (January 3, 1916 - November 28, 1942), (née Annie Beatrice McQuiston[1]), was the only woman ever to be executed in Louisiana's electric chair. Married to Claude 'Cowboy' Henry, she decided to break her husband out of jail where he was serving a fifty-year sentence in the Texas State Penitentiary for murder. Together with Harold Burks, she took a ride with Joseph P. Calloway, whom they then robbed and murdered. Toni Jo Henry was convicted and sentenced to death. After three trials, she was executed by electrocution on November 28, 1942. Her case generated several popular books and films including A Savage Wisdom and Stone Justice.

Early life[edit]

Born near Shreveport, Louisiana, Henry was the third of five children. Her mother died of tuberculosis when Henry was six years of age. Henry worked in a macaroni factory at thirteen and thereafter in a local brothel as a prostitute.[2]


In 1939, she met Claude Henry when she was working as a waitress in Austin Texas. A down-on-his-luck prize fighter, Cowboy, as he was known, fell in love with the young girl. Married on November 25, 1939 the couple honeymooned in southern California. Upon returning from California, Claude Henry was arrested for the murder of a Texas man prior to their marriage. He was found guilty in January 1940 and sentenced to fifty years in the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville.

Murder of Joseph P. Calloway[edit]

Toni Jo then began contemplating plans to break her husband out of Huntsville Prison. She and accomplice Harold 'Arkie' Burks devised a plan to rob a bank, in hopes of securing money to aid in breaking Claude Henry out of jail. Joseph P. Calloway was delivering a Ford Coupe to a friend when he happened upon Toni Jo and Arkie Burks. Unaware of their plan, he offered to give the two a ride.

As they drove past Jennings, Louisiana, Toni Jo and Arkie robbed Calloway at gunpoint. They proceeded to lock him in the trunk of his car and drive down a country road. The duo planned to use the Ford as a getaway vehicle; however, they soon decided to pull the car over near a small paddock. Calloway was ordered out of the car. He was then ushered behind a haystack then shot once in the head with a .32 caliber revolver and died at the scene.

After a brief stop in Arkansas, Toni Jo would return to Shreveport, where she would seek refuge with her aunt. She later was interviewed by a Shreveport police officer, during which she revealed the murder and disclosed the location of the body.

Trials and appeals for murder[edit]

Her first trial was held from March 27–29, 1940. Because of Henry's good looks, the possibility of the death penalty and the severity of the charges, the trial gained much press coverage. She claimed that Burks was the one who fired the fatal shot, but after deliberating for six hours, the jury convicted her and sentenced her to death by hanging. Burks was later convicted and sentenced to death. Toni Jo appealed and was granted a new trial.

The second trial took place in February 1941. Unlike in the first trial, Burks took the stand and testified against Toni Jo. After an hour of deliberations, she was again convicted and sentenced to death. She again appealed and was granted a new trial.

The third trial was held in January 1942. Toni Jo was again convicted and sentenced to death. She appealed, but this time her appeal was denied.


While Henry was incarcerated at Lake Charles Prison, she was befriended by Father Wayne Richard, head of a local Catholic parish. He would eventually baptize her.

During the time Henry was being tried, Louisiana changed its method of execution from hanging to death by electrocution, the sentence being carried out on November 28, 1942. The district attorney was Griffin T. Hawkins of Lake Charles. Father Richard was present at her execution and would officiate her burial, days later. Four days prior to her execution, Claude Henry escaped from prison to see his wife one last time and was recaptured in Beaumont, Texas. Soon afterwards, he was paroled due to ill health.[1] He was killed by a café owner on July 15, 1945 in Dallas,[3] while out on parole.[4]

Books and Film[edit]

A Savage Wisdom, a novel by Norman German, was inspired by the life, crimes and legends of Toni Jo Henry. The book is fiction, a novel categorized in the subgenre of "alternative history." That is, it changes certain facts of the historical woman's life and posits what might have happened under different circumstances.

Henry's story is the focus of the 2013 film entitled The Pardon, which was shot on location in Shreveport. It stars actress Jaime King as Toni Jo Henry. John Hawkes plays Arkie Burks, with TJ Thyne, Jason Lewis, Leigh Whannell, and Tim Guinee. Tom Anton is the producer and director.[5]

On September 10, 2016, Toni Jo's story was profiled in the third episode for the tenth season of Deadly Women, titled "Bad to the Bone".


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  5. ^ "Toni Jo Henry's story hits big screen, March 29, 2013". Shreveport Times. Retrieved April 1, 2013.

There is another book about her life published in 2016. Written by Lyn Morgan and Debi King McMartin.

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