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Victor Harry Feguer (1935 – March 15, 1963) was a convicted murderer and the last federal inmate executed in the United States before the moratorium on the death penalty following Furman v. Georgia, and the last person put to death in the state of Iowa. While at the time the news media paid little attention to Victor Feguer or his execution, Timothy McVeigh's execution sparked renewed media interest in Feguer.
Feguer was a drifter, native to the state of Michigan. In the summer of 1960, Feguer arrived in Dubuque, Iowa, renting a room at a decrepit boarding house. Soon after arriving, Feguer began phoning physicians alphabetically from the local Yellow Pages and found Dr. Edward Bartels. Feguer claimed that a woman needed medical attention. When Dr. Bartels arrived, Feguer kidnapped and killed him in Illinois. Bartels' body was found in a cornfield there with a single gunshot to the head. A few days later, Feguer was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama, after trying to sell Dr. Bartels' car to James B. Alford, who tipped off the FBI. Alford later told a local newspaper he suspected Feguer was a crook because he had an out-of-state car but no title papers.
Authorities believe that Feguer had kidnapped and killed Dr. Bartels in order to gain access to any drugs that Bartels may have carried to treat patients. Because Feguer transported his hostage across state lines, federal charges were filed against Feguer. In his defense, Feguer claimed that a drug addict from Chicago, whom Feguer met in Dubuque, had actually murdered Bartels. Feguer claimed that he killed the drug addict and dumped his body in the Mississippi River. However, authorities could not find any evidence that this other person ever existed.
Feguer was tried and convicted in federal court for these crimes. He was sentenced to death. Feguer submitted an appeal, which was denied. At that point, only President John F. Kennedy could have commuted the death sentence. Iowa's governor, Harold Hughes, a death penalty opponent, along with Feguer's attorney, contacted Kennedy to request clemency for Feguer. Kennedy thought that the crime was so brutal that he denied their request.
At Fort Madison
On March 5, 1963, Feguer was taken to the Iowa State Penitentiary at Fort Madison, Iowa and placed in the state's death row to await execution. He remained there for the next ten days until his execution was carried out. He spent those ten days quietly; guards said he was a model prisoner.
March 15, 1963
For his last meal, Feguer did not want anything fancy; in fact, his request was not even really a meal at all. All he wanted was a single olive with the pit still in it. He told guards he hoped an olive tree would sprout from his grave as a sign of peace.
On March 14, 1963, Feguer sat in an all-night vigil with a Roman Catholic priest. Between 4 and 5 in the morning of March 15, Feguer was given a new suit for his execution. Two guards escorted him to the execution room, and he was executed by hanging. The witnesses included an Associated Press journalist and John Ely, then a member of the Iowa House of Representatives, whose witnessing of the execution reinforced his opposition to the death penalty, leading him to work to abolish the state death penalty in Iowa, which occurred in 1965, but which had no effect on the federal law under which Feguer had been executed. After Feguer was pronounced dead, authorities found the pit from the olive in one of his suit pockets.
The body was removed by a local funeral home. Feguer's death certificate listed "Execution. Fracture Cervical Spinal Column" as the cause of death. Feguer was buried in an unmarked grave in Fort Madison City Cemetery in Iowa wearing a second new suit that was provided for his burial.
Victor Feguer would be the last person to be executed in Iowa. After Feguer's death, it would be nearly 40 years until the next federal execution – that of Timothy McVeigh, carried out on June 11, 2001, in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Iowa abolished capital punishment for all crimes in 1965. Over the years, several attempts have been made to reinstate the death penalty in Iowa. This became a major issue in the 1994 election, as a young girl had recently been murdered, as well as in 2005 after the murder of another young girl. However, the legislature declined to reinstate the death penalty.
Previous Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack made it clear that he would veto legislation that would restore the death penalty, even if it would only be on a limited basis. As of 2020[update], Iowa is one of 22 U.S. states to have completely abolished capital punishment.
- Goldberg, Carey (May 6, 2001). "Federal Executions Have Been Rare but May Increase". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
- "Papers of John F. Kennedy: Presidential Recordings: Dictabelt 13A: Conversation #2: President Kennedy and Harold Hughes (transcript)" (PDF). John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. March 9, 1963. p. 2.
President: ...The crime was so brutal is what finally made me decide not to go for clemency, and was so deliberate
- Kate Santich (June 9, 2001). "Last Man To Die: Who Was Victor Feguer?". Retrieved February 27, 2014.
- "The Last Man Uncle Sam Executed".