Sunday, May 5, 2024

The Double Hanging of Jerry Crane and Mickey Free 1855

When the justice system worked in the Old West, it worked well. Sadly though, as you will read below, justice didn't come swift enough to two murderers who have the distinction of being the first hangings in Coloma, California. 

On the day of the hangings, an estimated crowd of five thousand people turned out to watch the men dance on the end of ropes. Schoolmaster Jeremiah Crane who murdered a student was the first to swing. Behind him was a California serial killer by the name of Mickey Free. It was reported that he stood nearby waiting his turn with his hat cocked over one eye, supposedly ever so calmly tossing peanuts into his mouth. His cockiness was cut short when he was dropped and his neck snapped. 

Many there were disappointed that they died without a struggle. They did not deserve quick deaths. 

The Sacramento Daily Union
, Volume 10, Number 1432, October 27, 1855, reported the following,

Execution of Craine and Mickey Free at Coloma.

The telegraph informs us that these men met a felon's doom yesterday, in accordance with the sentence previously passed upon them. Of the vast assemblage, the prisoners appeared to be the least interested. They ascended to the scaffold at half past one o'clock.

Jeremiah Craine occupied about three-fourths of an hour in a speech, the burthen of which was that the Bible was a fable and that society would soon look upon the "Harmonia " as the surest guide to eternal happiness. Mickey Free made no speech, but commenced a song, the first verse of which he sung, and then stopped, as he had forgotten the words. A duet was then sung by the prisoners, the words of which were composed by Craine for the occasion, and which occupied some ten minutes.

After a short prayer was offered to the throne of grace, the final preparations were perfected, and at twenty minutes before two o'clock the prisoners were launched into eternity. With the fall of the block both necks were broken. They died without a struggle.

Some five or six thousand people were present, among whom were a large number of females. Everything passed off orderly and quietly. Sheriff Carson and Deputy received much praise for the good order which they maintained. The last words of Free were, " Now, boys, see that this is done up right." Crane's last words were, "Susan, receive me; I will soon be with you."

The above is the sequel to two of the bloodiest tragedies ever enacted within the borders of this State, the particulars of which were published in this paper at the periods of their occurrence. In order however to refresh the minds of those of our readers who feel any interest in such matters, we subjoin a brief recapitulation of the circumstances which have led to the violent deaths as narrated above. 

Craine was tried and found guilty of the murder of Miss Susan M. Newnham, near Ringgold, El Dorado County, on August 10th, but she survived until he shot her with a Colt revolver. In his confession he stated that he had formed an attachment for her some fifteen months previously; that they had been married, but only by God himself; that another, who was suitor to her hand, and who was favored, moreover, by her parents, had caused all the difficulty. He confessed that a bar existed to his marrying Susan openly, was that he had a wife living in the Eastern States.

Craine was over thirty years of age, and has four children living near Lexington, Ky. He was an enthusiastic Spiritualist, and on this subject was regarded as a monomaniac. The murdered woman confirmed the statement of Craine as to the marriage, but stated that Craine subsequently tore to pieces in her presence the paper binding him to her. She said, moreover, that Craine did not force her to sign the oath, but just worried her out of it.

Mickey Free — A long confession of the particulars of the life of this notoriously hardened culprit has been published, of which the following is an abstract:

He was born of good parents but committed his first theft at the early age of ten years. This offense was the stealing of a pair of rabbits, for which he was fined and sentenced to thirty days imprisonment. He was born at Brockford, Canada West, where he resided until eleven years of age. . His second offense was robbing an old lady of six or seven shillings, which he did in church. He used, also, to steal the money contributed for church purposes.

After a series of devilish tricks, the lad was sent to a printer's office. While officiating there as "devil," he twice robbed a store in Brockford. He next went to Chicago, committing, on the way, numerous thefts. We next hear of him robbing a courtezan of $50, then of being a witness to a murder and; afterward of committing sundry thefts on Mississippi steamboats.

Free acknowledges that he married a good, true and virtuous woman, whose precepts and example had he followed, would have deterred him from vice. He, however, robbed her of all her money and left for California. He arrived in San Francisco destitute, went to Mud Springs, El Dorado County, and soon after we find him mining successfully on Dry Creek and thereabouts.

We next hear of him accompanying one Dickson, Parks and a Scotchman from Mud Springs on a wild goose chase to the mountains. He returned to Mud Springs, and soon afterward his partner Parks came back and stated that they had hung Dickson, owing to not finding the diggings.

In the spring of '58, Mickey came to this city [Coloma], where he could find nothing to do. While rambling around town one night, he went into the house of ill-fame then kept by "Priscilla," on the corner of X and 3d Streets, called for something to drink, threw down a five-dollar piece, which a girl caught, and ran off with up stairs. He followed, got into a row and woke up in the Station House, next morning, minus his money.

Free then returned to Mud Springs, and commenced a scries of robberies upon Chinese miners, which however proved but partially successful. Next he goes into the mountains again in company with one Kelly, Wilson and others.  They proceeded up as far as Lake Valley, where they encountered three traders. They then returned to Slippery Ford. They decided to kill them. This was on Sunday evening, and to avert suspicion, told the traders who were there that they were going to return to Hangtown.

The murderers, however, left for the summit early in the morning. At evening they went on to the summit, where they could observe the movements of their victims in the valley. Before making the attack, they decided to kill the traders at Slippery Ford also. The particulars of the murder are thus given in the confession: 

"The next night we camped at the same place. About dark Wilson went up to the house; the men told him that a California lion visited a carcass a little way off, and they thought that if we would watch we might get a shot at him; this suited us exactly; we could now go with our guns without being suspected of any thing wrong. Our plan was, that Kelly should go in and remain in the house so that when I had killed one  he could prevent the other from getting away. 

George was to follow close to me and lire at the other immediately after I had disposed of mine. I cocked my gun before I went in. Kelly was at his post; the two men were sitting at the table with their faces fronting me as I entered. I walked briskly in with my gun, cocked and presented; I put the muzzle within two or three feet of him, and fired, lodging the contents in his breast. He never struggled or fell from his seat; the explosion of my gun put out the candle, and all was dark; the other ran into the I other room, and was trying to escape through a back door. 

I followed, caught and marched him back to the bar-room; he said, in the most piteous accents possible, that we should have all there was, which was thirty or forty dollars. I remarked we were pretty sure of that; he was very pale and nervous. I gave him up to George, who ordered him behind the counter, telling him he had used us! 

Damned bad or this would not have occurred, but that he must shell out, and he might live. I, during this time, had pulled the other off his seat and rifled his pockets, and in the breast pocket of his coat found the money. I now nudged George, who find at the one still living, who immediately cried, raising himself on his toes, "Boys, kill me quick!"  I, to oblige him, ran behind the counter and stabbed him several times in the heart. George then commenced abusing Kelly, and made him cut his throat after he was dead."

The murderers escaped to Amador County, where Mickey Free committed a bloody murder on a Dutchman, whom he robbed of all he had. He next either killed or horribly mutilated two Chinamen, near Fiddletown, and followed up the barbarities by robberies in various parts of E1 Dorado County and Amador County.

He at last fell into the clutches of justice, tardy to be sure, but sure indeed. Mickey Free has suffered death, but ten thousand lives like his could not atone for a moiety of the dark deeds he did in his lifetime. 

-- end of article in The Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 10, Number 1432, October 27, 1855.

The famous double hanging of Jerry Crane and Mickey Free took place in 1855. Schoolmaster Jerry Crane murdered one of his pupils, a young girl named Susan Newnham. 

It was reported that when the first person reached the house after hearing the shooting, he found Crane by the bedside bathing her face and talking to her saying, "Are you not my wife, Susan?" and her reply was "NO! Go away and let me alone, you have hurt me badly enough now." 

She lived for five days with a bullet in her brain, then remained conscious up to a few hours before her death. A crowd outside formed to lynch Crane. They had a rope and part of the crowd was for hanging him then and there. Others delayed things until the Sheriff could get there. Once the Sheriff showed up, Crane was arrested, taken from the lynch mob, and then put in the jail at Coloma. When asked why he had killed the girl, he reportedly replied, "Because I loved her." 

As for Mickey Free, the robber and serial killer, it's said he loved robbing Chinese camps, killing Chinese, as well as murdering other lone miners. He was arrested for killing a roadhouse keeper; one of his gang turned state’s evidence against him. 

As I said earlier, on the day of the double hanging, there was an estimated crowd of five thousand people who turned out to watch the murderers swing. Crane was first. Reports say he "marching up the gallows' steps, he sang a few verses he had written while in jail." And yes, it was reported that Free stood nearby waiting his turn, his hat cocked over one eye, calmly tossing peanuts into his mouth. He also attempted a bit of song when his turn came, but his courage broke as did his neck a few moments later."

The pioneer cemetery in Colma is a place that's said to be the final resting place for many '49ers. It's said that there sits the graves of "miners, farmers, merchants, tradesmen, and their families, as well as murderers and prostitutes." It's also the final resting place for the convicted murderers Jerry Crane and Mickey Free. Two men who truly deserved to be hanged.

Tom Correa

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