Saturday, October 10, 2015

Lloyd Majors (1837-1884): First legal execution in Oakland

News account of Lloyd Majors and the type of noose commonly used for hangings
Lloyd Majors was the first man to be legally executed in Oakland and the third legal hanging in Alameda County (the other two being in San Leandro). Majors was executed after being convicted as the principal suspect in the double murder of a "wealthy, old bachelor" named William Renowden and a Canadian named Archibald McIntyre.

Majors was born in Garfield, Ohio and graduated Ann Arbor College in 1870 and began practicing law shortly thereafter. After practicing law for four years he became a Methodist minister before moving to California and buying a saloon in Los Gatos. He became a popular citizen in the small town, being elected Foreman of a lodge of United Workmen and being named Grand Marshal of their Fourth of July parade. His saloon, which was struggling to make money, burned to the ground. It was later learned that Majors carried a large insurance policy on the business. He used the insurance money to buy a 40-room hotel, but struggled to financially complete the construction.

In February1883, he announced that he entered into a partnership with Joseph Jewell, a painter and regular at the saloon, who claimed he had become heir to a fortune and would provide the money necessary to complete the hotel.

Jewell and Majors were then seen hanging out with a guy named John Showers and acting "suspiciously." They showed up at Renowden's cabin after spending the day drinking whiskey,  claiming to be lost hunters in need of directions. Renowden was a recluse who allegedly buried his money near an isolated cabin. As Renowden walked the two men to the road, he was told to his put his hands in the air. McIntyre ran out of the cabin to the man's defense, but was shot by Jewell. The men hit Renowden on the head with a pistol and dragged him back to the cabin. When he refused to tell the men where he hid the money, he was doused with turpentine and set on fire. 

The cabin was burned to the ground and the bodies of Renowden and McIntyre were found at the site. It was subsequently learned that Majors had made inquiries about Renowden's habits and wealth, even visiting different banks at San Jose in an effort to learn if Renowden had any money on deposit.

Jewell and Showers were allegedly paid $5 and a given a bottle of whiskey to participate in the murder.

The three defendants were tried in San Jose for the murder of Renowden, with Jewell being sentenced to hang and the other men sentenced to San Quentin for life. Jewell later made a full confession and implicated Majors as the main conspirator. Seventeen days after he was sent to San Quentin, Majors was ordered back to court and sentenced to hang. Governor George Stoneman delayed his hanging and Majors appealed to the California Supreme Court, which denied his appeal and ordered him to be executed.

After his conviction and sentencing to be hanged, Majors sought the consolation of religion and maintained his innocence. He told J. B Renowden, a brother of the victim, "You may draw my life's blood from my arm and with this pen I will write my innocence of all connection of the crime in my own blood. "

His hanging became a public sensation, as 400 people gathered in the jail yard to view the execution. News accounts say he was hanged at "twelve minutes past 12 o'clock" and that "his neck was clearly broken" after the bolt was pulled and a "dull thud" was heard. The crowd broke out in jeers and cheers.

The body was cut down and placed in a coffin for delivery to relatives, eventually making it to Mountain View Cemetery after no relatives claimed the body (his wife was apparently too ill).

Besides his widow, Majors left behind two little boys named Archie and Abie, who lived in Oakland and according to news accounts grew up to be "murderous bandits."
Fifteen years after the hanging, John Showers claimed that Majors was innocent and was convicted on his false testimony. 

Sources: Celebrated Criminal Cases of America by Thomas Samuel Duke; Alameda County News; Sacramento Daily-Record; The Atchison Globe

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