One of the best parts of my job is when I happen upon a piece of information about my hometown that I never would have guessed. Buffalo Bill Cody once lived in Rochester? You don’t say! Jumbo the Elephant was stuffed here? I had no idea!
And the most recent revelation: Public hangings. Here. In Rochester.
According to the Union and Advertiser, Octavius Baron was hanged in 1837 for shooting and robbing William Lyman near Franklin and Clinton streets. The following year, Austin Squires went to the gallows for shooting his wife in a drunken rage. Fourteen execution-free years would pass in Rochester before Maurice Antonio was tried and hanged for the murder of a fellow Portuguese in Gates in 1852.
But it was the fourth execution that particularly grabbed my attention. The circumstances leading up to Marion Ira Stout’s trip to the gallows in 1858 are the stuff of which 19th-century scandals were made.
Ira, as he was called, was 22 years old when he was released from Eastern State Penitentiary, where he served four-and-a-half years for robbing a store with his father and setting it ablaze. Upon his arrival in Rochester, Stout—who happened to be in love with his sister Sarah—became enraged when he discovered that she had married. Charles Littles was reported to be a drunken lout and general cad who abused his wife, and Stout resolved to get rid of the man who stood in the way of his incestuous designs.
On December 19, 1857, Stout lured Littles to Falls Field—also known as Genesee Falls Park (present-day High Falls)—with a story that Sarah was rumored to be meeting a man there. Whether coerced by Stout or of her own free will, Sarah was waiting by the edge of the river gorge to bait the trap.
Before Littles knew what was happening, Stout pulled out an iron-headed hammer and smashed his rival’s skull with it. Stout then rolled the body over the precipice and, he assumed, into the river. But instead of a splash, he heard a thud. Littles had landed on a ledge 30 feet below. From there, Stout’s luck only got worse.
Determined to hide the evidence of his crime, Stout made his way down the rocky escarpment to finish the job. In what can only be described as an act of instant karma, Stout lost his footing, tumbled down the narrow path, and landed squarely next to Littles’ body, breaking his left arm in the process. Just before passing out, Stout managed to shove the corpse off the ledge. When he came to, he called to Sarah for help. As she descended, Sarah stumbled and fell headlong beside her brother’s prostrate form, breaking her left wrist.
The unfortunate siblings somehow made it back to the top of the ridge. Having left behind several personal items in the fall, the pair were quickly apprehended and charged in the death of Charles W. Littles. Sarah, convicted of manslaughter, served seven years at Sing Sing Prison, while her brother was sentenced to hang. During his time in jail, Stout received a steady flow of visitors—mainly women—who brought him poison and lancets so that he could be the instrument of his own destruction and avoid the noose. Despite appealing his sentence and receiving support from Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony—both of whom opposed capital punishment—Stout’s appeal was denied. Marion Ira Stout went to the gallows at the Monroe County Penitentiary on October 22, 1858. According to witnesses, Stout’s execution went no smoother than the crime for which he was sentenced—it took 10 minutes for Stout to strangle to death when the noose failed to break his neck, which would have ensured his swift and merciful death. He is buried in an unmarked grave at Mount Hope Cemetery.
The last execution by hanging in Monroe County took place in 1888, after which New York State assumed responsibility for administering the death penalty.
~Cheri Crist, Librarian
“Marion Ira Stout. His Life, Crimes, Last Hours, and Execution on the Gallows: Full Particulars.” Union and Advertiser (Rochester, NY), Oct. 22, 1858.
Peck, William F. History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York. (New York: The Pioneer Publishing Co., 1908).