The Most Miraculous Execution in American History (That Nobody Told You About), 1904Home | Feature Stories | The Most Miraculous Execution in American History (That Nobody Told You About), 1904
Dedicated to Bela Deraj who told me to get back to work! 🙂
This is a story I have wanted to write for a long time.
Over the last twenty-years, I have become convinced that the internet is 10-percent original, and the rest is just a copy.
Case in point: When it comes to botched executions, the ‘same’ listicle gets republished several times a year by different content farms looking for cheap and easy traffic to make a fast buck. Ad revenue is the motive and there’s no motive to reward quality work because that’s just how the USA is now. Content churners are untrained, poorly paid, and the yet-to-be observed consequence is that the world is drowning in content.
That’s why the name of Michael G. Schiller does not appear on any “Top 10” listicle, nor in Wikipedia, or even on the Death Penalty Information Center’s 10,000-page website – the largest resource for the dissemination of death penalty related information.
His absence from history of executed criminals is just as baffling to me as his own executions. Yes, plural. You see, Michael G. Schiller’s story is unique because he is the only executed prisoner who came back to life.
In all the case studies of botched executions throughout the world, there have been: prisoners whose neck had to be hacked several times before it was separated; prisoners hanged who were partially or fully decapitated; those who strangled to death without a broken neck; and a few who even survived their own hanging. When it came to the electric chair, besides being burned or set afire, it was occasionally necessary for officials to order two, three, four, five, and even six applications of the electrical charge before they were declared dead.
But that’s not what happened to Ohio State Penitentiary prisoner Michael Schiller during the midnight hour of June 17, 1904. The first and last detailed account of his execution (until now) appeared in the 1908 book, Palace of Death, A True Tale of 59 Executed Murders, by Captain of the Guards Humphrey M. Fogle. [Historical Crime Detective Books will republish the original version of this book, December, 2021.]
As an insider privy to all that occurred within prison walls, Fogle’s book contains exclusive information of Schiller’s execution. Fogle’s story retold below is augmented by newspaper reports written by journalists present for the execution as official witness for the public.
When Michael G. Schiller was executed on June 17, 1904, he was the thirteenth man to be electrocuted by the state of Ohio. The prior twelve electrocutions had gone well, and there was no reason for prison officials to think Schiller’s would be any different.
(All words and sentences in parenthesis below are the editor’s.)
Notice to content creators (podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers, listicle regurgitators,) do not use this material without accurate accreditation to HCD. I’m tired of you acting you like did all your homework when you just grabbed it from this blog.
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NEVER BEFORE IN the gruesome history of the Annex (the official term used then for Ohio’s death row) was witnessed such a horrible and sickening sight as that which attended the execution of Michael G. Schiller, serial number 34,925, the Youngstown wife-murderer, just after midnight on June 17, 1904.
Electrician Marden had tested the chair several times that evening and pronounced it in perfect order. Schiller grew extremely nervous when he heard the officers testing the chair, and spent the evening pacing restlessly back and forth in the death cage. He flatly refused all spiritual consolation and would tolerate the presence of neither preacher nor priest. He ate sparingly of his supper and refused to take stimulants of any kind (whisky). He had maintained all along that something would intervene to save him from the chair. He had hopes that the governor would, at the last moment, commute his death sentence to one of life imprisonment. He watched the old Annex clock with an anxious heart, as it slowly registered the flow of the river of time into the ocean of eternity.
At 11:30 p.m., the attending guards filed into the Death Cage accompanied by the prison barber. John O’Brien, the genial, good-natured, time-honored guard, who has witnessed more legal executions perhaps than any man in the United States, said: “Well, Mike, it is time to prepare for this unpleasant ordeal,” at the same time placing a stool for the condemned man to sit upon, and motioned for the barber to proceed. Then, and not until then, did the condemned man abandon all hope. From that time until twelve o’clock, he moved about as one in a trance, utterly oblivious to all his surroundings.
While this scene was being enacted in the silent hall of death, Superintendent Marden (supervisor of the prison’s generator) and his attendant were making a final test of the chair. All things seemed in perfect order, and the superintendent expressed himself as being perfectly satisfied that so far as his part was concerned, the execution would be a success. (There’s a lot of CYA going on in that last sentence because of what happened.)
Just as the old clock struck the fatal stroke of twelve, the muffled tread of approaching footsteps were heard within the outer corridor. In another moment, the old death-chamber door swung open, revealing a crowd of thirty-five or forty men formed in a semi-circle around the fatal chair. At a nod from Deputy Warden Wood, the death-march was taken up, and Schiller appeared in the doorway leaning heavily on the arm of Guard O’Brien. Skilled hands quickly adjusted the straps; the death-dealing electrodes were placed upon the shaven head and calf of the leg. The black-cap, which completes the last act of the fatal drama, was drawn over the eyes. The hush of death was on the assembly. The dropping of a pin, at that moment, would have grated harshly on the nerves of the spectators.
Warden Edward Hershey asked in a clear, firm voice, “Michael Schiller, have you anything to say before the sentence of the court shall finally have been carried out?’’ Schiller’s lips moved, but no sound came from them. The warden held his watch in his right hand; with his left, he reached for the fatal lever, and as he broke it, the body of Schiller shot upward as far as the clamps would allow it to go. There was a low hissing sound, as the 1,750 volts of electricity went coursing through his body. This was continued for seven seconds, then the current was reduced to 250 volts for the remainder of the minute; then the current was shut off, and the body relaxed.
Dr. Thomas, chief physician for the prison, examined the heart, pulse, and eyes; five other physicians did the same thing, and all pronounced him dead. The warden and the spectators filed out of the room and up the long hallway. The attending guards loosened the clamps and were in the act of laying him on the cooling board but, oh horrors! A stifled sigh comes from the lips! A gurgling sound emanates from the throat! He gasps and struggles for breath!
(Fogle’s Story Continues after Editor’s Note)
Editor’s Note: Exclamation points aside, it was the most shocking thing the prison officials had ever seen, pun intended. When he was declared dead by five physicians, the crowd of thirty-five spectators, including the warden, filed out of the death chamber.
After they had left, Schiller’s body was unstrapped from the chair, he lurched forward and fell over. He was still alive.
“He was straightened up in the chair, and he began to breathe heavily. Saliva was [falling] from his mouth and guttural groans sounded throughout the chamber, chilling the strongest men to the very heart,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported later that day.
Surviving did not mean it was over for Schiller. All death warrants state the prisoner shall be executed until he or she is dead. They were going to have to do it again. But it would take two minutes to reassemble everyone and have the generator in the power plant turned back on.
During that time, the Enquirer continued, “Schiller seemed to be regaining consciousness. At one time, he appeared to throw back his head as if making a desperate effort to talk. The sight was absolutely sickening. Spectators expected to see him recover.”
(Fogle’s Story Continues)
A courier was dispatched for the warden; the crowd was reassembled; the straps were quickly readjusted. By this time, the poor wretch was breathing quite naturally.
Then, it was discovered that the current had been shut off at the prison powerhouse (the building that housed the prison’s generator to supply electricity). A messenger was dispatched right away to the plant, a distance of several hundred yards. Soon, all was once more in readiness.
Again, the lever shot upward; again, the 1,750 volts of electricity went scorching and singeing through the body of Michael Schiller. This time the high voltage was continued for fifteen seconds, and then reduced to 250 for the remainder of the minute. This time, the doctors made a thorough and careful inspection, and after examining the body for twelve minutes, all declared that he was dead beyond the shadow of a doubt.
(Or was he?)
Once more, the crowd dispersed; the body was lifted from the chair and placed upon the floor to await the coming of the undertaker. The warden had reached his office, and a majority of the crowd had started home.
(Schiller’s body was unstrapped from the chair and carefully pulled to the floor where he was placed in the traditional position for burial. Two of the guards then covered his corpse with a sheet, and he was left there to await removal by the prison’s cemetery crew. As the guards were about to leave the execution room, Schiller let out a long, painful groan.)
The guards were horror-stricken and looked in terror at one another. Again, the gurgling sound was heard to come from the throat of Michael Schiller. Chief Guard O’Brien raised the sheet, and a sickening sight met his gaze. The man was gasping and struggling for breath. Again, the warden was summoned. This time he and the attending physicians came alone.
(There would be no spectators for the third and final execution of Michael Schiller.)
Let us draw the curtain upon this sickening scene. Suffice it to say that the voltage was increased to such an extent that no human being could come in contact with it and live.
The increased voltage literally burned the top of the head to a crisp.
Great was the condemnation of the press the next morning; but who was to blame? Expert electricians were summoned from all over the country. All pronounced the entire apparatus in first-class order and exonerated Superintendent (of electricity) Marden from any and all censure.
Schiller had scarcely tasted water for several days prior to his execution. This is the only plausible theory for his great resistance. The black population of the prison all declared that it was because he was the thirteenth man to die in the chair.
Schiller murdered his wife in Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio, June 1, 1903, literally disemboweling her with a butcher knife. Drunkenness on his part and refusal by his wife to give him more money led to the tragedy.
Schiller was foreign-born, ignorant, and illiterate, but by economy and thrift had amassed quite a snug little fortune, but whisky proved his ruin. Even his little children shrank in terror from him while he was confined in the Annex, and begged their nurse to take them away from him. His crime was a dastardly one, and the price he paid for it is beyond human description.
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Editor’s Note: His children were deathly afraid of him. After his arrest, his daughter Minnie, 12, and two sons, Gustave, 8, and Fred, 4, were allowed to visit their father on two occasions in the weeks before his execution. After their mother’s murder and father’s arrest, the children were separated by sex and placed in two different orphanages. Although they could have been adopted prior to his execution, Schiller refused to relinquish his parental rights, as he was hoping to use his daughter to plead for his life to the governor.
During their second and final meeting together (shorty before his execution), Schiller begged her to call upon the governor in the hope he would find it impossible to turn down a young, sobbing girl.
The following account is from a Cincinnati Enquirer article published 12 to 14 hours after Schiller was executed.
“Go to the governor and save my life, Minnie,” Schiller pleaded.
“I cannot go,” she answered.
“Then write to him, for God’s sake, and tell him not to let me be electrocuted.”
“No, I don’t want to do that,” Minnie answered in an emotional voice. “The governor has decided and I do not want to ask him anyhow.”
According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “This angered the father, and he (scolded) the child.”
A nun, who had accompanied the child to Columbus from her orphanage in Cincinnati, told a reporter that Minnie feared her father would kill her as he did her mother. She did not want to make the trip, and made the nuns promise her she would not be left alone with her father.
“There was a demonstration of Minnie’s fear during the final visit, when Sister Housegardner expressed a desire to see the electric chair,” the Enquirer continued. “She told the child she would be back in a minute and started, but Minnie followed declaring she would not stay with her father, even with the prison guard present.”
The day before his execution, Schiller, who was Austro-Hungarian, met with the same attorney who handled his ex-wife’s estate. He authorized the attorney to liquidate his property holdings in both the United States and Austria-Hungary. Then, only after some of that money was used to erect a burial monument, did he want the money to go to his three children.
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Newspapers barely mentioned the name of the victim. Her name was Mary, she was thirty-eight years old, and she was Hungarian. The Akron Beacon Journal was one of the few to remember her following her ex-husband’s botched execution.
The Deceased’s Crime
Schiller’s crime, a peculiarly brutal one, was wife murder. Late in the afternoon of June 1, 1903, Michael Schiller, a saloonkeeper of Youngstown, whose wife had secured a divorce from him, and the custody of their four children, called at her residence and demanded ‘that she resume her marital relations with him, informing her that if she refused to comply he would cut her heart out.
Schiller had been drinking and was in an ugly mood. Mrs. Schiller refused to yield to the request and, escaping from his grasp ran into the back yard to call (for) assistance. Schiller caught and held her while he stabbed her in the abdomen with a butcher knife. She was removed to the hospital, where she made an ante-mortem statement detailing the facts of the murderous assault. [She died five days later.]
The attack of Schiller on his wife was witnessed by neighbors, who seized him and held him until the police arrived. After the tragedy, Schiller never made any inquiry regarding the condition of his wife, and when informed of her death exhibited no emotion. Shortly before the homicide, Mrs. Schiller sent $4,000 to her former home in Hungary (the 2021 equivalent of $112,000 when adjusted for inflation), and was preparing to take her children there and educate them, when she was murdered.
Always in an Ugly Mood
Before Mrs. Schiller obtained her decree of divorce Schiller had been sent to the workhouse, having beaten her until she was scarcely able to appear against him.
At the penitentiary, where he arrived July 30, 1903, he displayed a stolid indifference. He maintained a stubborn silence and has been ever in a morose, and ugly state of mind. When visited by his children for the last time he exhibited little sentiment.
Michael Willow, of Youngstown, administrator of Mrs. Schiller’s estate spent part of the evening with Schiller and received from him power to administer an estate of unknown value, which Schiller said he owned in Austria-Hungary. The murderer asked that the proceeds from the sale of the property be given to his three children in Cleveland after a monument to him had been erected.
Moses Johnson, colored, will be electrocuted tonight for the murder of an insurance agent in Portsmouth.
Father Kelly, a Catholic priest, labored for hours with Schiller, but was unable to obtain from him a confession of religious faith. His little daughter had written him, urging him to accept Christianity.
A Final Note: Just like the Akron Beacon Journal reported, Moses Johnson was executed the following night. It took five applications of electrical charge before he was pronounced dead. He remained seated in the electric chair the entire time.
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Coming Soon to Amazon: Palace of Death, A True Tale of 59 Executed Murderers, by Dewy, Fogle, & Morrow.
True Crime Book: Famous Crimes the World Forgot Vol II, 384 pages, Kindle just $3.99, More Amazing True Crime Stories You Never Knew About! = GOLD MEDAL WINNER, True Crime Category, 2018 Independent Publisher Awards.
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