Last Public Execution in West Virginia
Picture of John Morgan with Sherriff Shinn right before the hanging.
Photo of Morgan's execution along with the large crowd in attendence
Historical Marker in Ripley
Photo of Morgan's trial taken from Morrison's "The Slaughter of the Pfost-Greene Familey" pamphlet (reprint).
Image of John F. Morgan taken from Morrison's pamphlet
Backstory and Context
This the location of the last public hanging in West Virginia where John F, Morgan of Ripley was publicly executed. Morgan was convicted of murdering Mrs. Chloe Pfost-Greene, Matilda Pfost, James "Jimmey" Greene, and injuring Alice Pfost who was able to escape. The murder was one of the most horrific of the time, and newspapers from across the United States gathered to report the story of the murder case. Morgan knew the Pfost-Greene family for about five years before the murders, and stayed with them the night before he killed them. Most reports claim Morgan killed the family for their money.
Reese Blizzard was the judge in charge of handling Morgan's case. He was a practicing attorney at the time, but took the case. He sentenced Morgan to hanging after he was proven guilty by 12 jurors in a court of law. Sherriff J. O. Shinn, of Ripley was the man to take command of the execution. It was the second public hanging that occurred in Jackson County. This was the first hanging that Sherriff Shinn oversaw and would be his last. At around 11 o'clock on the morning of December 16, 1987, Morgan and Sherriff Shinn left the courthouse jail. Morgan and the Sherriff arrived at the place of the hanging at noon followed by several media personnel, jurors, and the magistrate. Morgan and Sherriff Shinn then walked up the steps scaffold. There were approximately six thousand people there to watch Morgan hang. At 12:09, the trap that held John Morgan was dropped and he was pronounced dead at 12:24 by Dr. Harrison and Casto.
This was the last public hanging in the state of West Virginia, due largely to the massive crowd and carnival-like atmosphere of Morgan's execution. Many in attendance were drunk and pamphlets like "The Slaughter of the Pfost-Greene Family" were being sold as souvenirs. O.J. Morrison wrote up Morgan's confession and trial in this pamphlet and rushed to get it printed in time for the execution date. The state of West Virginia passed a law prohibiting public execution in 1899. It was one of the first states to do so.