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December 14, 1903, Former Brooklyn Policeman Executed For Murdering Wife - Today In Crime History

On this date, December 14, in the year 1903, a nine-year veteran of the Brooklyn police force became the first member of the thin blue line to die in the electric chair.  William Ennis was executed for shooting and killing his estranged wife.

William Ennis and Mary Ennis had been married for about one year when, soon after the birth of their child, she decided to leave him and went to live with her mother.  Mary Ennis filed  a court case for a legal separation on the grounds of cruel and inhumane treatment.  The court granted her request and ordered William Ennis to pay alimony.  

William Ennis did not pay the court ordered alimony.  Approximately two weeks before her murder, Mary Ennis appeared in Court asking the judge to enforce the order for payment of alimony.  During that court hearing William Ennis dramatically proclaimed  that he would “rot in jail” before he would pay his wife any money unless she left her mother’s house and returned to live with him.   The court entered an order authorizing the sheriff to seize his personal property so that it could be sold and the proceeds used to pay the court ordered alimony.  William Ennis was heard by various people saying his wife was under the domination of her mother and that she needed to return to his house and live with him.

On January 14, 1902, while in a frenzied  rage, after a night of heavy drinking and brooding over his marital troubles, William H. Ennis, broke into the home of his mother-in-law.  He shot his mother-in-law with his police issued revolver and seriously wounded her.   He then found his wife and, while she begged for her life, shot and killed her instantly.  William Ennis then ran from the house to a hotel, where he was found by the police sleeping several hours later.

At his jury trial, criminal defense attorneys representing William Ennis put forth an insanity defense.  Various relatives, friends, associates and medical experts testified that he had received a head injury as a child.  Testimony was present by defense lawyers that Ennis suffered from epilepsy and convulsions that caused delusions and induced acts of violence.  Prosecutors countered with evidence that the murder was planned.  They produced a letter written by Ennis that stated his intention to kill his wife.  They also produced evidence that he had admitted his involvement in the killing soon after his arrested and expressed remorse.  The jury rejected the insanity defense and found William Ennis guilty of premeditated murder on May 22, 1902.  The judge imposed the death penalty and ordered that Ennis be executed.

Criminal defense lawyers filed an appeal on behalf of William Ennis, but on October 24, 1904 the court of appeals for New York upheld the conviction and sentence.  Prison officials were concerned that William Ennis was insane, but medical professionals ultimately found that William Ennis was malingering and faking symptoms of mental illness.   Despite a request to the commute the death sentence to a sentence of life imprisonment, the governor of New York refused.  On December 14, 1904, at Sing Sing prison, William Ennis was successfully electrocuted by the State of New York until he was dead.

Sources and more information:

Sat His Wife In A Chair And Shot Her Dead, Policeman Ennis, Frantic Over Domestic Troubles, Commits A Ghastly Murder, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 14, 1902

People of New York v William H. Ennis, New York Criminal Reports, Volume 17, W.C. Little & Co., 1904

Feigned Insanity, Malingery Revealed By The Use of Ether, by Charles Wagner, M.D., The Medical News, Volume 85, July - December, 1904

1903: William Ennis, Wife-Murdering Cop,

Gov. Odell Decides Not To Interfere in Brooklyn Policeman’s Case, New York Times, December 12, 1903

Brooklyn Policeman Executed, Geneva Daily Times, Evening Edition, December 14, 1903

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