The Hanging of Frank Lee
Later that evening Lee confronted Porter at his store which was located on Third Street in Lewistown. He proceeded to raise his single-barreled shotgun and shot Porter in the chest. He then took off into the night. He fled to the place where he was born and raised, Houston, Virginia. He hid there for over a month but was eventually apprehended and held until the Sheriff, Samuel Boyer and County Detective, C.D. Garret arrived from Mifflin County and transported Lee to the Mifflin County Jail.
At the trial Lee’s defense attorney tried to garner a not guilty plea by reason of insanity. The reason being that Lee had suffered three separate head injuries, which several witnesses testified left him with “less than a sound mind.” It was said that he often had a “wild look.” Lee testified that there were times he didn’t feel “right in the head.” Not only had he experienced three previous head injuries, but during their altercation Porter hit Lee on the head with a pound weight, supposedly on the very same spot, knocking him unconscious.
On the opposite side of the courtroom the District Attorney, J.C. Houser, presented evidence that the act was indeed premeditated. He recounted that Lee told a Mrs. Jackson at a church bazaar, that he was going to kill Porter before dawn, and gave all his worldly possessions to her daughter. Pretty damning evidence, I would say! I guess the jury thought so too since deliberation lasted less than four hours. The verdict, guilty of first-degree murder.
There was an appeal brought before the court, but Lee was once again found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Can you imagine the conversations around town as everyone watched the gallows being constructed in the yard of the jail. Many residents visited the gallows just to have a look. A friend of Lee’s, Horace Tyler, visited him in jail and read to him the book, Pilgrim’s Progress, since Lee was unable to read. Two days before the hanging, Lee allowed himself to be photographed by the local newspaper, holding a copy of that book.
Several hundred people applied for the 100 passes that would be given out to view the execution. On the morning of May 11, 1911, Frank Lee awoke for the last time, he dressed, ate a breakfast of ham and eggs, and after singing and praying with a minister, Lee was escorted from his cell. Along the way he said goodbye to his fellow cell mates and walked out of the jail and into the yard. He climbed the 11 steps of the gallows where he stood on the platform as the minister addressed the crowd. Lee’s friend, Horace Tyler, spoke next, telling those in attendance of his friend’s love for those who loved him and for those who spoke evil of him. He told Lee he would meet him in heaven, hugged him, then pinned a rose on his lapel.
The noose was then placed around his neck and a black hood placed over his head. The spring and trap were then sprung, and Lee dropped to his death. His body was removed and placed on display where it was viewed by thousands of people.
Frank Lee had given an interview to the local newspaper to be published after his death where he expressed his thanks for the many acts of kindness, he received from Sheriff Samuel Boyer and his staff.
The sheriff had given Lee a pocketknife and wood which he had used to carve several wooden puzzle balls. Lee gave these to the Sheriff and his staff as a thank you for their benevolence.
As you read this local homicide horror, you realize that some spine-chilling events have happened right here and on this Hallows’ Eve one might find a shadowy figure hovering near Mt. Rock Cemetery where Frank Lee lies forever in an unmarked grave.
If you like this story, you will love the book, “Tombstone Tales”, written by Forest K. Fisher, available to purchase at the Mifflin County Historical Society and The Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce in the Historic Courthouse on the square in Downtown Lewistown.
Rhonda S. Kelley, Executive Director, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce