Farris Will Not Swing for A While



There was a man named John Farris…

Nearly every week, a mystery is solved or some interesting twig (or nut) appears somewhere on the family tree. Here is a little news of recent findings.

At first glance, one might think that John Farris was just another guy in our extended family tree

John J. Farris was born on 11 Feb 1854 in Isabel, Fulton, Illinois, as the second child of John Knight Farris and Mary Frances Pollitt. He had six siblings, namely: Deborah, William Knight, Edwin Thomas, Mary Emma, Amanda J., and Eliza.

When he was 20, he married Debbie Viola Bauman, daughter of Debbie and Peter Bauman, on 23 Jul 1874 in Fulton, Illinois.

John J. Farris and Debbie Viola Bauman had the following children:

  1. Edward Farris was born in May 1877 in Illinois. He married Emma Clifford on 18 Sep 1937 in Davenport, Scott, Iowa.
  2. Everet Farris was born about 1879 in Illinois. He died before 1884 in Fulton, Illinois.
  3. LeeRoy Errand Farris was born on 31 Aug 1882 in Fulton, Illinois. He died on 31 Oct 1940 in Galesburg, Knox, Illinois, USA (Death Age: 59).

John J. Farris died on 25 Jun 1918, in Illinois at the age of 64. He was buried in Farris Cemetery, Duncan Mills, Fulton, Illinois.

But, when you start reading the newspaper, things get more interesting

Human Devil

John and “Dibble,” as his wife Debbie was sometimes called, divorced around 1884 due to what she called brutal treatment. She claimed that he had squandered her fortune in dissolute living.

About four years later, Dibble remarried to a farmer named Stephen McGehee. She had custody of the children, so the boys lived with their mother and step-father. In April 1888, the oldest son, called Eddie who was then about eleven-years old, wrote to his dad to let him know that Dibble had remarried. John, then 34-years old, was not happy to hear the news. The newspaper reported that news of his former wife’s marriage seems to have turned him into a human devil.

John left his railroad surveying job a county away and headed back to Canton, Illinois, where his former wife was living. He got drunk and threatened to kill Dibble and her new husband. The next day, he interrupted the mid-day meal by walking into the McGehee house with a loaded revolver. He exclaimed, “I have come to kill you and her, and I’ll do it.” He first shot the new husband in the arm, then fired again into Stephen McGehee’s brain.

John then turned his attention to his ex-wife and told her that she had to die. Dibble pleaded with John and was able to catch his arm and push the pistol away. Eddie also grabbed his dad and begged for his mother’s life. In the struggle, John fell down and was held down until he promised to spare Dibble’s life.

John kept Dibble terrorized for an hour then finally gave the gun to Eddie. He asked Eddie to get his little five-year old brother, LeeRoy, and head to the barn to play. The kids left with the revolver. But as soon as they were gone, Farris seized his former wife and outraged her.

Yes, sadly, to “outrage” a woman is another way of saying that he “raped” her.

John called the kids back into the house, shook hands with everyone, and asked them to promise to attend his funeral. He told them that he planned to hang himself and threatened them all to not say a word about what he had done.

Dibble fled with the kids to her parents house. A doctor was sent to see if Stephen McGehee had survived. He hadn’t.  The sheriff found John drinking beer with companions and arrested him. Word spread quickly around the community and within a couple days a lynching party was formed.  A guard at the jail scared off the mob and the sheriff slipped away with Farris, eventually taking him by train to jail in Peoria.

Guards and their Guns: Stave off a lynching that was almost desirable. [Sterling Daily Gazette, 21 Apr 1888, www.newspapers.com/image/2996023/]


Sentenced to Death

Nine months after the crime, John Farris was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The hanging was scheduled for March 1889.

Farris Sentenced to Death. [Alton Evening Telegraph, 25 Jan 1889, www.newspapers.com/image/319639/]
Sentenced to be Hanged March 16: John J. Farris, Found Guilty of Murder, Must Pay the Penalty for His Crime. [Chicago Tribune, 25 Jan 1889, www.newspapers.com/image/28555985]


Before he could be hanged, appeals were made on his behalf and the court decided to give him a new trial. He sat in county jail for months awaiting another day in court.

Farris Will Not Swing for A While. [The Pantagraph, 8 Apr 1889, www.newspapers.com/image/69141068]
Farris May Escape the Halter. [Chicago Tribune, 16 Jun 1889, www.newspapers.com/image/28598322]

Escaping the Gallows

Almost two years after the crime, a jury decided to sentence John to 25 years in the penitentiary rather than having him put to death. The local paper editorialized a bit in their article and did not seem to agree with that punishment.

Twenty-five Years in the Penitentiary. [Chicago Tribune, 31 Jan 1890, www.newspapers.com/image/28533229]
The Gallows Cheated of Two Who Deserved It. [The Pantagraph, 1 Feb 1890, www.newspapers.com/image/70387370]

Life at Joliet

John J. Farris entered the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet on 1 February 1890.  The prison was his home for the next 5,020 days or 13 years, 9 months. On 31 Oct 1903, he was released.

John J. Farris, admission to Joliet.

John’s religious affiliation was listed as Catholic. It was noted that he could read and write, but there was no indication that he had formal education. He was listed as separated rather than divorced.

John J. Farris, admission to Joliet, continued.

The column titled Assignments gives information showing that John worked in many capacities while in prison.

John F. Farris, prison assignments.

In the columns titled Solitary and Medical Treatment, we can see that John did spend some time in solitary and received medical care. It’s not known what exactly the numbers mean in the solitary column, but it could perhaps be a number of days. That’s just a guess though. It is more clear that he had medical treatment in August 1890, October 1890, and December 1893.

John J. Farris, prison record.

Life in prison was likely pretty miserable.

By the late 1800s, the prison population was swelling. Its cells, which had been designed in the Auburn tradition of one man per cell, usually contained two men. Steel mills had expanded to within two hundred feet of the prison, so that during the day the grounds were shrouded in smoke, which caused one warden to resign and move to Kansas for his health. In 1898 there were thirty-two deaths in a total prison population of 1257 men-21 were due to tuberculosis. This same year the prison commissioners, who oversaw prison operations, condemned conditions and requested the governor and the legislature to construct a new prison. — The Joliet Prison Photographs, http://www.jolietprison.com/publications/catalog.asp.

Life after Prison

Not much is known about the better than fourteen years of John’s life after Joliet. When he was released on 31 Oct 1903, he was 49-years old. By the time of the 1910 Federal Census, he was back in his hometown of Isabel, Fulton, Illinois working at a hired hand, doing general farm labor, for the Samuel Bainter family. Strangely, the record indicated that John was still married.

John J. Farris, 1910 Federal Census.

John J. Farris lived to age 64. He died on 25 Jun 1918 and was buried in the family cemetery.

Where is he in the tree?

Relationship chart, Thomas Leland Estes to John J. Farris.

Selected Sources:

“Farris May Escape the Halter. The Supreme Court Grants the Peoria Murderer a New Trial,” 16 Jun 1889, p. 11, Web, 5 May 2017, https://www.newspapers.com/image/28598322/, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, online archives.

“Farris Sentenced to Death,” 25 Jan 1889, p. 1, Web, 5 May 2017, https://www.newspapers.com/image/319639/, Alton Daily Telegraph, Alton, Illinois, online archives (www.newspapers.com).

“Farris Will Not Swing for A While,” 08 Apr 1889, p. 1, Web, 5 May 2017, https://www.newspapers.com/image/69141068/, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois, online archives (www.newspapers.com).

“Guards and their guns: Stave off a lynching that was almost desirable. Particulars of a Recent Devilish Crime in Illinois — Bloody Sequel to the Work of the Divorce Court – The Divorced Husband Kills His Successor in the Presence of Wife and Children,” 21 Apr 1888, p. 1, Web, 5 May 2017, https://www.newspapers.com/image/2996023/, Sterling Daily Gazette, Sterling, Illinois, online images (www.newspapers.com).

“Sentenced to be Hanged March 16,” 25 Jan 1889, p. 9, Web, 5 May 2017, https://www.newspapers.com/image/28555985/, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, online archives.

“The Gallows Cheated of Two Who Deserved It,” 01 Feb 1890, p. 4, Web, 5 May 2017, https://www.newspapers.com/image/70387370/, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois, online archives (www.newspapers.com).

“Twenty-five Years in the Penitentiary,” 31 Jan 1890, p. 8, Web, 5 May 2017, https://www.newspapers.com/image/28533229/, Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, online archives.

Ancestry.com, 1860 United States Federal Census (Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.Original data – 1860 U.S. census, population schedule. NARA microfilm publication M653, 1,438 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records), Ancestry.com, http://www.Ancestry.com, Year: 1860; Census Place: Isabel, Fulton, Illinois; Roll: M653_179; Page: 118; Image: 118; Family History Library Film: 803179. Record for John J Farris.

Ancestry.com, 1870 United States Federal Census (Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.Original data – 1870 U.S. census, population schedules. NARA microfilm publication M593, 1,761 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Record), Ancestry.com, http://www.Ancestry.com, Year: 1870; Census Place: Isabel, Fulton, Illinois; Roll: M593_223; Page: 87B; Image: 180; Family History Library Film: 545722. Record for John Farris.

Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1880 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005), www.ancestry.com, Year: 1880; Census Place: Fairview, Fulton, Illinois; Roll: 207; Family History Film: 1254207; Page: 174A; Enumeration District: 040; Image: 0692. Record for John J. Farris.

Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census (Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004.Original data – United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900. T623, 18), iPhone Tree, http://www.iPhone Tree, Year: 1900; Census Place: Joliet, Will, Illinois; Roll: 353; Page: 1A; Enumeration District: 0114; FHL microfilm: 1240353. Record for John J Farris.

Ancestry.com, 1910 United States Federal Census (Online publication – Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2006.Original data – Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910 (NARA microfilm publication T624, 1,178 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Was), Ancestry.com, http://www.Ancestry.com, Year: 1910; Census Place: Isabel, Fulton, Illinois; Roll: T624_288; Page: 2B; Enumeration District: 0088; FHL microfilm: 1374301. Record for John K Farris.

Ancestry.com, Web: Illinois, Find A Grave Index, 1809-2011 (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012), www.ancestry.com, John J. Farris; https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=FAR&GSpartial=1&GSbyrel=all&GSst=16&GScntry=4&GSsr=5001&GRid=26094253&; accessed 5 May 2017. Record for John J. Farris.

Joliet Correctional Center, Volume 04, Volume 4-0158, Registry of prisoners incarcerated at the Joliet Correctional Center, Volume 04 (May 11, 1888 — January 17, 1891) Page 0158, Joliet Correctional Center, Illinois Digital Archives, discussion list (www.idaillinois.org).

Richard Lawson, The Joliet Prison Photographs, Joliet Prison, 2013, Web, 27 Jun 2017, http://www.jolietprison.com/publications/catalog.asp.

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