Wade on Birmingham

Birmingham’s Biggest Crooks: Richard Hawes


In August, we’re celebrating Birmingham’s Biggest Crooks, whether they be liars, thieves, extortionists, swindlers or thugs. Running daily until Birmingham mayor Larry Langford’s Aug. 31 federal trial. Thanks to Bhamwiki for helping with this project.

Richard Hawes

Richard HawesPositions held: Atlanta railroad engineer

Wanted for: murder of his daughter May (found in East Lake) and his other daughter Irene and wife Emma (both found chained at the bottom of Lakeview Lake, now Highland Park Golf Course).

Date of conviction: May 23, 1889

Sentence: death by hanging

Criminally fun fact: Hawes’ triple homicide sparked national media attention for the young city of Birmingham. He married Mayes Story, of Columbus, Miss., shortly after the murders. His son Willie, living with Hawes’ relatives in Georgia, survived.

After the discovery of Emma and Irene’s bodies, a mob of 1,000 to 3,000 people came for Hawes at the county jail, but Sheriff Joseph Smith ordered his deputies to fire on the crowd, killing 10 people. A St. Louis circus owner offered to purchase Hawes’ body for his traveling sideshow but was rejected.

The episode is credited with transforming Birmingham from a wild frontier town into a law-abiding New South city.

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