The Consequences of Irreverent Laughter

Scott County’s only double-execution happened on February 6, 1885. The hanging occurred in Estillville, or what later became Gate City. Wayne Powers, 23, and George Gibson, 25, were convicted of murder in April of 1884.



The Crime

William Gibson was murdered during a drunken fight on the way home to Scott County, Virginia. William traveled with his cousin George Gibson. Brothers Jonas and Wayne Powers accompanied them. Jonas left the trio before any trouble began. Altogether, the men had consumed around six pints of brandy.

George and William were fighting when they reached Dungannon. Wayne then joined the fray. Both George and Wayne shot William. He died instantly. They decided to salvage his clothing, so they stripped it off the body. They also split the money he carried, which was a little over $9.

Legend states the murderers hung William’s dead body, and then burned it while they laughed. The crime was allegedly committed for $12 and a new suit. There’s no documentation to support this version of events. The actual motive was never formally established. Unconfirmed reports attributed the violence to an argument over who paid the most money for the brandy.



The Aftermath

Both men confessed to the crime. After their conviction, Wayne authored a pamphlet chronicling his many crimes, which included several instances of attempted murder. He wrote that he once tried to kill his own brother.

The execution wasn’t public, but that didn’t stop thousands from attending. The murderers were given a public podium to address spectators prior to their demise. Wayne took center stage and warned those in attendance about the dangers of cards, pistols, and whiskey.

George joked that the rope was going to break with him, but the laughter would not last. Both men were hung at 12:30. Wayne’s neck snapped quickly, but perhaps out of divine retribution for George’s irreverent humor, his neck did not break. He struggled for some time before he died.

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