The Hanging of an Innocent Man in Sioux Falls
Historical Markers are all over Sioux Falls, but have you ever actually stopped to read them?
They can be very informative and interesting. For example, on a recent walk in downtown Sioux Falls, I stopped to read one of the markers near The Old Courthouse Museum, and as a true-crime nerd, I was shocked!
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This particular marker was about Thomas Egan, an immigrant farmer from Ireland. He married his wife, Mary, in Madison Wisconsin in 1866. Mary was widowed with one child, Catherine.
They eventually settled in Dakota in 1876, however, Catherine was left behind in Wisconsin with relatives until the newlywed couple was settled.
Well, the couple got settled and had three sons, Sylvester, John, and Tommy, all before Catherine came back to live with them in the Dakota Territory. I'm guessing there may have been some resentment on Catherine's behalf.
Eventually, Catherine married a neighbor by the name of James Van Horn in 1879.
Then in 1880, the happy family reunion was over when Mary was found dead in the cellar of the Egan home.
Any true crime fan knows that the first person the authorities look at when someone is murdered is the spouse. So, Thomas Egan quickly became the first and only suspect. He was taken into custody and put on trial. All the while, he claimed his innocence. During the trial, Catherine and James Van Horn testified for the prosecution.
Thomas Egan was quoted as saying, "Judge, I have nothing against anybody in the Court, or anybody around the country, except the Van Horns. They betrayed me and may the curse of God be upon them. I can stand it, Sir. The law may not reach the Van Horns, but the curse of God will."
Thomas Egan was hanged in 1882 for the murder of his wife, Mary. But wait, that isn't the worst part! The historical marker states, "On the first drop, the rope broke and Egan was carried back to the platform. On the second drop, a deputy inadvertently broke Egan’s fall and the hanging man was dragged to stand on the trap door a third time. Following the third drop, the official physician declared him dead."
I don't know about you, but I think if someone messes up the hanging twice, the guy should just be let go. Can you imagine?!?!?!
But wait, it gets worse. Hard to believe, but it does.
Catherine Van Horn, on her deathbed in 1927, admitted that she killed her mother during an argument! She admitted her guilt in writing even! She wrote, "Back in South Dakota in the early ‘80’s I killed my mother. We quarreled and I hit her again and again over the head until she died. No one ever suspected me. My stepfather, Thomas Egan, was hung for the crime. He died vowing his innocence."
Seriously!?!?!?! She even testified against him!
This is one of those stories that must be true because you can't make this stuff up.
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