100 Years Ago in Bienville Parish: A Condemned Man’s Last Statement

On April 13, 1922, Notary Public Bertram F. Barnette took a statement from a condemned man.  Seven months earlier, a man known only as Mr. Murrell traveled south on the Louisiana and Northwest Railroad freight train to Gibsland, then traveled west on the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Pacific Railroad, the same railroad the parallels Interstate 20.  Mr. Murrell was relocating to Texas and was traveling in a box car with his belongings.  When the train stopped at Gibsland, Mr. Murrell was alive and well.  When the train stopped in Sibley a few minutes later, Mr. Murrell’s lifeless body was found.  The cause of death was a gunshot wound.  

After a two week manhunt, police arrested Bill Byrd in a theater in Homer.  While in custody, Byrd confessed to Bienville Parish Sheriff Curry that he committed the murder and was sentenced to death by hanging.  Two other men, Ed Smith and Lonnie Jackson were also charged with the murder and received life sentences.

The date of Bill Byrd’s hanging was scheduled for April 13, 1922.  At around noon on that day, the Notary Public Barnette recorded the following statement in its entirety from Byrd:

“Ed Smith asked me how far was I going and asked me did I want to go as far as Shreveport and I told him yes, but Mr. Murrell, he said he didn’t expect he would let me go because I was young, but would let him go to water the stock as far as Shreveport. 

I got on the train below Homer, there about the old fish pond below Homer. Me and Ed caught it together and rode it to Athens together in the car with Mr. Murrell. They put both of us off there at Athens. Ed went back to the caboose or somewhere and I went on down the track and got in a car box by myself and went to Gibs [Gibsland]. I never saw Ed Smith any more except once there in the depot at Gibs. I don’t know how or when he left Gibs. I hadn’t saw Lonnie Jackson in about three weeks. I left Gibs on the freight train in the car with Mr. Murrell just about day light on the second day of September, 1921, and after we had got down the road a piece, I got the gun and shot him on the side of his head. He didn’t know I was shooting him. I thought he had some money and I wanted it. I got $27.00 or $28.00. Right after I shot him I got off the train and took the single barrel shot gun that I had kil[l]ed him with and some clothes with me. I come and caught a train on the L. & N.W. and a man took the gun and clothes and throwed them down. I got back to Homer that night about midnight.

When I made up my mind to kill Mr. Murrell, Ed Smith or Lonnie Jackson neither one was not on the train and they didn’t know nothing about it. I am guilty of the crime myself. The reason I said they was in it was because Mr. Coleman and Mr. Currie asked me if they wasn’t in it and I says yes, because I thought it would make it lighter on me and I knew Ed Smith and Lonnie Jackson was charged with it and the people thought they done it and they thought I was Lonnie Jackson.”

(Signed) Bill Byrd

Pastor J.C. Cox of Arcadia Baptist church prayed for the condemned man.  As Byrd left the jail for the gallows, he paused by an open window and spoke to the gathered crowd.  He told the crowd that it was he who killed Mr. Murrell and claimed that Lonnie Jackson and Ed Smith were innocent.  Just before he turned away he said he wished that everyone present would feel as safe as he did as they faced their last moments on earth.  At 2:30 pm, Sheriff Currie “sprang the trap which sent Byrd into eternity.”

Source: The Bienville Democrat, April 20, 1922, p.1.  

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