Napa has the dubious distinction of being the site of the last public hanging in the state.

It happened back in 1897 for a murder that so enraged the Napa community that instead of sending the criminal to San Quentin Prison, the judge turned the responsibility over to the sheriff so the hanging could occur in the Napa County Jail yard.

On Feb. 9, 1891, William Roe and Carl Schmidt went to the Napa Valley farm of J.Q. Greenwood. The two had heard that the farmer had sold a choice piece of property for $5,000, and they assumed he brought the coin back to his farm.

The two asked Greenwood for something to eat. He told them his wife, Lucinda, was on an errand, and when she returned she would fix them a meal. Roe and Schmidt then pulled out their revolvers, forced Greenwood to swallow a vial of chloroform, and then gagged and tied him up.

When Lucinda arrived, they pushed her off the porch. She fell, and the two stomped on her. They also forced her to take liquid chloroform, gagged and dragged her to her bed.

Roe and Schmidt searched the house and found nothing of value except $4.50 in cash. They left only to return later to do more searching. Greenwood by then had recovered consciousness. He found his wife had died and was with her body when the two criminals came back into the house. They then took turns shooting Greenwood in the head, but not fatally.

The two then took Lucinda's buggy and went to Napa to do some drinking before leaving the area. Greenwood managed to crawl out of his house to the road, where he was found by neighbors, who called the sheriff.

A year later, Schmidt was arrested in a Denver saloon after bragging about the Napa murder. He was brought back to Napa for trial. He implicated Roe and was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at San Quentin.

Roe escaped capture until 1896, when he fell to the same temptation as Schmidt. After drinking quite a few whiskeys in a San Fernando saloon, Roe boasted how he had killed a woman in Napa. He was arrested and found guilty.

In preparing for the hanging, the sheriff hired carpenters to build a corrugated iron fence enclosure in the county jail's yard. It was 40 feet long and 34 feet wide. He also ordered a platform for visitors to view the hanging.

On January 15, 1897, Roe was led from the jail to the wooden gallows. A photographer was present to take the official photo. Roe is just a big white fuzzy spot in the middle of the picture because the photographer got the shot the moment the floor opened up under Roe.

One of the doctors who attended Roe's autopsy managed to get hold of the body and took the bones to a roof in downtown Napa to bleach them. He then put the skeleton back together. It reportedly was used to teach high school students taking biology courses. Eventually it disappeared, and its whereabouts are unknown today.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.