The trial of ‘the woman who couldn’t cry’

March 16th, 2007    Author: Richard Crawford    Filed Under: News

The recent murder case involving the death of three-year-old Marcus Fiesel has managed to attract national attention. This is very similar to a 1952 murder case that was tried in Clermont County Common Pleas Court. This is the second part of a two-part story about the Dovie Dean murder trial.

During the trial, Dovie Dean became nationally famous as “The woman who couldn’t cry.” She was described as displaying “grim silence, not smiling or crying.”

When she was sent to the Lima State Prison to be tested for insanity because of her lack of reaction in court, she was declared sane after about one month’s stay. The psychiatrists made note that Mrs. Dean “doesn’t feel because she can’t.”

It was determined she had poisoned her husband four times by putting Zip Rat Poison in his milk each of the four times. Zip Rat Poison was described as “a clear liquid commercial rat poison containing arsenic.” When the county sheriff’s department searched the Dean farm the rat poison was found hidden in the coal shed. Not many years ago this writer found the bottle of Zip Rat Poison used as evidence in the basement of the old courthouse.

The bottle of Zip Rat Poison used as evidence is located in the basement of the old courthouse.
With the expected straight forward questioning and responses throughout the trial and with Mrs. Dean's complete lack of emotion during the entire proceedings, one brief moment of jocularity occurred when she was asked if she drank excessively. Her response, "Not since I've been in jail." The trial ended on Saturday Dec. 13. Dovie Dean was convicted of murder. The jury had deliberated less than 40 minutes. Mrs. Dean was sentenced on her 55th birthday, Feb. 25, 1953. In front of the court Mrs. Dean was given the opportunity to speak before the sentence was pronounced. Her statement was merely, "Not guilty is all I have to say." Judge Britton then overruled the defense's motion for a new trial. Then he said to Mrs. Dean, "You are now informed by the Court that the verdict must stand finding you guilty of murder in the first degree without recommendation of mercy. This finding carries the death penalty." Then Britton gave Mrs. Dean and her attorneys an opportunity to respond and he continued, "It is therefore the judgment of this Court that the death sentence be executed under these findings, by causing a current of electricity of sufficient intensity to be passed through your body to cause your death. . . the execution of this death penalty shall be put into effect under the law on June 5, 1953." She was escorted from the courtroom to the jail in the small two-story brick building that stood immediately to the east side of the courthouse. She was escorted by Deputy Sheriff Frank Hutchinson and Mrs. Kathryn Dericks, the jail matron and wife of Sheriff Dericks. Mrs. Dean was removed by automobile from the Clermont County jail on March 4 to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. Mr. and Mrs. Dericks were two of the escorts and later the sheriff commented that Mrs. Dean never asked any questions about the case or the sentencing and only spoke when spoken to except on one occasion when she commented how beautiful were the trees and the sky. The same day she arrived in Columbus she was taken to the Marysville (Ohio) Reformatory for Women where she was given the prison number 94211. While at Marysville she was again noted for her lack of emotion, but she was given a Bible and was seen praying often. In August she was christened by Rev. George W. Wilder of the Marysville First Methodist Church. It was during this ceremony that she was observed crying. After three postponements, Governor of Ohio Frank Lausche refused any more appeals for mercy. On the cold and rainy night of Feb. 15, 1954, at 5:42 p.m., Dovie Dean left the Marysville Reformatory and arrived at the Ohio State Penitentiary at 6:59 p.m. Upon leaving Marysville, Mrs. Dean spoke to Marguerite Reilly, the superintendent at Marysville, saying, "God bless you for all your kindness." Mrs. Dean was served her last meal. She requested and ate roast chicken, coconut pie, angel food cake, and black coffee. When she was escorted into the room that contained the electric chair she was wearing "a cheap blue dress, flat heeled shoes, and white anklets." She asked to hear the singing of her favorite hymn "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," but the request was refused. Instead it was read by Rev. Wilcher, the pastor who had christened her. He also read the 23rd Psalm and a selection from Isaiah, "Fear thou not for I am with thee." Others in attendance at the execution were a Catholic priest, 12 newspaper reporters, two prison matrons, the prison physician, Ohio State Penitentiary Warden Ralph W. Alvis, and five prison guards. Mrs. Dean's glasses were removed and she kept her head hung down. The electric chair was on a low platform. Mrs. Dean was seated in the chair and her legs, arms, and shoulders were strapped to the chair and a heavy, broad belt was tightened around her midsection. Electrodes were attached to her right leg and the top of her head (the top of her head had been shaved for the electrode application). A full face black covering with a nose flap for breathing was applied, but before it was placed upon her head she made her final statement, "When I got the witness stand they made light of me because I couldn't cry. . . I had grief inside like knives." Warden Alvis indicated to proceed with the execution. For 10 seconds 1,950 volts of electricity were shot through Mrs. Dean's body, then for 40 seconds the voltage was lowered to 500 volts and then for 10 seconds more, the 1,950 volts were reapplied. The volts of electricity caused Mrs. Dean to jerk violently against her straps. The prison physician pronounced Dovie Dean dead at 8:07 p.m. Edward Colonel had been reporting the Dovie Dean case from its beginning for the county newspapers. He would later become the Batavia Chief of Police. He was one of the 12 newspaper reporters at the execution. He wrote a very vivid account of that night. He described the night as dark and gloomy with a steady downpour. "I first saw the dark, gray and ashen walls of the Ohio Penitentiary about 6:45 p.m. The wailing of sirens stopped me and as I looked towards the warden's office, there I could see the Ohio State Patrol escorting the warden's official car into the prison grounds. I was close enough to see the two matrons in the warden's car dressed in white, but at this time I did not see Mrs. Dean, although I later found out that she was in this car. "I soon arrived at the warden's office and there I was greeted by Sheriff Clyde Dericks. The next person I saw was the undertaker from West Virginia who was there to claim Mrs. Dean's body - an undertaker for the body before she is dead, I thought. "About 7:15 p.m., as all of us were standing next to the prison cell door - main entrance - the guard at the door asked for our credentials and what newspaper we represented. At this time Sheriff Dericks informed the guard that he did not wish to see the execution, but that if Mrs. Dean did ask for him he would go to see her. "At exactly 7:30 p.m. we were called into Warden Ralph W. Alvis' private office. The warden, a polite and firm gentleman, shook hands with everyone as he extended us our passes to enter the next door. We received instructions from the warden what we were permitted to do and what not to do. We left the warden's office at exactly 7:58 p.m. were searched for cameras by guards before we entered the main cell block and then out into the open courtyard to a little brick room which is annexed to the penitentiary. The convicts in the cells could be heard singing a church hymn; they knew why we were there. I entered the door to the little room. "There were only two doors in the death house, the one we entered and the one that Dovie Blanche Dean would enter. I saw Mrs. Dean. It was the first time since I waved her a goodbye when Sheriff Dericks took her away. Her appearance amazed me; she had gained weight. I saw her when she was about three steps inside the door. She faltered then and two guards grabbed her and aided her. She seemed able to walk and gradually the guards only walked beside her. She appeared to have been rubbing her eyes, as to cry, but no tears would come. She walked alone, I felt sorry for her. "She reached the chair, put her right hand on the right armrest and looked around the room and then sat down and lowered her eyes as though she were looking at her shoes. She appeared neat and her hair was set, but she never raised her eyes again while in the chair. "The guard quickly strapped her in the chair around her waist and arms. Then a leather mask was placed over her eyes; her nose and mouth were visible. The prison chaplain was droning as the electrodes were being fastened to her left leg and the top of her head. As soon as the guards had completed their work they stepped back to the door through which Mrs. Dean had entered. The chaplain was stepping back to be with the other ministers and the warden stepped forward from our group and stood directly in front of Mrs. Dean, perhaps five feet from her. "The warden gave a slight nod of his head toward the assistant warden, E. L. Maxwell, who was five feet on the right side of the chair. He slowly reached up and pressed a small button that gave the executioners the all ready signal. At exactly 8 p.m. Mrs. Dean bent slightly forward, gave a backward jerk, her arms tightened on the armrests and she was dead. She never moved again although she was still to receive about 58 seconds of some 1,950 volts of electricity. She sat still in the chair, and the room was filled with silence. "Mrs. Dean's body was paying for her crime to humanity. Her soul was in God's charge now. "I had no doubt after I saw Mrs. Dean nearing that chair that she was guilty; if there was any doubt in my mind I soon forgot it. That she was guilty I am certain. I'm not sure that she was the only one involved but I'm certain of her guilt in the crime that eventually took her life." Dovie Dean's body was taken to St. Albans, W. Va. The funeral service took place at the Dunbar Mountain Mission. She was buried on Jan. 17, in a cemetery near St. Albans next to a son who had died in an accident not many years before. A crowd of an estimated 800 people were in attendance. They sang "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."
Richard Crawford is the official Clermont County historian and a staff writer at The Clermont Sun.
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