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Bechtel-McCone plant

East Lake postcard from the 1920s. May Hawes’s body was found here.

The Hawes Horror Conclusion: Part Three

—By Tom Badham

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hroughout the rest of the summer nothing much appeared in the Birmingham or Atlanta newspapers about the Hawes murder or the trial. The big newspaper stories in July and August of 1889 were the death at the hands of his father-in-law, W. A. Collier in Clanton, Alabama, of Phillip A. Givhan, a detective hired by the Age-Herald to help investigate Hawes. He was also slightly wounded during the "Jail Riot." The papers publicized the continuing hunt for the notorious train robber, Rube Burrows, whose activities were "terrorizing" the citizens of the state. John L. Sullivan’s illegal 75-round, two and a half hour fist fight against Jake Kilrain at Richburg, Mississippi with Sullivan’s subsequent arrest and conviction was big news. Also spotlighted were the police raids in August of the "roost" of "the notorious mulatto madam," Jennie Beal known as the "Speckled Queen" in "Scratch Ankle."

On Friday, September 6, 1889, the Hawes case again became front page news as Fannie Bryant’s trial began. The trial ended on Monday, September 9, 1889, with a verdict rendered in less than two hours with the jury foreman announcing that they had found Fannie Bryant "guilty of aiding and abetting Richard R. Hawes in the murder of his wife and two daughters."

On Tuesday, January 14, 1890 the Alabama Supreme Court rendered its more than 6,000 word decision on Richard Hawes’ appeal. It concluded with, "We find no error in the record, and the judgment of the Jefferson County Criminal Court is affirmed. The day fixed for the execution of the sentence of death pronounced against the defendant having passed, it becomes our duty to specify another day for the execution. It is accordingly ordered and adjudged that on Friday, the 28th day of February, 1890, the sheriff of Jefferson County execute the sentence of the law by hanging the defendant, the said Richard R. Hawes, by the neck until he is dead, in obedience to the judgment and the sentence of the criminal court of Jefferson County, as herein affirmed." Three weeks after the Hawes appeal was denied, reporter Marion S. Cann wrote an amazing four column, front-page

story appearing in the February 12, 1890, Weekly Age-Herald/* in Birmingham. In it he claimed that Hawes had finally made an emotional, rambling and often incoherent confession to his brother James and Sheriff Smith on February 8th. In the confession Hawes accused John Wylie and Fannie Bryant of doing the actual murders for him for $500. Accounts in the Atlanta Constitution by E. C. Bruffey of a final interview with Hawes differed greatly from the Weekly Age-Herald story. Because of this development, a preliminary hearing was scheduled before Justice of the Peace William T. Poe in the Jefferson County Circuit courtroom. On February 12, 1890, Solicitor James E. Hawkins and reporter Cann chartered a Louisville and Nashville "special engine" and hastened to interview the "notorious" Fannie Bryant in the women’s state penitentiary "The Walls" at Wetumpka, Alabama.

After being told of Hawes confession, Fannie Bryant promptly responded that he had lied. She had never seen John Wylie before he was jailed and that Hawes himself had taken May Hawes away on Monday night, December 3, 1888. According to the reporter, "She insisted on her own innocence and repeated at length the story she had told in court several times. She lays most of the responsibility of her conviction on the newspapers that kept writing her up until they got a mob after her. She does not propose to make a confession about anything to satisfy them. She is in the penitentiary for life and she supposes she will have to stand it." (Fannie Bryant was pardoned eleven years later on December 21, 1901.)

John and Jules Wylie were brought back to Birmingham for the hearing. During the hearing, the Wylies’ lawyer, W. J. Callahan, brought out many inconsistencies in the Hawes’ confession and brought forth witnesses to show that John and Jules Wylie could not have been where Hawes alleged at the times he alleged. There was not enough hard evidence for the Wylie’s to be charged and they were never brought to trial.

(End of Part Three)


Songs About Birmingham

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he Birmingham History Center has 17 pieces of music with either "Birmingham" in the name or the musical score focused on the city, all donated by the Jefferson County Historical Association. These items were found by Tom West.

Dr. Lawrence Reynolds (UAB)

The Birmingham History Center has a growing collection of Birmingham movie posters and musical scores. Magic City Nights, was the official theme song of the Vulcan dedication celebration pageant for the world’s largest cast-iron statue, 1939.

  • Magic City Nights
  • Tuxedo Junction
  • Birmingham Papa
  • Birmingham Jail
  • If I Ever Get Back to Birmingham to the Girl Who Waits for Me
  • Paint Me a Birmingham
  • Headin’ Home Bound for Birmingham
  • Birmingham Blues
  • Birmingham Rag
  • I’m Coming Back to Birmingham
  • Postmarked Birmingham
  • Way Down in Birmingham
  • Birmingham Bounce
  • Birmingham Birtha
  • Magic City Nights
  • Breakfast in Birmingham
  • Birmingham Shuffle


History of the JCHA

The Jefferson County Historical Association is dedicated to preserving and publicizing local history through regular meetings, publications and events. Founded in 1975 to promote historical preservation efforts, the society has grown to more than 400 members.

Alice McSpadden Williams

Thomas N. Carruthers, Jr.

George L. Jenkins

Harry E. Bradford

Rucker Agee
Lane Carter
Elizabeth Cooper
Chriss Doss
Paul H. Earle
Robert Montgomery
Margaret Sizemore
George Stewart
J. Morgan Smith
Richard J. Stockham
James F. Sulzby, Jr.
S. Vincent Townsend
Henry Tuttle

Board of Directors:
Cathy Criss Adams
Craig Allen, Jr.
Thomas E. Badham
Jim Bennett
Jeanne B. Bradford
Herbert F. Griffin
Judy S. Haise
Ann B. Hillhouse
Robert R. Kracke
Carolyn H. Reich
Barbara (Babs) Simpson
Edward W. Stevenson, MD
Thomas M. West, Jr.

Past Presidents:
J. Morgan Smith
Margaret D. Sizemore
Elmer C. Thuston, Jr.
Chriss Doss
Betsy Bancroft
Tillman W. Pugh
William A. Price
Thomas M. West, Jr.
Madge D. Jackson
Thad G. Long
Don G. Watkins
Fred M. Jackson III
Thomas O. Caldwell, MD
Charles A. Speir
Craig Allen, Jr.
Edward W. Stevenson, MD
Jim Bennett




Jefferson County Historical Association Books

historic birmingham & jefferson county

Historic Birmingham
and Jefferson County
By James R. Bennett
$45 (member discount)

Elyton Land Company Minute Books

Elyton Land Company
Minute Books, 1871-1895
Edited by Thomas M. West, Jr.

History of Jefferson County Before 1850

History of Jefferson County
Before 1850
By Will F. Franke


About JCHA Publications

The Jefferson County Historical Association offers several books that offer a fresh insight into the rich history of Birmingham and Jefferson County Alabama. They tell the fascinating story of the people and industries that made Jefferson County and Alabama the industrial center of the South.

From first-hand accounts to thoroughly researched narratives, The JCHA publishes books that bring forth rich episodes of Jefferson Counties history in a readable style that engages both scholarly and general audiences.

Ordering JCHA Books

These JCHA books can be purchased at meetings of the Jefferson County Historical Association or ordered by mail.

Click the link below to print or save a book order form. PDF format.

Book Order Form

You may also order by sending your check or money order to the following address along with $5.00 for shipping and taxes (please add $2.00 for each additional book):

The Jefferson County Historical Association
PO Box 130285
Birmingham, AL 35213-0285

Please indicate book title and quantity when ordering.


Other Source Publications Co-Sponsored by the JCHA:

  • Tannehill and the Growth of the Alabama Iron Industry — James R. Bennett, Alabama Historic Ironworks Commission, 1999, available at www.tannehill.org, $45.
  • The Valley and the Hills, an Illustrated History of Birmingham and Jefferson County — Leah Rawls Atkins, Windsor Publications, 1981, available at the Birmingham Public Library Southern History Department, http://www.birminghamarchives.org/ArchivesStore.htm, $30


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