Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota

By John D. Bessler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Execution of Ann Bilansky

The execution of women in the United States is—and always has been— a rare phenomenon. Women are still executed, but only sporadically, as was the case in 1998 when the State of Texas executed convicted killer Karla Faye Tucker—the first woman executed in that state since the Civil War. Last-ditch pleas for mercy, joined by conservative televangelist Pat Robertson, set off a media-driven, worldwide movement to save Tucker’s life. However, Texas Governor George W. Bush and the Texas Board of Pardons refused to stop her execution. Freely admitting to murdering her ex-lover with a pickaxe, the thirty-eight-year-old Tucker, a born-again Christian, died by lethal injection for a crime she committed while drunk and on drugs. In all, only a handful of women, condemned to die for crimes like smothering children or poisoning a husband or a fiancé with arsenic, have been executed in America in recent times.1

Like Tucker’s high-profile case, the drama-filled execution of a woman once happened within Minnesota’s borders. Her name was Ann Bilansky, a tall, childless woman who had come in April 1858 from Pleasant Hill, Illinois, to St. Paul, Minnesota, at the behest of John Walker, her ill nephew. After arriving in the state’s bustling capital of ten thousand people, she first lived in a small shanty with Walker. Soon, however, she married Stanislaus Bilansky, an early pioneer. Her new husband, on his third marriage, was a short, heavyset bar owner in his early fifties. He lived in a three-room house on St. Paul’s Stillwater Road and

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