The bodies were identified as Elizabeth Young and her son, James. Investigation of the scene pointed to a struggle, followed by difficult deaths for both Elizabeth and James. Among the evidence were a broken hair comb, drag marks, and bloody leaves. The cap James wore was found 30 yards away from his body.
Elizabeth’s son-in-law, Francis Dick, was spotted nearby sitting on a log, appearing stressed, and holding his head in his hands. He soon stood up and started walking away, slowly at first, then breaking into a run. He was arrested at his home, and his clothes showed evidence of blood having been washed out of them. His sleeves had been rinsed then rubbed with sand, and rolled up to the elbow.
Elizabeth and her husband owned and operated a small mill until the husband’s death a few years prior. Francis and his wife had lived with Elizabeth until she kicked Francis out of the home. Although no longer allowed to live there, Francis visited the house frequently, until the night of the murder. Motive seemed obvious – Francis had assisted his late father-in-law in paying for the mill property, but the deed was made out to Elizabeth Young. It did not take long for Francis to confess to the brutal murders. He soon gave police directions to find the murder weapon, a spade, along with a gun he had taken with him but did not use.
Daytonians were fascinated with this case. A pamphlet called “The Life and Crimes of Francis Dick” sold profusely. In this pamphlet, they learned about his early years in Bavaria, his life in Troy, Ohio, and the allegations of murder before he made his way to Dayton. Stories involving years of temper flares even included two counts of assault and battery against his own wife, Kathrina Young – once after finding her cheating, and another after seeing her dance with another man.
Francis was quickly convicted of first degree murder, although he did not believe he would be executed for his crime. If anyone mentioned to him that he should pray or make amends for his sins, he would laugh and say he “wasn’t born to be hung.” This pomposity lasted until the last week of his life, and the truth started sinking in. He decided to make a complete confession, airing all of his sins.
Before coming to Dayton, Francis had been accused of murder in Troy. He denied the allegation, stating that someone else had tampered with the man’s whiskey. He did, however, admit to getting his father-in-law drunk, hitting him with a club, and throwing his body in the canal. When the body washed up the next morning, everyone had assumed it was an accident.
Francis also said he never meant to hurt James, only Elizabeth Young. He had intended to only kill her that day, but at the onset on the attack, James ran away, calling for his brother. Attempts by Francis to silence the boy got out of hand and he struck him, leading to his death.
On September 8, 1854, Francis Dick was led from his cell to the hanging platform, scheduled to be the second person to be hanged in the history of Montgomery County. Many came out to see as Sheriff Henderson adjusted the noose around his neck, tightened it, and centered him over the trap door. The Sheriff stepped back and…
Actually, let’s talk a second about how hanging works. Several factors go into the science of a hanging, from the length of the drop, the weight of the prisoner, the tightness of the noose, and whether a slow strangulation death or a quick neck breaking death is desired. But none of these factors matter if the rope isn’t strong enough.
…Francis went plummeting through the trap door, the rope snapping under his weight. Although the impact of hitting the ground was enough to render him unconscious, he was still very much alive, in a sitting position on the floor below the trap door.
The sheriff and his assistants hurried to pick him up off the floor and bring him back up to a new noose. Watching the sheriff and his men struggle to put the unconscious man in a noose and position him back over the trap door was too difficult to bear for many, and some fainted, while others turned away.
The second time was effective, and for years to follow, many remembered the hanging of Francis Dick as “the day the rope broke.”