Toni Jo Henry was born Annie Beatrice McQuiston on January 3rd, 1916 near Shreveport Louisiana, the third of five children. She became the only woman to get the electric chair in Louisiana. She was put to death on the 28th November of 1942 for the vicious murder of Joseph P. Calloway on St. Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 1940.
Mother Of Toni Jo
Toni Jo’s mother perished when she was six years old and later her father remarried. She was never pleased with the new domestic arrangements. She pleaded with her aunt to take her away from the family home. Toni Jo got employment at the age of thirteen in a macaroni factory. She was fired when the executive found out her mother had perished from tuberculosis.
Toni Joo was beaten by her father when she got home that day. She decided to leave home for good after this. She soon got drawn into drugs and prostitution. Prostitution was one of the few things she could do. She was petite and very beautiful with jet black hair so getting clients was not a problem for her. By the age of sixteen, she was smoking, drinking, taking cannabis, and correlating with Shreveport’s underworld. She was caught various times during her teens including once for attacking a man butt avoided prison by her age.
Henry And Toni Jo
In 1939 Toni Jo met Claude “Cowboy” Henry at the Shreveport brothel. She was now working full time and fell for him instantly. He was down on his luck and she felt immediately persuaded to him. Cowboy had a criminal record but was also on bail anticipating a second trial over the shooting of an ex-police officer. Toni Jo, by this time, was addicted to cocaine so they made a tremendous couple. Cowboy succeeded in getting Toni Jo off the drugs. They wedded on November 25th, 1939, in Louisiana with Toni Jo using her real name. Cowboy took her on their honeymoon to Southern California. Their married bliss was short-lived when he received a telegram to appear in court in Texas on the shooting charge.
The cowboy turned up at the court despite Toni Jo’s pleas to him to go on the run with her and his second trial also ended in conviction. In January 1940 he was convicted to 50 years in the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville – a verdict which stunned and infuriated Toni Jo who had thought all along in her husband’s story of self-defense and his almost obvious acquittal. On hearing the sentence she pledged to get him out of jail and thus begun series of the most incredible criminal acts which in reality had no hope of success.
Toni Jo had connections in the criminal underworld in Louisiana and southern Texas and soon started making plans to spring Cowboy despite being advised that the idea was hopeless. She was staying in Beaumont, Texas to be near Cowboy and teamed up with a young man named Harold Burks who was known as Arkie. He had served a verdict in Huntsville and was presently absent without leave from the army. He claimed accurate knowledge of the prison and together they decided that they could get Cowboy out.
They schemed to steal a car and then rob a bank, that he knew in a small town in his native Arkansas, to pay for the expenses to be incurred in springing Henry. They armed themselves with pistols which Toni Jo had got a couple of acquaintances to steal for her from a gun shop and posing as newlyweds hitched lifts towards Arkansas and their target bank. By the evening of February 14th, they were in Orange, Texas, and were glancing for the “right” car, and then along it came.
Joseph P. Calloway
Joseph P. Calloway was delivering a new Ford V8 Coupe for a friend when he saw them and agreed to offer them a ride. The Ford was excellent for their purposes, new and fast for its day – capable of outrunning the police when the jailbreak came, so they guessed. They drove onwards toward Jennings, Louisiana, where Mr. Calloway was to deliver the car. They had passed through Lake Charles and got out into the countryside when Toni Jo brought out her 32 caliber revolver and ordered Mr. Calloway to turn off the main highway onto a peaceful country road. She told him to stop and then they all got out of the car where to his astonishment she ordered him to undress.
Arkie gathered up his clothes, his watch, and his money – $15. Toni Jo needed the clothes for Cowboy to change into when they sprang him. She ordered Calloway into the trunk and they set off with Arkie driving and continued for some distance until Toni Jo found a desirable spot. They got Calloway out of the trunk and she walked him across the field to some haystacks. She said him to kneel and say his prayers and then calmly shot him through the head, murdering him instantly.
She and Arkie made off in the Ford, driving through the night to Camden, Arkansas, where they had initially intended to rob the bank. They booked into an ordinary hotel and while Toni Jo slept, Arkie, who had been totally unnerved by Mr. Calloway’s cold-blooded murder, escaped from her in the car taking Calloway’s clothes with him. Murder was clearly not on his plan – he alleged later that he was broke when he met Toni Jo and just went along with her ridiculous plans as it would be manageable to get lifts back to Arkansas in the company of a pretty girl.
Finding herself deserted, Toni Jo decided to use the last of the stolen money for a bus ticket back to Shreveport Louisiana. She looked up an old friend who ran a brothel there and who convinced her to go and stay with her aunt. The aunt acknowledged that Toni Jo was in problem but was only able to glean fragments of information. Worried she decided to tell her brother who was a policeman but found that he was on holiday. So she explained her suspicions to one of his colleagues, Sgt. Dave Walker.
Walker accompanied the aunt back to her house where he questioned Toni Jo. He was familiar with Mr. Calloway being reported missing but completely unprepared for the full admission he was about to hear from Toni Jo. She even gave him the revolver with one fired and five live rounds still in it. Walker was disinclined to believe the admission as no killing had been reported and nobody or the car found. He decided to arrest her and gave her over to the Lake Charles police who took her out in a car to try and find the corpse of the man she alleged to have murdered. Ultimately, they found the exact spot and found Mr. Calloway’s corpse just as Toni Jo had left it. The bullet that murdered him was recovered at the autopsy and was found to match the gun the Walker had taken from Toni Jo.
The Ford coupe was shortly discovered abandoned in Arkansas and still comprising Mr. Calloway’s clothing and cigarette ends with lipstick on them. Toni Jo was formally accused of murder but declined to give any details of her associate because she was displeased at the way she was being reported in the press. Ultimately, she was convinced to talk and Arkie was soon arrested and brought back to Louisiana and accused of the murder too. They were to be attempted separately, however.
Toni Jo’s first prosecution opened in Lake Charles on March 27th, 1940, and persuaded huge press coverage – she was characterized in the press as a sultry brunette. In it, she attempted to shift the blame for the killing onto Arkie but the jury didn’t believe her and after contemplating for six hours on Friday, March 29th, 1940 she was guilty of killing for which there was at the time a mandatory verdict of death by hanging. Toni Jo expressed no emotion at the ruling. She was later formally sentenced to death by hanging. Arkie was also sentenced to his prosecution later in the year and sentenced to death.
She petitioned because the prosecution judge had allowed conduct prejudicial to her case and was granted a retrial which took place in February 1941. Arkie testified against her and the jury took only an hour to sentence her. Again she heard the death sentence pronounced on her and again she petitioned and won. Her third hearing took place in January 1942 with, by now, the normal outcome. This time the court saw no justification to overturn the lower court but her lawyers challenged the constitutionality of her sentence. While Toni Jo had been going through the courts Louisiana had altered its execution method from hanging to electrocution. There was a legal challenge to the constitutionality of this but the Supreme Court found that this was in line with the constitution. The state Governor, Sam Jones, let it be known that there would be no respite.
While the several court cases rumbled on Toni Jo had been detained in Lake Charles prison in Calcasieu Parish. Here she was baptized by Father Wayne Richard a Catholic preacher who attended her.
At the beginning of August 1942, Toni Jo gave an interview to reporters in which she strived to describe her feelings. “In the first place, the casualty doesn’t return to haunt me. I never think about him and have known all along that it would be life for him and I speculate that my life is worth as much to me as he was to him. I surprise though, sometimes why it’s lawful now for some fellow to kill me.” She went on to characterize her love for Cowboy and tell the reporters how was the only man who ever looked after her. She also said “I think condemned person worry more about losing contact with human beings than anything else. You feel so out of it.” She confessed the murder to the reporters and told them she was “drunk with pressure” at the time.
Towards the end, she granted an interview to reporters where she attempted to clarify her feelings towards Cowboy. She also made a sworn statement saying that it was she who shot Mr. Calloway in a final bid to clear Arkie.
On November 23rd, 1942 Cowboy and an associate decided to break out of the Texas prison farm where he had been transferred in a try to rescue Toni Jo. This daft endeavor was quickly over and he was recaptured and taken back to Huntsville.
On Friday the 27th Toni Jo was allowed her last wish, to phone Cowboy from the chief jailer’s office and she is reported to have told him “I know it has to come (her execution) and I am prepared for it” and “Get rid of that jail suit go out the front door. Go straight and try and make something of your life” He was sobbing and emotional throughout the call and yet she was bright and pleased. Toni Jo could not sleep on a Friday night and asked a sheriff’s deputy to stay with her all night, confessing to him that she felt “scared inside”.
She was even allowed the company of a small black and white dog while awaiting execution. She told the news cameraman who took some pictures, “I’ve grinned twice, Mister. Have you any idea how much talent is being wasted here today?”
Toni Jo’s execution was set for Saturday, November 28th, 1942 at 12.05 p.m. She was to be executed within the basement of the Lake Charles jail in Louisiana’s portable electric chair which had been brought by truck from Angola the previous day. Hers would be the 6th electrocution carried out in the state. She had selected a plain black dress which was brought back from the cleaners that daylight and black pumps. She was said to have sobbed when her head was shaved and had requested and was authorized to wear a brightly colored scarf to hide her baldness. Kenny Reid, the Deputy Sheriff, in charge of her, read her the death warrant and asked her if she had any last statement. She answered “I think not” and was then led to the execution room, holding Father Richard’s hand. She went calmly to her death.
Many press reporters were present and she managed a smile for them. Here is a photograph of the ceremony in the execution room.
She was authorized to pray for a few moments. Then sheriff Henry Reid Jr. asked if she had any last words to which she replied “No”. She grinned at her executioner and whispered a few words inaudible to the witnesses. She was strapped into the chair. The electrodes applied to her shaven head and her calf, and a leather mask put over her face. A moment later 2000 volts hit her and at 12.12 p.m. she was certified lifeless by the jail doctor. Her corpse was removed a few minutes later. Her last request was that a crucifix is left in her hand when she was laid to rest. Father Richard officiated at her funeral in a cemetery in Lake Charles and designed the headstone for her grave.
Arkie was executed in the same electric chair on March 23, 1943. Despite Toni Jo’s belated actions to take responsibility for the killing after she had lost her final appeal. No relatives came ahead to claim his body so it was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.
As crimes go Toni Jo’s was ill-planned, under-resourced, and had nearly no hope of success from the word go. It would appear too easy just to have stolen a car off the street. Rather than hijacking one and murdering its driver.
So what were her intentions for these crimes?. It appears that the only true purpose was her total love for Cowboy Henry. Which was so powerful it overcame all logical considerations, including her safety.
And yet why did she immediately admit to a murder that, at the time, had not even been discovered? Why hadn’t she disposed of the gun which was the main piece of evidence against her? She cooperated fully with the police in finding Mr. Calloway’s corpse. Had she disposed of the gun carefully, cleaned the car up with Arkie. She kept her mouth shut there would have been very little to relate her to the killing. We will never know the answers to these questions.
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