Federal government's last execution was in Iowa in 1963
Monday, April 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
FORT MADISON, Iowa (AP) _ The next prisoner scheduled for execution by the federal government is getting far more attention than the last one _ a convicted murderer who was quietly hanged 38 years ago in a state prison workshop.
Timothy McVeigh, scheduled to die by injection on May 16 for bombing the federal building at Oklahoma City, will be the first federal prisoner executed since Victor Feguer went to the gallows in 1963 at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison.
The two men are a study in contrasts.
McVeigh killed 168 people with his bomb. Feguer killed one, a doctor kidnapped in Dubuque and taken across the state line into Illinois.
McVeigh carefully planned his crime. Feguer was incapable of planning anything, said his attorney, Frederick White of Waterloo.
And while McVeigh is not fighting the death penalty, Feguer resisted until the end, but decided not to make a final statement. He never admitted killing Dr. Edward Bartels.
Feguer was brought to the Fort Madison prison to die because the federal government did not have a death chamber.
Feguer's last meal request was simple _ an olive with the pit still in it. He told prison officials he hoped an olive tree would sprout from his body as a sign of peace.
``I sure hope I'm the last one to go,'' Feguer is said to have told the Rev. Bernard Brugman, the prison chaplain, on the day he died _ March 15, 1963.
Witnesses said Feguer stood silently, chewing gum rapidly, as the noose was placed around his neck and a black silk hood was pulled over his face.
At 5:30 a.m., a trap door in the wooden gallows was pulled open and he fell through and dangled at the end of the rope. A doctor stood on a table beneath the gallows to check for a heartbeat, and Feguer was pronounced dead of a broken neck.
A prison psychological examining board had found that he suffered from a character disorder with psychotic episodes. Doctors who examined him three months before his execution said he was a sociopath with schizophrenic tendencies.
Feguer ``had considerable repression and denial in facing this penalty,'' the doctors wrote. ``He must accept the acts as having occurred.''
White described his client as ``weird.''
Investigators said Feguer chose Bartels simply because his name was listed first among general practitioners in the phone book.
Feguer asked the doctor to come to a Dubuque rooming house on July 11, 1960, saying his wife was ill. Feguer didn't have a wife and apparently kidnapped Bartels for ransom or drugs.
Bartels' body, with a gunshot wound to the head, was found in a field near Menominee, Ill.
White said his client refused to discuss details of the case. ``We never learned anything from him,'' he said. ``We couldn't even get a discussion with him about it.''
Feguer, who was 25 at the time, was arrested nine days after the doctor disappeared when he tried to sell Bartels' car in Birmingham, Ala.
White and his defense team appealed Feguer's conviction on grounds that he was not mentally fit for trial. The appeal was denied, and President Kennedy refused to grant clemency.
Feguer had a prison record stretching back to the age of 13, when he was convicted of breaking and entering and spent two years in institutions. He was arrested for burglary in 1951 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released in 1960, the year he kidnapped and shot Bartels.
Retired prison clerk Charles Wilkens remembers checking Feguer into the Iowa prison.
``He was quiet, never gave any trouble, never bothered anybody,'' Wilkens said.
Wilkens said the scaffold was built in a 40-by-50-foot room in a prison auto mechanics shop a couple of weeks before the execution.
Prison guards bought a new noose for Feguer and began stretching the rope two weeks ahead of time ``so there was no stretch in it,'' Wilkens said. The prison billed the federal government $28.75 for the rope.
State Sen. John Ely Jr. witnessed Feguer's hanging to learn more about capital punishment so he could persuade fellow lawmakers to end the death penalty. He later managed the bill that repealed Iowa's capital punishment law in 1965. Wilkens said the Iowa prison had executed 32 people from the time it opened in 1839.
Feguer was buried in an unmarked grave in a barren corner of a public cemetery in Fort Madison. Despite his wish, no olive tree ever sprouted.