6. Sheriff W.H. “Ham” Dowling
Convicted of stabbing Arnold Brymer with a pocket knife, Hersey Mitchell was hung at the Bradford County Jail in 1913. This is said to be the last hanging in Bradford County. Sheriff S.B. Denmark, who was responsible for carrying out the execution, is behind other witnesses including Alachua County sheriff P.G. Ramsey (white shirt and suspenders) and Duval County sheriff W.H. Dowling. Photograph courtesy of the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, https://floridamemory.com/items/show/27060
Ham Dowling was a man who thought he was above the law. Dowling, a former Seaboard Air Lines Railway train conductor and son of a Baptist minister, was elected Duval County sheriff in 1912 on a strong law-and-order campaign against “a carnival of crime.” In 1917, Governor Sidney Catts suspended him for lax enforcement of anti-liquor laws but he was reinstated a few months later. Five years later, he was suspended by Governor Cary Hardee on a conspiracy charge but was later reinstated. In 1928, W.B. Cahoon was elected over the long-time sheriff and commenced bare-knuckle law enforcement that Jacksonville had not seen during most of the Prohibition era under Dowling.
Not surprisingly, two years later Dowling was in the news again. This time, busted for the ownership of two stills with 14,000 gallons of beer, 250 gallons of whiskey and 79 bottles of home brew. Dowling’s “Nothing to see here, move along” claim that he didn’t know the stills were on his property, fell on deaf ears. In 1931, Dowling was sentenced to serve two years in a federal prison in Atlanta.
5. John J. Mendenhall
John Mendenhall was known as the Pinellas County citrus king. In 1914, Mendenhall feel in love with a young lady who attempted to exploit a large sum of money from him. Mendenhall responded by shooting the young woman and her mother to death in July 1915. He attempted to kill the chauffeur carrying them too but he successfully fled. Mendenhall was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
In prison, Mendenhall became a model prisoner and was put in charge of construction. In 1923, Jacksonville physician Ralph Greene, designed the electric chair while Cook’s Cabinet Shop on Newnan Street fashioned it. In 1924, Mendenhall installed it at the Florida State Prison in Raiford.
60 and stricken with cancer, Mendenhall was pardoned in July 1930 after being incarcerated for 15 years. Finally free, Mendenhall moved to Jacksonville, working construction and shipyard jobs to support himself. Living in an Adams Street rooming house, he befriended Mary Rae Anderson and her Laura Matilda Green. In 1934, both ladies were found beaten to death. Mendenhall declared his innocence, claiming he was home playing rummy when they were murdered. However, his fingerprints were found on a knife, hammer, and his blood on a sheet. He also had scratches on his hands and wrists.
However, Mendenhall claimed he had done handyman work for the ladies, which is why his prints were on the knife and hammer. The scratches and blood came from him saving the senile mother from attempting to run into the St. Johns River.
Mendenhall’s second murder trial lasted several days. Finally, the jury deliberated and John J. Mendenhall was found not guilty!