How the last public execution in California gave us the meanest ghost in Napa

Some years before his public execution, William Roe convinced a friend to write a letter informing his family that he was dead.

According to that letter, Roe had been killed in a vague, accidental sort of way in the Black Hills. This was tragic for his family but exceedingly convenient for the career criminal, who was actually on the West Coast committing a series of misdeeds. Wanted by police, he decided faking his death in South Dakota was the best course of action for everyone.

Now nothing but a memory to his family, William Roe’s real, corporeal self began blazing a bloody trail across California. It was one particularly brutal murder that landed him in the Napa County Jail on the morning of Jan. 15, 1897, the day before the state of California was set to hang him by the neck until dead. Roe was at ease, chatting with reporters

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