The Execution of Jim Hugh Moss, Negro League Ballplayer

Posted by Paul Dylan on April 11, 2012 | Short Link

I came across this story quite by happenstance, though I think it was no accident. Once in a while, if there is a brief lull in day and I’m still feeling restless for information, I find it interesting to randomly click on a newspaper in Google’s archives and just peruse it for stories or vignettes that may have otherwise been lost in obscurity.

Not too long ago, this resulted in the re-discovery of a lost nickname for one of baseball’s greats.

The story I found last night is sensational, and dark, and sad, and maybe a little funny and weird, too. It’s the story of the execution of James Hugh Moss, a Negro League Ballplayer of Chicago of whom little is known.

Rather than try to dramatize the rest of the story, nor to editorialize, the rest of this entry will all be simple transcripts of the news articles published in newspapers and found online.

Chicago Defender, August 11, 1928

FORMER PRO BASEBALL PLAYER DIES IN CHAIR

Milledgeville, Ga., Aug. 10 -James Hugh Moss, a former professional baseball player in Chicago, and Clifford Thompson (white), both of Etowah, Tenn., died in the electric chair at the state prison farm here Friday after a sensational 11th hour confession by Thompson’s wife had failed to save their lives.

They were put to death for the murder of Coleman Osborne (white), merchant at Chattsworth, Ga., on the night of August 5, 1927. Moss, a trained athlete and a giant in stature, was alleged to have been used to do the actual slaying.

The woman convicted of the same crime and under a life sentence, sought to save the men by issuing a statement from her cell that she and another man plotted the murder and that her husband and Moss were innocent of any connection with it.

The confession stayed the dual execution for an hour which Gov. L.G. Hardman made a personal investigation of her story.

Miami News, August 3, 1928

GEORGIANS SENT TO DEATH CHAIR

Wife’s Attempt to Save Husband and Negro Fails

Governor Hardman Decides Delay Until 2 O’Clock is Final

STORY OF WOMAN FOUND BASELESS

Mrs. Thompson says she and B.W. Swan plotted Osborne murder

ATLANTA, Aug. 3 – Governor Hardman early today ordered delayed until 2 o’clock this afternoon the execution of Clifford Thompson, Etowah, Tenn. youth, and James Hugh Moss, negro, convicted of murder, until he could investigate the “confession” made here last night by Thompson’s wife, absolving him from guilt and implicating herself and another man.

The executive acted after Thompson’s attorney had presented him with a copy of Mrs. Thompson’s statement, made to newspapermen in the county jail where she is awaiting an appeal from the death sentence in the same case, and after he had consulted Murray county court officials, where the three were tried, by long distance telephone.

Indicating that the circumstances thus far revealed to him did not warrant a more lengthy respite for the condemned men, Governor Hardman after a conference with the attorney, allowed him permission to visit Mrs. Thompson in jail in an effort to confirm certain details of her story. The governor said he would await the result of this interview before rendering a final decision as to whether he would permit the execution to proceed at 2 o’clock or order it indefinitely delayed.

“B.W. Swan of Chatsworth, Ga., and I plotted to kill Coleman Osborne. Clifford Thompson and Jim Hugh Moss are innocent,” the statement began, recounting that “Osborne had told about us [Swan and Mrs. Thompson] keeping company.” Mrs. Thompson said that when he apprised her of Osborne’s purported revelation, Swan proposed that they “frame” Clifford, her husband. He said he could hire a man for $500 to kill Osborne, the statement read.

She quoted Swan as saying he would “rather give the $500 to get Osborne killed and give me $5000 to swear that Thompson was not at home [at the time of the killing].”

“I agreed to switch the gun,” the statement continued, “so on Aug. 6, the next day after Osborne was killed, Jim Lowry brought a gun to my house. Jim Lowry is a negro, I knew him right along…

“They would take me out and kill me if I ever went back up there. But I’m glad I told it. I can die happy now. I felt awfully bad about it yesterday after Cliff’s mother left. But I couldn’t bear it any longer this afternoon.

“We left near Fairmont on July 26, Swan and me. It was late in the afternoon. He said ‘Aren’t you going to help me save all that money?’ I told him ‘Yes, if I knew a way to do it.’ He said, ‘Osborne is the cause of it all. We’ve got to get him out of the way.’ He then told me about getting someone to kill Osborne and how to switch the guns.

“Then we agreed not to communicate with each other until Osborne was out of the way.”

Mrs. Thompson summoned the jailor to her cell late last night and told him that she had “not told the truth” about the killing of Osborne, and said she was ready to make a statement. The jailor called newspapermen as witnesses, together with a matron. A notary also signed the document. Lawyers in the case apparently had not been told of her intentions, although an effort was being made to communicate with them.

Mrs. Thompson told reporters that she didn’t know Jim Moss, the negro held with her husband at the penitentiary at Milledgeville, but that she knew Jim Lowry. Mrs. Thompson said Swan was a farmer, about 55.

The Border Cities Star – August 2, 1928

WIFE’S STORY FAILS AND MAN MUST DIE

ATLANTA, Ga., Aug 3 – Eula Mae Thompson lost her last-minute attempt to save her husband’s life today.

Governor Hardman, of Georgia, declined to grant Clifford Thompson, convicted murderer, a respite after perusing an alleged confession by Mrs. Thompson that she and her lover were guilty of the murder of Coleman Osborne, Chatsworth, Ga., merchant.

Thompson and Jim Moss, convicted with him, face death in the electric chair of the state prison this afternoon.

S.W. Swan, Mrs. Thompson’s confession said, had plotted with her to kill Osborner because he “knew too much” about their relations. Osborne was shot to death a year ago as he came to the door of his little store at midnight in response to a call.

There was no witness to the actual shooting, although the slain man’s widow testified she heard Thompson’s voice.

The confession said Mrs. Thompson and Swan had planned to kill Osborne and throw the blame on Thompson, thus removing both obstacles to their love.

The plot miscarried, however, and Mrs. Thompson was arrested with her husband and Moss. Automobile tracks before Osborne’s store corresponded to the tires on Thompson’s car. The bullets used in the killing bore the same marks as those in a pistol found in Thompson’s trunk.

Moss was arrested as an accomplice. A jury found the two guilty and they were sentenced to death in the electric chair.

Miami News, August 3, 1928

SWAN NOT SUSPECTED, SHERIFF DECLARES

CHATTSWORTH, GA., AUG. 3 – Sheriff Wilbanks of Murray County, said last night that B.W. Swan, named in a statement of Mrs. Eula Thompson at Atlanta, was a well-to-do farmer and sawmill operator. The sheriff further said that Swan had never come under suspicion in the Osborne murder case.

Swan, he said, was now operating a sawmill in Gordon County “somewhere,” but he was unable to say in what locality. The Swan family still lives here.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune, August 4, 1928

APPEAL FAILS TO SAVE PAIR

Two Electrocuted in Georgia for Murder of Merchant

MILLEDGEVILLE, GA, – A 22-year-old son of the Tennessee mountains and a former negro professional baseball player were electrocuted at the state prison farm here today for murder after a sensational eleventh hour “confession” by the former’s wife had failed to save them.

Clifford Thompson, of Etowah, Tenn., and James Hugh Moss, a negro, of the same place, paid the death penalty for the slaying of Coleman Osborne, a merchant at Chatsworth, Ga., on the night of August 5, 1927.

Confession Made By Wife

Herself convicted of the same crime and under a like sentence, Mrs., Eula Elrod Thompson, 23, sought to rescue them from the death chamber by issuing a statement from her cell in Atlanta county jail, saying that she and another man plotted the murder and that her husband and Moss were innocent of any connection with it.

This “confession,” made late last night before a notary, after all efforts of the condemned men’s attorneys to obtain clemency had been unsuccessful, sent Governor L.G. Hardman on a personal investigation of her story and delayed for more than an hour the execution machinery, while he endeavored to determine whether a reprieve should be granted pending further inquiries.

Convinced, however, after examination of her statement and long distance telephone conferences with Murray county court officials who acted in the trial of the prisoners, that the “confession” did not warrant a respite, the governor declined further to interfere and ordered the execution to proceed.

Thompson, who was unable to read or write and who had refrained throughout the day from commenting on his wife’s statement, maintained a stoic silence until he had been strapped into the death chair. Then, as the bandage was placed across his eye he murmured to guards:

“I am innocent of this crime.”

A moment later the fatal current was applied and he was pronounced dead at 2:14pm.
The negro, who followed Thompson to the chair, chanted a prayer in a trembling voice as he was led into the death chamber and strapped into the electric chair.

Atlanta Constitution, August 28, 1928

EULA THOMPSON TELLS NEW STORY

Latest “Confession” Says Negro, Executed With Husband, Alone Killed Storekeeper.

Making still another “confession,” in which she alleges that Jim Hugh Moss, a “negro who talked like a white man,” was the slayer of Coleman Osborne, Eula Mae Thompson, in Fulton Tower under death sentence in connection with the murder, declared that she and her husband, Clifford Thompson, who already has been executed on the same charge, were innocent. Moss also was put to death.

This latest “confession” by the Thompson woman is totally at variance with one made a few hours prior to the execution of her husband and the negro Moss. It makes no mention of a prominent citizen of Murray county who, in the first “confession,” was said by the woman to have plotted the killing of Osborne to cover up an illicit relationship which, she said, existed between her and this man.

She mentioned only herself, her husband and the negro in the new “confession,” and declared that she and Thompson were waiting several yards away while Moss went to Osborne’s house for some gasoline.

Sounds of Argument.

She said that she and her husband heard sounds of argument between the two, and then heard two shots, followed by “about five more shots.” Moss then came running back to them and told them Osborne had refused to give him change, and had shot at him twice, whereupon he (moss) shot at Osborne, the confession sets out.

In a previous “confession,” made on the eve of her husband’s execution, the Thompson woman implicated herself and another man and vehemently declared that her husband and the negro were innocent. She failed to save her husband and the negro from their sentence by this confession.

The text of her latest “confession” follows:

“In person before me came Eula Mae Thompson, who after having been duly sworn, deposes and says:

“I, Eula Mae Thompson, do swear that on Wednesday night before Coleman Osborne was killed on Friday, Cliff Thompson and myself bought 100 gallons of whisky about two or three miles below Coleman Osborne’s house, and we could not carry the 100 gallons together with, the three of us, (we had Jim Hugh Moss hired to help us haul whisky), and we decided to hide 50 gallons and go on with 50, and we hid 50 gallons below Coleman Osborne’s, near Berry Bennett’s and went on to Etowah, Tenn., that night. We did not stop at Coleman Osborne’s and ask for gas or anything else, we did not stop at all on Wednesday night; on Friday night we went back down in Georgia after the 50 gallons of whisky we had hid, and my father had an apple orchard close to Mont Howell’s and Cliff Thompson and myself went out in the orchard hunting fruit and left Jim Hugh Moss in the car. When we returned he said he had been over to that house, pointing to Mont Howell’s house, to get something to eat. We did not intend to rob Mont Howell or anyone else, and Cliff Thompson and myself did not know about Jim Hugh Moss going to Mont Howell’s. Jim Hugh Moss was about two-thirds drunk and he uses English like a white man without the slightest negro dialect.

Charges Robbery

Jim Hugh Moss robbed those boys of their guitars at the railroad crossing, and we tried to get him not to do it, but we could not do anything with him. We then went on after our shisky, and loaded it at the place where we had it hid, and while we were there we looked at our supply of gas and it was real low, and I told them that Coleman Osborne sold gas a short distance up the road, and we could get some up there. Then we decided if we stopped in the road at Coleman Osborne’s house he would see the car loaded with whisky and, too, he would recognize me. So we all decided to drive on past his house to the schoolhouse and let Jim Hugh Moss go back after the gas, and Cliff Thompson and myself waiting in the car for him to go after the gas, and it was Jim Hugh Moss, a negro who talks like a white man, who called at Osborne’s house and got Mr. Osborne up for the gas. We could hear them talking and we heard two shots and then about five shots in rapid succession, and Jim Hugh Moss came running up the road to our car, saying the man tried to keep his change, and when told about it by him, tried to kill him, and that after Osborne had shot at him twice he shot five times at Osborne, and he thinks he killed him. We went on up the road and stopped at Ocoee, Tenn., and got some gas for the car. We did not go there to rob Coleman Osborne and did not rob him or anyone else. Jim Hugh Moss was drunk and showing off, and robbed those boys of their guitars, and could not help it.

“We talked a whole lot about going ahead and telling the truth about these matter. Jim Hugh Moss would not consent to this and we just did not know what to do, but Cliff Thompson and myself certainly were not guilty, and did not have anything to do with it, and I hope this will straighten out the whole affair.

“Mr. A. S. Johnson, my recently acquired attorney, has persuaded me to tell the whole truth.

“EULA MAE THOMPSON”
Sworn to and subscribed before me, this the 27th day of August, 1928. LUCY McMANUS, N. P., State of Georgia at Large.

MILWAUKEE SENTINEL, September 16, 1928

WOMAN BANDIT DOOMED TO DIE WARNS HER SEX

Liquor and Married Men are Perils to Girls, she asserts

ATLANTA, GA, Sept 15 – Eula Thompson, under sentence to die in the electric chair next Friday for murdering a man in a garage holdup, sees a lesson in her plight for other girls. In the following story she outlines the pitfalls which beset the paths of modern youths and issues a warning. Mrs. Thompson’s story follows:

By Eula Thompson

I want other girls to profit by my bitter experience in life and avoid pitfalls which I have not because I would not listen to the words of my parents and was headstrong.

Now, that I look back over my life, I can easily see where my dear old mother was right when she used to try to correct my wildness. I want all young girls to listen to my story and try to keep away from the temptations that were mine.

“FIRST OF ALL – DRINKING.”

First of all, I realize more than anything that liquor drinking is the worst possible thing for any person. No person that drinks is responsible for what they do.

It will make them end in something awful before they know it. If I had never started drinking and running with bootleggers and other people who drank, I would never have done the things that I have.

The greatest mistake of my life was when I allowed the attentions of a married man. He came into my life when I was married the second time. I had loved my husband until I met this man. He cast a powerful influence over me, and I did not repulse his attentions. I would meet him in places and be with him and managed to conceal the fact from my husband for a long time. Finally one day the truth came out when my husband came home and found the man in the house with me. That resulted in my having to leave my husband. Naturally, I was ashamed to go back to my folks. I allowed this married man to “keep me.”

It was through this man that I met Cliff Thompson. He was a pure, innocent boy, who knew very little about the ways of the world and women. Because people had talked so much and many people were learning that the married man was taking care of me and of our relationship we decided that the best thing for me to do was to marry Cliff.

The boy was an easy victim. He liked me and it was only a short time until I had him ask me to marry him. I only married him to enable me to continue my affair with this other man.

I am sorry now. Sorry for Cliff’s parents. He was a good son and they have suffered for my selfishness. I wish there was something I could do now, but it is too late. What I can do, though, is tell my life so that other girls will see the consequences of living as I have.

I believe that the beginning of my wrong living was when I married at the age of 14. I met this boy and we decided to run away and marry. My family knew him, but, of course, would not sanction my marrying when I was still just a child. So I ran away and we were married. As soon as he could my father took me back home and had the marriage annulled. That was in 1919, and in 1923 I ran away and married for the second time against the advice of my parents.

“LISTEN TO PARENTS.”

O, if only girls would listen to their parents there would be so much less trouble and sorrow in life. Every girl today should stop and think before she lets herself get mixed up in things that she feels and knows at heart are not just as they should be.

I don’t mind dying. It is only fitting that I should pay with my life for the unhappiness that I have caused others. I have had time to think and realize my mistakes and wrong doings, and I know that I will be better off if the law takes its course.

Rochester Evening Journal, September 21, 1928

EULA IS GIVEN 60 DAY REPRIEVE

ATLANTA – Eula Thompson has sixty days to live. Governor L.G. Harding granted her a sixty day respite from death in the electric chair, which had been set for tomorrow.

He announced his decision at 5 o’clock after he had heard Assistant Solicitor General Mitchell of the Cherokee Circuit, plead for the full measure of the law in expatiation of the murder of Coleman Osborne, Murray County storekeeper, August 5, 1927.

She was convicted of conspiracy in the murder for which her husband, Clifford Thompson, and Jim Hugh Moss, a negro, went to the electric chair at Milledgeville August 3.

Governor Hardman decided today that he is not clear as to the meaning of the term conspiracy. A.S. Johnson, attorney for the doomed Eula, offered an impassioned plea in her behalf. Mrs. Lydia B. Saylor, rescue worker, also appeared in behalf of Eula, and read letters Eula had written her, assering her innocence of a major part in the crime.

Eula Thompson, in her cell at Milledgeville tonight, where she was taken early in the week, expressed no emotion.

She said she had expected all along that the governor would grant her a respite, and that eventually he will save her life.

After reviewing the evidence of the trial, studying the prison commissioner’s recommendation of clemency and listening to pleas by individuals, the chief executive signed the stay of execution, explaining that he desires further to investigate the condemned mountain woman’s case.

If at the end of the sixty-day period he decides the facts warrant it he will commute the death sentence to one of life imprisonment.

COMES AS SURPRISE


The respite came as a distinct surprise to followers of the case, but no more so than to the woman, herself, who was convicted more than a year ago. When told of the decision, however, she expressed her faith in her ultimate escape from the chair.

Eula Thompson, twenty-four, has been married three times.

Only two please for mercy were on file with the State Prison Commission when that body undertook a special hearing of the clemency case Tuesday. One was from a man urging mercy to a woman and the other from a lawyer, who pointed out that two judges dissented from the opinion of the high court in affirming the woman’s conviction.

Two “confessions” were made by the woman, one on the eve of the electrocution of her husband, in which she laid the crime to a Chatsworth County business man with whom she said she had been intimate, and the other, shortly before being resentenced to the chair, laying the crime to Moss, the negro.

The Pittsburgh Press, November 23, 1928

PLANS TO WED WOMAN KILLER

Atlanta Man Aims to Marry Murderess

Atlanta, Ga., Nov 23 – The Chatsworth prison may be the chapel for the wedding of a life term prisoner.

Dan C. Harrison, Atlanta butcher said last night that he was going to exhaust every means to marry Eula Elrod Thompson, convicted as a murderess, whose sentence of death in the electric chair was commuted to life imprisonment by Gov. L.G. Hardman.

Eula is willing and attorneys state there is no law in Georgia against a life prisoner marrying.

Harrison said he would like to have the ceremonies performed this week if possible.
Their love began when the butcher saw her on a train bearing her to prison after she had been condemned to die Sept. 22. He saw that she was unhappy and offered her a beverage. Then they corresponded.

Since their meeting, Harrison has spent money on her lavishly for attorney fees and gifts, although neither has ever spoken to the other. Once Harrison tried to see her at the prison, but was denied entrance.

“I’ve prayed to God that she might be saved,” Harrison said last night, “and now that Eula has been saved from the chair, I want to marry her immediately, even though she may never return from the prison walls.”

The Pittsburgh Press, Nov. 24, 1928

TO WED WOMAN LIFER

Daniel Harrison, the news vender who says he has found his soul mate in Eula May Thompson, convicted murderess, will try to arrange to marry her Monday.

He announced that his “legal advisers” had found no clause which would prevent the marriage.

Harrison plans to marry Mrs. Thompson in the corridor of the Chatsworth, Ga., jail, where the 24-year-old woman awaits transportation to the state prison to begin a life sentence.

Authorities said Harrison would “have to leave immediately after the ceremony” if they were unable to find a law under which the marriage could be prevented.

Eula May says he is “one of the prettiest men I have ever seen,” and reiterates her desire to marry him. She was convicted of the murder of a country storekeeper, for which her husband and a negro aid were executed.

5 Comments

  • KJOK says:

    From seamheads.com Negro League expert Gary Ashwill:

    “…this is something I looked into a few years ago. To my knowledge, Moss pitched in one game for the American Giants in 1918 (vs. the white semipro West Ends, so he doesn’t show up in our [seamheads.com] DB). He lost that one game and then moved on to the marginal/semipro Havana Stars of Chicago. I don’t think I have anything on him past 1918, and I haven’t found him for sure in official records, though there are a few candidates.”

    More here: http://agatetype.typepad.com/agate_type/2008/06/james-hugh-moss.html

  • [...] I first put together the story of the execution of James Hugh Moss, former Negro League ballplayer, and the accompanying media coverage of Eula Mae Thompson, the intention was to try to tease out [...]

    • Carly says:

      My great grandfather was ellie hugh moss of etowah,tn.he was married to bertha cooper moss and they had 5 daughters. 3 of those daughters still reside in etowah.I would love to know the connection if jim hugh and ellie hugh are father and son, or cousins,etc…im going to try and research it out.

  • Dana Johnson says:

    Eula was my great great aunt. Growing up I had heard so many stories about this case. One thing for sure is my great grandpa didn\’t care anything for her and my Mamaw said she was always told about how mean and wild Eula was and how she wanted a more \”lavious lifestyle\”. and her good looks got her plenty. Did you know she was involved in the murder of one of her brothers also? Anyway thanks for the info on Mr.Moss..I never knew he was a baseball player. Everything about this crime was messed up crazy and as you said ..a little funny.

  • […] was commuted by the governor.  It’s a fascinating story and if you want the read more,  the newpaper accounts are […]

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