MURDER IN A LONELY RICE FIELD
© By W. T. Block
(click here for W. T. Block web page)
At 12:00 PM on Nov. 28, 1942, Toni Jo Henry, also
known as the "tiger woman," walked down a flight of stairs in the
Calcasieu Parish jail in Lake Charles, accompanied by Father Wayne Richard; she
whispered a prayer, then a word to Sheriff Henry Reid as the executioner
fastened the electrodes of the state's portable electric chair to her skull and
legs. Ten minutes later, she was dead.
Her photograph in a newspaper depicted an attractive,
slender, 26-year old brunette prostitute, who had spent the 18 months previous
to Feb. 1940, soliciting in Beaumont's Crockett Street "red light
district." Following a brutal murder, she was sentenced to death, but
people could still barely contemplate that the "tiger woman's" heart
was as cold and callous as a cannibal.
Annie Beatrice Henry, born in 1916, was a product of
the Great Depression, born into poverty, with only a 6th grade
education, and so family-abused that she ran away at age 13 and became a
hooker. While still in Beaumont, she married Wayne "Cowboy" Henry,
who later was a Texas convict. "...He was the only man that ever treated
me decent," she once exclaimed.
Her crime was committed in Feb., 1940, when she and an
acquaintance, Horace Burks, flagged down a ride to Orange at the old Neches
River steel bridge on Highway 90. At Orange they flagged another ride with J.
P. Calloway, a Houston traveling salesman, who was driving a new car. As the
trio approached Sulphur, Louisiana, the "tiger woman" pulled a small
revolver from her purse and ordered Calloway to drive into a nearby rice field.
She then ordered him to disrobe, and as he kneeled in the rice paddy, begging
for his life, she fired one shot into his head. She then ransacked the cash
money out of his pocketbook, and the murderers fled eastward in Calloway's car.
Luckily Calloway's body was quickly discovered, and
an all-points bulletin was issued for the missing car. A few days later, the
couple were captured in the car; were returned to Lake Charles, where she and
Burks stood trial for capitol murder, and both were sentenced to death as a
result of her confession.
Nevertheless 33 months elapsed before her date with
death. She received 3 reprieves from Gov. Sam Davis; and twice her case was
reviewed by the Louisiana Supreme Court. When no reprieve was forthcoming on
the morning of the 28th, Toni Jo knew that "she had to ride Old Sparky'
(die in the electric chair) at noon.
Father Richard stood by her side throughout the
ordeal. She was received into the Catholic Church, where she obtained solace
and ablution as a result of her confession. Earlier they had cleaned and
pressed her black crepe dress, which she then put on, and she cried as they
shaved her head.
A week earlier, Toni Jo's husband, "Cowboy'
Henry, escaped from a Texas prison farm, with intent to help her break out of
jail. However, it was an exercise in futility for him, for 2 days later
"Cowboy" was recaptured in a Beaumont flophouse.
Jo, only the second woman ever to be executed in Louisiana, walked stoically to
her death, sat down in the chair, and replied "No," when she was asked
to offer a last word. Later she was buried in Lake Charles' Orange Grove
Cemetery on Broad Street.