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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.

Toni 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.

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