|William Henry Hance|
|Birth name:||William Henry Hance|
|Died:||March 31, 1994
|Cause of death:||Execution by electric chair|
|Number of victims:||4 (known)|
|Span of killings:||1977–1978|
William Henry Hance (circa 1952 – March 31, 1994) was a U.S. soldier who is believed to have murdered four women in and around military bases before his arrest in 1978. He was convicted of murdering three of them, and not brought to trial on the fourth. He was executed by the state of Georgia in the electric chair.
In 1978, Columbus, Georgia was undergoing a wave of murders of women. Several elderly white women had been killed by a perpetrator nicknamed the Stocking Strangler. In addition, the bodies of two young black prostitutes had been found outside of Fort Benning nearby.
The disparate groups of victims were linked by a letter to the local police chief written on United States Army stationery. The handwritten note purported to be from a gang of seven white men who were holding a black woman hostage and would kill her if the Stocking Strangler were not apprehended. The Stocking Strangler was believed to be a black man, and this had been widely reported at the time.
The seven white vigilantes wished to be known as the "Forces of Evil," and wanted the police chief to communicate with them via messages on radio or television. The first letter was followed by others; eventually, a ransom demand of $10,000 was also made to keep the alleged hostage, Gail Jackson, alive. (Jackson, was also known as Brenda Gail Faison and other aliases.) The letters were followed by phone calls.
The letters and calls were a hoax intended to divert attention from the real killer. Gail Jackson, the supposed hostage, had been murdered five weeks before she was found, and before the first letter was sent. Her body was discovered in early April, 1978. She was 21 years old.Soon afterward, following instructions in yet another call from the "Forces of Evil," a second black woman's corpse was found at a rifle range at Fort Benning. Her name was Irene Thirkield. She was 32.
FBI profiler Robert K. Ressler created a profile which asserted that the killer was one man, not seven; black, not white; single, not well-educated, and probably a low-ranking military man at the fort in his late twenties.
Using the profile and aware that both Jackson and Thirkield were prostitutes, Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers searched near the fort for bars which had generally black patrons. They were quickly able to identify William Hance and arrest him. He was a Specialist 4th Grade attached to an artillery unit at the fort as a truck driver. Hance had begun his military career as a Marine before joining the Army.
When confronted with evidence including his handwriting, voice recordings, and shoe prints from the crime scenes, Hance confessed to killing both women and to the killing of a third woman at Fort Benning in September 1977. Karen Hickman, 24, was a white Army private known to date black soldiers and socialize in black pubs. Hance was not charged with Hickman's murder in the civilian system, but was tried, charged, and convicted by a court martial for her death.
Hance's convictions resulted in several legal cases in three different court systems—courts martial, Georgia state courts, and the federal court system—of which these are a partial list. The flurry of last-minute attempts to secure a stay of execution are not included in this section. See "Controversy" below.
Hance was sentenced to death in civilian court for the murder of Gail Jackson and in military court for the death of Irene Thirkield. His military death sentence for Thirkield was overturned. His civilian death sentence for Jackson was not. He was executed by the state of Georgia on March 31, 1994, via the electric chair. He was the 231st inmate executed nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976 and the 18th in Georgia.
...reached the conclusion that the death penalty cannot be imposed fairly within the constraints of our Constitution . . . I could not support its imposition in this case. ... There is substantial evidence that William Henry Hance is mentally retarded as well as mentally ill. There is reason to believe that his trial and sentencing proceedings were infected with racial prejudice. One of his sentencers has come forward to say that she did not vote for the death penalty because of his mental impairments.
Other issues besides Hance's mental and psychiatric status had created controversy prior to the day of his electrocution, and one—the question of racial bias in the state sentencing jury—veritably exploded afterwards. The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles had not even proofread its order denying his stay of execution, and conflated it with another document about some other prisoner. The Georgia Supreme Court denied his appeal by only one vote, 4-3.
One of his jurors at his second sentencing (after the first was reversed for prosecutorial misconduct), a white woman named Patricia Lemay, came forward to report that other jurors made racial remarks about Hance such as "just one more sorry nigger that no one would miss" and, if executed, he would be "one less nigger to breed."
There was only one black juror, a 26-year-old woman named Gayle Lewis Daniels. According to Lemay, Daniels was subjected to racial invective in the jury room. According to both Lemay and Daniels herself, Daniels refused to vote for the death penalty. The other jurors ignored her and reported to the judge that they were unanimous. When the jury was polled in the presence of the court, Daniels was by then too frightened to speak up. The other jurors had told her that she could be convicted of perjury if she continued to hold out, since she had testified, during jury selection, that she could vote for the death penalty.
The evidence of Lemay and Daniels outraged many press outlets. Said one newspaper afterwards,
At a law school conference the following year, attorney Ronald J. Tabak stated at some length his opinion that Hance's race contributed to the sentence.