William Fee has the dubious distinction of being the only convicted murderer ever to be executed in Wayne County. Fee lived in the town of Galen, near what is known as the Lockpit, with his father and mother, James and Mary, and brothers, George and Thomas. On March 23, 1860, William Fee was executed by hanging at the Wayne County Jail on Butternut Street in Lyons.
As the story goes, on September 26, 1859, the body of an unknown woman was found murdered near the Montezuma Turnpike in the town of Galen. William Fee and another man by the name of Muldoon were seen by two witnesses the previous evening, following the woman as she walked along the road. William Fee and Muldoon later disappeared. Fee was subsequently found in New York City. He was brought back to Lyons to the Wayne County Jail. Muldoon was arrested in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and also brought back to Lyons where both he and Fee were indicted for murder.
William Fee’s trial began January 30, 1860. After four days and numerous witnesses, Judge Knox charged the jury with the great responsibility of deliberating this case. He stressed the importance of discharging their duty with calmness and fairness. After three hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Upon hearing this verdict, Fee remarked to a court officer that it was “tough”, but he wasn’t “going to lie awake thinking about it”. However, at his sentencing by Judge Knox, Fee struggled to maintain his composure but finally burst into tears and his sobs were heard throughout the entire courtroom.
On Friday, February 3, 1860, William Fee was sentenced to be “hung by the neck until you be dead…” The execution was to take place March 23, 1860, at 1:30 pm.
The gallows were erected in the north hall of the Jail and special tickets were printed to admit witnesses to the execution. To the very end, William Fee proclaimed his innocence. When asked if he had anything to say, Fee, holding a black crucifix and with a priest on either side of him, said, “For the murder of this woman that I shall have to die, I die innocent of murder.” After the execution, Fee’s body was claimed by his family and buried in the Lockpit Cemetery.
After over a year in jail, the man, Muldoon, was released and all charges were dropped.
Parts of the scaffold on which William Fee was hung was made into chairs, one of which is still housed in the former jail, now the Wayne County Museum.