Jane Elkins, slave, hung in 1853 for a murder she might be innocent of

Jane Elkins was a slave who was convicted of murder in 1853 and became the first woman hanged in Texas.

Jane Elkins, a slave convicted of murder, was hanged on May 27, 1853, in Dallas. She was the first woman legally executed in the state.
There might have been other women executed before Jane, but historians were not there to write it down. Most people don’t know about Jane.

According to information from her trial notes, she was convicted of killing her employer, a man named Wisdom. In some accounts his name is John Wisdom, in others he is referred to as Andrew Wisdom. He lived in Farmers Branch, a very small community near Dallas. In the 1850s, the population of Dallas was less than 2,000 people.

It is not clear who Jane’s owners were. Sometime during 1853, Jane was loaned out to Wisdom. He was a widower. Jane was supposed to take care of his home and watch over his children. One night, Wisdom laid down to sleep. While Wisdom slept, someone split his head open with an ax. His children were left unharmed.

After 160 years, we know little about the case. We know Jane pled “not guilty.” The trial was conducted by Judge John. H. Reagan, who would go on to become a U.S. Congressman. Reagan apparently felt no need for Jane to have a lawyer during her trial.

On May 16, 1853, Jane was convicted of Wisdom’s murder. The trial notes record that she had “nothing to say.”
“We the jury find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree. We further find that the defendant is a slave of the value of seven hundred dollars and that the owner of the defendant has done nothing to evade or defeat the execution of the law upon said defendant,” said the jury foreman R. Cameron on May 16, 1853. Two weeks later, Jane Elkins was hanged.

Some historians debate whether Jane Elkins was guilty at all, hypothesizing that fear of slave uprisings led to Jane’s wrongful conviction.
“In the previous decade, the cotton industry in North Texas Backlands had caused slavery to spread rapidly, and there had been regular alarms about real or feared slave uprisings. So the brutal murder of a white person immediately focused attention on any nearby slave— in this case, Jane,” wrote author Sherrie S. McLeroy in her book, “Texas Women First: Leading Ladies of Lone Star History.”

For many years, Jane Elkins story was lost to history. Historians did not even acknowledge she was the first woman legally executed in Texas.
For years, the dubious distinction of being the first woman hanged in Texas went to Josefa “Chipita” Rodriguez, who was convicted of murder and hanged in San Patricio County in 1863. Joseph’s case also is filled with controversy.

For many years, Josefa “Chipita” Rodriguez was thought to be the first woman hanged in Texas for murder.

Josefa moved from Mexico to Texas with her father when she was a young girl. Even when she was young, she was known for taking in travellers and providing them with a warm meal and a place to sleep. Years after her father’s death, she maintained this reputation. That is, until one of her guests was found dead with an axe in his head. Josefa was immediately blamed. Six hundred dollars worth of gold was found down the river from his body, giving the court enough evidence to believe that she had committed the crime to obtain his gold.
Despite her old age and frail body, Josefa was found guilty and hanged, becoming the first and only woman to be legally hanged in Texas in that time period. Her hired man – and suspected illegitimate son – was later put under scrutiny and assumed guilty of the murder, which led many to believe that Josefa let herself be convicted to protect her son.

 

Who was “Orange Socks” Jane Doe?

In the pages of Texas crime, she is known simply as “Orange Socks.” She was found deceased and completely nude, except for a pair of orange socks on her feet. For years, everyone from law enforcement agencies to internet detectives have tried to find out who the girl was.

“Orange Socks” was a female between 15 and 30 that was found nude, except for a matching pair of orange socks, which led to her nickname.

On Halloween night, 1979, the body of a young woman was found in a concrete culvert near Interstate 35 outside of Georgetown, about 30 miles north of Austin. She had been the victim of a sexual assault, and had apparently died the same day her body was discovered.

What is known is that she was Anglo, around 5-feet-9, 158 pounds. She had hazel eyes, long brown hair with a reddish tint. She was around 15 and 30 years-old.

She was wearing a silver ring on her right hand and she had pierced ears. At the scene of the crime, there were two matchbooks and a key belonging to a motel in Henrietta, Oklahoma. Some have speculated she traveled down to Georgetown from the north and had recently arrived in the area.

According to Roberto Bayardo, the Travis County medical examiner in 1979, her legs were unshaven and she appeared to have been in an unkempt condition. At the scene of the crime was a towel that was used in place of a sanitary napkin. Bayardo also said she suffered from salpingitis, an inflammation of the fallopian tubes, due to gonorrhea.

Some believe that her appearance and health are evidence that she may have been a prostitute or runaway. However, she had no cavities in her teeth and no indication of any dental work. X-rays showed she never suffered any broken bones. Her fingernails were covered with red polish.

Bayardo concluded she died of manual strangulation. Her neck was extensively bruised. There were also scratches and bruises on her lower back, indicating she had been dragged through grass before she was dumped in the culvert. She had landed face down in the ditch where a slight trickle of water pooled, laying on her right side.

Notorious serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing her in 1982. He said she was a hitchhiker and that he had picked her up, killed her and then left her body along Interstate 35. In 1984, Lucas was convicted of her murder and given the death sentence.

In a strange twist, it’s now believed that Lucas probably didn’t have anything to do with killing Orange Socks. Lucas claimed to have killed some 600 people, but later recanted them all.

Lucas contradicted himself several times while confessing to Orange Socks’ murder. There’s even evidence presented by Lucas’ own lawyer suggesting he wasn’t even in Texas at the time of the Orange Socks’ homicide.

Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing “Orange Socks” Jane Doe, but his confession was later put into question.

“Lucas made a lot of false confessions. I know that in my own mind, he committed at least three murders. Orange Socks just wasn’t one of them,” said Don Higginbotham, Lucas’ lawyer.

In 1998, then-Gov. George W. Bush commuted Lucas’ death sentence to life in prison. Lucas died in prison in 2001.

Orange Socks is buried in Georgetown’s IOOF Cemetery, next to a woman who died on her 99th birthday and an infant who died on the day of his birth. The gray granite tombstone simply says: “Unidentified Woman. 1979.”

Many law enforcement officers and web sleuths still hope to discover who she was, that Orange Socks will get her real name back some day.

The grave of the unidentified girl known as “Orange Socks” in Georgetown, Texas.

 

A recent article about Orange Socks from the Austin American Statesman 

A 2004 article about Orange Socks from the Houston Chronicle