Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Assassination of President William McKinley


After a three-hour autopsy during which his brain was carefully examined by a team of pathologists from New York City, they issued this statement: "The examination revealed a perfectly healthy state of all the organs, including the brain." Under the supervision of Dr. McDonald, Czolgosz's body and all its parts were then placed in an extra-thick pine box coffin. The remains were to have been covered with quicklime but research indicated that lime would not erode the body sufficiently. A special acid was imported into the prison prior to the execution for this purpose. As several witnesses cowered in the corner of the autopsy room, the acid was poured into the coffin. The body was then covered with straw and the coffin was sealed. Research conducted by Warden Meade indicated that the body would fully dissolve in about 24 hours. Czolgosz's clothing and personal effects were burned shortly afterwards. The letters that were written to the prison during the time he was on Death Row were saved for a while and then also destroyed. The Warden was adamant about not making Czolgosz into some kind of martyr for the anarchist cause.

The Superintendent of Prisons, Cornelius V. Collins, had this to say: "Just consider that within six weeks from the death of his distinguished victim Czolgosz has been executed for his crime!" Warden Meade told reporters: "The execution was one of the most successful ever conducted in the State." And executioner Edwin Davis, who already executed four other prisoners that year, had this to say: "The body showed eight amperes of resistance. That is a little more than would be given by a larger or stouter man where the current could have more chance to percolate."

Waldek Czolgosz, Leon's father came to the prison later that day to claim the body, but he was too late. He declined a visit to the grave but insisted upon a death certificate in order to claim some life insurance held by his son. He left the prison with the certificate and was never heard from again.

Leon Czolgosz fit the classic profile of the 20th century American assassin: a mentally disturbed loner in his twenties, under-achiever with little or no social bonds who believes he is destined for bigger things in life. Men who share those same characteristics committed almost all the political assassinations in America during the last two centuries. And like each one, John Booth, Charles Guiteau, Lee Oswald, Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray, Leon Czolgosz changed the course of history through the barrel of a gun and his name will be etched forever in the annals of crime, murder and infamy.

President William McKinley Memorial
President William McKinley

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