In December 1888 Birmingham leaders faced their greatest challenge in the city’s seventeen years of existence…sensational murders that gained nationwide attention and led to a deadly riot in the Magic City.
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East Lake is a community on the eastern side of Birmingham. Planned by real estate developers in 1886, East Lake and its adjoining park were developed as a community for miners who were moving to the Magic City to work in the steel industry.
On the morning of December 4th 1888, two teenagers, John Keith and Ben Culbalson, were rowing on the eastern bank of East Lake when they noticed something floating on the water. They were horrified to find it was the body of a small child. The boys immediately called for help and two men rowed out to secure the corpse. The body of a little girl was laid out in a pavilion as someone called for the coroner and a large crowd began to gather.
A few ladies surrounded the child’s body and shed tears as they wiped the water away from the cold little face and brushed hair back from the child’s forehead.
The child appeared to be around 9 to 12 years old…she had large blue eyes, light, wavy brown hair, and was dressed in a neat brown skirt. She wore buttoned shoes and black stockings.
When the coroner examined the child he noted there were no obvious signs of murder or violence. There was one sign of foul play. The neatly dressed little girl wore none of the underclothing a child should wear, especially in December. In the end, the coroner determined the child had not accidentally drowned in East Lake. She had been murdered.
Once the autopsy was complete, Babbitt ordered the body sent to Birmingham undertakers where the body was laid out for public in the hope she could be identified. Thousands would view the child at Lockwood and Miller’s Funeral Parlor including local butcher WO Franklin. When he walked up to the coffin and gazed down at the little girl he recognized her as May Hawes, the 8 year old daughter of Richard and Emma Hawes.
What followed was a desperate attempt by police to locate Richard and Emma Hawes and their surviving children, Irene and Willie. They never imagined a telegraph announcing a marriage would lead to an arrest in the murder of May Hawes and eventually lead to a deadly riot.
Hear the story of the Hawes Horror in the new episode.
West, Goldsmith B. (1888) The Hawes Horror Birmingham
Northrup, Jeff. (1978) “The Hawes Riot: All the News Unfit to Print” Journal of the Birmingham Historical Society. Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 16-25
The Hawes Murders: a dark moment in Birmingham’s early history. Alabama Newscenter. October 28, 2021
Jones, Pam. (Spring 2006) “The Hawes Murders.” Alabama Heritage No. 80, pp. 34-40
He Will Hang! Birmingham News. January 13, 1890.
Hawes Hung. The South Alabamian. March 8, 1890.
Measured Places, B Somber Ballads, Mesmerize and Lamentation by Kevin MacLeod. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Source: http://incompetech.com.
There’s Probably No Time by Chris Zabriskie Licensed under creative commons
Elegy by Asher Fulero Licensed under creative commons
Theme Song “Dark & Troubled” by Pantherburn. Special thanks to Phillip St Ours for permission for use.