10 Last-minute Stays of Execution

He Squealed to Earn Reprieves
A shooting In Chicago in 1931, around the time Frankie "The Squealer" Bell was offering to rat out his fellow criminals in exchange for stays of execution. Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

On the night of Oct. 16, 1931, Frank "The Squealer" Bell was sure that he was about to die. Bell, who'd confessed to the robbery slaying of a Chicago restaurant manager named Christ Patras, had earned his colorful wire service nickname through his willingness to play ball with the authorities. Not only had he implicated his partner in the crime, Richard Sullivan, but once behind bars, he'd tipped off the jail's warden that other convicts were plotting to kill him and escape. Even so, authorities were scheduled to execute him and four other inmates that night, when a judge granted him a stay on grounds that he deserved a sanity hearing.

The jailers didn't recognize the judge's voice over the phone, forcing him to rush to the jail to deliver the order in person. At 11:35 p.m. just minutes before the five convicts were due in the death chamber, Bell was told to stay in his cell [source: International News Service]. Two months later, just minutes before he was to be electrocuted, Bell received another 30-day stay of execution from Illinois Gov. Louis Emmerson. It came after a federal official pleaded for Bell's life — apparently, in appreciation of information that Bell had supplied about a Chicago smuggling ring [source: Associated Press].

Bell finally went to the electric chair on Jan. 8, 1932. In his last statement, he expressed a willingness to testify one more time, claiming that his testimony could exonerate another man — Leo Brothers, who had been convicted of the 1930 murder of corrupt Chicago newspaperman Jake Lingle. This time, it didn't save him [source: Elder].