Local man last to be executed before death penalty struck down

Without remorse
Without remorse
Despite the horrible nature of his crime, Richard Kiefer was said to show little remorse. The double murderer was described in one newspaper account as a "mild-mannered little truck mechanic."
By MIKE DOOLEY of The News-Sentinel

At 6 p.m. on June 14, 1961, Richard Kiefer of Fort Wayne sat down for a meal of fried chicken, french fries, banana cream pie and vanilla ice cream.

Six hours later, accompanied by a Roman Catholic priest and several state employees, he took a short walk of about 10 feet. Then he took a seat in a bulky wooden chair and made history as the last man executed in Indiana before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty.

Kiefer's place in the history books was cemented a little more than four years before when, in a fit of rage, he bludgeoned his wife, Pearl, and 5-year-old daughter, Dorothy, to death in the basement of the family home on Burgess Street. He hacked and slashed the lifeless bodies with a knife, then fled to Chicago before returning to Fort Wayne and surrendering to police two days later.

Kiefer told police he killed his wife after she criticized him for spending too much money "for fishing and drinking.'' When his daughter came to the basement to try and separate her parents – crying "Daddy, don't'' – he struck her with the hammer as well.

After the attack, Kiefer took $3 from his wife's purse and some coins from his daughter's piggy bank, and drove to Chicago. The next day he took a Greyhound bus back to Fort Wayne, and shortly after 2 a.m., walked into police headquarters and turned himself in.

Police said despite the horrible nature of the crime, Kiefer showed no signs of sorrow over his wife and daughter's deaths. "I have never in all my experience seen a person show so little concern as this man,'' Police Chief Mitchell Cleveland said. "There was no sign of remorse.''

Kiefer was convicted of his wife's murder — he was also charged with his daughter's death but never tried — in 1958, but the conviction was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court when justices said police photos of the badly slashed bodies inflamed the jury.

When Kiefer was tried and convicted a second time, his attorney, the late Barrie Tremper, once again took the case to higher courts. Justice Tom Clark of the U.S. Supreme Court granted a last-minute stay, but the full court later refused to consider the appeal.

Warden Ward Lane of the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City said Kiefer showed no emotion when he was put to death. Described in one newspaper account as "a mild-mannered little truck mechanic,'' the condemned man walked to the execution chamber under his own power, Lane said, and his last words were those of the Lord's Prayer recited with the prison's Catholic chaplain.

Kiefer was the 58th man executed in Indiana, and the first since Indianapolis sex slayer Robert Watts was electrocuted in 1951. Eleven years after Kiefer was put to death, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional and banned states from imposing it.

That ban was lifted in 1976, and Utah became the first state to use the new death penalty guidelines when it executed Gary Gilmore by firing squad that same year. Indiana followed suit five years later when convicted murderer Steven Judy waived his appeals and was electrocuted.

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