WILLIAM JOHN STEPHAN had been in and out of trouble with the law before he shot and mortally wounded Curtis Dobbins in a botched robbery of the Dobbin home in Haddonfield in 1936. He was caught, the case being investigated and prosecuted by Samuel P. Orlando. William John Stephan was executed in the electric chair at the state prison in Trenton on February 8, 1938.
|Camden Courier-Post - February 29, 1936|
HELD AS COPS RAID CARD GAME IN HOME
men were arrested last night when
police raided a private home I after
receiving a "tip" that a card game
was in progress.
J. Stephan, 29, of 403 Friends
avenue, the scene of the raid, was
arrested as the alleged proprietor and held in $2000 bail for a
hearing today before Judge Lewis
arrested are John H. Ridge, 42, of 418 North
Third Street; Ernest Ridge, of Milner Hotel, Delaware avenue and
Market street; Nat Green, 34, of 562 Carman
Street; John Podhar, 31, of 1944 Bristol street, Philadelphia;
Charles Luffy, 32, of 1418 Erie avenue, Philadelphia, and Robert Ramsey,
23, of the Camden Y. M. C. A. All were held in $100 bail as material
Kaighn and Patrolmen Marshall
and Earl Hamby conducted the raid and said they confiscated two decks of
cards and a pair of dice. They said a quantity of money on the table was
scooped up by the players before they reached the playing room.
October 9, 1936
|Camden Courier-Post - February 5, 1938|
STEPHAN TO DIE IN CHAIR TUESDAY AT TRENTON
William J. Stephan, convicted Camden slayer, will die in the electric chair Tuesday, at 8 p. m., for the murder of Curtis Y. Dobbins, Haddonfield athlete.
Stephan, a paroled Federal prisoner, shot and killed Dobbins in the latter's home in Haddonfield on August 11. 1936. He had been serving his parole under Edgar Y. Dobbins, probation officer and father of the slain youth. The State contended that Stephan had intended to rob the son of his benefactor.
Stephan was scheduled to die last November but Governor Hoffman granted him a reprieve. The Court of Pardons refused his plea for commutation of sentence to life in prison.
|Camden Courier-Post - February 8, 1938|
SPURNS PLEA TO SAVE STEPHAN
Trenton, Feb. 7, - William J. Stephan, who is scheduled to die in the electric chair at State Prison tomorrow night for the murder of Curtis W. Dobbins, of Haddonfield, said "goodbye" to his mother last week, prison officials disclosed today.
The former West Berlin salesman talked to his mother, Mrs. Madeline Hackley, for a short time. He will be permitted one more visitor before he begins "the last mile" as the 121st victim of the prison chair.
It also was revealed today that E. George Aaron, Camden attorney and Stephan's counsel, made a vain appeal to Governor Moore for executive clemency.
Nearly 18 months have passed since the August night in 1936 the state charges Stephan fired the shot that killed Dobbins, youthful RCA Manufacturing Company executive. Most of that time has been spent in futile appeals for life.
After once rejecting Stephan's bid for a new trial by a vote of 7 to 7, the Court of Errors and Appeals later affirmed the death verdict by an 11 to 4 margin. The Court of Pardons turned down his appeal for mercy.
Dobbins was the son of Edgar Y. Dobbins, Federal probation officer in New Jersey, who once had Stephan under his supervision.
|Camden Courier-Post - February 9, 1938|
Stephan in Letter to Mother Denied Crime on Eve of Death
A voice from the grave of William John Stephan yesterday pronounced a benediction upon his friends and foes alike and sounded a final cry of innocence in the murder of Curtis Dobbins.
Stephan died in the electric chair at Trenton Tuesday night, steadfastly maintaining that he had been framed for the fatal shooting of the young Haddonfield athlete in October, 1936.
Less than 12 hours before he was strapped into the chair, Stephan wrote his mother a five-page letter in which he thanked the witnesses who testified for him at the trial and forgave those who gave evidence against him.
But he insisted that he had been framed; that someone else took his gun and killed Dobbins with it, so that he would get the blame.
He spoke of his family—his children in particular. As in a previous letter, to the Rev. Thomas Kirk, his spiritual advisor, he asked that his children he well educated and raised in the Catholic Church. He asked his mother to obtain their custody.
Begs For Forgiveness
The man about to die begged forgiveness for himself "for all the heartaches and trouble" he had caused his mother. His grandfather had gone to see him and told him that he should die like a man. He wanted "Grandpop" to know that was the way he intended to go.
There were other little requests— like making sure the family burial plot was large enough to hold him and all the rest of his family—and one major one.
Stephan urged his mother to lock all his letters and the records of his trial in her trunk. Some day, he assured her, the real murderer of "my friend" will be revealed, and then his mother will have the further proof of his innocence through the letters.
He asked that his mother say goodbye to his friends, and his only regret was that Dobbins' father, who once aided Stephan by giving him work, had not come to the death house to see him. He believed he could have convinced Dobbins that he had not slain his son.
Seemingly, Stephan thought of everyone—even a country newspaper editor who sent him editions of the paper. He recalled that another friend was going to write him a poem, but never did. He praised Chief Deputy Warden George L. Selby, of the state prison, for his manliness and consideration, and blessed Father Kirk for his spiritual help.
Such were the last thoughts of William John Stephan, who signed himself John in the letter to his mother. The letter arrived late Wednesday—after Stephan had been buried privately at Atco.
The sorrowing: mother, Mrs. Mary M. Hackl, made the missive public "to clear my boy's name."
Dressed in deep mourning, she called at the office of E. George Aaron, her son's lawyer, to get the transcript of the testimony and have his help in other requests. Aaron was out of town, but Mrs. Hackl allowed a Courier-Post reporter to copy the letter.
Aged beyond her 50 years, the mother said she wanted the world to know John was innocent.
"I feel comforted," she said, "because I know, my boy is in heaven. I mourn him deeply, just as deeply as I know the Dobbins must have mourned Curtis."
Following is Stephan's letter, in part, his last to his mother or anyone else in the world, written on prison stationery, but in a firm and clear hand:
"My Dear, Dear Mother:
"This is my farewell letter, Mother dear, to you, so I want to tell you everything' that I have on my mind before I leave this world.
"Mother dear, I am heartily sorry for all the heartaches I have ever caused you and for any thing I have ever done against you. Mother, a man never misses his mother until it is too late, and the only friend a person really has la his dear mother.
"I know you did everything in your power for
m. You sent me to
"Mother, please take good care of yourself and also dear Grandpop and
Refers To Children
"I hope that you and Grandmom and Grandpop will rest beside me when
"Mother, I do not believe that the State took my children from my wife and that they are in Burlington county, because last week they were living in Glendora and attending Glendora public school. My wife's people live in Glendora so my belief is my wife has
MRS. MARY M. HACKL
them boarding them out until after the State takes my life, then my wife will take them over to Philadelphia, out of New Jersey. So please, for God's sake, watch out for my children, and try to get them away from her, even if the State takes them.
"I want my children to go to school steady and get a good education and to read a lot of good books; also to go to church and Sunday school every Sunday so they will become good Christians and grow up to be respectable citizens.
"Mr. Aaron and Mr. Albert Brager or Mr. Paul McLaughlin can get the children from my wife if they just check up. I would like to see them go to a Catholic school as that will do them good. They must study in Catholic schools. Please tell them I die loving them, Mother, because I do.
"But now all I ask, Mother, is that you will watch over my children,
Grandmom, Grandpop and yourself and take care of your health. I know I am the only child you had and it is hard and a strain on you. But,
Mother, you can look the world in the face and say your son died like a man for a crime he was innocent of, just because another man was killed
with my gun. Mother, God knows and I know you would be telling the
"Mother, be sure to see Mr. Aaron and get the minutes of my court trial from him and ask him also to give you what correspondence he has from me. Also keep all the correspondence I wrote to you in this case and get any that Fritz has which I sent her. Keep them all together in the bottom of your trunk, locked up, so that when this crime does come to the surface you can prove I told the truth and that I was framed.
Sends Regards to Friends
"Mother, tell all my friends over at the Penn Furniture Company I send my farewell wishes to them and God bless them. Also tell Philip, Bessie, Howard, Tess, Leo, Florence, Louis, Kitty, Mattie and Jim that I sent my best wishes to them all and their families.
"I want you to tell Chick from the Berlin Breeze I thank him a million times for him being kind enough to send me The Breeze and the Observer papers, as I sure appreciate them very much. You can also tell Mr. and Mrs. Huber I send my best wishes to them and their children and I hope and pray to God that their children nor no one else's children ever get framed like I was. Give my regards to any other of my friends down in West Berlin you want to.
"If you ever see Bertha Bonsack, from Paulsboro, tell her I am waiting
for that piece of poetry she was going to write for Fritz and me; she knows what I mean, the one from A to Z, and tell her I said goodbye to
her and her sisters, also the bartender in the Garden House in Paulsboro. Tell Mr. and Mrs.
Burkhardt and Mrs. Burkhardt's sister; Mr. and Mrs. Polen and their bartender, Mrs. Penn and Mrs. Rogers that I thank them
"Also, Mother, tell
Gertie, Hugh, Fritz, Rhea, Emma and Doris — Fritz'
sister—I Bend my best wishes to them and hope that we never see anyone in their families get jammed up like I was and framed, as I know
they are good people. They were really friends of mine and I would like them all to come to my funeral to see me before I am laid away to rest,
as I sure thought a lot of them all and hope that we shall meet again in
Again Denies Killing
"You know, Mother, I've been from coast to coast and in a good many states and I met quite a lot of fine people in my travels. So I should know good people when I see them. Mr. and Mrs. Dobbins are very good people, too, and if they think for one minute that I shot their son, Curtis, or had anything to do with it, God forgive them, as I am as innocent as they are of this horrible crime. I always thought a lot of the Dobbins family and I still do, even though he refused to come and see me and hear my side of it.
"He will learn someday I was innocent and he will regret more than once that he didn't come to see me and help me, as he could have got me out of here alive if he wanted to. But he listened to those crooked detectives instead of his son and me, so all I can say is God bless him and his family as I know he is a very good man at heart.
"Mother, I wrote a letter to the chief deputy here, Mr. George L. Selby, and I told him to turn over my body to you; also what money I have left out there in the office, and my eye glasses and any other things which I own and have here, as I wanted everything turned over to you, Mother dear.
"You know, Mother, Mr. Selby here is a 100 percent man. I talked to him quite a few times and if he has anything to say to anyone he tells them straight from the shoulder and that is what I admire about him. I know he wouldn't frame anyone, as he isn't 'built that way. I wanted you to know I thought a lot of him.
"Mother dear, the Good Book says we should forgive our enemies, so God knows I forgive all who have injured me and ask God to forgive me for all I have injured. Father Kirk told me I would have my last rites in Church, so I want to thank God for that.
"And I appreciate everything Father Kirk has done for me, and is still doing, so God bless him, Mother. I know you did everything in your power to help me out of this trouble, and I will never be able to pay you the debt I owe you, Mother dear, but God forgive me and have mercy on my soul for all the trouble I caused you and the heartaches.
"Well, Mother, it is 9.10 a. m. now, and I just had a shave and haircut. I expect Father Kirk here today around 2 p. m. and he will eat with me my last meal, God bless him.
"So, Mother, please see to it that I am buried decently and come to see me often with my children and grandparents. Kiss them all goodbye for me and tell Grandpop I will die like a man, like he asked me to, as I am a Stephan.
"I know God will take care of me, as I never in my life fought with a knife or gun, and I never shot or cut anyone either, as I am too chicken-hearted to do anything like that. This must have been my fate. The Good Lord is calling for me, so I must go to meet Him.
Wants Flowers Left
"Please pray for me and when you receive this last letter from your loving son I will be in the next world, so please keep your chin up and look to God. He will take care of all of you.
"I sure hate to say goodbye, Mother, but I must now, so please remember
me and pray for my soul and all my enemies. Tell Grand-mom, Grandpop and my children I die loving them all and you, too, Mother
dear. I ordered some white carnation flowers here. If I get them I will send you each one in memory of me. So keep them always. Please
"P. S.: I will pray for you all in the next world, Mother.
God bless you."
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