Nobody likes a child killer. It is one of the crimes practically guaranteed to cause outrage and indignation.
When it happens in small town America, it's also likely to bring out a mob mentality.
Henry Ford McCracken was found guilty and lampooned in the press, before he had even stepped foot in a courtroom. Everyone knew that he'd done it. His name was on the television and in the newspaper.
The McCracken case was one of the first where live cameras relayed the drama. Anchor men and women joined reporters in endless speculation. Whenever the courtroom doors opened, cameramen jostled to catch a glimpse of proceedings inside.
The murdered girl's mother found herself hounded. She was filmed hiding her tearful face, trying to escape the attention. Viewers back home lapped it up.
A member of the jury became so incensed by the intrusive nature of the reporters, that he lashed out. The camera was smashed into the face of the man holding it. The cameraman retaliated with a sharp right hook. Suddenly there was a brawl between a group of jurors and newsmen. The deputy sheriff had to intervene.
When the jury returned a hung verdict, they must have feared being lynched. District Attorney Davis went on live television berating them for their cowardly decision. Everyone was feeling the severe pressure to perform.
Meanwhile, the thirty-four year old man at the center of the furor was chanting in the dock. "I knew I wasn't guilty! I knew I wasn't guilty!" Henry Ford McCracken chanted it like a child sings a skipping song. "I knew I wasn't guilty!"
He had actually been found guilty of child stealing, but not kidnapping little Patty Hill. The jury had been divided on the final charge of murder. The judge ordered a retrial.
But where would they find a jury, which hadn't been swayed by the antagonistic, blanket press coverage?
Henry's lawyers, George H. Chula, James C. Monroe and Kal W. Lines, immediately appealed for a change of venue. He could not get a fair trial in Orange County, California, now. The court refused; then refused again when a second appeal asked for the same thing.
On October 26, 1951, five months after the murder of ten year old Patty Hill, a second trial saw a unanimous verdict returned by the jury. Henry Ford McCracken was guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to die in San Quentin's gas chamber.
There was another slight problem. Henry wasn't sane. Five years previously, his own mother had taken him to a psychiatrist's clinic. She had become afraid of his out of control schizophrenia. She'd begged the doctor to have him sectioned. The doctor declined. In his opinion, Henry could function safely in society.
Events weren't quite going to support that conclusion. The facts of the matter had never been whether Henry killed the child, but if he'd been sane at the time. He personally thought it might have been a dream.
His lawyers had attempted to convince both juries that Henry was a sexual psychopath. His plea had been 'not guilty by reason of insanity'. However, the prosecution had objected to the filing of affidavits confirming this diagnosis by doctors. The judge had sustained the objection. The defense couldn't prove that Henry was insane without them.
Once on Death Row, that fact was never in doubt. During three years of appeals and counter-appeals, Henry's mental health deteriorated to the point where he couldn't be legally executed. US law states that he has to understand what is happening to him, and why. (For this reason, all narcotics, alcohol and sedatives are also banned on execution day. The condemned may have a small glass of whiskey, but only administered in the presence of a doctor.)
Henry was placed into the care of a psychiatrist specializing in criminal insanity. The remit was clear - make him sane enough that he might be taken to the gas chamber.
It took grueling, pain-staking weeks of treatment, including electroshock therapy. A panel of court appointed psychiatrists declared him legally sane. Henry was then rushed to the gas chamber before he could slip into insanity again.
He was gassed to death on February 19th 1954.