Part 2: The Twisted Tale of Charles Wawsen

Read Part 1 first! 

Mary Bolinsky was rapidly dying from the gunshot to her head, but when the posse brought Charles Wawsen in, a flash of recognition shone in her eyes. She managed to indicate that Wawsen was the man who shot her. Moments later, she died. Wawsen stood over her and when she ceased to breathe, he murmured, “I am satisfied.”

Wawsen was taken to jail and put into a cell. He didn’t confess to murdering Mary, but there was plenty of evidence to convict him. Several days passed, and Wawsen began to act strangely. His head ached and he brooded over “his trouble.” He said he couldn’t remember anything about the shooting. He told guards he had been robbed of $800. He became gross and unsanitary. The jailer and his physician began to suspect Wawsen was, in fact, insane. The court said the prisoner was “shamming”, feigning insanity in a desperate attempt to be sent to an asylum instead of the gallows. The doctor protested but the court was confident Wawsen’s “insanity” was little more than an elaborate lie.

On June 14, the prisoners were awakened by terrified shrieks coming from Wawsen’s cell. He claimed he had seen Mary’s ghost. She was haunting him, he would not live another week under these conditions. He pleaded for mercy. For over a week, everyone in the jail was on edge, not knowing when Charles’ next outburst might come, frightening them out of their wits in the dead of night. Wawsen would kneel in his cell, praying for deliverance from the ghost of Mary, refusing to sleep lest she creep in through his dreams.

The foreboding Schuylkill Jail


On June 22, deliverance came in a most unusual fashion. A huge thunderstorm blew into Pottsville, where the jail was and a massive bolt of lightning struck in the yard, just a few feet from Wawsen’s cell. Recognizing this as a divine sign, Wawsen cried out to the guards. “Take me to the prison office,” he demanded.

Once he was safely in the office, Wawsen admitted he had indeed been feigning his insanity. “I shot the girl because she refused to marry me,” he said. “And I wasn’t robbed of $800.” Wawsen requested clean clothes and a new cell, since the one he had been occupying was in a nearly unlivable condition. These he was given.

He was rapidly tried and convicted. His attorneys tried to make a case that he was insane at the time of the shooting, but the court Judge Shay wouldn’t even consider it. He passed a death sentence on Wawsen; this made the newspapers, as it was the first time he had given a death sentence to anyone in the eight years he had been on the bench. The Board of Pardons refused a pardon. A commutation to a life sentence was also refused. Governor Stuart refused to stay his execution. Charles Wawsen was a doomed man.

Wawsen had other plans.

Go to Part 3!