Theatre Shooting

The sullen appearing patron in the back row became angry when a group of kids started making noise in a movie theater during the show. He threatened them if they didn’t hush, but instead of compliance, the audience started laughing at his apparent bluster. Drunk and enraged, the man began yelling and then produced two large-caliber handguns from inside his jacket, pistol-whipping one nearby adult who had been laughing, and then shooting him thrice in the head as he lay stunned on the floor. The murdered man’s son, sitting nearby, was himself armed and shot at the attacker, who was uninjured because he was wearing a bulletproof vest. An exchange of gunfire ensued, several more were wounded, and one more killed in the crossfire. Then, for some time after the attack, the drunken shooter stalked the auditorium, brandishing and reloading his pistols. He kept all of the filmgoers in a state of terror while ranting, threatening, and taking pot-shots at convenient targets who peered over seats. He threatened to kill everyone. The police arrived after what seemed like an eternity and were finally able to subdue and arrest the assailant without further loss of life.

We hear all too commonly today about senseless shootings in public venues – it seems that weekly there is a new story of innocents cut down while going about their business. Our 24-7 news cycle permits us to learn of events from around the world in real-time. But despite appearances, there is really nothing new under the sun. The shooting above took place in Robbins, TN, on 5 March 1927, and the drunken assailant was one Ben Fowler, an off-duty deputy sheriff who was carrying his service sidearms. Justice did, however, move more swiftly in those days. The murders happened on a Saturday night, Fowler was indicted on Monday, his trial started on Thursday, and the jury got the case the following Monday. Fowler’s defense was (admittedly voluntary) intoxication, as he claimed he was too sauced to know what he was doing; if successfully argued, that would have reduced his charges to two second-degree murders, non-capital offenses. This diminished capacity defense went nowhere, though, and the jury convicted Fowler of capital murders after two minutes of deliberation. He was then electrocuted in the state prison in Nashville on this date in 1928.

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