The Pardon


Published on Dec 9, 2012

The true story of Toni Jo Henry, a woman tried for the crime of murder in 1942 in the state of Louisiana. Toni Jo, a product of childhood abuse and neglect, briefly discovers love and happiness that soon turns to despair when her husband Cowboy is sent to prison and she embarks on an ill-fated plan with an accomplice Arkie to free him. Because of her beauty, Toni Jo instantly becomes a notorious celebrity, drawing the unparalleled media attention of two highly publicized and sensational murder trials. Her story is a story of hope, a story of love and a story of redemption, as Toni Jo discovers the true strength within herself and, with the help of a priest, Father Richard is able to face her life with a calm and peace that defies explanation.

Her bloody Valentine: Toni Jo Henry shoots man between the eyes in bid to free jailed husband

It was Valentine’s Day, 1940, and Toni Jo Henry had planned a perfect surprise, sure to show her sweetie just how much she loved him.

She was going to bust him out of jail.

No easy task, given that Toni Jo had no cash, car or weapons, and was not the type to bake quaint little cakes in which to conceal files.

Instead she used her most powerful weapon – beauty – to play on the sympathies of two men, an ex-con and a Good Samaritan. Neither realized they were dealing with a woman the press would later dub “The Tigress.” Both would pay with their lives.

Born Annie Beatrice McQuiston on January 3, 1916, nearShreveport, La., she was the baby of a family of six children. From the start, the girl was spirited, but after her mother died of tuberculosis the 6-year-old became a handful.

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Toni Jo Henry was executed on November 28, 1942.

Toni Jo Henry’s Date With Death

By Laura James

Historically, women have always had to do something particularly awful to be convicted of a serious crime, and to sentence a woman to death – oh! That didn’t happen all that often. Especially when the female in question was good looking. The law has always made an ass of itself when there’s a beautiful woman in the dock.

And don’t argue with me about it. I’ve been trying to prove it to you, see.

One of the most beautiful, indeed absolutely stunning women ever convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the United States of America was a gal by the name of Toni Jo Henry.


That’s her, photographed in her cell on the morning of her scheduled execution. Her jailers opened up a telephone line to the governor’s office, and Toni Jo waited on her last hope in life, mindful that women – especially unusually attractive women – and especially in the South – were not generally put to death, no matter what they’d done.

And she was a looker. Nearly every description ever printed of her focused on her eyes. Toni Jo was “slim, hard-faced, flint-eyed,” “smouldering-eyed,” with her “snapping black eyes, and her long, wavy blue black hair.”

After three trials, three convictions, and three pronouncements of the awful sentence, she probably expected to die. But still she was light-hearted about it. As the photographer fussed with his camera, Toni Jo said, “I’ve smiled twice, mister. You haven’t shot yet. Have you any idea how much talent is being wasted here today?”

It was one of many jokes she cracked as she waited for the phone to ring, chain-smoking and making small talk. “That lighter is guaranteed for a lifetime,” she said at one point. “You know one person whose lifetime lighter lasted a lifetime.”

Alas, Toni Jo wasn’t always quite so funny.


Toni Jo said her dying wish was to talk to Cowboy, and though it violated the rules, they let her call him. She did all the talking and he did all the crying. ”I know it has to come and I’m ready for it, honey,” Toni Jo told Cowboy. “I’m glad to have known you for the short time that I did. I’m sorry that things had to turn out this way. But you’ve got to live right, Claude.”

Toni Jo hung up after the call with Cowboy.

The governor, by the way, never did call.

Toni Jo promised to go quietly, except she squawked when they shaved her head. They promised to hunt up a scarf for her to put over her bald head, knowing the photographers were lined up outside to see her taken to the death room. One of those photos, at right, shows her jailer looking more sad than Toni Jo.

Toni Jo Henry was electrocuted November 28, 1942. The wire services all reported that Cowboy Henry screamed and thrashed and destroyed his cell in his grief.

In a final awful coda, Cowboy was released from prison a handful of years after his wife’s execution. The decade didn’t end before Cowboy Henry was shot and killed and raced into the dark to be with his bad girl from the bayou.

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