FORT MADISON, Iowa – The next prisoner scheduled for execution by the federal government is getting much more publicity than the last one -- a convicted murderer who was quietly hanged 38 years ago.
Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, is scheduled to be the first federal prisoner executed since Victor Feguer was sent to the gallows at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison in 1963.
McVeigh is scheduled to die by lethal injection on May 16 at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.
McVeigh killed 168 people with his bomb. Feguer killed a Dubuque doctor after kidnapping him and driving him across state lines into Illinois.
McVeigh carefully planned his crime. Feguer was incapable of planning anything ahead of time, said his defense attorney, Frederick White of Waterloo.
McVeigh is not fighting the death penalty. Feguer resisted until the end, hoping President Kennedy would give him a last minute reprieve.
White said he persuaded then-Gov. Harold Hughes to call Kennedy, asking to halt Feguer's hanging. The president, pulled from the White House swimming pool by Hughes' phone call, said he would look into the case.
A representative was sent to Iowa and reported back to Kennedy, who is said to have concluded, "it was a terrible crime" and denied executive clemency, White said.
Feguer's last meal request was simple -- an olive with the pit still in it. He told prison officials that he hoped it would sprout from his body an olive tree -- a sign of peace.
It was the 27-year-old convicted murderer's last statement against the death penalty.
"I sure hope I'm the last one to go," Feguer is said to have told the Rev. Bernard Brugman, the prison chaplain, on the day he died -- March 15, 1963.
Feguer decided not to make a statement against capital punishment when given his last chance to speak and asked the chaplain to read a rambling statement before he died. Witnesses said Feguer stood silently, chewing gum rapidly the noose was placed around his neck and a black silk hood was pulled over his face.
At 5:30 a.m., a trap door in the wooden gallows was pulled and the 5-foot, 9 1/2-inch, 192-pound Feguer fell through and dangled from the rope.
A doctor stood on a table and listened for a heartbeat. Nine minutes and 45 seconds later Feguer was pronounced dead from a fracture to the cervical spinal column.
No man or woman since then has died by order of the federal court system.
Feguer never admitted killing Dr. Edward Bartels.
Feguer was found by a prison psychological examining board to suffer from a character disorder with psychotic episodes. Doctors who examined him three months before his execution said he was a sociopath with schizophrenic tendencies.
Feguer "had considerable repression and denial in facing this penalty," the doctors wrote. "He must accept the acts as having occurred."
Investigators said Feguer chose Bartels because his name was listed first among general practitioners in the phone book.
Feguer asked the doctor to come to a Dubuque rooming house the evening of July 11, 1960, saying his wife was ill and needed help. Feguer didn't have a wife and apparently kidnapped Bartels for ransom or drugs.
Bartels disappeared. His body, with a gunshot wound to the head, was found later in a field northeast of Dubuque near Menominee, Ill.
Feguer, who was 25 at the time, was arrested nine days after the doctor disappeared as he tried to sell Bartels' car at a Birmingham, Ala., used car lot.
Feguer insisted that someone else had killed Bartels.
White, who described Feguer as "weird" said his client refused to discuss details of the case.
"We never learned anything from him," White said. "We couldn't even get a discussion with him about it."
White and his defense team took Feguer's conviction before the federal appeals court, claiming he was not mentally fit for trial. The appeal was denied.
Born in 1935 in Michigan, Feguer had a lengthy prison record stretching back to the age of 13, when he was convicted of breaking and entering and spent two years in institutions. He was arrested for burglary in 1951 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released in 1960, the year he kidnapped and shot Bartels.
Feguer's stay in Iowa was brief. He was taken to the Fort Madison prison to die because the federal government did not have a death chamber and Iowa, a death penalty state, had the facilities.
Prison records say Feguer arrived at 11:30 a.m. March 5, 1963, from a federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan.
Retired prison clerk Charles Wilkens remembers checking Feguer into the Iowa prison.
"He was quiet never gave any trouble never bothered anybody," Wilkens said.
Wilkens also recalls watching the execution 10 days later.
He said the wooden hanging platform was built in a 40-by-50-foot room of an auto mechanics shop on the prison grounds a couple of weeks before the execution.
Wilkens, who also witnessed one execution each in 1961 and 1962, said prison guards bought a new noose for Feguer and began stretching the rope two weeks before "so there was no stretch in it." The prison billed the federal government $28.75 for the hangman's rope, records show.
Wilkens said the prison executed 32 people from the time it opened in 1839.
Wilkens, a 38-year employee of the penitentiary, retired in 1993.
At the time of Feguer's execution, a bill was pending in the Iowa Legislature to outlaw capital punishment. Newly seated Gov. Hughes, who took office in January 1963, was opposed to the death penalty.
So was John Ely Jr., then a legislator from Cedar Rapids. He witnessed Feguer's hanging to learn more about capital punishment so he could convince fellow lawmakers to end the death penalty.
Ely, Democratic state senator, managed the bill that repealed Iowa's capital punishment law in 1965.
Feguer's body, unclaimed by family, was quickly taken away by a funeral home after the execution and buried.
His unmarked grave in a barren corner of a public cemetery in Fort Madison bears no olive tree.
His hope to be "the last one to go" dies with McVeigh.