The Four Women Who Have Been Executed By The Federal Government

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, only 50 executions have been carried out by the feds since 1927. The vast majority of capital punishment cases are state crimes, with very few federal crimes ever getting elevated to this grim status. Over the years, the men executed by the federal government have featured several household names among them that you would probably recognize; Timothy McVeigh, Carl Panzram, and other notorious criminals have made the list, with crimes ranging from murder and espionage to rape.

Nearly everyone ordered to die via federal court has been a male. In fact, only three women have been executed by this level of government since 1927, and only four women have had capital punishment carried out against them since the birth of the United States.

The first woman who died at the order of the United States was convicted Lincoln co-conspirator, Mary Surratt. The widowed Surratt owned and operated a boarding house in Washington, D.C., where federal investigators alleged that John Wilkes Booth and fellow co-conspirators pieced together a plot to assassinate President Lincoln, Vice President Johnson, and Secretary of State Seward (via History). In spite of her claims of innocence, Surratt was accused by federal prosecutors of knowing of the plot and in helping to plan it. She was convicted by a military court and hanged with fellow co-conspirators on July 7, 1865.

If the crime of assassinating a sitting U.S. president is worthy of the feds carrying out a death sentence, what other crimes perpetrated by women have been elevated to this level?

Selling secrets to the enemy

In the midst of all the anti-Communist fervor of the 1950s, we have the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Soviet Union had longed for the secrets of atomic warfare since the United States had deployed two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. In late 1949, the Kremlin announced that it had developed its own set of nuclear weaponry, creating mass hysteria among the rest of the democratic West (via FBI). 

Federal authorities in the U.S. concluded that the Soviets couldn't have developed this technology so quickly without outside help. An investigation was launched, resulting in the arrests of avowed U.S. Communist Julius Rosenberg and his wife, Ethel. Ethel's brother (and undercover Soviet agent), David Greenglass, was apprehended. Under interrogation, Greenglass stated to authorities that he was under the instruction of his sister and brother-in-law, who ordered him to turn over his atomic bomb knowledge to the Soviet government. Greenglass had worked on the famed Manhattan Project, in which the nuclear bombs were designed (via Biography). 

Convicted on charges of espionage, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed by the Federal government on June 19, 1953. 

A kidnapper and child killer from the heartland

Bonnie Heady and Carl Austin Hall were arrested in 1953 for the kidnapping and murder of 6-year-old Bobby Greenlease. The child of the biggest Cadillac dealer in the Midwest, Greenlease was abducted from his private Catholic grammar school in Kansas City, MO by Heady in September of 1953 (via Murderpedia). Heady posed as the child's aunt, who was sent to the school to retrieve him as a result of a family medical emergency.

Hall and Heady drove the young Greenlease to a secluded area across the border into Kansas. Hall shot Greenlease and then drove the body with Heady back to Heady's home in Saint Joseph, MO. Here, Heady and Hall buried Greenlease's body in the backyard, enshrouded in plastic and coated in quicklime (via FBI). In spite of Greenlease being dead, Hall sent ransom letters to his family, demanding $600k for his safe return. The senior Greenlease met the demand, and Hall and Heady took the money and fled across Missouri to St. Louis. 

Captured and charged with kidnapping and murder on October 6, 1953, Hall and Heady were tried and found guilty on all charges. They were executed by the Federal Government in Jefferson City, MO on December 18, 1953.

She crossed state lines to steal an unborn child

Most recently, the federal government carried out the death penalty on Lisa Montgomery. Montgomery had been incarcerated since her arrest for the murder of 23-year-old Bobbie Jo Stinnett. The Montgomery case was a particularly cruel and unusual one, in that it involved the murder of a young pregnant woman and the kidnapping of her almost-born child.

Stinnett and her husband were dog breeders, and Montgomery had become acquainted with her online through a breeding site Stinnett ran. Posing as a potential customer, Montgomery met Stinnett at Stinnett's home in Skidmore, MO. Montgomery strangled Stinnett, then immediately cut her baby from her womb. She claimed this "newborn" infant as her own to family members, having been falsely claiming she was pregnant (via Saint Joseph News-Press). She was arrested after investigators traced her IP address, and was located at her home in Kansas with Stinnett's baby (who survived the ordeal and is now nearly an adult).

Montgomery's defense team argued that she was severely mentally unstable, and should not be held criminally responsible for her horrific actions. The victim of severe physical and sexual abuse as a child, Montgomery was sex trafficked by her own mother at a young age. The physical abuse she endured from infancy on resulted in brain damage, while the sexual trauma manifested itself via dissociative disorders and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (via The Guardian).

In spite of testimony and medical evidence that Montgomery was, indeed, severely mentally ill, she was found guilty and sentenced to death on October 22, 2007. Plea appeals and requests for stays of execution were finally exhausted without avail; Montgomery was executed via lethal injection on January 13, 2021, in Terre Haute, Indiana.