On this day in 1852, San Francisco held its first (legal) execution. A man named Jose Forner (or Forni) was hung from a gallows erected at the top of Russian Hill. According to letter-sheets sold after the hanging, Forner killed Jose Atari after a fight over money. This story is all kinds of sus – Forner’s account is that Atari followed him when he went to pee, then stole his money while his pants were off. Forner claims to have had $400 on his person which is A LOT OF MONEY FOR 1852. Forner says that Atari stabbed him with his own knife, which he got back and used to kill the man. Caught with cash and a bloody knife, he was convicted of stealing it from Atari and sentenced to death.

The scaffold was erected at Russian Hill because it provided a vantage point for lots of people to watch – as was common in the day. @fernhilltours has a great blog post that details reports that this execution was actually *staged,* with the Sheriff rigging the noose and the drop to allow him to survive and flee the jurisdiction. According to these reports, the Sheriff believed Forner’s story that he was trying to recover his own property, and did not think he deserved to die.

An illustration showing the execution of Jose Forner by hanging on a wooden scaffold set on a bare hill, surrounded by armed guards and milling onlookers. Ships in the bay can be seen in the background.

Lithograph published by Charles Proctor Kimball’s Noisy Carrier