“Beatty drew a gun on him, and lied and double-crossed him, and he wasn’t taking any more off anybody.”
We are conditioned to believe that most violent crimes occur at night in dark places. After all, Bruce Wayne’s parents weren’t killed on their way to a cozy Sunday brunch. Here in the nation’s Capitol, the most heinous acts against individuals are reported on the 11 o’clock news, not the morning edition.
In July 1951, 33 year-old Donald C. Beatty of NC was violently stabbed to death in NW DC in broad daylight. He was murdered in full view of residents during the morning rush hour. No one stopped to save his life. Frank Williams, Jr., the assailant, was reportedly drunk at the time of the incident.
Both men were from Salisbury, NC. According to his official statement, Williams and Beatty were in DC looking for employment. After a brief stay in Alexandria for a job, they spent Tuesday evening at the Trailways Bus Station at the 1200 block of New York Avenue. By Wednesday morning, Beatty was dead.
According to the Afro-American, Williams ran after Beatty along the 900 block of New York Avenue on the morning of the 11th. Beatty tripped and fell along the sidewalk of the street and into a gutter, rendering him unable to escape. Williams turned him over and proceeded to stab him five times while people walked by.
Beatty reportedly cried out for help to onlookers as Williams continuously stabbed him in the heart and chest. Others said Beatty desperately pleaded to spare his life moments before Williams delivered the fatal blow. Either way, no bystander cared enough to take action. One witness to the tragedy commented to reporters, “Would you have stopped him with a knife in his hand?” Williams rifled through his dying friend’s pockets after the act. His demeanor was cool and collected:
“After the crime was completed, witnesses said that Williams stepped on the sidewalk and asked a bystander for a cigarette.” (Memphis World, July 13, 1951)
Williams stood there and puffed on his cigarette while he watched his friend grasp to the last seconds of his life. He stood clutching the bloody knife when police arrived moments later. By then, Beatty was dead.
At the time of his arrest, Williams swore self-defense. Williams stated that Beatty had a gun and threatened to kill him, which prompted him to pull out his knife and defend himself. No eyewitness interviewed at the crime scene or in Grand Jury saw Beatty carry or pull out a gun.
Justice came to Frank Williams, Jr. one year later. District Judge Alexander Holtzoff sentenced Williams to seven to twenty-one years in prison for second degree murder. His defense attorney argued for temporary insanity “due to excessive alcohol,” which did not sway the jury. Judge Hotlzoff stated during the court decision that there was sufficient evidence to find him guilty of first degree murder – enough for the electric chair. The last DC execution occurred five years later in 1957.
“Jury Praised By Judge in Murder Case: Holtzoff Says Verdict Of Second Degree Was ‘Illogical But Wise.’” The Washington Post, May 17, 1952.
“Man Fatally Stabbed in D.C. Street Fight.” The Afro-American, July 21, 1951.
“Man Fatally Stabbed In DC While Hundreds Watch.” Memphis World, July 13, 1951.