The following are the first chapter from the book “True Crime Storytime – 12 Disturbing True Crime Stories to Keep You Up All Night”
Toni Jo Henry
From birth, Annie Beatrice McQuiston had a rebellious streak. One of five children, she never did fit in with her siblings. When her mother died, she decided to carve out her own path through life; changing her name from Annie to Toni Jo. As it turns out, the road would be rough and riddled with hazards; a few so dangerous they would eventually lead to her demise.
She never traveled alone, however, and always had a string of men. Unfortunately, one man, in particular, would end up profoundly altering her life, and not for the better. Toni Jo and Claude “Cowboy” Henry had a love so strong that she promised she would die for him. A vow that would eventually be put to the test.
Photo Credit: laurajames.com
‘Til Death do us Part
Toni Jo Henry was born Annie Beatrice McQuinston in a small town just outside Shreveport. She was the third child, born in the middle of five siblings. For a time, she lived with her grandmother. It was a pleasant experience, until her mother died of Tuberculosis when Annie was six. Times were tough for the McQuistons; her father, a single dad of five, quickly remarried and all the children were ordered to obtain employment to help support the family.
Toni’s grandmother would later say that the little girl begged to be taken away from her father and stepmother. She hated her stepmother and repeatedly asked to go live with her grandmother; to which her father always refused. Equally as loathsome was her job at a macaroni factory.
Some say Toni Jo’s wild ride began with the death of her mother. Others point to her being fired from the macaroni factory; a result of the manager learning her mother was a victim of the highly contagious Tuberculosis. Whatever the reason, it was at this point that Toni Jo decided she was going to leave home for good.
Within a few days on the streets, the young Toni Jo was lured into the dark world of prostitution. Not only was it one of the few jobs available to an unskilled thirteen-year-old, but she also found that it was quite lucrative for her. Long described as a looker, Toni Jo had no problem attracting clients with her small frame, pretty looks, and striking jet black hair.
As soon as her relatives learned of her nefarious activities, they set Toni Jo up with a husband in an attempt to get her to settle down. There was a period of a few short months in which Toni Jo and her new spouse lived with her aunt, but the relationship wasn’t working. The two went their separate ways and Toni Jo returned to the streets.
Photo Credit: Murderpedia.com
Shreveport’s underworld enticed Toni Jo with its night scene, drugs, alcohol, and general lack of morals. She spent her teenage years in a brothel, barely managing to escape the law. Every time she was arrested, for assault, prostitution, or a litany of other crimes it was her youthful looks and young age that managed to keep her out of jail. Had she served time, she may not have met Claude “Cowboy” Henry; the man who would ultimately ruin Toni Jo.
Claude, at the age of twenty-six, was a boxer by name and a cowboy by looks. He always seemed to be down on his luck, which often landed him in trouble. His criminal record was as long as his southern drawl, and both held a particular attraction for Toni Jo. The feeling was mutual. Claude was instantly smitten. There was only one problem, Toni Jo was suffering from full-fledged cocaine addiction. Claude, the cowboy with a heart of gold where Toni Jo was concerned, managed to get his new lover off the drugs and away from the brothel.
In November 1939, the two were married by a justice of the peace and set off on a honeymoon to Southern California. Everything seemed to be going well for Toni Jo, freed from the brothel and basking in newlywed bliss. Though she might have no longer been a prostitute, she couldn’t leave the underworld completely behind, and Claude and Toni Jo rose to minor roles in the South Texas criminal underworld.
They were in love and doing what they loved, operating a crime ring. Toni Jo was finally happy—until a telegram arrived. It turns out that Claude wasn’t quite the knight in shining armor Toni Jo believed him to be. In fact, he was wanted back in Texas for his second trial in an ongoing murder case. He revealed to Toni that not long before meeting her he had shot an ex-police officer in a bar; killing him in cold blood. Toni Jo had been exposed to worse, she herself had been arrested for nearly beating a man to death and snipping his ears; she would stand by her man.
Upon their arrival back in Texas, Claude was swiftly arrested, tried, and convicted. He was sentenced to fifty years at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.
Toni Jo’s world came crashing down. The next time she would be able to see her husband would be when he was old and gray. She wouldn’t go down without a fight. She had promised herself to Claude for better or worse, until death do them part; and she would be damned if that day came after years of separation while he rotted away in jail.
Her final words to him rang out through the courtroom as Claude was dragged away, “I’ll get you out, Cowboy! Don’t worry!”
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My Bloody Valentine
Toni Jo didn’t waste any time fulfilling her promise to rescue the love of her life. She moved to Beaumont, Texas, right next door to where her husband was serving time, and quickly began devising a plan to get her man back. She would fall back on her old tactics; good looks and grisly tricks she had picked up on the streets.
Fortunately for Toni Jo, living next to the prison meant there was no shortage of men who were down on their luck and looking for trouble. Most of them were newly released with not a penny to their name and a strong desire to change that. One such ex-con was twenty-three-year-old Harold “Arkie” Burks.
When they met he was unofficially and illegally on leave from the military and had recently served a stint in Huntsville. Arkie didn’t tell Toni Jo that her plan was utterly hopeless, as so many had before him. Instead, he offered her insider information and promised that together they could break Claude out. Toni concocted the devilish plan and Arkie agreed without question.
First, they pretended to be newlyweds. Posing as a young couple in love, they hitchhiked from Texas to Arkansas, where Arkie knew of a small-town bank the pair could easily rob. Before they left town Toni Jo convinced a couple of teenagers to steal a handful of guns from a local shop. Armed with both a plan and a pair of pistols they set out for Arkansas.
By Valentine’s Day 1940, they had made it all the way to Orange, Texas. Here, they decided that they needed a car of their own, and it would have to be fast enough to outrun the police. Sadly for Joseph P. Calloway, Arkie and Toni Jo decided that his Ford V8 Coupe was perfect for their dubious purposes.
The middle-aged man offered the couple a ride. He was on his way to Jennings, Louisiana. Once the Coupe sped past the city and out into the countryside, Toni Jo decided it was time to put their plan into motion. She pulled out her 32-caliber revolver and directed Calloway further out into the rural farmlands. On a quiet country road, the car came to a halt. Pistol aimed at his head, Toni Jo ordered everyone out of the vehicle. She then barked at Calloway to undress. Unbeknownst to Calloway, Toni Jo planned to give the clothes to Claude when they sprung him from prison. Completely naked, Calloway was forced at gunpoint into the trunk. Arkie got behind the wheel and the car peeled out, kicking up a trail of dust in its tracks.
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Not that much further down the road Toni Jo identified the perfect spot… for murder. With her pistol at the ready, she marched the unclothed Calloway across an open field to a grouping of haystacks sat far removed from the roadway. Behind the bails, she ordered Calloway to his knees, instructed him to say his prayers, then fired a single shot into his skull; killing him instantly.
She calmly returned to the car where Arkie was waiting. He had gone through Calloway’s pockets, finding fifteen dollars. The pair then headed toward Camden, Arkansas, the intended site of their bank robbery.
Once they arrived, a determined Toni Jo and an increasingly apprehensive Arkie booked a room at a cheap hotel. Arkie had been keen on robbing a bank and going along with Toni Jo’s jailbreak but murder had not been part of the plan. Distressed by his partner’s ruthless killing, he snuck out while she was asleep. Deserting Toni Jo, and taking the Ford Coupe with Mr. Calloway’s clothes still inside.
Realizing she was now on her own, Toni Jo lost some of her gall. She used what was left of the fifteen dollars in blood money to book a bus ticket to Shreveport, Louisiana. She met up with a friend there who convinced her to go stay with her aunt. When Toni Jo arrived on her relatives’ doorstep, she was clearly shaken up. Her aunt was quickly able to recognize that the young girl was in some sort of trouble. However, she was only able to pull small bits of information from her. Worried about her niece, Toni Jo’s aunt sought advice from her brother, a police officer.
The Devoted Toni Jo is Deserted
After arriving at the police station she discovered that he was on vacation, but his colleague Sergeant Dave Walker would be more than happy to assist. Toni Jo’s aunt unwittingly told Sergeant Walker her niece’s fragmented story, and he agreed to accompany her back to her home to interview Toni Jo. By this time, Calloway had been reported missing, failing to deliver the car to Jennings, Louisiana, as promised. The officer was unprepared for the truth about what had happened to the unsuspecting Calloway.
Toni Jo quickly came clean. She told Sergeant Walker how she and an accomplice scouted out their victim, hitched a ride with him under false pretenses, and ultimately murdered him. Initially, Walker wasn’t buying her story, as no car or body had been found and tied to the disappearance.
But when Toni Jo handed over the revolver she shot Calloway with, her tale became more convincing. Sure enough, the pistol had one round fired and five still in the chamber. Toni Jo was arrested and turned over to the Lake Charles Police.
With the young female murderer in tow, the police traversed the countryside attempting to find Calloway’s body. Eventually, Toni Jo successfully led them to the field, where found they his body behind a hay bale, just as it had fallen when Toni Jo delivered the fatal shot.
An autopsy revealed that the bullet recovered matched the revolver given up by the murderess. During her trial, newspapers would run stories claiming that Calloway’s body revealed signs of torture as well; suggesting he had been led around by a plier-welding Toni Jo by his nether regions while naked.
Headlines dubbed her the “torture-murderer.” Not long after his body was found, the Coupe was also discovered. Just like she had said, it contained Calloway’s clothes as well as a handful of cigarettes with lipstick marks.
Toni Jo was formally charged with the murder of Joseph P. Calloway. The media rapidly picked up the story of the pretty prostitute who killed in cold blood, renaming Toni Jo “The Tigress.” Because of the way the news
was treating her, she refused to give authorities any details about Arkie.
Eventually, Toni Jo changed her tune, and by the time she gave up Arkie, she was adamant that he was the one who had pulled the trigger. He was apprehended and charged, and both defendants were placed on trial; though separately.
Arkie maintained that he’d had nothing to do with the murder or even the jailbreak scheme. He told the jury that he was simply looking to get back to Arkansas and figured his chances of hitching a ride were much better with a pretty girl like Toni Jo by his side. He agreed to her harebrained plan as long as it would get him to where he needed to go; he never intended to see it through.
During her March 27, 1940, trial, Toni Jo, depicted as a “sultry brunette,” swore up and down that it was all Arkie’s plan. The media did her no favors, illustrating her as the picture of sin rather than innocence.
After just seven hours, the jury returned a guilty verdict that sentenced her to death.
Photo Credit: Murderpedia.com
Though her appeal was granted, her second trial in February 1941, returned the same verdict after only one hour of deliberation.
In the fall of 1942, months before her scheduled execution, she granted an interview to reporters. In a bid to clear Arkie of his crimes, she admitted that she was the one who killed Calloway. She also professed her undying love for Claude, the cause of her crime spree.
Just a few days shy of Thanksgiving 1942, her beloved broke out of jail in an attempt to rescue his imprisoned wife. Some theorized that he was on a mission to kill the judge who had presided over Toni’s trial. He was quickly recaptured in a motel not far from the prison he had broken out of. Authorities took pity on the star-crossed lovers and granted them one last phone call.
Toni Jo’s cheerful disposition was in stark contrast to Claude’s emotional and distraught one. She allegedly signed off with chipper words of advice, “Get rid of that prison suit go out the front door. Go straight and try and make something of your life.”
On Saturday, November 28, 1942, at five minutes after twelve in the afternoon, Toni Jo became the first and only woman executed in Louisiana’s electric chair; a portable contraption was brought in from another county.
Four months later, Arkie would be executed in the same chair after the jury refused to believe Toni Jo’s late-hour confession and convicted him guilty of murder too.
The life of Toni Jo seemed ill-fated from the beginning.
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