A Heartbeat's Journey to Death
On Halloween of 1938, convicted murderer John W. Deering was executed by firing squad at Sugar House Prison in Salt Lake City, Utah. But it was neither his crime nor his sentence that would cement his place in history; it was his macabre contribution to science.
Days before his execution, Deering was convinced by prison physician Dr. Stephen Besley to have his heartbeat monitored throughout the deadly process. Alex Boese described the beat of Deering's heart on the fateful day:
The electrocardiogram immediately disclosed that, despite Deering's calm exterior, his heart was beating like a jackhammer at 120 beats per minute. The sheriff gave the order to fire, and Deering's heartbeat raced up to 180 beats per minute. Then four bullets ripped into his chest, knocking him back in his chair. One bullet bore directly into the right side of his heart. For four seconds his heart spasmed. A moment later it spasmed again. Then the rhythm gradually declined until, 15.4 seconds after the first shot, Deering's heart stopped.
"He put on a good front," the physician Besley later remarked. "The electrocardiograph film shows his bold demeanor hid the actual emotions pounding within him. He was scared to death."