Review: 'Stone Justice'
Sex, lies and a cowboy;
the woman who thought she had it all
Eric J. Brock
August 24, 2005
Once upon a time in Shreveport there lived a girl named Annie Beatrice MeQuiston.Annie came from the "wrong side of the tracks" and never stood much of a chance. She was raised in an abusive home, then her father forced her to quit school in the sixth grade. She went to work in a macaroni factory, when she should have been in school. It was hard work and eventually she turned to prostitution, a more lucrative way to earn a living, though not necessarily an easier one. As a harlot she called herself "Toni Jo."
Toni Jo Henry, the only
woman ever executed in
Louisiana's electric chair;
subject of newly published
book, soon to be a movie.
The name change was not the typical prostitute's alias but a psychological way of coping. By taking a new name Toni Jo the prostitute did not sully the name of Annie McQuision. the good girl — and she was a good girl, basically. She got into trouble but it was trouble born of necessity and circumstances. Then she found love -- love for the wrong man, a ne'er-do-well and a smalltime hood, but whom else was she likely to meet and fall in love with? Certainly not the Johns who used her body then went home to their other, better world.
It was Toni Jo's love for "Cowboy" Claude Henry, that sort of young girl love which is blind to the fact that the object of affection is someone who isn't good for her. that led her down the path that would end her life at the age of 26.
Yet by the time Toni Jo reached her early 20's she had already led a more difficult life than many much older could ever have imagined living. When she committed the crime for which she was executed, if indeed she did commit it (for she herself could not recall those events clearly), it was done in the course of an act of love for Cowboy. When she was arrested for the crime, it was because she turned herself in to the authorities specifically, to a relative with the State Police, a high-ranking official who had once been a bodyguard for Gov. Huey P. Long. It was because she wanted to do the right thing, to make amends and set things as right as she could. Her honesty cost Toni Jo her life, but she was honorable.
Was Toni Jo Henry a monster? The media of her day certainly made her out to be. In the court of public opinion she was tried, convicted and executed long before she was in the court of law. But the court of law turned out to be equally unfair and the trial and conviction of Annie Beatrice McQuision. alias Toni Jo Henry, was as botched and mishandled as the crime itself.
Toni Jo Henry perished in the electric chair, the first, last and only woman in Louisiana to do so. The crime for which she was executed was a heinous one and cannot be dismissed, an innocent man lost his life, and over what? A car and a man with whom Toni Jo was obsessed and a past that had damaged her psyche so much that she projected, if only momentarily, onto the victim all the fury she felt towards her own father. But that moment was a defining one. and in it, all of Toni Jo's past crashed down upon her with monumental fury. Was she there? Was she a perpetrator of the crime for which she was to die? Certainly so. Did she deserve to die for it? Considering the circumstances of her life, her past, her mind set at the time, certainly not.
Toni Jo Henry was a female, a streetwalker, an associate of "bad characters." Her history made her so, but her history was not considered. She was a victim of life, of circumstances, of bad choices and bad judgment, but deep inside she remained a good girl to the end and tried to be as much of a lady as her background and situation would allow. Most of all, she was a victim of men who wanted to punish her for that history as much as for the crime to which she was a party. Was Toni Jo executed because of what she allegedly did or because of who she was, what she was, and what she represented?
"Stone Justice" is the story of Toni Jo Henry, her tragic life, tragic love, tragic mistake, and tragic death. The authors tell the story as though Toni Jo herself were telling it. It is a true story. All that is laid out to the reader really happened. Some of the dialogue is conjectural but it is based On meticulous research of court records, interviews, media accounts and a plethora of other sources. The facts are all there and unembellished. The characters are all real as are the names, dates, places and sequence of events. What the authors have done is allowed Toni Jo posthumously to vindicate herself or at least attempt to do so.
In "Stone Justice" the reader will find himself drawn into the story, at once sympathizing with Toni Jo, yet at the same time repulsed by the crime. Even more so, the reader will be repulsed by the way the crime was handled by the papers, the courts, the word on the street, the viciousness that manifested itself even among the defendant's own supposed defenders.
"Stone Justice" is about injustice, indeed about many an injustice. The tale of Toni Jo Henry is a tragedy that would be a heart-wrenching enough novel if its subject matter were fictitious but becomes even more heart-wrenching, even darker and more tragic in that darkness because it all really happened.
Originally published with its authors writing under the pseudonym of "Lawrence King," Deborah King McMartin and Evelyn Morgan are now republishing this important work of both historical scholarship and the craft of storytelling under their own names. A larger and expanded book, this time with images from Toni Jo's real life and history, this edition of Stone Justice again brings to light and life the terrible story of a young girl who never had a chance and takes its place among the significant literary and historical works of our state. In it Toni Jo lives - and dies - once again. And through its pages her story is told, a story that needs to be told and not forgotten.
"Stone Justice" is available from Shreveport's own Ritz Publications (P. O. Box 29182, Shreveport 71149. tel. 996-0419). Hardbound in gold tooled leatherette binding, approximately 200 pages with a new introduction, it retails for $39.95 plus $5.00 shipping. Stone Justice
Eric J. Brock, Historian
Forum Review November 10, 2004
© Ritz Publications 2003 - 2005